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Which hardware sampler is best for what I want to do? Drum Machines & Samplers
Old 25th December 2010
  #1
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Which hardware sampler is best for what I want to do?

I've come to the point in my synthing where I can no longer limit myself to the sounds each synth makes by itself. Any synth. I would like to be able to design the sounds that are in my mind without accumulating a wall of synths.

So I devised a simple workflow based on two major components:

1. A sound design studio - using a Mac laptop and all imaginable sound sources from virtual plugins, through my synths to my kitchen noises.

2. A strictly hardware sampler for playing the ready made sounds in real time, in a keyboard/rompler kind of manner (not the drum sampler way).

While the first step is easy and readily available to me, finding the appropriate sampler isn't.

What I need is a hardware sampler so that I can keep my playing away from any laptop/computer. It would be nice to be able to use it as a part of sound design too, although it's not essential as the laptop has got all the power needed.

The most important thing is the ability to transfer the .wav files to the sampler so that they are playable from the MIDI keyboard chromatically.

Does such a solution exist? If so, do samplers retain the loaded samples when they are powered down?
Old 25th December 2010
  #2
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Yoozer's Avatar
Akai Z4 or Z8 or S5000/S6000. No sampler retains sounds in memory after powering down, unless you play directly from flash-based memory but that rules out high polyphony. Even then, samplers retrofitted with flash drives consider them harddisks so they load everything in memory anyway.

Or just go software and leave the monitor switched off heh
Old 25th December 2010
  #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Yoozer
Or just go software and leave the monitor switched off heh
Thanks Yoozer. If the samplers don't keep their sounds, the software way might be more convenient after all. The laptop running a sampler into hardware effects and mixer is the same way I'd work with hardware anyway. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of a software sampler.
Old 25th December 2010
  #4
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Some more info because the previous reply was typed on my phone: RAM loses its contents when it's no longer powered. That's fine for a small amount of memory - a few kilobytes can be kept alive with just a battery - but not for the size you want in a sampler.

Flash-based memory, as used in USB sticks, retains its contents without power. While size is not really a problem (the last big hardware samplers topped out at 512 MB, and sticks already come in 32 GB sizes), access speed is. To play 128 notes simultaneously you need high access speeds, and that's not even counting the operations you need to do to transpose samples properly (sinc interpolation, etc.). This is why phrase samplers like the Roland SP series top out at 8 voices; the sounds are read directly from the card, and there's a limit to that.

The speed difference between "library" memory (harddisks, ZIP disks, CD-roms and flash drives) and "working" memory (fast RAM) is big enough that libraries are read in RAM in their entirety. Kontakt et al cache library content partially in memory and stream the rest from disk, but this is apparently not trivial to solve in hardware samplers; or by the time they figured it out they were going away from the market anyway. The concept of "load up everything first so you can work with it" was very prevalent - few people complained, I guess (the huge floppy drives as used in even older samplers were glacially slow, so that wasn't really possible anyway).

If all you do is play back, then even a lowly SP444 may do the job. However, if all you do is play back and you're not using its filters or effects, then you don't need that part of hardware sampling.

There are a few good reasons to get them:

- filter character (in the case of older ones, analog filters)
- converter character (crunchy 12-bit sounds)
- transposing character (coarser interpolation is faster but adds grunge; some really old samplers slow down the crystal clock speed, which sounds very typical too)
- workflow (though this mostly applies to MPCs, because rack-based samplers have a GUI that resembles that of a rompler - numpad, big display, function buttons and data dial).
- existing library content (if you have a boatload of vintage sample libraries, translation applications may not do the job properly, and filters are rarely matched)

One reason that's not so good but that's often brought up:
- samplers actually sample

But that's a moot point, since you should edit your samples with something that is good at it, not necessarily something that resides in the same box.

For the rest, all that's happening is that a series of bits is read from a medium and put to a D/A converter.

If all you want is just straight playback, then quite a number of these reasons simply don't weigh heavily enough.

As samplers developed, screens got bigger, memory got bigger, and accessibility/compatibility got easier to deal with (SCSI and ZIP drives are no fun), they also lost that kind of character. If you want it to read .wav files, you need to pick something modern, or you have to hook it up to a computer anyway to convert and transfer your files to the sampler.

