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Co-inventor of the The Gristleizer. Like many musicians who record at home, we started with various Tascam and Fostex tape machines and have tried them all, cassette, Portastudio and reel to reel 2-, 4-,8- and 16 track machines. As most struggling, hard-up musicians know, the running costs on a 16 track tape machine can be a real burden and you start 'economising' by reusing tape and skimping on servicing, both big mistakes.
About five years ago our 16 track Fostex and Akai S sampler both desperately needed replacing and we took the decision to sell them and instead change over to a MIDI based, hard disk recording system. After months of research we concluded that what limited systems were available were far too expensive and we almost decided to stay with tape.
Fortunately were were offered a new Akai S and S at a price we couldn't refuse, we decided to take the plunge and so began a fretful transition from tape to disk. After a couple of early catastrophes while recording vocals onto a Syquest removable disk, quickly replaced by a more reliable optical, removable disk drive we eventually developed an efficient, fast and very reliable system under the control of a MIDI sequencer and mixing down to DAT.
While this method of recording may not be to everyone's taste we found it a pretty painless transition and if you are considering HD recording and have access to an S then the following tips could help you achieve some rewarding results. Even so there are hidden depths to the S and there are a lot of parameters to wade through, so many people just use the basic sampling, editing and playback functions.
Hopefully this article will help S users get even more uses out of an already versatile sampler. For the purposes of this article I will assume that most readers have a basic working knowledge of the S version 4. However the primary reason for recording onto a HD is the increased recording time available. This could be in the form of multiple takes and retakes or a single long take. A decent microphone will probably make more of a difference to the recorded sound than any other factor like editing or tweaking.
A good microphone technique is also encouraged, try to get as high a level as you can, sung into the mic. However, if your vocalist has a soft or quiet voice then you should try to use an active or phantom powered microphone as these usually produce a higher output level. This will reduce the need to turn up the input gain to far, because while the input pre-amps on the S are very good they aren't totally transparent and increasing the input levels will eventually introduce unwanted noise.
If possible don't use your mic through a mixer first, as the mixer noise level, even if low, will add more noise to the S pre-amps. I use an old Sony ECM56F electret condenser microphone that can be powered by a mixer or a battery but sounds particularly good when running on new batteries and plugged directly into the S XLRs, no hum and no noise.
Although the S jack inputs have more gain available than the balanced XLR inputs they are best avoided for use with microphones as they pickup mic hum easier and because of impedance mismatching the tonal characteristics are not as well suited to vocals. Other options for microphone recording could be to use a high quality stand alone pre-amp or vocal processor to add EQ , valve warmth, compression, limiting or gating.
This is because the 'linear' level display doesn't show the correct levels while the S is in DD record mode. Make sure you know what your loudest peak is likely to be and mark the level control with a wax pencil as your absolute limit for that session. This note should be placed a couple of seconds in front of where the S will drop into record or playback.
This forward-delay is in addition to the default S pre-delay of ms and allows the hard disk plenty of time to jump into action before the recording begins. The MIDI note, or the track it is on, should be locked or isolated so that any successive playbacks always remain in sync.
ED, but remember only one take either mono or stereo can play at once. To achieve this at the highest quality with no loss and no noise then an IB digital audio interface must be fitted to your S A lot of memory is essential for this procedure with 8 Mb RAM the minimum, 16 Mb recommended and 32 Mb an ideal configuration. The first thing to do particularly if you only have 8 Mb of RAM is choose only the takes that are essential and save these to DAT, either one at a time or in bulk.
Connect a DAT machine to the IB interface, using the coax or optical connectors and begin the back-up see Stick to As the back-up proceeds mark your DAT tape with ID numbers to help guide through it when you play the tape back later. The input level doesn't need to be adjusted as you are recording from a digital source and the S display should indicate: receiving - The takes can also be edited into shorter blocks, deleting any silences or pauses in the process to save RAM space. Once the vocal takes have become samples then a wealth of editing is open to you, retuning, stretching, squeezing, reversing, combining looping etc.
Using a MIDI sequencer you can now arrange and rearrange the vocal takes with ease on a keyboard. Vocal takes can be cut and pasted on screen if you are using a computer based sequencer, timing can be adjusted and shifted and takes can now be overlapped and double tracked.
If the S is a major part of your set-up then it could be pretty inconvenient having the sampler RAM full of vocals. One of the most useful features of the S is the ability to playback samples and stereo HD takes simultaneously. An often overlooked part of this duality is the ability to mix down the contents of the RAM, samples, key groups etc. Put the S into DD record mode, play the sequencer and record your samples onto the hard disk for more details see box. Second hand S's seem to hold their prices quite well and are not seen in classified ads as often as the S, as satisfied users appear to hang on to them longer.
Points to look out for are what operating system it has, currently v4. The display should be nice and bright and a copy of the revised instruction manual is also pretty essential to get the best from the machine. When you consider that the Akai S is a superbly specified 'industry standard' sampler with probably the largest sample base in the world AND a stereo hard disk recorder then you begin to appreciate what a bargain it is. At this stage you may find the mix down level is too soft or loud and although it seems as if there is no way to adjust the input level because you are in the digital domain there is a workaround.
Set your MIDI sequencer as described earlier and record a digital mix down. One of the benefits of this digital mix down method is that, in theory, an endless number of DD mix down sessions can be performed without any loss of quality. I've used various sequencers from different manufactures, software based and hardware versions and on the whole they stay in sync to the same degree, as do hard disks.
I played back the sequencer, and the S, triggering the DD take from the same note and apart from some slight phasiness, the rhythm patterns were still in sync after 8 minutes.
Pretty impressive! Unless your DAT machine will only record at 48 kHz then always transfer or back-up at Because although the S can convert from It also makes things simpler when performing a digital mix down.
For some reason Akai have a formatting limit of Mb max, no matter what size the hard disk, so Jaz drives are out! But even a relatively small hard disk can store hundreds of samples, key groups and programs and loading and saving times are reduced to seconds. Most types of SCSI drives can be used but beware of old slow models, these can cause a stuttering or chopping effect when stereo takes are played back.
An option endorsed by Akai is the use of 3. The most popular and cost effective is the Mb format, the original Mb format is being phased out and the newer Mb type are still expensive. Optical disks are very cost effective, extremely reliable and immune from stray magnetic fields.
A cheaper, if slightly smaller option is a Zip drive with a Mb capacity , although the disks work out a lot more expensive than optical in the long run. Formatting a hard disk for use with the S can be very slow, in excess of 20 minutes for a Mb optical, it all depends on how the disk is partitioned. Alternatively the disk can be divided into two or more partitions, with one partition for DD takes and one or more for samples, key groups and programs. A disk partitioned for DD takes and samples takes the longest to format.
But here is another exclusive tip. If you are about to start a session recording to HD and you suddenly realise you haven't got a formatted disk and can't wait 20 minutes then try this. XLR Professional heavy duty 3 pin connector. Solo Albums on iTunes. Solo Albums on Spotify. My YouTube Channel. Vimeo Solo videos. Soundcloud Free tracks.
Akai S1100 Service Manual
I have S unit. This is my favorite sampler because it has very good, bright, clear sound and very nice 18db filter. It has good fx board based on motorola dsp chip. I like S even more than SXL. Unfortunately midi implementation is very limited, there is no resonance and it has only 16 voices of polyphony. If you want to get S, buy S instead.
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