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.