If you have a Windows-laptop; vemberaudio.se - shortcircuit - try that. Its filters are really nice, and it's got a cleaner interface than Kontakt. Only downside: no effects, but that shouldn't be much of an issue; also, doesn't come with a giant library, but you have your own sounds to put in there.
Old 25th December 2010
  #5
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Yeah I'm looking for the same sort of thing myself. I want to make my own sampled instruments (from synths, software, other samplers, whatever) and then be able to play them away from the computer entirely, especially for shows where I want a minimalist, no-laptop setup.
Old 25th December 2010
  #6
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You could get an e-mu e6400 and use the elektron c6 software (which is free) to send samples to it from your computer via midi. I've got the e6400 and c6 but haven't used them together yet. And I love the e6400. Good interface, and it's easy to edit samples.

Apparently you can also use it as a synth and there's some kind of modulation system called cords that I haven't even touched yet. They're supercool, though I'd get an Ultra if I could do it again, they're just faster.
Old 25th December 2010
  #7
Here for the gear
 

Which hardware sampler is best for what I want to do?

This thread is perfect. I'm looking for the same thing. I'm so tired of relying on my laptop for live performance. It scares the he'll out of me.

The closest thing I've found to what I'm looking for has been the korg microsampler. Not sure if it really appeals to me though. I saw it behind a case in a store and it seemed cheaply constructed. I've thought about just using it as a sampling module though and using my axiom keyboard as a controller.

I know Yoozer mentioned the SP series tops out at 8 voices, but does it spread the samples chromatically? If I could use my axiom to control an SP 404, I think I could be happy with that.

Anybody have more suggestions?
Old 25th December 2010
  #8
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upfineclouds's Avatar
 

Thanks for the response, there are some interesting points to consider.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Yoozer
If you have a Windows-laptop; vemberaudio.se - shortcircuit - try that. Its filters are really nice, and it's got a cleaner interface than Kontakt. Only downside: no effects, but that shouldn't be much of an issue; also, doesn't come with a giant library, but you have your own sounds to put in there.
If I were to go software I'd prefer to avoid the freeware options. I've tried shortcircuit and high life, both acclaimed on the web but both crashed at some point on my computer when I tried them - this unfortunately rules them out.

Taking the hardware route (preferably), I would try to compromise between the size of samples and the loading times. I don't plan to use very large samples anyway - something in the range of 512 Kb - 1 Mb. Would Yamaha A3000 or similar be comfortable to work with? It seems it's got a floppy drive. Do you think a USB floppy drive for my laptop would do the trick for exchanging small samples between the laptop and the sampler? Does anyone know what are the average loading times using the floppy disks? Given the limited capacity of this medium they cannot be unbearably long, can they?

I'd rather wait 5 minutes for a floppy to load while the analogue synths warm up than spend that time bringing a laptop, connecting it, booting the system and launching the sampler.

Quote:
Originally Posted by IEatPeople
The closest thing I've found to what I'm looking for has been the korg microsampler.
For me Microsampler is out of the question, I totally dislike everything "micro" by Korg.
Old 25th December 2010
  #9
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Yoozer's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by upfineclouds View Post
If I were to go software I'd prefer to avoid the freeware options.
OK, but that doesn't leave much else, I'm afraid. Kontakt, Halion, 112db Morgana.

Quote:
Would Yamaha A3000 or similar be comfortable to work with?
Seeing the prices of secondhand hardware samplers, I'd skip the A3000 and go for an A4000 rightaway. Be warned though - they're huge and heavy (nearly 19" square). However, I'd even skip those and go for an Akai S5000. While the A4000/A5000 has a big bonus in the synthesis and FX department (see aeon's awesome post here) the S5000 makes your life easier with the USB option and an option to hook up a PS/2 keyboard - and the rotary encoders on the Yamahas have an issue that causes them to spin wildly after a certain time.

Quote:
It seems it's got a floppy drive. Do you think a USB floppy drive for my laptop would do the trick for exchanging small samples between the laptop and the sampler?
If they're really small you can transfer 'm just as well via SMDI; and while an USB floppy drive would do the trick, it's really awfully slow. If you want to make this something permanent, for the love of your own sanity, get a Compact Flash card reader.

Quote:
Given the limited capacity of this medium they cannot be unbearably long, can they?
That depends. You mention playing chromatically; are you talking about single-cycle waveforms to use it as a kind of ESQ-1?

Just test it yourself; gather a bunch of your samples and see if they total 1.44 MB max, then you see how many floppies you are going to need. Add 1 or 2 because you might not be able to fit all the samples exactly on a single one.

