SP 1200 Alternatives

The E-mu SP-1200 is a classic drum machine and 12-bit sampler which was widely used in the production of hip-hop and electronic music in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It features a built-in sample rate of 30kHz, which is lower than most modern equipment, but it gives the device a characteristic gritty and warm sound that many producers find desirable.

Here’s a great walkthrough of you program samples on the Emu SP1200.

The E-mu SP-1200 has been used by many famous musicians, including DJ Premier, Dr. Dre, and The Bomb Squad. The device’s unique sound and capabilities have made it a classic piece of equipment in music production.

But with the legacy comes a hefty price tag of several thousand dollars, which most of us probably won’t be able to spend on an old machine. So what are viable alternatives.

Hardware: Isla Instruments S2400

If you want a hardware sample like the SP1200, but you can’t find or afford the original, then this one is the closest thing you will get. It still costs you around 1800$ but the team behind it tried to faithfully recreate the sound and workflow of the SP1200 while adding modern features. I haven’t had the chance to try it myself, but on paper this is the very best of old school and new school technology coming together.

Software Plugins

If it’s not the workflow but the sound of the SP1200 you are chasing, here’s some alternatives which are a lot cheaper:


Low Hiss released the plugin eSPi a while ago. It makes the gritty sound & mimics the workflow that helped create some of the biggest hip hop beats of the 1990’s. And you can download this for next to nothing on all major platforms (iOS, Android, Windows, MacOS & Linux). This is a simple all-in-one solution for beat-making, made by beat-makers, for beat-makers. You should definitely check this one out.

SP950 effect plugin. €20.

Probably the most accurate emulation of the SP’s 12-bit 26.04kHz ADC, DAC and detune. I love the gritty sound with just the right aliasing artifacts.

If you are familiar with the E-mu SP-1200* workflow, you know the way the device is typically used is with a pitched-up source such as a turntable playing a LP record at 45RPM or 78RPM, and a detune after sampling in the SP-1200* to get back to the original pitch and duration. This was initially done to save sampling time, but the resulting artifacts soon became the signature of the device, and of whole musical trend.

This is exactly what the SP950 effect plugin intends to reproduce in a single slider: the RPM/detune slider combines the pitch of the source (markings on the left side, in RPM relative to 33 and in factors) with the detune of the SP (semitons value on the LCD) to compensate each other. The result is a constant duration and pitch output, with varying detune aliasing and bandwidth artifacts.

Another well-known workflow is the combination of the SP and an Akai* S950 low-pass filter to isolate a bass line. The digitally-controlled analog 6th-order Butterworth low-pass filter of the Akai* S950 is reproduced here for that purpose, as well as the possibility to mitigate some high-frequency detune artifacts.

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