I came across The Daydream Sound (TDS) on Youtube, whilst browsing for videos of sampling equipment. Upon finding out that he was a not only a beatmaker, but also a producer and sampler aficionado, I had to ask for an interview. The world of sample-based music has taken a turn towards the digital, whether its in terms of DAWS, digitally-processed sample packs, or the ubiquity of bedroom producers who use these tools. This has seen the landscape of the genre, which was created by the sound of the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, changed drastically, much to the chagrin of many. In order to gain a better understanding of how the samplers and gear of the past affected the sound of what is today considered by many to be a golden age of sample-based music, whether dance music or rap, I shot over some questions TDS about samplers, pre-amps and the like.
Hi TDS. I have to admit that I was surprised when I first came across your YouTube channel. As more and more people migrate from analog setups to DAWs and plugins, it's less common to find people who not only still use physical samplers but are well-versed in the craft connected to them. What caused you to become interested retaining an analog component to your studio? Can you explain some of the advantages that samplers and vinyl give that a digital setup doesn't?
First off I’m happy that you found my channel. That’s always a great thing for me! Secondly thanks for reaching out! I enjoy using software and have gone through long stretches where that’s all I was using but my main preference is hardware for its simplicity. With the hardware samplers that I use there’s no busy displays or anything distracting. I tend to lean towards instruments that are straight forward. I even like my software tools to be simple as well.
Do you think that the best efforts of digital plugin emulations from Waves, UAD and Steven Slate are able to compensate for the lack of analog depth in digital workstations? Can tape emulation or mixing desk plugins impart the same effect that a sampler would?
I haven’t actually heard any recent analog emulation plugins but overall I think that any digital emulation can impart a very close effect, but not the same effect. In my view, any effect is a good effect.
Why is it that each sampler has its own "sound"? What is it that separates an MPC sampler from its aesthetic competitor, NI Maschine, which is essentially a MIDI controller at heart, with little analog circuitry for sound to travel through. You can hear when something is made using an MPC, but not with necessarily Maschine. Does it have to do with some specific circuitry or component in the sampler?
My observation with something like Maschine is that the sound that I hear is that of the actual samples used. A lot of Maschine users use popular sample packs that I have gotten very accustomed to hearing. They’re pretty easy to identify. I just recently picked up a Maschine MKI, and it pretty much sounds like my soundcard, which is what I used to sample the sounds I use with the Maschine software.
With older hardware it actually does boil down to the circuitry in the unit. The types of Analog to Digital converters and the filter types are a big part of it. How the initial analog signal is digitized is like a unique imprint that varies between different samplers.
Workstations are said to impart a sonic cohesiveness on a music project, which is quite evident when you listen to 90s rap or dance music albums, many of which were made using a specific sampler, and sometimes recorded straight to DAT. What are your thoughts on analog vs digital workstations in terms of sonics? What would you gain from making a record on an MPC vs Ableton Live?
I think with something like Ableton you have a serious advantage in regards to arranging complex passages. There’s also the advantage of cost effectiveness. You can complete a project from start to finish in any modern DAW in any environment you desire. You’ll have a more laborious time doing that on a standard MPC. It’s true that the final mix-down destination for a project recorded in the 1990’s was most likely DAT, and later on CD, but make no mistake albums were written, tracked and mixed in a studio at a hefty price. Those days were tough on the wallet. In some respects I think that investment kept creativity at its peak. Back then you would think twice before booking studio time just to make a song that sounded the same as every other song on the radio.
A lot of the time back in the 80’s & 90’s you would make an album song by song with any equipment you could get your hands on. You would make one song with one piece of gear; it might have been your friends drum machine or whatever sampler the studio owner had (back then studios had at least one sampler, usually some reincarnation from the Akai S series). A few months later when you saved up some more money to get back in the studio you’d do it all over again with another piece of gear until you had enough to make an album. This is why there were so many 12''s & EP’s back in then. Releasing two or 3 songs were s a lot cheaper than an album of 12 songs. Once you got signed then you’d be able to release an album simply because the record label would pick up the bill.
In terms of sonics both sound great to me when experience and care are put into the album. The level of skill that was available in the 1990’s isn’t’ really around anymore. Today the majority of new music we hear online is being mixed by the artist themselves. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that whatsoever. But we have to put things into their proper context if we’re going to compare and contrast over different time periods. In the 80’s & 90’s artist did release their own recordings. They often released it on cassette which sounded pretty bad most of the time, far worse than any song recorded by a kid in his bedroom these days. So in saying that, we cannot compare a 90’s studio album with an artist engineered album. If I we compare a present studio album with one from the past that has been recorded by an engineer of comparable skill we’ll end up with two great sounding albums.
