2. Basic functions of vintage sampler emulators
The quickest way to dial in your chosen flavour of sound is with a plugin that offers presets based on specific hardware. D16’s Decimort is a bit-crusher rather than a sampler, but it also offers emulations of classic units like the Akai MPC60 and Ensoniq ASR-10.
Adjusting the input gain control of a plugin doesn’t just affect the volume of the sound – hitting most sampler plugins with a hotter signal induces more drive and weight. The best vintage sampler plugins also include emulations of the hardware’s analogue circuits, like preamps and output stages.
If you’re using one of the more complex vintage sampler emulations, you’ll likely come across features that would be more familiar in synth plugins. TAL-Sampler lets you use three envelopes to shape amplitude, filter and modulation, just as you would on a hardware sampler.
The sound of any given sampler is defined to a large extent by its sample rate or sample frequency. This is sometimes given different names. RX950, shown here, packages it into a main control labelled Audio Bandwidth. Decrease the Bandwidth to make the effect more extreme.
Most hardware samplers included at least one filter in order to shape the sound during playback. Some 80s models included analogue filters, but the vast majority of samplers used digital filter circuits. RX950 includes a version of the Akai S950’s very steep low-pass filter.
Custom samples can also be loaded and edited in your soft sampler just as you would in a hardware sampler or a samplebased synth. You can even start with something as simple as this sawtooth wave and slice it into something much more complex and sonically interesting.
Other plugins offer separate control over sample rate and bit depth, as seen here in Logic’s built-in Bitcrusher plugin. Bitcrushing is a great hack for a vaguely vintage digital sound. It won’t sound authentic but it’s good if you don’t have a more specialist sampler plugin.
Some bit-crushers and sampler emulations are more subtle than others. Seen here in D16 Decimort 2, the Dithering control lets you adjust the amount of noise used to mask harmonic distortion arising from quantisation errors. You don’t need to know how the controls work to use them!
Again, the modulation section is like that of many synth plugins, but the interesting stuff happens when you modulate sampler-specific parameters like Stretch and Loop Length. Working this way, you can apply simple modulation to samples, or create basic granular-style effects.