E-mu SP-1200

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
E-mu SP-1200 (90s reissue)
original E-mu SP-1200 (1987)
Sp1200 Back Panel.JPG

E-mu SP-1200 is a classic drum machine and sampler released in August 1987 by E-mu Systems, Inc. as an update of the SP-12, which was originally created for dance music producers. It became famed for its gritty texture and ability to simulate the "warmth" of vinyl recordings.

The SP-1200 became an icon of hip hop's golden age, due to its ability to construct the bulk of a song within one piece of portable gear—a first for the industry. This resulted in reduced studio costs and more creative control for artists. In an article published in New York City's The Village Voice in November 2007, Ben Detrick explains, "The machine rose to such prominence that its strengths and weaknesses sculpted an entire era of music: the crunchy digitized drums, choppy segmented samples, and murky filtered basslines that characterize the vintage New York sound are all mechanisms of the machine."[1] Designed to be used as both a drum sequencer and sampler in one, the SP-1200 features a 26.04 kHz sampling rate (roughly half the fidelity of a compact disc) and 12-bit resolution. Those audio qualities, combined with the idiosyncratic SSM2044 filter chips with which these machines were fitted, make for a dirty, gritty sound. One of the attributes of the SP-1200 is its extremely small amount of memory—roughly 10 seconds.


The SP-1200 can store up to 100 patterns, 100 songs, and has a 5,000-note maximum memory for drum sequences. It also has a mono mix output and eight individual outputs, MIDI in/out/through, SMPTE sync, and a metronome output. There is one button that allows you to select between banks A, B, C, and D, which gives the user easy access to each of the 32 sounds. The front panel contains several LED lights, buttons, and eight volume and pitch faders for each sound in the selected bank. Below each fader is a large button to initialize the sound, or select the sound for editing, and a switch to turn the trigger's velocity sensitivity off or on. The sequencer works in the familiar pattern-style of placing short consecutive sections of samples into a song. The user can easily add swing quantization and tempo changes. The sequencer can sync the tempo to SMPTE, MIDI, or analogue clock pulses and is also capable of synchronizing the tempo to a tapping finger with the tap-tempo button."[2]

Differences from the SP12[edit]

Unlike the SP12, the SP-1200 does not contain ROM-based samples; all samples are stored in volatile RAM and loaded from floppy disk. The AD/DA converters remain 12 bit, as 16 bit converters were still expensive and found only on high-end gear, such as the contemporary E-Mu Emulator 3 (EIII), which had a list price of over $15,000 USD. Maximum sampling time was doubled from the upgraded SP-12 Turbo, to over 10 seconds, but the maximum single sample was 2.5 seconds. The sample rate was reduced slightly also (from 27.5 kHz to 26.04 kHz) to maximize memory usage. The SP-1200 retains all of the I/O capabilities from the SP12, minus the cassette output and floppy disk I/O.[2]


The limited sampling time of the SP-1200 was overcome within the late 1980s hip hop production circles by sampling 33⅓ rpm records at 45 rpm, with an additional pitch increase, then replaying the sample from the SP-1200 at a much slower speed (by the use of Multipitch and/or Tune/Decay edit functions). This expanded the total sampling time while at the same time decreasing the resolution. By the early 1990s, nearly every working hip hop producer had adopted this technique as industry standard until the advent of newer samplers such as Akai's MPC60, which provided higher sampling rates and more sampling time.

In August 2009 through May 2011, a comprehensive book titled, The OFFICIAL SP1200 Book: the Art and the Science was conceptualized, designed and developed by DRUMAT!C of KicDrum Products (USA), along with a fantastic team of contributors: DFACE (DXA), ICEROCKS (DXA), JNOTA (ReDef Records), TRAV (WYDU), GENSU DEAN (Mello Music Group), and Calv aka BETO CHAVEZ. Authentically published by 27Sens (France) and endorsed by Dave Rossum and E-Mu Systems (USA), the book was only offered in limited quantities of a full color first pressing (150 units) and black and white second and third pressing (650 units). Throughout the book, its author (PBODY the 10secondassassin) details the SP1200's technical and historical placement within hip hop and beyond. It also contains very extensive and exclusive interviews with producers and engineers who either use or once used the legendary Sampling Percussion (SP). The book is now out of print with no current plans of reissue or reprint.[3]

Notable users[edit]

Baz Allen (Jazz Possee)

Albums featuring the SP-1200[edit]

Some albums that were produced utilizing this machine include the following:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Village Voice - The Dirty Heartbeat of the Golden Age
  2. ^ a b The Emulator Archive
  3. ^ http://sp1200-thebook.com
  4. ^ Mannie Fresh Making a beat - YouTube
  5. ^ a b Ski Beatz - the making of Jay-Z's "Dead Presidents" beat

External links[edit]