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E-mu Systems SP-12 Sampling Drum Machine

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The SP-12 also featured velocity sensitive pads, 24 ROM samples (Prairie Prince from the Tubes played the samples!) and 12-bit linear sampling. The SP-12's incredibly easy-to-use interface and cutting sound made it an instant hit.

E-mu SP-12 12 also known as the “sampling drum computer” was designed in 1985 and widely released in 1986 by E-mu Systems. Although the SP-12 was quickly superseded by the more powerful SP-1200, the SP-12 is often regarded as the first commercially successful drum machine and sampler.

The E-mu SP-12 was the spiritual successor to E-mu’s “Drumulator” and was originally going to be produced under the name Drumulator II, however shortly before the sampler went into production its name was changed to SP-12. The name SP-12 stands for sampling percussion at twelve bits, demonstrating the power of the sampler.

The E-Mu SP-12 today is classified as “Low-Fi” due to the fact that it samples at 12 bits at a rate of 27 kHz, however it came preloaded with 24 drum samples in ROM that consisted of a rim shot, 4 toms, electronic snare, snare, bass, 4 electronic toms, hi hats, crash, ride, claps, and cowbell along with 8 user sample positions.

The original SP-12 had a maximum sampling time of 1.2 seconds while with the Turbo upgrade has a maximum sampling time of 5 seconds. Additionally the SP-12 has a 5000-note memory allowing it to store 100 songs, and 100 patterns and 400 songs, and 400 patters with the turbo upgrade.


Type: Digital
Sound Engine: Sampling
Pattern Engine (+) Open Manual Page
Programming: Real Time, Step
Sounds Per Pad (+) Open Manual Page
Sounds Per Pad: 1
Sources: Samples
Sampling: 12 bit, Gated, Loop, One Shot (Phrase)
Sampling Notes: + 24 Samples in ROM + 27.5 kHz sampling rate + 1.2 seconds + 5 seconds with TURBO upgrade
Polyphony & Tuning
Polyphony: 8
Timbrality: 8
Tuning: Standard
Modes: Polyphonic
Patterns User: 100
Songs User: 100
Storage: Internal
External Storage: MIDI
Case: Desktop
Trigger Pads : 8 pads, Buttons, Hard Pads
Controls: Buttons, Faders, Knobs, Sequencer, Velocity
Display Type: LCD, LED, Backlit
Display Count H: 16
Display Count V: 2
MIDI / Sync / Trigger (+) Open Manual Page
Audio Outputs: 1/4" Phone Jack, Stereo Main
Audio Output Count: 10
Audio Output Notes: 1 - 8 1/4" Mono
Inputs: 1/4" Sample Input
DAC Bits: 12
DAC Frequency Rate: 27.5
Power: 120 V AC, IEC Connector
List: $2,795
Retail: $2,500
Used: $800 - $1,600
Released: 1985
Units Made: 1987
Design Notes:

World's first sampling drum machine that stored sounds in battery backed RAM which could be saved to the world's slowest disk drive - the Commodore 5.25" serial floppy drive (the base model had 1.2 seconds of sampling time while the Turbo model offered 4.6 seconds total sampling time).

The E-mu SP-12 is credited with helping usher in the era of digital sampling by being one of the first digital samplers in production, and allowing musicians to take digital sampling in a completely different direction.

Originally the sole purpose of digital sampling was to allow producers to implement a desired sound into a keyboard so it would be able to be replicated within a song, however the SP-12 allowed the producer to focus primarily on the rhythm through the sampling and sequencing of the sounds of a drum something which was relatively rare at this point in time. The SP-12 would sample the desired drum sound, allowing you to augment it and then sequence the sampled drum sounds in any order that the producer would like to create the rhythmic backdrop for a song.

Although this process was very innovative for the SP-12’s true abilities were not E-mu’s original intentions. DJ’s of the 80’s became famous for their ability to augment the sounds of old records to produce almost an entirely new composition through the use of a record player and this same principle was applied to the SP-12. People were beginning to replace the simple sampled drum sounds with the beats of their favorite drummers and even entire melodies, allowing their digital sampler to work just like the aforementioned set of turntables. These series of innovations left musicians with almost an endless amount of possibilities.

Once E-mu systems realized the potential that the SP-12 had they quickly made the “Turbo” upgrade available which quadrupled the memory and doubled the sampling time. However the SP-12’s existence was short lived for after only 2 years of production it was replaced by the far superior SP-1200. Today the SP-12 is more of an antique due to the superiority of the SP-1200, but it is still highly regarded as a collector’s item.


The SP-12 is almost identical in design to the E-mu Emulator II and many of the knobs and buttons are interchangeable

Many of the original SP-12s have "Drumulator II" written on them.

Original SP-12's were known to have "Paul is the Walrus" written backwards on them.

Later SP-12's Had "Loonie Tunes World Tour" written on the boards
Manuals & Documents

Product Sites & Reviews
Company Product Sites:
[+] www.creative.com

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