SP1200 Perfect Sampling

SP1200 Perfect Sampling

February 16, 2011
in Category: production, tutorials
4 13958 1

The Emu SP1200 was, without a doubt, a milestone in hip hop production (and sampling in general).  Working around its 10 second sample time forced producers to be creative, and efficient.  Out of these techniques to gain more time, a new sound emerged.  By speeding a sample up (for example, playing a 33.3rpm record at 45rpm) and then pitching it back down inside the SP1200, the sampling time could almost be doubled, however if the change was too dramatic, the machine added a unique distortion to the result.  It’s hard to describe, almost like a slightly distorted ring modulation.

That was 20 years ago.  Now, the gritty side-effect created by the SP1200 is a trademark, and recognizable to lots of producers.   Sampling drums and other short sounds into the SP1200 is pretty simple.  On the other hand, applying that grit to samples longer than 15-20 seconds can be a complicated process… but worth the time and effort.  With the steps outlined in this article, you will see how to perfectly apply this SP1200 grit to a sample of any length and then stitch it back together using Awave Studio.

  1. grab any sample, and convert to mono/44.1khz/16bit wav
  2. chop wav file into 3.9 second long segments
  3. convert each segment to 26,040hz/12bit wav
  4. stretch/resample time to 63% (use method that doesn’t preserve pitch or length)
  5. force-sample 2.5 seconds of silence into A1, B1, C1 and D1
  6. set sp1200 to receive midi dump
  7. using awave, send sample #1 over with SDS ID 0, sample #2 with SDS ID 1, etc. the SDS ID is always 1 less than the sample number
  8. then, the sounds should actually be assigned to A1, A2, A3, A4
  9. set the mix all the way up, and set the tune all the way down for A1, A2, A3, A4
  10. record the tuned samples back into computer, and patch them back together
  11. done, final result will be at the (damn near) same pitch, only with maximum sp1200 grit

This list of steps is for getting the most possible grit sound out of the SP1200.  To get less distortion on your samples, change the resample time in step 4, and adjust the tune on the SP1200 in step 9. The next step is finding out a way to automate this process…

Interesting note: The SP1200s were produced from roughly 1987-1999, retailing for $2,495 new right before they stopped production, due to “running out of  chips.”  How does a company just run out of IC chips for one of their flagship products?  Well, that’s an interesting story.  The real magic behind the sound of the SP1200 most likely revolved around its SSM Analog Synthesizer Chip – specifically the SSM2044.  You can read more about the SSM2044 at the Emulator Archive:

E-mu Systems finally stopped using the SSM designs when supplies of the SSM2044 ran out in the late 90′s, and they had to replicate the chip with discrete logic in the final run of SP1200′s… Some chips turn up as old synthesizers are broken for spares. The original chip designs are apparently lost, although it may be possible to reverse engineer them as they use a standard transistor base.

No kidding.  And unfortunately, due to this mysterious “missing” SSM2044 filter chip design, the true SP1200 grit has never been reproduced in any modern day equipment, nor has it been translated into a digital RTAS/VST plugin.

Another note:  I will be updating this soon with pictures, audio and perhaps even a video to illustrate the entire process.  Decided to post this as-is for now, since it’s been written for over a year and just never got around to posting it.


  1. Gary Fisher

    Very interesting article surprised no one has launched an updated version of this seeing that “vintage sounds” are all the rage at the moment.

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