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4 retro plugins that'll give you that old-school sampler sound in your DAW

Whenever people reminisce about '80s and '90s hardware samplers, you’re likely to hear them recount fond memories of lo-fi sound: 12-bit this, crunchy that…

The truth is that no manufacturer ever set out to make a lo-fi sampler. Quite the opposite. Every generation of sampling technology back in those glory days was intended to be a step up in quality from what went before: more neutral preamps, cleaner converters, tighter clocking, higher resolution, higher sample rate.

By the early '90s, most samplers were capable of recording and playing back at CD standard 16-bit/44.1kHz resolution. They might not necessarily sound as pristine as modern digital hardware (most of which typically records in 24-bit resolution for even greater accuracy), but they do tend to sound pretty clean.

Having said all that, there’s no denying that the sound of those low-res samplers has aged well. The 8-bit Emulator II and the 12-bit MPC60, for example, have noticeably different characters to later 16-bit models in the same ranges. The sound of a 12-bit sampler, for one, isn’t always completely filthy, it generally just sounds a bit tougher and punchier.

If you fancy getting a bit of that vintage sampler flavour into your tracks, the very good news is that there are an increasing number of impressively authentic plugin emulations out there with which to do it. Here are four of our faves…

For a full guide to old-school sampling, pick up the February 2019 edition of Computer Music.

1. Togu Audio Line TAL-Sampler

TAL Software’s retro sampler plugin draws inspiration from hardware classics like the E-MU Emulator II and Akai S1000. It’s not the simplest option here, but its comprehensive array of filters and envelopes enable you to create truly authentic 80s sample-based sounds.

Read more about Togu Audio Line TAL-Sampler

2. Mathieu Demange RX950

Faithfully modelled on the signal path of the classic 12-bit Akai S950, RX950 adds crunch and grit in abundance. It’s a very simple tool with just four main controls. A bit of a one-trick pony, but who’s complaining when the trick sounds this good? A real bargain.

Read more about Mathieu Demange RX950

3. Toneboosters TimeMachine 

Part of the affordable Track Essentials 3 bundle, TimeMachine is a bit-crushing tool with a few tasty features, particularly the ability to simulate A/D and D/A aliasing independently. With careful tweaking, you can dial in a range of vintage sampling effects.

Read more about Toneboosters TimeMachine

4. D16 Group Decimort

Not strictly a sampler, but Decimort is a go-to option for vintage digital sounds. Most bit-crushers best suit distortion, but Decimort’s more precise resampling options let you imitate vintage digital gear. Classic sampler presets are included.

Read full D16 Group Decimort review

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