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The sampler is simply the most versatile instrument ever invented and it is limited only by the sounds you can find to put in it. You can use sample CDs and CD-ROMs, and you can rediscover the lost art of sampling instrumental sounds yourself.
Well if you sample your own material, you won't sound like anyone else. The risk contained in sample CD-ROMs is that you can end up creating anonymous music-by-numbers. For some purposes this works fine, but the whole point of music is to be original so always try and add value to the sounds you buy on disc.
Samplers are amazingly good value these days, and even the lower models in the range can perform as well as the more expensive items.
Select a sampler on the basis of its control and editing features. If you plan simply to load in samples and programs from CD-ROM (few samplers can't work with a CD-ROM these days), then a basic model may be all you require.
If however you plan on creating your own samples and programs, then you need a wider range of features, and proper access to them.
Unlike keyboards, where I said that extra outputs often aren’t worth the bother, you can’t have too many outputs on a sampler, and usually they are almost as easy to use as the main stereo outputs. Maybe keyboard manufacturers should buy a sampler and take it apart so they can see how it should be done.
The reason you need extra outputs is that with a decent memory expansion (16 Megabytes is good, 32 better, any more than that... sheer luxury!) you can load up a variety of completely different sounds.
You will almost certainly want to process these individually through your mixing console, and if sampling is the most important part of your work this will be essential.
When it comes to buying a CD-ROM drive, take to heart the advice of the manufacturer of your sampler because not all models of CD-ROM drive work with every sampler, so your super-terrific 48x speed drive you sourced from an ad in the computer press may turn out to be a none-starter if you are not careful.
You will also need a means of storing your samples.
I can see a trend emerging for samplers to have internal bulk storage. You can store on floppy disk, but you need a lot of disks and a lot of patience to store 32 Megs on floppy - and then reload it later.
An external storage medium is also a possibility, preferably with removable cartridges. Oddly enough you are probably better off with a smaller capacity cartridge rather than a larger one. Having too much data on one disk makes it more difficult to organize, and if the disk becomes corrupted you may lose your entire sample library!
I should mention sample CDs and CD-ROMs. Sample CDs are in audio format and you can play them on your ordinary CD player. This is fine for drum loops because you can easily listen for the section that you want, and you are probably only going to make a single sample program, which is dead easy.
But if you want the sound of an orchestra, then you really do need the CD-ROM version which loads up in a few seconds. The alternative may be hours or even days of programming.
Bear in mind that CD-ROMs come in different versions for different samplers. Although one sampler may be able to load samples and programs in a different manufacturer's format, don't expect them to sound right without a little tweaking, and sometimes a lot.