Should I buy a hardware sampler?
If you’re a music technology veteran, you might find it remarkable that this is a question that’s getting asked at all; not because the answer is a default ‘yes’, but because, 10 or 15 years ago, the hardware sampler market was all but dead. Software samplers such as Kontakt, HALion and EXS24 had rendered hardware models all but obsolete, but times have changed again.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we should say that a software sampler remains an excellent option for a lot of people. Today’s iterations offer a bewildering number of features and sound design options and are perfect if you want to use multi-gigabyte multi-sampled libraries. However, as in the synth market, there has been a reaction against in-the-box samplers, with many wanting to go back to a more hands-on way of doing things.
There’s certainly been a rebirth in the demand for pad-based standalone sampling hardware. Akai’s new MPCs can operate without a computer, as can Pioneer’s Toraiz SP-16. Elektron’s Octatrack and Digitakt also have their fans, particularly among those who are seeking to spend less time on the laptop and more time in front of a dedicated piece of music making hardware. Today’s top-line hardware samplers aren’t just samplers – they’re production platforms in their own right.
If you’re seeking a more affordable, old-school vibe, Korg’s Volca Sample could be worth a look. This is a far more limited sample
sequencer, but it’s great fun and very creative.
A hardware sampler is by no means an essential purchase, then, but if you’re looking to change your workflow or give yourself another option in the studio (or perhaps even for on stage), there are plenty of worthwhile places you can spend your money.