Yo. I’m addicted to MIDI stuff (haven’t you guessed?). I absolutely love this shit and love technology, both old and new.
Here are my three recommendations for budget hardware samplers and sample players. The prices fluctuate, but in general, I consider them bargains.
A lot of these units used to sell for high prices (at least at the time). You can find them cheap, if you look around, and or/wait/watch searches on both Reverb and Feebay (ebay).
Also, I own all of these pieces of gear. And LOVE them.
Korg Microsampler (can be found for about $300– don’t overpay when people are charging $600 for one). This has got to be one of the most fun AND unique samplers out there. Store 8 banks of 36 samples (assigned to keys), about 3 minutes of sample storage per bank. Easily resample, chop (by percentage, or precise bytes/kilobytes), set one or more than one sample to loop, and play any sample chromatically (while other samples are looping). PLUS, a 16-pattern sequencer, and each pattern can be up to 99 bars (what?). Yeah. That’s per bank, too. Oh, and yeah… it can run on batteries. Everything can be stored internally (without a memory card, just through USB) and the Microsampler Editor/Transfer software is fantastic, and easy to use. And oh man, such great effects. You can also effect anything you connect to it (such as another hardware synth). Superb sampler, and probably the last of its kind.
What I hate about it- when memory protect is off, it is ridiculously easy to completely sample over samples you already had and tweaked. When they’re gone, they’re gone. Get in the habit of pressing “Write” and saving the bank as you work. If you accidentally erase a sample.. turn off the keyboard and power it on again.
I also despise the metronome sound, and there’s no way to change it. Other than that, it’s one of the best and most useful pieces of hardware I own. I LOVE IT.
Yamaha SU200 ($100-150 used). Doesn’t get a lot of respect, but this thing is awesome. Can support up to 64mb (or maybe 128mb) Smart Media cards. Stores about 80 seconds in standard mode (22khz), internally (nice grit for hip-hop). 3 banks of 8 samples (total 24). You can backup or load entire sample sets to and from the card, and it doesn’t take super long to load entire sets. You can probably store about 24 minutes of samples total, on a 64mb card. Has a lot of great features for the money, and is battery-powered. I’ve seen some people make great hip-hop beats with this, on YouTube.
Some things I hate about it: Loop Track Play! It never works right, and bass loops/low-frequency loops pop like crazy even if they’re sampled at a drumloop’s exact tempo. Great idea but poor-ass execution. Reaper and its timestretching blows it away. Also, there’s no retrigger mode for any of the pads. So, drum oneshots are either gated (cut off as soon as you lift your finger) or “one-shot” (but one-shot is actually toggle, if you hit the pad again before the sample is done playing). Annoying as shit. But, for an easy drum sampler/player (there’s no sequencer), it excels. Halfg the effects are good (filter, loop remix and slice— delay sucks because the delay disappears right when the sample is done playing, and it only works on loops— lo-fi/distortion is ok but meh…. and the Tech Mod effect is useless)…. another shitty thing is, you can only effect one pad at a time. Sample-chopping is pretty easy, though, thankfully. In my opinion it’s used best when say, you sample a drumloop at a perfect (known) tempo, and a cool bassline (with a known tempo). Let the drumloop play out, and mess around with chopping up the bassline in short segments, so it works without digital artifacts. You can then resample your performance of the bass chops, and have a new sample (drumloop/bass chops)… it’s a little tedious, but it’s fun.
But not as many as the next sampler………
Zoom ST-224 Sampletrak ($150-250 used– often from Japan sellers). “The Poor Man’s SP-1200.” That’s putting it lightly. It can do so much more. Sample up to 32 samples in temporary storage (depending on length) and then assign them to any pad you want. Like the Yamaha SU-200, it has 3 banks of 8 samples. Supports up to a 16mb Smart Media card (anything larger can cause errors from what I’ve read). You can store 99 individual samples on the card (they have to be generically-named, like 00.wav, 01.wav ~~~ 98.wav and 99.wav). They also have to conform to the sample rates, so 16khz in Standard mode, etc. You can also store entire sample sets, and you can use a free software program (Windows-only) called Zoom ZMF Producer, to build and save/transfer your sample sets to and from the memory card). You can even “play” the software using keys on your keyboard (so essentially it’s a free standalone sample player, too!). This is a much-loved and much-respected 20-year old hardware sampler. Zoom has always made REALLY awesome stuff, and this is no exception.
What I hate about it— connecting a MIDI keyboard only allows you to trigger gated samples, not loops. But that’s a tiny gripe. Sampletrak is well worth the investment. A tiny bit of research will show you that this is a universal truth.
Why no SP-404 or any Roland SP? Because they’re insanely overpriced for what they do. The sample chopping isn’t ideal, as you have to manually hit (“mark”) the start and end points. That can seem fast for most people, but I want precision, and I want a knob or encoder.
Also, why in the hell does Roland insist on having RCA outputs for EVERY single SP sampler. Fuck RCA outs. 1/4″ line outs, please. RCA cables and connections are the worst, and that’s why they’ve largely been disregarded/discontinued in a lot of electronic devices.
Akai MPC2000XL or MPC1000 – $350 to $500 used. Still classics. I’d choose the MPC1000 over the XL though, because of the ability to transfer samples via the Compact Flash card and/or USB (even though it’s as slow as dirt). Don’t get the blue one (the pads are badly-designed). And go for the black one with the right serial # (BK-N, not BK). And obviously, buy/download the JJOS for it, which is much better than the standard MPC OS. As respected as MPCs are, I always feel they’re not that great. But the sequencing capabilities are extensive (for extensive sequencing, I prefer a DAW like Reaper).
Akai MPC2500 ($500-700 used). If you’re dead set on buying an original MPC, I’d go for this one, instead, even though I still think MPCs are overpriced and overhyped. This, with its tilted screen, is the way to go.
Side note– the Akai MPC2500 used to sell for like $2,000 (literally 10 short years ago).
Roland MS-1 – $100-150 used. Tiny little guy, but pretty dope sampler. Can’t store much, but enough to make some killer beats.
Akai S20. $150-225 used. Really nice. 16-bit sampling. Decent storage and functionality.