The E-MU ESI2000 sampler

The ESI2000 sampler is E-MU’s cheapest sampler (£858), they have achieved this by cutting down on some features such as the built in Zip drive and DSP that featured in the now discontinued ESI4000. The ‘missing’ features become available by fitting the ‘Turbo Option’ (£259), more about that later.

The Operating System

The E-MU operating system takes a little getting used to. To create a sample you hit the ‘Sample Management’ Key which then prompts you to select a sub-module; if you know where you are going you can hit the appropriate numerical key – for instance ‘5’ will take you straight to the ‘sample set-up’ page. If you don’t know where you are going, then merely rotating the data wheel will list the options possible. This method of modules and sub-modules continues throughout the whole operating system, so once you have the concept grasped it becomes second nature. Indeed most functions are no more than a couple of button pushes away.

Sampling and Sample Editing

To sample, select your source (e.g. analogue), set the level, arm the sampler and then play it into the ESI. There is a VU meter displayed when you set the level, but there is no such display when sampling is in progress. This brings up the usual E-MU v. Akai sampler debate. Akai have always had good graphical displays of samples – an idea which E-MU have never really embraced. To be honest though, by the time you know this sampler well enough to make your killer hit, it won’t be a problem.

You can now define the start and end of the sample, loop it, reverse it, change the gain or create fades, cut portions out of a sample and paste it wherever you like. There is a ‘pitch shift’ option where you can move your samples pitch without changing it’s length, which of course means that you can in theory vary the samples length without changing the pitch, this is one sure way to make interesting breakbeats.

Extra Weirdness

Some functions in a module called “Digital Processing II” are unique (as far as I know) to E-MU samplers. The strangest of these is ‘Transform Multiply’: as the manual says, “…t his function merges two sounds together in a unique way which can create many strange and beautiful sonic textures. Frequencies common to the original sounds are accentuated while uncommon frequencies are discarded.” Not knowing what to expect, I made a sample of myself saying ‘transform’, another saying ‘multiply’, and then put them into the transform multiplier. At this point the ESI told me that it would take 90mins to complete and did I want to continue? I continued……….the result was a sort of “woof raahh” sound of an underwater dog – plenty of room for experiment here methinks!

There is also a Doppler/Pan function that moves a sound from front to back and side to side in a 2-D space, which actually works very well. The Sonic Enhancer adds brilliance and “cut” to a sample making it stand out in a mix; this is useful when you have a wicked sample that just seems to get lost in the mix.


A Preset is a collection of one or more samples that you have mapped to areas of the keyboard and assigned to a MIDI channel. Here you can define how the sound will change depending on how it is played. The ESI is very well specified here, for instance giving you no less than nineteen different kinds of filters. You can do all the stuff you would expect here, such as feeding some of the envelope signals into the filter to create dynamic wah type effects. I don’t know if I am just asking too much but I couldn’t seem to make them scream like some old Akai machines I know.

There is an LFO, which can be used to create sweeps, flanging and phasing. Unfortunately those are about all the effects you will find in this sampler. It has no delay, reverb or other DSP type effects; for this you will need to upgrade to the ESI Turbo option (see Expansion below).

Loading and storing samples

The sampler comes with a SCSI interface (the older ‘Centronics’ style SCSI-1 socket) so you can connect a SCSI Zip Drive or something similar to it.

The sampler comes with two CDROMs of sounds, but these are in E-MU format so the only way you can use these is if you have a SCSI CDROM drive. Maybe bog standard audio CD would have been better!

It’s worth noting that although you can import Akai sound libraries, this is only over SCSI and not floppies. Hmmm!

The Manual

The sampler comes with a 28-page printed handbook, containing seven ‘Guided Tours’. It is a cut down version of the full CDROM manual which contains another ten sections (plus an up-to-date version of ‘Guided Tours’), which go into great detail. These manuals are written in PDF, so to read them you will need a PC or a Mac with ‘Adobe Acrobat Reader’ software. This is becoming an increasingly popular way to publish information but personally I find it immensely irritating. Someone whose only computer is an Atari or even a Workstation or a Groove Box would find it even more annoying! A hard copy manual makes good bedtime reading – a CDROM doesn’t!


The standard machine comes with 4Mb of RAM and a 1.44Mb floppy drive to store your samples. Although this will get you started, it will only be a matter of weeks before you are fed up with having to load up to three floppies per song. The memory can be expanded to a huge 128Mb with standard SIMMS, which are now cheap and cheerful. If you expand the memory to anything like this amount, a SCSI hard drive will be your only serious option for storage – even in these days of cheap IDE drives – SCSI hard drives are still expensive.

The ESI Turbo option adds two 24-bit stereo digital effects processors with over 70 effect algorithms; S/PDIF digital I/O for interfacing with other digital equipment; and two additional pairs of sub-mix outputs which allow external processing of specific sounds. This makes the ESI2000 into a very well specified sampler.


By yanam49

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