The SP-202, 303 and 404 are fun, easy to use, "DJ" boxes from Boss, produced in the early 2000s. For a lot of us, these were our first samplers, so they're quite nostalgic. And while each unit differs in sound and features, they all offer a distinctly Lo-Fi color, achieved through various FX, sample rates and conversion that to this day still remains impossible to achieve in a DAW.
We called on our good friend and SP guru Owen Ross to help us out for this one, and together we created a diverse pack of dirty drum hits, multi-sampled acoustic instruments, grainy textures, pitched vox, aliased pads and gritty soundscapes.
All samples have their own personalties - pretty, clean, hi-fi, ugly, dirty, nasty - the list is infinite. One of the challenges we face when using samples is: how do we use stuff sourced from different places, but still make them sound like they belong together?
Fortunately, this is where the Dr shines. Whether it's lowering the sample rate, filtering, pitch shifting, adding vinyl FX, chorus, echo, or adding nothing at all, you can sample stuff from anywhere (and we did) and the Dr. will fit it all into one gritty, lo-fi and distinct sonic home:
We recorded a wide range of electronic, acoustic and vinyl one-shots into the 202, additionally effecting them with onboard filtering, chopping and pitching, processing choice hits with our Overstayer Modular channel, through our API console.
But the 202 is a great choice for more than just drums, as it sports a warm pitch shifter that was perfect for sampling short, ambient blips, field recordings, vocals, and horns. The shift gave certain samples a nice, rough quality, while others were degraded to the point of losing all of their essential qualities. All of this is distinctly 202, and perfect to use under beats for added vibe:
The 303 is the most well rounded of the bunch, and possibly the best compromise between sound quality and features.While its pitch shift doesn’t replicate the magic of the 202, the 303 is the first SP to offer chromatic pitch shift, incorporating a unique, wet dry knob, as well as two independent pitch knobs that shift precisely by semitones. We use this effect more than any other on any SP, and it really helps vocals, pads, and anything ambient cut through a mix:
Another great feature of the 303 is its ability to apply effects to external inputs. For this pack (and often in our own musical endeavors) we played almost all of the Rhodes and guitars through the 303, adding a touch of vinyl sim or chorus.
In addition to a lofi sample mode (not quite comparable to the 202 but still nice), the 303 allows us to adjust the bit rate and frequency of our sample. A full instrument played through the 202 lofi mode would be an interesting party trick, but overall much less practical than an instrument that has some lofi warmth dialed in without overshadowing the original sound. Along with its vinyl simulator, this helped tremendously in re-imagining traditional bass, piano, guitar, and synth patches:
While the 202, 303, and 404 OG are all great machines with their own unique charm, if you can only own one, the 404sx (or 404a, which is new but basically identical) may be the way to go. The addition of the ability to swap and copy samples is a massive time saver and the fact that it takes SD cards offers users essentially limitless sample time.
The 404's most important (and least glamorous) function is that it was the brain of our entire operation. With the sample copy and re-sample functions, it allowed us to create multiple versions of the same sample with different processing. This is quite difficult, if not impossible, on the earlier models (and most samplers).
This re-sampling capability also meant the FX, like chromatic pitch shift, for example, could be used in new ways. For instance, we'd take samples from separate sources, pitch shift them by ear to get them in the same key, and then resample them together onto one pad. Once you have them on one pad, we'd add another effect and resample that! Then, we might pitch shift and add another sample, and some delay, tape echo, chorus, filter/drive, reverb, brutal compression and more. This allowed us to be extremely heavy-handed in processing the sounds:
Finally, we spent a great deal of time using the units together. A process we often employed for harmonic samples was to record them through the 303 (with chromatic pitch shift) onto the 404sx, with a touch of the 404 chorus. If we wanted to add some more distortion, we might sample that through the 202. This process is all about experimenting, re-sampling, degrading, and combining the sonics of each SP. And while you may think this process would lead to un-useably dirty samples, only suitable for the depths of 90s Techno, you'd be wrong! You can still keep things surprisingly smooth, but with more than a hint of dirt:
For the money, SPs are possibly the best hardware samplers ever made. While each model has its limitations, these limitations are part of their charm. We're in love with the idea of resampling a sound over and over again and finding the places where various effects and samples can live in noisy, lush harmony, all while never seeing a waveform display once!
But really, the best part about the Dr Sample is that they are a blank slate. You choose what you put in them, how you process those sounds, and how you play them out.
We hope you enjoy what we put in them, and that you can share part of the SPs sound and experience, however you might use this pack. Who knows, maybe you can even re-sample them yourself!