I have been working with my newly rejuvenated Roland S-50 sampler lately and thought I would create an article here about things I’ve encountered while sampling. These may or may not be tips or techniques of a special nature, but they may help those in trying to figure out a good workflow when using the Roland S-50 Sampler. I’ll start by writing some random thoughts about my experiences thus far with Sampling on the S-50. Please comment if you have any tips or experiences of your own that may be of use for either practice or in thought.
Lately, I have been skipping the WAV import using the computer directly to the Roland S-50. I find this to be time consuming and there doesn’t seem to be any software that works all that great. What works for me is to use one of my old Roland SP-808 samplers to store “one shot” sounds of various analog synths. For example, I have one 100MB Zip disk divided in banks with MOOG sounds. Each bank is title something like A-B-F#-G# where each letter represents a row of SP-808 pads with MOOG one shot key samples. This helps me to set the correct root key on the S-50. I then run the SP-808 out to the input of the S-50 and record direct. You could use virtually any sampler, but I have found my trusty old SP-808 to work well. Of course I have to use the WAV converter for the SP-808 to initially store samples, but then I can really fast play a pad and record onto the S-50. Note I don’t wish to tether a computer to the S-50 at this time.
Another thing I do a lot is record with 15kHz instead of 30. Beside getting more sampling time, I find the sound difference to be minimal quite frankly. This allows me to record lots of samples into the S-50 no problem. Of course I can use 30kHz or vary the sample lengths but I have found lowering the frequency to be very helpful. Also, since I mainly record one shots I don’t have to worry about looping or recording longer samples that much.
I usually set the gain and rec level as high as possible. When I dedicate my SP-808 to the S-50 I can keep all the volume settings the same which allows me to keep the samples similar in volume. I then just pop out the zip disk run to the computer and load more samples for recording if need be. I also find I like to record and create construction kits on the S-50. Thus I may have a series of zip disks categorized by drums, basses, guitars, synths, etc and then record the instruments I want to use for a particular construction kit or song. Basically I prefer S-50 disks to contain construction kits and my SP-808 zip disks to contain specific instruments. I find it takes me about 30 minutes to fully sample a new construction kit for creating a new song. I then save that kit onto a floppy disk for later use if needed.
I have found setting loop points on the S-50 to be rather difficult. I do find the auto loop function can work pretty well at times, but it’s often time consuming to bang out perfect loops so I mainly use the S-50 for one shots and then use the envelopes for tweaking. I first figure out whether a song instrument will require a long decay or not and then sample accordingly. If my Moog sound will be short and staccato like then I’ll sample 0.4 or 0.8 (x2 @15) and then just play my bass line. If I require a long decay I’ll simply record at .8 or 1.6 (x2 @15 ) instead of looping the sound. I have found that looping the end of a sound can also lower the tone or quality of the main sample for some reason. Thus if I don’t tamper with the sample and just play it, the sound is awesome. I do like to layer or use envelopes which works very well.
Sometimes I get the message “Not Execute” which took me a while to figure out that I was either missing a parameter under record or had an incorrect value. I found my sampling time was most often written incorrectly. If you get this error it simply means “carefully” check your entered values and correct the one that is not right.
All in all, I find sampling directly to the Roland S-50 to be rather painless and quite fun. If you sample to create a song construction kit then likely you’ll be able to enjoy the S-50 right away after you finished sampling your initial samples for the song. You can then quickly create your patches and then use Director-S to record the song. Then save the song and sound kit onto an S-50 disk and you can later use it for other songs. As mentioned I also find using an external sampler for storing samples to be very useful. You can then just hit record on the S-50 and press a pad on your external sampler with tons of samples available at your fingertips. On the computer I find myself “thinking” in terms of construction kits rather than filling up an S-50 disk with MOOG bass samples. It then becomes a fun and a rewarding challenge to use that sample construction kit to create a song.
I remember back in the day people having contests where a each person would have a floppy with the same construction kit on it. They then had a month to create a song and then everyone would vote on the song they liked. That used to be really fun because it put the song writing back into music rather than nowadays where people seem to want massive sample collections. The Roland S-50 is limited by today’s standard samplers, but I personally find these limitations inspire me more to create and play songs. The Roland S-50 “can” have plenty of polyphony and memory if you accept the limitations and just get down to writing a song with what you have. The old cliche “Simple is Best” can be true sometimes.
Soon I’ll be creating some videos based on constructions kits that I sampled for the S-50 and how I use these to create fun songs or sketchpad ideas. The Roland S-50 sounds fantastic and is really fun to play. I also find that any sound I sample into the Roland S-50, I can easily convert to any other format such as the S-550, S-330, W-30, or S-760. That’s not always the case the other way around.
Stay tuned for more thoughts and updates as I dive deeper into the Roland S-50.