The S612 is a massively underrated 12bit sampler from 1985 that yields endlessly inspiring transformations of whatever you put into it. Its features are simple but powerful: a selectable sample rate from 4 Hz - 32kHz, a sweet, analog filter, input clipping, old school pitching (with LFO), looping, reversing, and best of all: front-panel sliders for adjusting start, end and loop points. With these parameters the 612 is capable of everything from thick, juicy bass, to silky leads, overdriven drums, and lo-fi glitched out madness.
Using the 612 is a blast - the sampling is instantaneous (it's kind of like a better sounding SK-1), all of your controls are right in front of you, and the sound is sublime.
First, you select the sample rate with your midi keyboard. Higher notes = higher sample rates, while lower notes offer powerful, lo-fi recordings. This, coupled with overdriving the input, provides a huge palette of colors and harmonic distortion at your fingertips.
After recording into it, the sample is immediately pitched across your keyboard and is ready to be filtered. The filter is fat and creamy, and the resonance is affected by how hot you've recorded into it. With a bit of overdrive it can result in massive bass sounds, and smooth over any sample.
The most unique editing feature, however, is the front panel sliders. Engage a loop, and as you start moving the sliders around you can fully destruct your sound into granular synthesis territory. Once the start slider passes the end slider, for instance, the sound starts reversing. And because the loops themselves speed up and down relative to the note, this all makes for quite interesting and musical sounds:
Using the above process, we set out to sample a bunch of acoustic instruments and transform them into 612 synths. We plugged all sorts of instruments directly into our API console - electric bass, standup bass, a broken Rhodes, vocals, guitar, and Clavinet - and jammed, tracking ideas to tape and digitally.
Once those jams were captured, we singled out individual notes, and ran them directly into the S612. By adjusting the sample rate and input clipping to taste, we breathed new life into those single note samples, applying a combination of manual splicing, looping, reversing, filtering and LFO, and finally pitching that into a 5 octave keyboard and sampling it.
This allowed us to create playable, keyboard instruments out of acoustic instruments - transformed by the 612's filters, overdrive, and unique sample rate and 12 bit sound. The results are surprisingly hi fi and analog sounding - the following is made entirely from bass, guitar and acoustic drums sampled through the 612:
We also sampled rare African percussion, vocals, obscure records from 70's Catalonia, and of course, a bunch of analog synths (Polysix, Juno60, Voyager, Octave Cat, CS-5). This allowed us to create lo-fi leads and FX, but also really useable fat, analog synth patches.
The 612 is also amazing for drums, as it can transform them quite a bit by clipping the input, adjusting the start point, and applying some filtering (and even looping). So we set out to record an acoustic drum set, and transform it into drum machine hits.
Armed with a vintage '60's Slingerland kit and a suitcase of percussion (wood block, clave, cabasa, tambourine and more), we used cheap, vintage broadcast microphones and recorded uber-dead, isolated one shot drum sounds.
Getting an acoustic set to sound like drum machine hits is tough and requires some imagination. For the bass drum, we mic'd the beater side of the kick, which is usually a no-go for actual drum recording because of the amount of snare leakage, but for sampling, this is a non-issue, and the result is a very punchy, linndrum sounding kick. And, by moving the start point on the 612, pitching and filtering we were able to get a huge range of kicks from subby to crunchy, punchy, distorted, and everything in between:
We also heavily processed each hit through the API 1608, with the API 560 graphic EQ, employing as much as 12dB of EQ at some frequencies! The 560 almost sounds like a filter when you add that much gain, and with some parallel compression and saturation before the 612, we were definitely able to achieve the punchy snares, hats and percussion we were after. We were also able to glitch out the drums on the 612 with looping, reversing, filtering and pitching - adding LFOs to rides and creating granular tambourines. The following is a completely unprocessed example of some of the glitchier drum hits:
If you can't tell, the 612 is a personal favorite here at Samples From Mars. With the right sample rate, the 612 is not lo fi or grainy at all, but massive sounding, adding instant analog mojo to everything that passes through it.
Everything that comes out of the 612 is a unique transformation of what you put into it; you can take it as far out as you please by splicing, looping and reversing or you can create lush, harmonically rich tones. The selectable sample rate gives you a plethora of different colors at your fingertips, the LFO adds movement to your sample, and the filter can soften or harden your sound, depending on how loudly you've recorded into it. But whatever you do, the 612, as a vintage synth user put it, just "oozes crunchy charm".
So, is this the best Akai sampler of all time? That's obviously a subjective and loaded question - but it is our favorite Akai sampler for sure, because of its hands on simplicity and instant vibe. The only negative aspects - there is no real saving, barely any sample time, and not many modulation features - can be bypassed by using the samples!