14 Jun 2008

Sampling the sampler

About 10 years ago Heavenly Music Productions released a Fairlight Series IIx Sample CD-ROM (HM-SBK Vol.2) with all the samples from the original IIx library (PDF) as SoundFonts on it. I found this very interesting since it was the only way to listen to Fairlight samples and use them. But when I used the samples, at the time in my Akai S900, they lacked depth and only offered 1 sampled pitch/preset sound. In other words they didn't sound authentic enough.

Now that I have a working Series IIx in my possession. I can try once again to emulate the Fairlight sound but with greater precision.

So, I did a little experiment. I loaded the famous sample Sararr in the IIx, also know as Arr1, and sampled it like it was an acoustic instrument, sampling every 3th note up the scale.

The Sararr sample was made by Tom Stewart with the voice of Sarah Cohen. Click here >> to read what he had to say about recording this sound (you'll have to scroll down to the bottom of the page). This sample has been used on numerous records. It was even one of the preset sounds in Roland synths in the 90's (U-10, U-220, ...)

I made 2 different sample sets. One with the anti-aliasing filter in its original position as defined by the sample settings on Page 7 of the IIx and one with the anti-aliasing filter wide open (value = 127).

So now I present you with 2 different sample sets in NI Kontakt format. These sets also contain the Wav files (24 bit/44.1 kHz).
1. Sararr Filter_20 (12.2 MB) - This is the sound with the original IIx settings except for the Attack/damping and pitch LFO. You can add this in Kontakt.
2. Sararr Filter_127 (12.4MB) - This is the sound without the anti-aliasing filter. I tried to recreate the sound of the IIx's anti-aliasing filter in Kontakt. (And I came rather close).

All looping was done in Kontakt. I kept the IIx looping points. Also, I didn't perform any normalizing on the samples keeping the original volume differences when you play lower/higher on the keyboard.

When I played the 2nd sample set in my Emulator III and used the EIII's own analogue filter I couldn't here a difference between the EIII and IIx. Though, I did have to tweak the filter settings of every note because the filtering on the IIx has key tracking, making the filter more open when you play higher up on the keyboard.

Of course there's more to the sound of the Fairlight than just creating a multi sample set. Sampling a sound in the IIx is what gives it the most character. To make a perfect cloned preset sound you also need to count in the fact that each voice card has it's own different sound and filter calibration (I used the same voice card to create the above sample sets). There's also the sound of the VCA when you play a sample louder or softer. Also, Page R, the sequencer that forces you to be creative with only 8 samples has a certain groove to it.

update 12 march 09: Corrected the name Sarah Conor to Sarah Cohen. Thanks to Joe for the correction.
update 28/08/2011: corrected broken download links.

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11 Jun 2008

Fairlight CMI Series IIx - First impression

Ever since I was a child (I grew up in the 80's) I had an unhealthy fascination with the Fairlight. Buying every record that had "Fairlight programmed by..." in the liner notes and trying to find all the info and sounds of this mythical instrument.

Finally I have a Series IIx in my possession and I've been busy learning it and using it.

Here are my first impressions:

- This instrument really has a sound of its own. Whatever you sample in it will come out sounding, well... like a Fairlight. All sounds have a breathy quality to them. When you transpose a sound on a conventional sampler, the sampler will add or remove samples from the original sound to change the pitch of it. Not the Fairlight, it is one of the rarer samplers that alters its sample clock and always plays all samples of a sound. Just like when you change the speed of a tape recorder. Transposing the sound down will give it lots of bass.

Here's an example of a sound sampled in the IIx:
This is the original sound. A singing indian female voice (Wav 152KB)
This is the sound sampled and looped in the IIx at a sample frequency of 27600Hz (Wav 180KB)
The sampled sound played on the IIx through a Dimension C pedal (Wav 5.1MB)

- Each voice (there are 8 of them) has a whopping 16KB of sample RAM and an analogue filter. You might think that 16KB isn't much but it's actually quite sufficient. Just don't expect to sample long loops in it.

- There is no ADSR for the VCA, only Attack and 2 different release settings called damping. You can choose any of the 2 damping values by assigning a switch to them. There's also a single LFO that's routed to the pitch.

- The analogue filter is only used as an anti aliasing filter. There is no resonance setting or an ADSR to control it. What you can do however is assign key velocity or one of the sliders to the filter.

- The filter has a fixed key tracking value. This means the higher you play on the keyboard the more the filter will open up.

Here's is our sample played on the IIx with the anti aliasing filter wide open. (Wav 1.3MB)

- If you retrigger a voice on the same key the sound will cut off as if you were playing a monophonic instrument. Giving you the ni-ni-ni-nineteen effect. However when you play chords each note will get assigned to a different voice as you would expect from a polyphonic synth/sampler.

- There are 2 ways of creating a sound. Mode 1 and Mode 4. I don't know what happened to Mode 2 & 3 but I'm sure the Fairlight guys had a good reason to call the 2 modes 1 & 4. Mode 4 is sampling as we know it (Jim). Mode 1 lets you use the sample memory as a wave table with additive synthesis. I had high expectations of this but in the end it sounds disappointing. You can convert samples to Mode 1 but the results are pretty useless. It sounds actually the same as when you load a sample in Sounddiver and send it as a wavetable to a Waldorf Microwave. As long as the sound is a continuos tone like in our first example the results will be satisfying. Here is our sample converted to Mode 1 (Wav 172KB).

- It doesn't have sample accurate looping. You have in fact 128 segments that each contain 128 samples. You can only select a segment as a starting point and a segment as an end points for a loop. So, if you want to make good loops your sample frequency needs to be in relationship to the frequency of the sound you sample. That's why Page D (Display) is so useful. This allows you to view the FFT waveform of your sample and judge if your sample frequency was correct. A good sample, like the one I used as an example, will show you an even waveform as can be seen in the picture on the right (click to enlarge).

That's all for now. More to come in the following days.

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