What are soft samples?


Sampling is just another word for recording sound on digital media. We find this process of sampling audio in our sequencers, multi track recorders, CDR recorders, in many workstation synths, in hardware samplers (of course) and even in effects boxes.  How interesting it is that we usually do not find any form of sampling in most soft samplers!  What!  It's true.  The entire class of products is mis-named. When we talk about soft samplers we are really referring to software sample-playback devices that assign samples to a keyboard or other controller.  This mis-naming happened when people compared these new devices to the hardware samplers they replaced.  A soft sampler, in general, does everything a hardware sampler does, except record the samples.  When we talk about software samplers here, we mean a software device that maps audio files to a MIDI keyboard or controller.

When you assign samples to a keyboard  they can be played like a piano.  You can record the MIDI data from your keyboard or controller and trigger these samples on playback.  The all important feature is that you can assign a sound to any key(s) at any pitch you want.   A decent soft sampler lets you layer sounds, stacked on top of each other like a layer cake.   You can map the keyboard to emulate traditional instruments, drum kits, or you can place a whole bunch of loops and beats on the keys.

Realism and Creativity are the major reasons to use soft samples.  First, Realism.  While few are going to be fooled when you try to play a string section from your MIDI sample based synth, you will fool more of the people, more of the time, using an excellent set of quality samples.  Don't get me wrong, you can go really far with a synths emulating acoustic instruments, especially if you have good technique, but when it has to sound real, you need a sampler and a great set of samples. 

Second, its for Creativity.  When you map your own sounds to the keyboard and play them with your hands the brain hears pathways open and you find cool stuff to do.  Many trippy beats, hooks, special effects have been discovered this way.  You never know what gold you might mine.
One way to think of building your sample library is as a lifelong project.  You collect samples as you go along. You'll get a starter set with your soft sampler of choice, and you build from there.  All the expensive libraries mentioned above have cheaper versions, and some have an upgrade path.  For example, the East-West Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra (EWQLSO) comes in a Gold and Silver edition.   Emulator X2 has lots of inexpensive libraries.  ProSamples offers scores of multi format CD-roms which can be bought one at a time.  There are also hundreds of Akai and Emu sample cd roms from the hardware sampler days that can be imported into many soft samplers.  Prices are dropping significantly on these now as the industry moves towards the larger DVD based libraries.  Finally, there are massive amounts of WAV file and audio sample CDs in circulation.  Just create your own .WAV file from these and drop them in your soft sampler of choice.  Its harder work this way as you have to do all the programming, but the results can be great.

In the final analysis you may not need a soft sampler but if you want to achieve the highest quality sounds and create new and interesting sounds, samples are the ticket.






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