Bobby Nathan's

Keyboard Magazine "In The Studio"

Article # 20

Sampling For The Future

No matter which samplers you own, it is a fact that in the near future they will be replaced by another unit that will have better fidelity and probaby longer sampling time. To prepare you for this I've dedicated this month's column to the art of storing your samples on a medium that will keep you ready for what ever comes.

What I'm saying is that if you sample your sound sources to tape (either Anolog or Digital) you will be ready for the future. When 16 bit samplers start to replace your current 8 and 12 bit samplers you are not going to want to sample from an 8 or 12 bit sampler into a 16, 18 or 24 bit unit. Now I'm not saying wait for a 16 bit sampler to come out before buying one! You will still have to wait a while. But, if you spend the time making serious samples and the only storage medium for them is the disks from your sampler, your not going to save time and money!

Digital vs Analog

Which is better ? Well it is a matter of taste ! It can also be a matter of cost ! Here's how the facts line up .

Analog recorders still sound good. Especially 1/4" and 1/2" Two Track recorders. These machines make use of the full advantage of their respective tape widths. On eighter 1/4" or 1/2" you cannot flip the tape over, unless you like the sound of your samples played backwards. These analog machines have a "signal to noise" ratio of between 62 and 78db. Signal to noise means how much louder the signal is than the noise. Some of the manufacturers than make either 1/4" or 1/2" decks are Ampex, Fostex, Otari, Sony, Studer and Teac. Analog 1/4" decks range between $1200.00 and 7,000.00 while 1/2" decks go between $2500.00 and $12,000.00. Digital machines by comparison range between 80 and 98db of signal to noise ratio. As you can see Digital is quieter than Analog. The common Digital machines used for sampling include Sony's PCM F-1 convertor or compatable and either a Beta, VHS or 3/4" U-matic video recorder. The Sony F-1 or compatable range in price of around $500.00 to 1750.00 for the encoder ( Sony's professional PCM 1620 - $20,000.00) and $375 to 900.00 for a Beta or VHS deck ( $5,000.00 to 14,000.00 for a 3/4" video deck. You might also buy one the Digital reel to reel deks (encoder built in, uses digital tape) that range between $17,000.00 and 25,000.00 by Otari, Studer, Sony and /or Mistibichi. Unfortunately Digital still does not sound natural. Either the bass is lacking punch or the high frequencies sound much too brittle. But they are quiet. Just like sampling technology, Digital recording is improving too and will enventually be perfected. But, we have to deal with the now and as I said I suggest you compare the cost vs quality or Analog or Digital.

There is another format that is also quite good and quite inexpensive. It is found Beta and VHS video decks with stereo audio "Hi Fi". Hi Fi has a signal to noise ratio of better than 80db. You can easily get two hours on a good quality tape cartridge ( up to eight hours with some loss of fidelity on some VHS models). The cost ranges between $700.00 and 1,000.00 and when your not storing samples you can hook up your Hi Fi video deck to your Pa system to watch "Top Gun" in stereo Hi Fi. Warning this might effect the whole neighborhood.

One advantage with Analog I didn't mention is the ability to leader the start of your samples. If you sample your acoustic piano in stereo and leader the start of each note sampled, it will be easier loading samples in to your sampler. Digital recorders rely on video decks that are a pain to locate a given sample unless you are using very costing SMPTE syncronizers to run your video decks. Most of these syncronizers will not even run your Beta or VHS decks. When loaded a sample in, you have to keep trying till you get the best levels. The analog transports can be rocked to the start of the leader every time and that saves time too.

Tape Cost

Analog tape goes for about $30.00 to $60.00 (1/4" or 1/2") for 30 minutes at 15 ips or 15 minutes at 30 ips ( the preferred speed for sampling). Beta or VHS tape goes for about $12.00 to 15.00 for relivily high quality and gives you a whopping two hours at the fastest speed (sp). The cost of 3/4" tape is around $30.00 for an hourand reel to reel digital tape cost around $60.00 to 75.00 for a half hour at high speed.

Indexing your samples

Whatever you record on tape it is wise to index you samples so that retriving them in a year or so will not be so pain staking. Start the tape counter at 0 at the beginning of the tape and notate the counter number at the beginning of each sample. If you leader any samples after you have indexed the tape, remember your counter numbers for every sample after will change.

Sampling tips

With analog machines it is desireable to record fairly hot. If you record Hot enough a pheonominum will occur called "Tape Commpresion". Most Rock engineers use tape compression in the studio to get a better sound. See my artile on "Using Compression with Keyboards" in Keyboard magazine ? MONTH. sample the sound to tape with whatever effects you like but remember you won't be able to remove those effects later. Try to record acoustic instruments to tape with stereo microphones. Altough "stereo samplers" aren't here yet, you can bet that they will be here in the future. Now if you are using Digital, recording as hot as possible is not advisable at all. When you over load the tape on a digital machine the error correction will not be able to read back the data that was printed on tape. There is no such thing as "Tape Compression" with Digital recording. Hitting the tape too hard with too much level will result in a range of most disturbing effects that will ruin your samples on tape and render them useless. It is always wise to check and playback what has been recorded with Digital or Analog recorders. Listen to what's on tape and make sure it is as close to the original sound before being satisfied. Remember your samples will only sound as good as what's on tape.

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