ES-1 Electrible-S Rhythm Production SamplerKorg recently jumped into the groove box arena with its Electribe-series products. The first two units, the ER-1 Electribe-R and EA-1 Electribe-A - a drum machine and a synth module, respectively - kicked off the line, and now Korg has expanded it with the introduction of the ES-1 Electribe-S sampler. Like the previous units, the ES-1 includes a built-in pattern-based step-time and real-time sequencer. It differentiates itself by using a sampling engine as its sound source instead of relying on synth sounds or prerecorded samples.
The ES-1 is small enough to fit comfortably alongside a DJ mixer or on top of a keyboard controller. Rear-panel jacks include a 11/44-inch headphone output; two line outputs; a single stereo audio input (which requires a Y-cable to attach to most DJ mixers); and MIDI In, Out, and Thru jacks. It also provides a slot for a SmartMedia card that can back up or load sounds, patterns, and songs. All of the unit's controls and buttons (with the exception of an Audio Level Input knob and a Mic/Line switch) are located on the front panel, and the rubberized keypads light up with bright red or green LEDs when engaged.
You may find the relatively generous array of knobs and buttons a little overwhelming at first, and many of the unit's operations are not readily apparent until you've gone through the manual. However, basic functions such as pattern, song, and sample playback; effects editing; and pattern programming are extremely easy to master immediately. As you might gather from the unit's layout, the ES-1 packs a lot of powerful features that take it a step above the average low-budget sample-playback device.
STEP BY STEPWhile the ES-1 does not offer selectable sampling rates, it does provide a pretty impressive capacity of 95 seconds of mono sampling time at 44.1 kHz, and internal storage of up to 100 samples (100 mono or 50 stereo) in internal memory. Like most units in its price range, the ES-1 requires a few steps to record samples, and the process isn't exactly intuitive - a simple one-touch sampling function for DJ applications sure would be nice. However, once you've memorized the process, you'll find it fairly quick and painless. To save the sample, you have to go through a few additional steps. Because of this limitation, the ES-1's design is geared toward playing back prerecorded samples rather than capturing sounds on the fly during a gig. The unit also provides a real-time resampling function.
A few moments with the Electribe-S quickly reveal that its greatest strength is as a pattern-playback device, like a groove box or drum machine. The ES-1 stores up to 128 patterns, which you can combine and arrange into 16 songs. The unit includes excellent preprogrammed patterns and songs covering a variety of dance music styles such as drum 'n' bass, house, techno, hip-hop, and big beat. The people who programmed these patterns definitely know their stuff - the sounds, groove, and feel are right on the money. In fact, you could spend months happily playing around with the patterns, modifying them with the ES-1's built-in effects.
POETRY-IN-MOTION SEQUENCINGSpeaking of effects, the ES-1 offers an impressive selection for a sampler in this price range. A rotary control lets you select one effect at a time: Reverb, Flanger/Chorus, Ring Modulation, Phaser, Pitch Shifter, Compressor, Distortion, Decimator (sample-rate reduction), Isolator, Resonant Filter, and Wah. Two knobs allow you to modify or adjust such parameters as depth, rate, or level for each effect. The ES-1 also offers a separate Delay section with Depth and Time controls, as well as a bpm sync function - and both of these effects sections include a Motion Sequence function that records control-knob movements, which you can save separately for each pattern.
Each pattern can contain a total of 12 parts: 9 samples, 1 slice sample, 1 Audio In part, and 1 Accent. A separate Part control section allows you to adjust each sample's Pitch/Speed, Filter, Level, and Pan and to play the sample in reverse or in a roll (this triggers the sample repeatedly at a prespecified interval). With this section you can easily modify a pattern into an entirely fresh and different sound. The Slice function cuts a sampled phrase (mono only) into sections, so you can change the tempo without altering the pitch.
PACKIN' HEATAlthough the ES-1 sampler is quite small and simple looking, it packs a lot of creative power. It's not quite as versatile as more expensive units like Akai's MPC-2000, Roland's SP-808, and Yamaha's SU700, but it still lets you create and play back a whole set's worth of tracks. It may not be as easy to use as other budget samplers for improvisational sampling during a DJ set, but no other model in its price range can compare when it comes to drum-machine and sequencing functions.
KORGES-1 Electribe-S $599
PROS: Sophisticated drum-machine and sequencing capabilities. Excellent sound quality. Versatile effects processing.
CONS: Somewhat complicated operation. LCD shows only limited information. Single stereo input jack requires Y-cable.Overall Rating (1 through 5): 4
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