And what have we here?!! It do be another sampler! I be thinking Minneapolis do be the coveted treasure wagon!
Yes, I did watch Garfield’s Halloween Adventure this halloween. Yes, I am in Minneapolis again. Yes, I was trawling Craigslist’s seedier side for lonely housesynths. Yes, I bought another Ensoniq sampler.
This is the Mirage. I mentioned it earlier as the final price-breaker that opened samplers up to the average musicians. In fact, this one was bought by a high school music teacher here in Minneapolis. He purchased it new in 1986 when he was working as a studio session player/arranger. He took good care of it and still had the manuals, the original receipt, and 26 sample disks. A great deal! But why another sampler? Two reasons. I’ll explain.
Here’s one of the disks. They each held exactly three “patches”. The keyboard defaulted to split mode, with one sample getting loaded on the bottom and another sample loaded onto the upper half. The amount of data on these disks is tiny. First of all, these are the old-school double-density disks, so they only have half the storage capacity of most 3.5″ disks. But the Mirage manages to squeeze them all on because they’re only 8-bit samples.
The Mirage is an 8-bit sampler. This is the first reason I got this sampler.
Sherman: What’s the deal with the different “bit” rates, Mr Peabody?
Mr Peabody: I’m glad you asked. Let’s hurry into the WABAC machine. Dial us back to 1982.
So here we are in 1982. Remember what computer graphics looked like? Very blocky? Yes? When you turn a picture digital, the quality depends on how many blocks (pixels) make up the image. The more blocks, the smoother the picture looks. A sound is likewise built up by a bunch of blocks, except we just call them “bits” instead of “pixels”. If it’s 8-bit, then the sound’s waveform can be described by the computer in 256 (two raised to the power of eight) different blocks. For a 12-bit sound, the computer has 4096 (two raised to twelve) different blocks to work with. When CDs came out, everyone made a big deal about them being 16-bit. That might not seem like an impressive jump initially, but 16-bit equals 65,536 blocks. The number of blocks grows rather quickly each time we add another bit.
In case you’re interested, there’s a second number that affects what audio sounds like or video looks like. You can always spot a home movie from a Hollywood movie, right? There’s just something about how it feels. Turns out you’re feeling how many frames they squeeze into each second. With audio, you get the same thing. The more times the sound is captured each second, the more realistic it sounds. This is the “kHz” number that sometimes appears. As in, “CDs are 44.1 kHz”. This means that each second of music on a CD has about 44,100 snapshots. And each snapshot is composed of 65,536 blocks. Anyway, we’re getting way off track here.
Most of my samplers are 16-bit, considered CD-quality. That means that a sound recorded into it will basically sound realistic, which is what you may want most of the time. “Old school” samplers are prized because they actually doesn’t reproduce sounds exactly. The typical prized “old school” samplers (Akai S950, E-Mu SP-1200, Sequential Circuts Studio 440) are all 12-bit samplers. Among other things, that slight inability to perfectly replay a sample makes drum loops sound “crunchy” or “dirty”.
But the Mirage is only EIGHT bits! If the S950 is the great beloved old-school sampler of Fatboy Slim fame, then I must own the most totally awesome sampler ever! Actually, I’m not sure it works that way. But I think it might still sound fun. My plan is to sample stuff into my Mirage and then potentially transfer it over to other samplers to play. Or maybe vice-versa. I’m just curious about the sound. And so the 2012 Ultimate Sampler Showdown just got a little more interesting (and complicated).
The other (and probably main) reason that this craigslist ad caught my eye was the keyboard stand that came this it. It’s made by Ultimate Support Systems. Quality stuff, and as I’ve noted before, I badly need more keyboard stands. This one can hold two keyboards. I’ve been wanting to get my Minimoog back out of the closet, but I need a place to put it first. The price on the Mirage was good, but it only got better when the teacher threw the stand in for free. Plus manuals and lots of old sample disks! Awesome.
And of course…it has a problem. The guy discovered it shortly before I arrived, but some of the notes on the keyboard don’t produce any sound. When I showed up to demo the Mirage, I noticed that every eighth note didn’t work. This led me to suspect something defective in the keyboard-scanning circuit. I poked around and tried re-seating the IC’s, but I don’t have the right tools with me. So it’s a tiny-bit sick. But I can still record samples with this, and I could even resort to controlling this via MIDI if it can’t be fixed.
Now I just need to lug this hearty piece of steel onto the Amtrak train next week…