An SPD-S Sampling Primer

You can scarcely open the pages of DRUM! without seeing a Roland SPD-S next to a drum set. It’s become something of a “must have” for drummers, like extra sticks or a second snare. The SPD-S is an all-in-one multipad that allows you to capture sounds (samples), edit these samples, and easily play them back. Nothing else needed to take a sound from sampling to playback – it’s a one-stop device.

An important distinction to make is that the SPD-S is a sampling pad. In fact, it’s the only sampling pad available on earth at the moment, and it’s designed specifically for drummers. Other multipads, such as the Roland Octapad SPD-30 and the Yamaha DTX-Multi 12 might look similar, but these pads playback sounds from a fixed sound set that is permanently etched into internal ROM. Although you can alter these internal sounds, do some loop creation, and add effects, these multipads do not sample. (The DTX-Multi 12 does allow you to load samples into the 64MB of internal memory, albeit just in 4MB chunks.)

The ability to load custom sounds and loops is exactly what the SPD-S is designed to do, again, specifically with the drummer in mind. Its easy-to-use interface allows you to work through every aspect of the sampling and editing process, with almost no prior sampling experience. Oh yeah, you don’t need a computer to create, edit, and manipulate samples; it can all be done onboard the SPD-S.

A Few Main Uses

• Play along with preproduced loops
• Play specialty sounds, like handclaps, reversed sounds, and background vocals.
• Use as a playback device for entire songs – just whack a pad to start/stop playback.
• Trigger external sounds from a pad or an acoustic drum trigger.
• Replace your bass player!

Spec Breakdown

• Nine pads, two sounds per pad – (six square pads and three shoulder pads)
• Dual-trigger pad/trigger input (TRS)
• Multi-function footswitch input (one TRS .25" input, two footswitches)
• Accepts up to a 4GB CompactFlash card (with 1.20 software installed, only 512MB accessible)
• 899 slots for samples (399 internal, 500 on the CompactFlash card)
• Over 5:30 of internal sampling time, or well over three hours using an external 512MB CompactFlash (CF) card

There’s room inside this little box for almost 900 samples. It even comes loaded with 181 single-strike samples and loops, most of which are very usable. Unfortunately, if you want custom sampled sounds and loops, they don’t magically appear perfectly trimmed and ready to use. There’s no sample-creation fairy. You’re going to have to create them. That said, there are a few basics about sampling and its terminology that will be helpful to know before you power up an SPD-S, and jump into the shallow end of the sampling pool.

A Quick Lesson In Terminology

Don’t freak: The terminology is easy and pretty straightforward. Spending a little time becoming familiar with these terms will save you a lot of headache in the future.

.AIF The acronym for the “audio interchange format” sound file type originally associated with Macintosh computers. This format is now editable on virtually every computer.

.WAV The acronym for the “waveform audio file format” sound type originally associated with computers running Microsoft Windows. All computers can edit this file type.

Amplitude Amplitude is the height of a sample’s waveform – the larger the amplitude, the louder the sample.

Bit A bit is one single digit of binary code, either a “1” or “0,” “on” or “off.”

Bit Depth The number of bits used to represent the amplitude of a waveform. The larger the bit depth, the better the sample will resemble the original sound. CDs have a bit depth of 16 bits. Bit depths of 24 bits are now standard.

Line Level The level of output usually associated with synthesizers, most commonly uses a .25" male plug

Loop A piece of audio that plays repeatedly end-to-end. Loops tend to be primarily drums and/or percussion, but may be other instruments, such as guitar.

Polyphony The number of voices a synth and/or sampler can play at one time before a voice is dropped. The first voice dropped is most often the first voice played.

Resampling The act of saving a sample that has been altered or manipulated as a new sample, leaving the original sample unchanged.

Sampling The act of making a digital representation of an analog sound.

Sample Rate The number of times per second a snapshot or sample of a sound is taken. The higher the sample rate, the more accurately the sample will represent the original sound. Audio CDs have a sample rate of 44.1kHz.

Threshold The point at which, when crossed, an audio waveform will be recognized by a device.

Waveform A waveform is the visual shape of a sampled sound. It is plotted as amplitude in volts vs. time in milliseconds.


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