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E-Mu SP-1200

Creator
E-Mu Systems, Inc.
Date(s)
1987-1990

Before releasing the SP-1200, E-Mu Systems, Inc. released their first mass-market music machine and the first programmable drum machine, the Drumulator. The machine was reasonably priced at $1,000, and the device came with several samples already preloaded onto it.  E-Mu followed the Drumulator with several successors, including the E-Mu SP-1200, a drum machine and a sampler boasting 10 seconds of memory per sample, a floppy disk drive, and 12-bit sound quality—the SP-1200’s most distinguishing feature. 12-bit audio has 4096 signal measurement levels, a far cry from the 16-bit (65536 levels) and 24-bit (over 16 million levels) audio typically worked with today. This gave the samples loaded onto the E-Mu SP-12000 a digitized crunch that eventually became a signature sound of the “Golden Age” of rap from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

A user could go about sampling—that is, the process through which sound is converted into data and then manipulated and spliced together to produce a completely new sound—by connecting a microphone to the machine and recording instruments naturally, using a MIDI cable to connect MIDI keyboards to the console, and connecting a record player via an output cable linking the turntable to the SP-1200. Once recorded, the 10-second sample could be assigned to a specific button on the lower section of the console, allowing the  tempo, tone, key, etc. of the sample to be manipulated by knobs and sliders on the machine. Given the limitations of the digital recording machine, the E-Mu SP-1200 could become “overloaded,” applying a distorted sound to the amalgam of samples-turned-songs that it produced.

Though the popularity of the E-Mu SP-1200 would not remain popular for long (it was ultimately phased out by producers and consumers in favor of more powerful, computer-based programs) it made a lasting impact on hip hop music, ultimately defining the sound of the golden age of hip hop and creating a style that is still being imitated and reproduced in hip hop and rap music today.

Sources

Anderton, Craig. SP-1200 Owners Manual. E-Mu Systems, 1987. The Emus.com,www.theemus .com/documentation/sp1200/SP1200_User_Manual.pdf. Accessed 9 May 2018.
Detrick, Ben. "The Dirty Heartbeat of the Golden Age." The Village Voice [New York], 6 Nov. 2007. The Village Voice, www.villagevoice.com/2007/11/06/
Kärkkäinen, Ilpo. "How to Sound Fat like Pete Rock."ResoundSoundwww.resoundsound.com/how-to-sound-fat-like-pete-rock/.
Manning, Peter. Electronic and Computer Music.
Fourth ed., New York City, Oxford
U P, 2013.
Vail, Mark. Vintage Synthesizers: Pioneering Designs, Groundbreaking Instruments, Collecting Tips, and Mutants of Technology. San Fransisco, Miller Freeman Books, 2000.

Images:
E-Mu Sp1200. Vintage Synth Explorer, www.vintagesynth.com/sites/default/files/2017-05/emu_sp1200.jpg.

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