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It was a matter of bad timing, really. By 2002, the year the Z8 and its little brother, the functionally identical Z4 (pictured above) were released, the era of the hardware sampler was at an end, dealt a death knell by friendly, sophisticated software alternatives. And that’s too bad, because the Z series broke new ground by being the world’s first 24-bit/96kHz hardware samplers. They also sported dual sets of MIDI I/O for a total of 32 MIDI channels and, with 64 voices of polyphony, was just conceivable that you might be able to make use of ‘em all, too.
Additionally, they sported 20GB internal hard drives and could be loaded with up to 512MB RAM. A wide variety of input and output configurations were available, though most of them were optional on the Z4. Also optional on the Z4 were the Z8’s built-in effects, by way of the EB4JS multi-effects board. The usual brace of reverbs and delays, along with choruses, dynamics, flangers were joined by more esoteric fare such as pitch-correction, distortion and auto-pan effects.
Standard sampling tools included the usual trimming, cropping, time-stretch, and looping (auto-looping was available). You could also slice regions and assign those regions to the keyboard. Resampling (with effects!) and BPM matching were in tow as well.
Standard synthesis functions were also in place, including Akai’s best-yet selection of filter types. There was a pair of LFOs per voice along with three envelope generators (including two multi-stage jobs) per voice and plenty of opportunities for modulation and mayhem.
Most of the day-to-day jobs were made easier with the free (and still available) AKSYS editing software. Said software ran on your main computer to which the sampler was tethered via a USB cable. Real-time tweaking was provided by a brace of assignable knobs; four on the Z4, and (natch) eight on the Z8.
If you’re thinking that the Z4 and Z8 sound like they could give a software sampler a run for its money, well, you can see why Akai figured that there was still room in the marketplace for a kick-ass hardware sampler. Unfortunately for Akai, the Z4 and Z8 went nowhere fast and were blown out for ridiculously low prices. And that’s too bad - they were probably the best samplers nobody ever bought!