Find the best hardware sampler for your set-up with our guide to the MPC, SP-404, and Octatrack - plus find the best sampler options from Novation, Korg and more
Whether you’re an accomplished beatmaker or just getting started on your sampling journey, let us take you through some of our favourite bits of kit for chopping-up and mixing new sounds.
In this blog we’ll look at the renowned Akai MPC, Roland SP404, and Elektron Octatrack models, comparing them to a range of other awesome hardware samplers, workstations, and production units that we think are worth your time. We’ll be exploring some of the following sampling solutions:
- Akai MPC
- Roland SP-404
- Elektron Digitakt
- Elektron Octatrack
- Novation Circuit Rhythm
- Korg Electribe
- Native Instruments MASCHINE
- Beginner Samplers
- Synth-based Sampling & Teenage Engineering OP-1
First though, let’s look at some features you might want to consider when searching for the best sampler for your set-up and music-making process..
What’s the Best Sampler for Me? Understanding Sampler Features
Depending on how you plan to use your sampler, there are some different features you should look out for in order to integrate it into your creative process as seamlessly as possible.
For example, some samplers have built-in speakers which means they’re suited for taking out on the road and using whenever inspiration strikes, without the need for headphones or external speakers. If you choose a sampler with a set of features that best matches how you plan to use it then you’ll have far more joy and make better music with it.
In order to understand some basic sampler features we’ve listed a few key things you should think about before splashing out..
As mentioned above, you should consider a sampler that has built-in speakers if you plan to work on your music on-the-go. Samplers with built-in speakers are great because you’re free to edit your work and build sounds any time you want to - even if you don’t have access to headphones or speakers.
You should consider the storage capabilities of any sampling equipment that you are interested in. If you make sample-heavy music (or just get a lot of use out of your kit!) then make sure to think about both the internal and external storage capabilities of the device and how you would back-up anything that you might need.
All pads are different, and they can have a big effect on how samplers feel to play. When choosing a sampler you should scrutinise the pads and consider whether they are best-suited to your needs - especially if you plan on using the instrument in a live setting where performance is key. You should also consider additional features of the pads, such as if they’re velocity-sensitive.
Many samplers contain sequencers that allow you to create loops and patterns on the machine. These are beneficial for composition and performance, especially if you are looking to avoid using a computer and DAW.
Polyphony in sampling refers to machines that have the ability to layer different sounds and play them back at the same time. If this is something that you plan to use in your compositions then look for samplers that are polyphonic. This will usually be expressed by a number, for example ‘12-note polyphony’ - this refers to how many different samples you can play on the machine simultaneously.
Samplers may have a range of filters which allow you to change the sound of your samples by altering the EQ. On some models you can save parameter changes to a sample or to a sequence, meaning that performances have a dynamic element. If this is important to how you want to edit your sounds and use the instrument then remember to give a thought to the filters that are present.
Effects & Modulation
Likewise, different samplers will have a different set of effects and ways in which you can modulate your sounds. If you like the sound of heavily-processed or ‘wet’ samples then you should opt for a sampler that has a good range of effects - they’re particularly useful if you enjoy using samples in a more experimental way.
You will come across varying levels of MIDI capabilities when looking at different samplers. If you plan on triggering sampled sequences with MIDI data, for example, then make sure you have the right bit of kit for the job.
Some samplers come with a library of pre-installed sounds for you to chop up and use in your music. This makes it easier to get started as you don’t have to record your own pieces to sample, so beginners often appreciate a sampler which has usable sounds straight out of the box.
Now that we’ve discussed some features you should consider when buying a sampler, let’s start by digging deeper into the various MPCs from Akai..
The Akai MPC is perhaps the most iconic sampling machine ever created, and countless musicians have turned to the extraordinary capabilities of this instrument in order to create their art.
Fans of J Dilla in particular will appreciate the capacity of the MPC, with the legendary producer famously ‘humanising’ his sampler and creating a range of extraordinary beats. The MPC has also found favour with artists such as The Avalanches, Daft Punk, Dr Dre, and The Chemical Brothers.
Nowadays Akai produces a range of different Music Production Centres, each with a different focus depending on your workflow and creative process. Here, we take a look at some of our favourite MPC samplers to help you decide which is the best MPC for you..
