E-mu SP-12

Second-hand value: £500-750

Produced: 1985 – 1987

The £500-750 price point is a tricky one. For this kind of outlay you’d be justified in expecting to pick up a drum machine which is going to sound great and offer clear advantages over cheaper models, but the budget won’t quite get you into the big leagues in terms of vintage classics.

You could go for something like an Oberheim DMX, but as much as we love its crunchy sound it’s not the most versatile drum machine you’ll ever get your hands on. A potential investment for the future, maybe, but in terms of its very limited approach it’s going to leave most modern producers frustrated.

Instead, we’re going to bend our own rules slightly. We haven’t included samplers in this list because… well, because samplers aren’t drum machines. Sure, samplers can be used to sample and sequence drums, but there’s a clear difference and it only confuses matters to consider them alongside each other (we’ll save the samplers for another feature).

However, we’re going to stretch the definition of drum machine ever so slightly here because there’s a unit which is best known for its sampling capabilities but still just about manages to sneak into the definition of a drum machine. The E-mu SP-12 is a classic for good reason. It represents the point at which the drum machine market was first beginning to respond to the rising threat of the sampler. E-mu’s previous model, the Drumulator, was an affordable digital drum machine which took on the LinnDrum at its own game. The SP-12’s successor, the SP-1200, was one of the definitive samplers of the late 80s, turning its back on built-in sounds to focus on new, sample-based approaches to music. The SP-12, as you might expect, sits somewhere in the middle.

What you get with the SP-12 is a very good drum machine. Loaded with 24 crunchy 12-bit samples, the SP sounds fantastic in its own right. But let’s be honest: it’s really all about the sampling options. Throw in a bunch of drum sounds and samples, program some patterns using the basic but intuitive sequencer and you’ve got yourself an all-in-one production tool with incredible 12-bit character. The SP-12 and SP-1200 are probably best known for their use by boom-bap hip hop producers, but they also lend themselves very nicely to loop-based house and techno. As a result hey’ve been used extensively over the years by the likes of Theo Parrish, Todd Terry, Alan Braxe and Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez.

In this case we freely admit that we’re stretching the limits of our own rules, but the SP-12 deserves inclusion, even if it’s only on a technicality. Sure, it’s a decent drum machine, but it’s an amazing sampler. That’s what makes it a classic, that’s what makes it so good in the studio to this day, and that’s what means its second-hand value continues to rise.

 

14th January, 2014

Comments

  • Wow no Tempest !
    Great Great Post ! Thanks

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  • Roc – the Tempest’s in there!

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  • SP1200 > SP12

    http://youtu.be/iAZO3XBtUzE

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  • thanks for this. i was looking at the tanzbar but i didnt know how cool the machinedrum was. another one to check out.

    do a feature like this on analog synths! 😉

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  • no oberheim dmx? no dynacord ADD-one?

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  • Jomox xbase 888 is killer once you change the sounds in it

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  • @KV the 1200 has no ROM sounds so it’s definitely a sampler and not a drum machine. I agree it’s better than the Sp12. Both incredible though.

    Attack, please do a Ten Of The Best on samplers. MPCs, SP1200 etc. Keep up the great work!

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  • id replace the 606 with the 808, but then again I haven’t owned either of them :p

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  • IMHO, the video featuring the Machinedrum does not make it justice.
    Some thing like the link below or any demo video from Mr Dataline can provide a deeper idea if its capabilities, just my 2cents…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtxX0VEpMSI

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  • 707 is boys noize go to drum machine. He’s got a super modified one and an orignal

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  • 707 clap isn’t so bad imo!

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  • Casio RZ-1 is truly horrible. Worst $25 I ever spent.
    Volca Beats?
    Any MPC should of been on there.

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  • Repeat until fade: an MPC is a sampler, not a drum machine; an MPC is a sampler, not a drum machine; an MPC is a sampler, not a drum machine…

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  • korg volca toy

    yet….
    no oberheim dx/dmx
    no sequential drumtrak
    no sequential tom
    no simmons :-O
    no dynacord add one
    no pearl syncussion
    no LINNDRUM?

    really poor list made by roland fanboy

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  • Too true on the Volca, didnt think as first look but when you get on one its fun as hell!

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  • @Gertie i love lots of the drum machines you mention but i suppose this feature is meant to represent the ideal proportion between money, fun and sound you can get nowadays, and, let’s face it, the best part of roland tr series can match this.

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  • I’d add jomox 999 here as well as linndrum

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  • you are a douche for missing mpc

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  • @won… MPC is a sampler, not a drum machine. Doubled-douched.

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  • “MPC is a sampler”
    What do think a SP12 is? It plays samples……

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  • Bull. If the SP is mentioned here, then the MPC series should have been represented…

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  • Tr 808 is the best

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  • What the hell??? Why isn’t the Linn LM-1 on here? And if you’re gonna add the DRM1, you guys might’ve well put the SDS-V on this list.

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  • Guys complaining about drum machines not being mentioned…..
    MAKE Your own LIST.

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  • Hi guys! Which make of drum machines do you recommend me?

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  • where is the Analog Rytm?????

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  • Why an SP12 and not a SP1200?? Why a Tempest and not a LM1??? Best hardware drum machines in what sense? Poor columnists here…

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  • Wow I like these reviews. I’ve been using drum machines for about 7 years now, and I’m thinking of switching over to a simpler version of one, well at least simpler to use (not simple in functionality). Anyone ever used the BeatBuddy (their site is http://www.mybeatbuddy.com )? It looks pretty cool, but I am not sure if I should get it. I’m really thinking of getting it, can anyone tell me if it’s worth making the switch??

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  • Best drum machine ever: The one that has the sound you want.

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  • RZ-1 is *horrible*. It is so bad, I actually bought one new in like ’83 and played with it for like 2 weeks… it’s timing was sloppy, sounds were dull and I ended up taking it back and getting a TR-505… which was no great DM either, but at least had a snappy kick.

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  • Zoom RT-234? It’s cheap and incredibly flexible.

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  • I agree with dagan,
    I have the orginal Zoom RT-123.
    The button layout is very intuitive – unlike anything else in this review.

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  • The RZ-1 is actually really useful, just not as a main instrument. I find it is best used being run by another box to cut sounds in as accents and fill. As a main or only piece, it’s really going to let a lot of folks down, it’s all about the faders and the outputs, one per instrument, give you all manner of processing options to takes it’s admittedly cheesy sound to a level far beyond it’s capabilities.
    Now for the “why not this…” part, Electribes, personally I would replace the Volca with them, but that’s me.

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  • Where is the Sonic Potions LXR???

    Amazing drum machine for the price.

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  • lol how the hell you put aSP12 and no MPC. this is bullshit preference based article

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  • nice to see the Tanzbar and MDS-1 in there…
    but I NEVER see a list like this include any of the Zoom RT-series, which had a kind of sequencing that has yet to be re-created in any other machine.
    Their “Groove Play” mode allowed you to play multiple patterns (of arbitrary length/meter) simultaneously… with velocity and time-alignment control by pads… somewhat a hardware pre-cursor to Ableton clip launching…

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  • Don,t forget the sounds u hear r fatten up with a analogue filter (white box on top) a Niio Iotine ?. Only whant to say the sounds r more thin without the filter.

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  • I mean the dsi ?

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  • I think they missed the awesome Anolog Rytm by Elektron. This thing is a real killer.

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  • I don’t think the Analog Rytm had been released when this article was written had it? Same with the Roland tr-8 which probably would have made the list too if it had been available at the time

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  • For me Elektron Analog Rytm far ahead!

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