I could test it for you with my ESI4000 to see if I can get a 1 MB sample; floppy drives are very much standardized, so the speed shouldn't differ that much between models. (now, Yamaha's A-series SCSI speeds...)
Old 25th December 2010
  #10
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Hypnocil's Avatar
I use an ESi32 for more or less this purpose, which I love dearly. It has the SCSI board and speaks to an external 250Mb Zip drive. Loading times are not a worry - even if I have banks that are the full size of the sampler's memory, the loading times are just a few seconds. But in fact, I find that a bank associated with a particular project is usually a lot smaller: the fun I find in using this old machine is trying to get the maximum from each sample - the Esi has good filters and modulation options, and sounds good when you apply extreme transposition, so you can usually squeeze quite a lot out of each sample.

In fact, I have one of the original ESi 32s that, when I bought it, didn't have SCSI. For a number of years, the challenge was to keep the samples for a project down to the 1.44Mb of a floppy - and that's a rewarding challenge in itself.

As regards transferring samples to/from the computer, if you want to edit there, I have had some success with a firewire to SCSI adapter from RATOC, which allowed a SCSI sample dump to happen (much much faster than MIDI). I don't know if the RATOC would work with the latest version of OSX (I've gone back to editing on the sampler itself, which suits me fine), or with windows.
Old 25th December 2010
  #11
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upfineclouds's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Yoozer
You mention playing chromatically; are you talking about single-cycle waveforms to use it as a kind of ESQ-1?
Definitely they will not be single cycle waveforms but I hoped I could load a sample let say 1-2 seconds long and the sampler engine would take care of transposing it over a couple of octaves or even looping. I'd be fine even with one sound per floppy disk.

Thanks for mentioning the encoders on Yammies.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hypnocil
I use an ESi32 for more or less this purpose, which I love dearly. It has the SCSI board and speaks to an external 250Mb Zip drive. Loading times are not a worry - even if I have banks that are the full size of the sampler's memory, the loading times are just a few seconds. But in fact, I find that a bank associated with a particular project is usually a lot smaller: the fun I find in using this old machine is trying to get the maximum from each sample - the Esi has good filters and modulation options, and sounds good when you apply extreme transposition, so you can usually squeeze quite a lot out of each sample.
Sounds very much what I hope it to be :-) So I'll definitely go hardware.
Old 25th December 2010
  #12
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The ESI doesn't do .wav files by the way, and its display is character based (IMHO the function-keys display on the Akais is vastly superior, because you can see several options at once) which means that editing consists of staring at a number, scrolling through it, and repeated auditioning to edit/truncate it properly. But its filters are really not bad.

1/2 seconds per sample should probably not be that big of a deal, but make sure to use mono whenever possible; polyphony is usually advertised as expressed in simultaneous mono samples.
Old 25th December 2010
  #13
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Yes, I work in mono most of the time, playing with stereo only at the mixing stage. I've determined that I want an Akai S3000 (S5000 maybe).

For transferring the files, I'd use the sampler inputs to actually sample my prepared .wav files from the laptop and then record them in the sampler in its proprietary format onto floppy disks for later/regular use.
Old 25th December 2010
  #14
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In that case, a SCSI CD burner should not be expensive either. Bigger than ZIP disks, cheaper, and in a sense, more reliable (ZIP drives have the click of death).

You should be able to create ISO images of the CDs on your computer, which means you can easily back them up and re-burn them even though your computer has no idea what the contents are.
Old 25th December 2010
  #15
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Hypnocil's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Yoozer View Post
The ESI doesn't do .wav files by the way, and its display is character based (IMHO the function-keys display on the Akais is vastly superior, because you can see several options at once) which means that editing consists of staring at a number, scrolling through it, and repeated auditioning to edit/truncate it properly. But its filters are really not bad.
.
One lovely feature of the ESi is that, to get around the character based display, Emu implemented a scrub-wheel feature using the pitch wheel. So, when searching for a truncation point in a sample you can use the wheel to nudge it forward or backwards at whatever speed you want. It plays the sound as you do this, so finding the right point can be done mostly with your ears with practice.
Old 25th December 2010
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Yoozer
In that case, a SCSI CD-R isn't that expensive either. Bigger than ZIP disks, cheaper, and more reliable.