Which is the best MPC?
Akai has created a range of modern MPCs to suit every different kind of beatmaker and producer, with each machine offering a different set of tools whilst remaining wholly true to the feel of the classic MPC samplers.
Whether you’re just getting started or a seasoned MPC veteran, check out some of the best choices below..
Akai MPC Studio
An affordable entrance point to the world of MPCs, this hybrid beatmaking machine is designed as a controller for your DAW - giving you access to the unmistakable MPC workflow in a modern, sleek package.
The 16 full-size RGB pads are velocity-sensitive to ensure maximum expression and control, whilst the colour LCD screen offers a quick glimpse at your samples, making it a useful tool for editing waveforms and adjusting parameters. You can also use the Touch Strip Controller for real-time control and manipulation of your own sounds, lending a dynamic feel to your productions.
The Studio model also offers 3.5mm MIDI I/O for seamless integration with other MIDI devices and gear, in addition to MPC2 Software for the full MPC DAW experience on your computer.
Akai Professional MPC One
Whether you need an independent production tool or a helping hand for controlling your DAW, this machine does it all.
The Akai Professional MPC One is a standalone Music Production Centre, meaning that it contains everything you need in order to create fully-realised songs without a computer or DAW.
Rugged and road-ready, this machine delivers a seamless workflow courtesy of the powerful Multicore system - so it’s ready to be integrated into your current set-up without any hassle.
Use the MPC One to control hardware MIDI devices and CV/Gate modules, and then switch to software and the native Splice integration to get the most out of your samples both in your DAW and on your MPC.
The possibilities are truly endless, and with 2GB of RAM in addition to 2GB of user storage (plus an SD card slot for expanding your library) you’re able to rely on this MPC no matter how you want to use it.
Akai Professional MPC Live II
The Akai Professional MPC Live II once again allows for standalone creation or expressive DAW control depending on how you want to work.
Constructed with a built-in stereo monitoring system, this is the first MPC of its kind; giving you the ability to monitor your productions in a variety of different ways depending on your environment.
It also boasts three stereo 1/4" TRS outputs (six mono) along with phone/line-level inputs, USB, MIDI, four TRS CV/Gate Outputs and even Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. The 2GB of RAM is supported by 16GB of internal memory in addition to an external SD card slot and a user-expandable 2.5-inch SATA drive connector (SSD or HDD).
Once again the Live II stays true to the 16 pad layout that MPC users love, so however you decide to integrate it into your creative process you’ll get the familiar feeling of making music with an MPC.
Akai Professional MPC X Standalone Music Production Machine
The ultimate MPC is the Akai Professional MPC X Standalone Music Production Machine.
Blending the feel of their hybrid software controllers and marrying it with classic MPC standalone workflow, here you have the ability to engage in full digital production without the requirement for connecting a computer.
The full colour 10.1” multi-touch screen is combined once again with the 16 responsive, velocity and pressure-sensitive RGB pads, and the powerful heart of this machine lies in the MPC 2.0 software.
MPC Software 2.0 can be run from a Mac or PC as a plugin in all popular DAWs, or as a full-featured standalone application in the box. If you’re looking for a versatile centrepiece for your studio then look no further than the MPC X.
The awesome SP-404 range of samplers from Roland provide fully-immersive, fast, and efficient beatmaking that prioritises performance.
The latest iteration of the SP-404 is the MKII, a highly-expressive tool which gives you access to some of the finest effects ever found in a sampler; including classics such as the Vinyl Simulator and new additions like Resonator and Lo-Fi.
Some of the other features on this model include:
- Vivid OLED display for visual waveform editing, full menu access, and more
- 17 velocity-sensitive, RGB pads
- Faster workflow with quick startup and load times
- Compact, ultra-lightweight design
- 32-voice polyphony, 160 samples per project, and 16 internal projects for expanded programming possibilities
- Onboard sample editing
- Pre-loaded sound library with 144 high-quality, professionally recorded samples and patterns
No matter if you’re a producer, DJ, drummer, or guitarist, you’re sure to find a way to get one into your creative workflow. The SP-404 collection is especially inspiring when used in tandem with other products from Roland such as their iconic drum machines.
