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The Roland SP-808 GrooveSampler was originally released in 1998 as an all-in-one phrase-sampling music workstation. It was released as part of Roland's Groove Gear. The updated SP-808EX adds new translucent design, many enhancements, and is now dubbed the e-Mix Studio. Essentially the SP-808 is a phrase sampler with a pattern sequencer, hard-disk digital multitrack recorder and high quality studio-effects. Both machines are geared towards sampling musicians, remixers, broadcasters and DJ's.
The original Roland SP-808 (GrooveSampler) can play up to four stereo samples simultaneously. It samples at 44.1 and 32 kHz sampling rates, with a maximum sample time of 25 minutes of stereo 44.1 kHz sampling. Sample via analog or digital inputs, the SP-808 holds over 1,000 samples. Its sampler has a full set of editing features and some nifty tricks to make sampling very easy. BPMs of loops can easily be adjusted to match song tempo. All samples are stored/read directly from the 100 MB Zip drive rather than internal RAM. AIFF and WAV audio formats are not supported as Roland is using their own proprietary sample storage method to maximize sample space on ZIP disks. Although WAV samples can be converted on Windows or Mac PowerPC OS 7-9 platforms from computer to SP-808 using external Zip drive and Rolands Wave Converter software. There is no plan to support Mac OS X.
Studio quality effects include a filter, reverb, delay, pitch shifting, distortion, phaser, compression, Karaoke mode, and many more effects. There's also a D-Beam controller to tweak pitch and volume. Effects are realtime tweakable, but only one effect can be used at a time, so it is common practice to resample your sounds with effects processing to use more effects.
The Roland SP-808EX (e-Mix Studio) has a virtual monophonic synthesizer for use with the step-sequencer and D-Beams. It also has new vocal and guitar multi-effects, a 10-band vocoder, Voice Transformer and Mic Simulator, plus dozens of DJ-oriented groove effects. A larger 250MB Zip drive replaces the original 100MB Zip for expanded sampling/multi-track recording time, up to 61 stereo minutes, compressed. Expansion options include the OP-1 interface (6 analog outs, 2 digital I/Os, SCSI) or OP-2 interface (XLR I/Os, digital I/O, SCSI).
The zip drives on the SP-808 can go bad over time, cause certain patches and samples to load slowly or not play back and eventually cause the disk to become unreadable giving the error message "Disk Medium Error". The drives can be replaced with internal iOmega IDE zip drives. Remove the bottom panel of the sampler to remove and replace the drive. Make sure the jumper on the replacement drive is set to the "Master" position. If the jumper is set to "Cable Select" position the SP-808 will power on but start up very slowly and not operate correctly.
When traveling with the SP-808 remove the zip disk from the drive. Keeping the disk in the drive in transit can cause the internal drive to go bad faster.