You should be able to create ISO images of the CDs on your computer, which means you can easily back them up and re-burn them even though your computer has no idea what the contents are.
That's a good idea if I need larger samples, I think. Thanks for great answers. I think I've found what I was looking for.
Old 26th December 2010
  #17
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if you want to take one sample and send it over to be played chromatically i'd recommend a roland v-synth.

if you want to do multi samples then the z4 or z8 will work well due to usb connections and wav file compatibility and large sample memory footprints.

the roland's only drawback is a limit of 50 MB for your own samples per user bank you create. however you can do several banks on a single 1 Gb cf card and use a cheap cf to pcmcia adapter and the roland's "card" memory storage. the roland also will allow you to dump samples to the v-synth over usb and comes with a librarian to place samples out to the card in the machine and copy patches from one .prj file (basically a user bank) to another.


the akai has better sample management functions and more memory for samples. however the roland can take one sample and automagically picth stretch/time stretch it across a whole keyboard range. this isn't too practical unless it's an extremely noisy or harmonically simple wave as the stretch will only yield a roughly 3 octave range of believeable stretch on most material. but it saves you having to do multisamples and level matching and looping for several samples like the akai multisample route will to get that same 3 octave range.


the roland also has a better synth interface and much more synth manipulation features, as well as cosm based guitar amp cabinet modeling and delay based effects. it has a few modelled filter types and is basically a jp8000+variphrase sampler+boss gt-10 pedal board effects processor with twin d-beams and an xy pad and touch screen all thrown together. not to mention a killer arpggiator that's basically a step sequencer as each patch can have it's own user programmed pattern and it's a keyboard and the z4/8 are racks.


the z4/8 has better sample management, more memory, and is more like a rompler in design and is cheaper by a small amount.
Old 26th December 2010
  #18
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I'd like to do a similar thing. Any opinions on the ESI4000? The emu filters appeal to me.
Old 26th December 2010
  #19
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i'd definitely go for an E-mu E4/E6400/etc over the ESI, it's just a better sampler for not much more money. you can also look into a card reader or flash drive (try scsiforsamplers.com) to replace the stock floppy and/or hard drive. no USB, but this should work almost as well.
Old 26th December 2010
  #20
Jose Ramón Alvarado Villa
 
Don Solaris's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by upfineclouds View Post
For transferring the files, I'd use the sampler inputs to actually sample my prepared .wav files from the laptop and then record them in the sampler in its proprietary format onto floppy disks for later/regular use.
There's no need for that.

Just get yourself a SCSI interface and connect directly to S3000XL using Mesa software. Not only you can transfer waves directly to Akai, but you can set up programs, key ranges and all the parameters (sort of a program editor), which is much faster than using a tiny screen on Akai.

Add a ZIP drive to the chain and simply store a program to it and you are done. ZIP drives work perfectly with S3000XL - there's no 'click of death' etc.
Old 26th December 2010
  #21
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If I had the funds on hand, I would be bidding on this. 256 mb + uses .wavs = what I'd want.

Are these scsi cd-rom drives the first practical use of cd-rw's or what?
Old 26th December 2010
  #22
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Not to hijack this thread but what are some other good options for sampling other instruments for samplers a la Autosampler? I feel like there are others out there but it's tricky for me to search for them.

Also, do any of these guys make samples of the 'release' portion of the sound and program it for popular samplers like kontakt, esx24, etc.)?
Old 27th December 2010
  #23
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Muser's Avatar
For your application I think the Akai's are fine but the EMUs and Yams are also fine samplers.

I went for the Z8 because of the detachable front. The S5/6k are also good but there are a series of options you'd need to get them to the same operational spec as the Z series. I'm not sure if the S5/6Ks can read USB flash drives. I'm also not sure if the modulation sources can be made for external controllers. but I suspect they might. The filter ADSR on the S5000 looks to be only 4 stage e.g. 3 rates and the sustain being a level stage. but it has an 8 stage Aux envelope. The Z series have 8 stages for filter and Aux. not sure about the S6K. I would say that the S5/6Ks are easier to program and the AkSys interface is better than the Z. most of the real power is in the modulation sections so a more intelligible interface there can only be a good thing.

I guess if the drive went down on the Z8 the thing should still read directly from the USB thumb stick, which would be a great way to backup for a drive failure. an Autoload file can also be setup so turning it on should load the thing from off. The Z8 takes a good deal of work to get to know. I think the S5/6K will be easier. The S series can also be expanded to 128 note polly I believe, which the Z can not.

Windows users report USB timeouts on AkSys. a mac doesn't have that issue. you can drag samples from a computer right to the hard drive or memory in AkSys. you can also double click a sample in memory and have it load into your chosen editor and when you save it, it loads back to the Akai. AkSys puts the file in a folder which it creates on the computer and reloads that file into memory when you save it.

all in all, these samplers are really good for dealing with large amounts of data and the filters and ADSRs are very good. a little brutal and and dynamically un-tame but I like them a lot.

The MPC4000 is the same thing + as the Z series.

The S5/6K also can perform disk steaming so I hear.

The V-Synth is way less in the polly department and it is dynamic dependent on the patches processor load.
also the ram is only going to be about 12meg in real terms. but that's fine for waveforms.