The SP-404A Linear Wave Sampler is a great option for this, and another of our favourite picks here at PMT. It also features a built-in microphone, so it’s an awesome choice if you want to record your own samples directly into the unit.
You can check out the full list of features and specifications below:
Elektron Digitakt & Octatrack
A favourite of modern producers and innovators such as Thom Yorke, Forest Swords, Flume, Panda Bear, and the late SOPHIE, Elektron make truly fantastic pieces of kit for those who want more from their sampler.
The Digitakt is a fully-featured groovebox, drum machine, and sampler in one sleek, convenient package.
Based around a simple rotary-control interface and menu system, this piece of gear is perfect for editing audio from external sources and tweaking it to perfection.
Although designed and built for studio producers, the Digitakt is equally-suited to live performance due to the durable construction, high sound quality, and crisp OLED display.
It also comes pre-loaded with a variety of superb electronic and acoustic sounds, including percussion, synths, and FX that allow you to start creating, experimenting and producing right away.
A true sampling powerhouse, the Octatrack is an authentic and potent sound manipulation device that can be used in the studio or in a live setting.
This versatile beast allows users to record samples in real-time via multiple source options, featuring four inputs for connecting to external devices. Samples can be stretched, sliced, and pitch-shifted at will, and you’ll find that many musicians use an Octatrack at the centre of their rig due to the power it contains.
In addition to two configurable stereo inputs, the Octatrack also boasts a main, cue, and headphone output, so it can be used as a mixing desk for complete control and precision of your set-up.
Each track can be sculpted with up to 3 separate LFOs, and samples can be altered further by taking advantage of the mighty crossfader. Create a sound that is uniquely yours with the Octatrack and prepare to be blown away by the capabilities of this stunning machine.
Novation Circuit Rhythm
This sampler has the ability to record straight into the device via the audio inputs, meaning that you can build tracks whenever and wherever inspiration strikes. Use your phone, a record player, or a synth to capture your sample and then slice it, reverse it, and play it chromatically across 8 sample tracks with independent 32-step channels.
You’re able to quantise your grooves and transform them on-the-fly, and with hassle-free connectivity including full-size MIDI in, out and thru, plus analogue sync out, you can easily and instantly integrate the Circuit Rhythm into any pre-existing studio rig.
It’s also available bundled together with the Novation Circuit Tracks for ultimate performance control - check it out below.
Korg ESX2 Electribe
Compact and affordable, the ESX2 is also surprisingly powerful yet intuitive and easy-to-use. The top panel allows you to edit waveforms or add FX without hassle, and by exporting sequence data to Ableton Live you can do further detailed editing and final mixing.
If you plan to use your sampler live then you can enjoy full-integration with various other pieces of kit, as well as enjoying features such as pattern chain function.
Some features include:
- Sound System Type PCM sound engine + analog modelling sound engine
- 24 voice maximum polyphony (depending on the Oscillator, Filter, and Insert FX type)
- Sampling Frequency 48 kHz
- AD/DA Conversion 24 bit
- Up to 499 user samples
For a full list of specifications click below and check it out for yourself.
Native Instruments MASCHINE
Used by the likes of St Vincent, Kaytranada, and Japanese Breakfast, the MASCHINE series from Native Instruments is another modern production tool that offers stunning sampling and groovebox capabilities.
Take a look at some of the different models below and discover your next piece of gear..
Native Instruments MASCHINE Mikro Mk III
For those who seek the feel of a classic beatmaker but with a more modern workflow, look no further than the MASCHINE Mikro Mk III. This pad controller provides all of the essential software sampling and sequencing tools you'll ever need in a sleek, portable unit.
Producers around the world rely on MASCHINE software to create their music, relying on the simple user interface, great sound and near-endless supply of Expansion content.
This handy piece of gear can be used as standalone software or integrated as a VST with your existing DAW instrument channel strip for Logic Pro, Pro Tools, Ableton Live, or FL Studio.
Native Instruments MASCHINE Mk III
This all-purpose music production control centre is an essential tool for producers of any genre.
Fast and intuitive, the MASCHINE Mk III is an integrated hardware/software system that includes a sampler, arranger, mixer, FX, and a built-in audio interface.
The included MASCHINE software and 8 GB sound library allow you to work effortlessly between the Mk III and your DAW, and with the added KOMPLETE 13 SELECT you’re treated to 45 GB of instruments and effects, too.