When people talk about various samplers, I've often heard certain words used again and again. The ASR-10 is often said to add a certain "depth" to samples, whilst the MPC is known for how it adds "snap" to drum sounds. Is there a reason certain descriptors can be attached to specific products?
Definitely! The components that each manufacturer used to make these samplers differ from company to company. The Analog to Digital conversion process is a major reason for the differences in tonal character between samplers.
What role does the choice of pre-amps play in coloring the sound of your samples? Does the coloration from the pre-amp outweigh the coloration from the sampler itself?
I tend to keep things really simple. I like to go straight into my audio interface when recording. Sometimes when I’m feeling really artsy fartsy I’ll go through a tube pre-amp and drive it in a certain way so that it adds to the overall tone coming out of the sampler, but in general the sound of the sampler itself is a priority for me. A pre-amp can provide a nice healthy signal along with whatever tonal quality that it may have due to its components. There was a time when I was into that sort of thing, but those days are gone. I’m pretty simple these days.
In keeping with the last question, sampling drums from vinyl creates an entirely different sound than what using Internet sample packs do. Even sample packs that are claimed to be made using analog recording processes and mixing boards often lack the presence of their 90s hiphop counterparts. Why do you think that is?
90’s Hip-Hop was a mix of sounds from various unrelated sources. When you put all those sounds in one place you get a very interesting mix of vibrations and sounds that would not have existed otherwise. The level of energy this process creates is always unique. With sample packs you generally will experience a high level of consistency which we often perceive as uninteresting. We notice that something is missing but can’t figure out what it is. What’s missing is the energy and vibration that comes from the process of sampling from various sources. Granted you can use several sample packs to make a song but each of these sounds have all been prepared to sound like an individual finished product which takes away from the excitement of Hip-Hop music.
Vinyl sampling deters a lot of people because of the equipment needed for it, which they may not know much about. What do you need to take into consideration in terms of gear when sampling vinyl?
Any record player and turntable pre-amp will do for sampling. Anything above and beyond that is up to the user. Most samplers will want to see a Line level input signal so a Phono pre-amp is key. Turntables will generally spit out an audio signal at Phono level which is nowhere near as hot as Line level signal.
Most samplers offer the ability to pitch samples up and down, and Ableton Live is well-known for emulating such pitching and time-stretching functions. However, I've found that beats made in the 90s feature drum loops that are heavy in low-end frequencies in a way that is missing today. Dr Dre's "Deep Cover" and Montell Jordan's "This Is How We Do It" are examples. Today's rap music achieves it's low-end from 808 kicks and plugin EQs. Why do samplers retain more low-end and thickness in a sound when pitching down than DAWs do?
I think today’s musicians are actively EQ’ing out the low end in their samples and synth parts to make way for something like an 808 kick. It’s just the new generation expressing themselves through another vibe. The 90’s was known for rumbling bass. It didn’t really have to be an actual bass line just a low rumble that would rattle your entire body when you heard it in the car or the club.
What are some of the most effective ways to obtain 80s and 90s samplers today, since they can't be bought in big-box retail stores?
I personally still like eBay. It has a decent buyer protection program in place. There’s also craigslist and the occasional gems at your local pawn shop. I like low-risk transactions where I can verify the credibility of the person I’m dealing with. If I meet you face-to-face I can test the gear right there.
What kinds of prices do AKAI, Ensoniq and E-mu samplers tend to go for? Are there any bargains to be had anywhere, or do you always have to cough up 4-figure amounts?
It’s hard to say these days. Vintage samplers can go for anything. Right now, we as buyers control the market. For example, the standard price for an SP1200 was $2000 up until very recently. With the renewed interest in Boom-Bap culture that started a few years ago, it’s difficult to find one for under $4000. The same thing has happened to the Akai S950. People were pretty much giving them away in the early 2000’s.
What does a sampler cost in terms of upkeep? Do any models break down easily?
The key here is to get a sampler in very good shape. That’s the rule that I go by and it's worked out pretty well for me. I’ve never had to spend anything on upkeep aside from some cleaning supplies. If an older piece of gear is banged up, has a lot of scratches, and is missing knobs, I don’t touch it. I don’t care how good the price is. In summary, I would say treat buying a used sampler with the same care you would when buying a used car.
In a world where a generation of new producers have see no connection between analog gear and the final sound quality of a recording, and very few are being manufactured, do you think it will become increasingly harder to obtain samplers and similar equipment on the 2nd hand market? Will they become pricier or harder to sell after increased wear and tear of the units?
Possibly, but it’s really difficult to say. What I can say is that we’ll always be able to obtain vintage equipment as long as there are people around who can repair them.