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E-mu Systems Emulator I Sampling Keyboard

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The Emulator is the name given to a series of digital sampling keyboards using floppy disk storage, manufactured by E-mu Systems from 1981 until 2000s. Though not the first commercial sampler, the Emulator was among the first to find wide use among ordinary musicians, due to its relatively low price and its size, which allowed for its use in live performance. It was also innovative in its integration of computer technology with electronic keyboards.

Finally released in 1981, the Emulator was a floppy disk-based keyboard workstation which enabled the musician to sample sounds, recording them to non-volatile media and allowing the samples to be played back as musical notes on the keyboard. The 51⁄4" floppy disk drive enabled the owner to build a library of samples and share them with others, or buy pre-recorded libraries on disk.

It was a very basic 8-bit sampler - it only had a simple filter, and only allowed for a single loop. The initial model did not even include a VCA envelope generator. It came in three forms: A two-voice model (only one of these was ever sold), a four-voice model, and an eight-voice model. When the original Emulator was turned on it was split. It was designed to be played in split mode, so playing the same sound on the full keyboard required loading up the same sound floppy disk in each drive.

Technical Specifications
Type: Digital
Synthesis: Sampling
Oscillators: 1
Sampling: 8 bit, Loop
Sampling Notes:
27.7kHz sample rate
128 KB sample RAM
512 KB Floppy storage
14 bit playback
Filters: 1
Types: 12dB Slope (2-pole), Low Pass
Filter Modulation: Keyboard, Knob
LFO: 1
LFO Parameters: Sine
Polyphony & Tuning
Polyphony: 8
Timbrality: 1
Tuning: Standard
Modes: Mono, Polyphonic
Patches RAM: 1
Storage: Tape
Case: Keyboard
Keyboard: 49 keys, Non-weighted, Plastic
Controls: Buttons, Knobs, Mod - Wheel, Pitch -Wheel
Display Type: LCD
Audio Output Connections: 1/4" Phone Jack, XLR, Mono Out
Audio Output Count: 3
Audio Output Notes: Upper, Lower, Mix
Inputs: 1/4" Upper Mono
DAC Bits: 8
DAC Frequency Rate: 27.4 kHz
Year Released: 1981
Year Discontinued: 1984
Units Made: 500
Used By
Stevie Wonder, Residents, David Bowie, Depeche Mode, Daryl Dragon, Tangerine Dream, Genesis, Philip Glass, Herbie Hancock, Kraftwerk, Marillion, New Order, Dave Stewart, Midge Ure, Ultravox, Paul Weller, Recoil, Vangelis, Paul Young
Design Notes:

E-mu Systems was founded in 1971 and began business as a manufacturer of microchips, digital scanning keyboards, and components for electronic instruments. Licensing this technology gave E-mu ample funds to invest in research and development, and they began to develop boutique synthesizers for niche markets, including a series of modular synthesizers and the high-end Audity system. In 1979, founders Scott Wedge and Dave Rossum saw the Fairlight CMI and the Linn LM-1 at a convention, inspiring them to design and produce a less expensive keyboard that made use of digital sampling.

Originally, E-mu considered selling the design for the Emulator to Sequential Circuits, who, at the time, was using E-mu’s keyboard design in their popular Prophet-5 synthesizer. However, soon afterward, Sequential Circuits stopped paying E-mu royalties on their keyboard design, which forced E-mu to release the Emulator themselves.

Stevie Wonder, who gave the sampler a glowing review at the 1981 NAMM convention, received the first unit (serial number "001"). Originally 001 was promised to Daryl Dragon of Captain & Tennille, because Daryl had been a loyal E-mu modular system owner for a long time before that. On the other hand, Stevie at the time had a slightly larger name-recognition value. In 1982, the Emulator was updated to include a VCA envelope generator and a simple sequencer, and the price was lowered. Approximately 500 units were sold before the unit was discontinued in early 1984. Other prominent users of E-mu Emulator I were New Order and Genesis, and it was among the many groundbreaking instruments used in the production of Michael Jackson's Thriller album. Composer and Writer David Frank of The System used the Emulator I on his productions from Sweat to Don't Disturb this Groove.
MSRP List Price: $10,000 - convert

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