The 16 large pads keep things feeling familiar when creating beats, and the addition of new touch-sensitive parameter knobs and a ‘Smart Strip’ allow for a range of different modes suited to various styles of playing.
Native Instruments MASCHINE Plus
A first for Native Instruments, the MASCHINE+ is a standalone groovebox that offers everything a producer could need for on the stage or in the studio.
Setting the new standard for music hardware of the future, this unit combines the much-loved MASCHINE workflow with industry-leading software and studio-grade sound quality.
Easily integrated into your existing set-up, the MASCHINE+ also comes with:
- Quad-core processor and 4GB RAM for fast, intuitive workflow
- 16 backlit touch-sensitive pads - ideal for finger-drumming and sampling
- Integrated 24-bit/44.1kHz audio interface and built-in WiFi
You’re also treated to a step-sequencer, note repeat, swing, padlink and vintage sampler emulation along with MASCHINE effects and plugins - and with two colour displays, it’s easier than ever to make your music with total precision.
Beginner Sampler Options
If you’re new to sampling then you might want to consider a smaller, budget-friendly unit that is easier to ‘pick-up-and-play’ without any experience. For this we recommend the following samplers:
These samplers allow you to get started without too much of a learning curve, but they’re still sufficiently powerful to make some really cool music. More importantly, they’re lots of fun!
Teenage Engineering PO-133 Street Fighter Micro Sampler
Made in collaboration with Capcom, this pocket-sized sampler is based on the iconic Street Fighter game series.
In addition to some cool sounds and visuals based on the Capcom series, you can also find a built-in microphone and 40-second sample memory for creating your own unique music.
Despite its miniature size, you’ll also find 8 melodic sample slots, 8 drum slots, a sequencer, and even 16 effects - all powered with 2xAAA batteries. You also get 3.5mm audio I/O and Jam Sync for connecting to other Pocket Operator devices - and even a clock with an alarm feature, too.
Korg Volca Sample
This sample-based drum machine is powered by an 8-voice sound engine that makes it a great option as a standalone production tool or as part of a live rig.
Boasting a Pattern Chain Mode with 2 different Step Jump modes and even a Star Delay function, the Volca Sample 2 is fitted with a Micro USB port that allows you to easily connect to your computer to manage your samples.
From here you can also play your sampler via any DAW, as well as easily control and sync your rhythms for a streamlined performance. You can also assign individual MIDI channels to different parts, making live performance easier than ever when integrating with external sequencers and keyboards.
If you’re looking for a hybrid unit that allows you to sample whilst offering high-quality sound synthesis and sequencing, then we also recommend the Teenage Engineering OP-1.
Teenage Engineering OP-1
Relied upon by countless professional musicians for its innovative workflow and sophisticated design, the Teenage Engineering OP-1 is a revolution in synthesis, sampling, and MIDI control.
In a market saturated with countless bits of kit for musicians to choose from, the OP-1 still manages to capture the imagination of all who take the time to experiment with it. Despite the lightweight build of this machine, it’s one of the most powerful and inspiring sampling tools available.
One of the coolest features of the OP-1 is the built-in FM radio that allows you to sample from worldwide FM band-support between 64-108MHz. Find an obscure sample on the airwaves? Capture it free from your DAW and instantly begin to tweak it to fit your music - easy.
Some of our other favourite features include:
- Multiple synthesizer engines with exchangeable architecture
- Built-in 24 voice instant live sampler
- 4 track tape recorder with variable tape speed
- 6 minutes recording time (up to 24 minutes)
- 4 track mixer with EQ, effects, drive and Master Out
- Multiple exchangeable effects
- Multiple exchangeable sequencers
- USB MIDI Controller - MAC & PC compatible
- 2-Way USB file transfer - MAC & PC compatible
- Colour-coded vector-based user interface
- Instant reverse and variable tape speed recording
- Full classic tape editing capabilities
- Master tempo with beat matching to tape feature
Check out all of the specifications here, or click below to see a full range of Samplers at PMT:
Want to learn more about how to use a sampler? Need some extra help with how to set-up a new sampler? Call us on 0151 448 2089 or check out your local store to speak to one of our Experts about your needs.