Back in January 2021, boutique manufacturer Rossum Electro-Music were offering a small number of renovated E-mu SP-1200s in honor of the machine’s 35th birthday (Dave Rossum being the designer of the original SP-1200).
The renovated SP-1200s were a great success and Dave Rossum says that it was while working on these classic machines that he decided that he could successfully replicate the original SP-1200 sound and so it came to pass that on November 3rd 2021 the new and improved Rossum SP-1200 drum machine sampler was unveiled, to much applause from a very excited music producer community! As they state on the Rossum Electro-Music website:
…E-mu Systems co-founder and original SP-12 and SP-1200 designer Dave Rossum has duplicated the original analog and digital electronics of the landmark 12-bit drum machine sampler as closely as is possible thirty-five years after its debut. Throughout the process of creating the SP-1200 reissue, Dave was delighted that with very few exceptions, authentic components exactly the same as those found in the vintage classic instrument could be used throughout and took great care to maintain the classic SP-12 and SP-1200 circuit board layouts. Inside and out, SP-1200 is faithful to the original operation and preserves the coveted, authentic sound and character of the classic vintage instrument. Through this labor of love, Dave was able to create an instrument that should sound exactly the same even to the most discerning ears.Rossum Electro-Music website
Differences between original SP-1200 and Rossum SP-1200
Due to the desire of Dave to keep the new Rossum SP-1200 as authentically close to the original machines as possible The Rossum SP-1200 boasts only a few minor tweaks most notable of which is that he memory has been expanded to double the recording time (20 seconds compared to the SP-1200’s 10 seconds)
The original 3.5″ floppy drive has been replaced with an SD card slot.
The new Rossum SP-1200 also boasts new dedicated jacks on the rear panel of the unit allowing for filtered and unfiltered channel outputs as well as a new sample input monitor feature.
In addition, four sliders allow users to tune the initial cutoff frequency and the resonance of the SSI2144 analog dynamic filters on channels 1 and 2.
The Same 12-Bit SP-1200 Sound
Perhaps most importantly of all for all us gear heads and producers of a certain vintage, the new Rossum SP-1200 machines maintain exactly the same 12-bit linear data format and 26.04 kHz sampling rate as all vintage SP-12 and SP-1200 units. It’s this distinctive audible character that people are seeking out when they purchase a Rossum SP-1200.
How much is a Rossum SP-1200?
The Rossum SP-1200 can be preordered from the Rossum website for $3999 (here). (Demand is strong with supply currently limited to a maximum of two per customer.)
Yes that’s right – in 2021 you can pay $3999 for a 12-Bit sampler with 20 seconds of sample memory.
(Note that original SP-1200’s can be bought on music gear sites like Reverb for around $6,000 to $7,000.)
Why is the SP-1200 still sought after?
Before I set out my argument as to why nobody really needs a 4 grand sampler, let me turn to Wikipedia to quickly sum up why the original SP-1200 drum machine sampler is such a coveted and iconic piece of music production gear:
The SP-1200 is strongly associated with hip hop’s golden age. Its ability to construct the bulk of a song within one piece of portable gear, a first for the industry, reduced studio costs and increased creative control for hip-hop artists. According to the Village Voice, “The machine rose to such prominence that its strengths and weaknesses sculpted an entire era of music: the crunchy digitized drums, choppy segmented samples, and murky filtered basslines that characterize the vintage New York sound are all mechanisms of the machine.”Wikipedia
So it’s mostly the SP-1200’s association with a certain hip hop sound and its unique “warm”, “vinyl” and “gritty” flavor (due to a combination of the machine’s sampling rate, filter chips and 12-bit sampling resolution) that we’re all lusting after when we think of the things we could do with an SP-1200 of our own.
Why you don’t need to spend thousands on a sampler to make music
It’s certainly not my intention to knock the hard work of the incredibly talented Dave Rossum here – the SP-1200’s role in music history is beyond question and, sure, if someone – anyone – was to buy me a vintage SP-1200 I’d certainly put it on my coffee table and admire it (and lovingly stroke it) on a regular basis but I’m 100% convinced I don’t actually really need a 12-bit drum machine sampler in my life. Here’s why:
Before you spend 4k or more on any sampler or drum machine think about what it is you are actually trying or hoping to achieve. If you’re trying to recreate “the golden age of hip hop” – or any other retro vibe – ask youself exactly why.
It’s now the year 2021 and not 1981, 1961 or 1951. Times change and things move on. No one today listens to boxes of 1950s records and singles out that one “magic” and obscure record of grandma’s to marvel at an especially poor mono recording of a cheap drum kit then ponder how such a sound was achieved then and how it could be achieved now.
Think about it – would you ever be tempted to shell out 4k, 5k, or even 10k to get hold of a piece of vintage gear that made your MP3s, samples or even your prized synth sound like they are being played back by a Commodore 64 computer or a 1930s gramophone? What, exactly, would be the point? Sure you might argue “it just sounds better” but “better” than what? And why should anyone else care about the end results?
If you’re a young producer about to start on a career of producing hip hop, trip hop, trap, rap or even absolute unmitigated crap then don’t fall into the trap of chasing the “magic” sounds of yesteryear – you should be forging your own paths and blazing your own trails and at least trying to create the sounds that people not yet born will hopefully come to one day describe as “the golden age of…”
If you’re an older producer or musician with thousands of pounds to spend on gear then by all means covet what you are going to covet and buy what you think you think you need to buy to get your work done to the highest possible standards but be aware that the number of people who actually care about the gear you use is incredibly small – outside of the producer community no one who listens to your tracks in a nightclub or on Youtube or on their phone is going to know or care exactly what hardware you used to make your music.
Ultimately samplers are samplers – their main use is the capturing of sounds which typically – 99% of the time – will end up being further manipulated and abused in DAWs of one kind or another.
Regardless of which piece of gear someone uses to capture a vocal or a snare or a cowbell that sound recording will most likely end up being further manipulated in the digital domain at some point, sooner or later.
Once sounds are in the digital realm, competing with other sounds in a mix and run through numerous plugins and mastering chains, it is almost impossible for any casual listener to know or care exactly how your track was made. Yes your French horn sample might have been captured with a super rare $10,000 sampler but likely no one will notice or know (unless you intend to tell your 15 listeners via an Instagram post or whatever!)
In this age of numerous saturation, cassette emulation, degrader and distortion plugins, it’s so easy to color your sounds and samples that spending big bucks to achieve a tone few will notice and most probably won’t even appreciate doesn’t really make much sense (to me, anyway).
Remember that technology marches on. The SP-1200 was once a ground breaking piece of kit that most young and skint producers and beat makers could only dream of owning. If it had just emulated the sounds of what went before it then no one would have been interested and the music scene might have stagnated for years. Instead it had its own sound that producers of the day learnt to embrace and technological limitations producers learnt to live with because they didn’t have access to “better” gear.
I don’t deny that I can be as guilty as anyone else of trying out different gear to try to sound like my idols but there comes a point when you need to draw the line – there’d be absolutely no point me splashing out on the exact same mixing desk as used on Roxy Music’s For Your Pleasure in the hope it’d give me “that” 1973 U.K. chart topping sound.
Just imagine if every drum machine today had the same sounds and limitations of a Roland CR-78 with young producers spending 1000s of dollars on similar specced machines in the hope of sounding just like their grandparents! In such a world we’d have lost out on millions of brilliant records made with more modern gear.
Plenty of food for thought, I hope. And if you want to work with samples without breaking the bank then check out my guide to drum machines that can import samples, my guide to the Elektron Model:Samples vs the Digitakt and my guide to the best value MPC.