The EMUs and Yamaha's will be great too, but the loading times and file management and interface control on those is not as
ready to hand as the Z & S. though I think there's a windows editor for the yamaha.
Old 27th December 2010
  #24
Lives for gear
 

Hi.If you go for the z8 it will likely have a big hard drive in which will store thousands of samples all easily and quickly loaded.Nice big clear screen, detachable so you can rest it right in front of you or on your lap and 8 comfy knobs to twiddle any parameters you want easily chosen and saved with your programs(sample,parameters ect,ect.AND some very useable fx.You can have a lot of fun right away huh.Really.And at 24 bits.(Make sure it has the fx card and detachable front lead and that the data wheel is not knackered!!!)
Old 27th December 2010
  #25
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My MPC 60 is my main sampler and sequencer. Love it. Easy to use and sounds good.

And I use my Mirage to get even more dirty and also for samples that need to be chromatic across the keys.

Planning to get an S950 for some extra 12-bit sample time over my MPC 60

And also maybe an S5000/6000 for super long samples,vocals, remixes, re-edits.

Can't go wrong with the simplicity and sound of an Akai .
Old 27th December 2010
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by upfineclouds View Post
I've come to the point in my synthing where I can no longer limit myself to the sounds each synth makes by itself. Any synth. I would like to be able to design the sounds that are in my mind without accumulating a wall of synths.

...

What I need is a hardware sampler so that I can keep my playing away from any laptop/computer. It would be nice to be able to use it as a part of sound design too, although it's not essential as the laptop has got all the power needed.

The most important thing is the ability to transfer the .wav files to the sampler so that they are playable from the MIDI keyboard chromatically.

Does such a solution exist? If so, do samplers retain the loaded samples when they are powered down?
Any reason why something like the Fantom G doesn't fit what you want to do? I haven't used the latest Korg (M3) or Yamaha (Motif XF) ROMplers but I have the Fantom G and it's great for this sort of thing. You can keep the samples on a USB memory stick so there is some load time but not much. You can do the normal synth-style stuff with the samples (envelopes controlling filter cutoff, etc.) and quite a bit in the way of effects processing including switching between Live sets without effects cutting off if you plan to do any live recording.

I'm not a huge ROMpler fan so I wouldn't say the Fantom is a great synth, but it's a great controller (the keybed is awesome) and seems like the ideal live board/hardware sample playback synth.
Old 27th December 2010
  #27
Gear Nut
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NWSooner
Any reason why something like the Fantom G doesn't fit what you want to do?
I think Fantom has too many features that I personally don't need but which would cost me a lot of money, for example the synth, sequencer and the arpeggiator. I need a sampler only to be able to play my rather small samples that I prepare elsewhere.

Since I've figured out a way to transfer the sounds stored in .wav format on my computer to the sampler without the need of digital compatibility between the devices, the most optimal and elegant solution for my needs seems to be an Akai S3000XL. I like its moderate size, low price, multiple outputs, analogue audio inputs and plain functionality.
Old 27th December 2010
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Yoozer View Post
No sampler retains sounds in memory after powering down
The SP-12 Turbo does. But yes, it doesn't really fit the bill here.



I also think Shortcircuit is probably the best sounding software sampler I've tried, and way better in almost every aspect than Kontakt (which I despise).
Old 27th December 2010
  #29
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The Nord Wave maintains its 128 mb of sample memory in rom so it's always there. Unfortunately it's a $2000 option...
Old 28th December 2010
  #30
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Yoozer's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by The Hamburglar View Post
The Nord Wave maintains its 128 mb of sample memory
Quote:
Originally Posted by living sounds View Post
The SP-12 Turbo does.
heh

One day I'm going to make a website with synthesizer properties where you can check/uncheck certain tags to whittle a giant collection down to a few machines so this will never happen again and I don't need near-encyclopedic knowledge of every device ever made.

Quote:
Originally Posted by living sounds View Post
I also think Shortcircuit is probably the best sounding software sampler I've tried, and way better in almost every aspect than Kontakt (which I despise).
I wonder why this is. Surely, decent interpolation algorithms aren't -that- hard, and they should be almost according to textbook for the implementation.

Kontakt's modulation system is clumsy, and it seems as if that part of the interface never evolved after K2's graphical overhaul - but nobody cared, since the included library (which is pretty good, arguably) grows and as long as you don't click the wrench button the scary stuff is kept away from you, while the scripting is left for the small fraction of people who actually need it to pay their rent.

Short Circuit shines on single-cycle material where you can hear Ableton Live's "Simpler" giving up.
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