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Created by
 Western Graphics
Last modified
 13 March, 2004

SP1200® : Overview

The SP-12 Moves On The mid to late 1980's was a great time for dedicated sampling drum machines, and after the roar away success of the SP-12, E-mu Systems made a number of important upgrades and released the SP1200 in the summer of 1987. The key improvements are:

  • An integral 3.5" DS/DD floppy drive
  • 10 seconds of sample memory
  • Full feature MIDI sample dump

Everything else on the SP1200 is exactly the same as the SP-12.

12 High The SP1200 kept with the 12-bit crunch of the SP-12, as 16-bits was neither necessary nor cost effective (the 16-bit EIII had just been launched at $10,000+ in 1987). The SP1200 does away with ROM based sounds, and relies totally on a floppy disk based sample library which is loaded into RAM.

Sample Time  The sampling time was upgraded to twice that of the SP-12 Turbo memory, providing 10.07 seconds of sample time within four banks of 2.5 seconds. The sample rate was reduced from the SP-12 27,500 Hz to 26,040 Hz, to enable the 384 Kbytes of memory to take 10 seconds of samples. There can be up to 32 user sampled sounds spread over the 8 voices, but no single sample can be longer than one sample bank (2.5 seconds).

The machine is very highly regarded in Dance and Hip Hop circles, for both its sound and beats..

Additional Features
The SP1200 can store up to 100 patterns, 100 songs and has a 5000 note minimum memory for drum sequences. It also has a mono mix output and eight individual outputs, MIDI in/out/thru, SMPTE sync, and a metronome output.

The front panel is littered with LEDs and buttons with eight chunky faders controlling the volume and pitch of each sound in the bank. A small button allows you to step between banks A, B, C and D giving easy access to the 32 sounds. Below each fader is a large button for triggering the sound, or selecting it for editing, and there's a global switch to turn the trigger's velocity sensitivity on or off.

The triggers are heavy and, with the passage of time, inclined to stick. You can get around this problem with the Repeat key which, when held down along with a drum trigger, causes the sound to auto-repeat at the current quantisation value, although it takes practice to start and stop the roll at the right point. Volumes are easily set with the faders and sound can be individually assigned to any of the eight outputs. Outputs can be either dry or passed through preset analogue filtering - undoubtedly one of the SP's popularity factors. Outputs 1 and 2 have fast decaying low-pass filters, 3 to 6 have static low-pass filters that slightly dull the top end, and 7 and 8 are unfiltered outs.   

Step Edit
One of the machine's clear highlights is the simple and intuitive step-edit mode, whereby sounds are added by stepping to the desired point and hitting the drum trigger. Although pitch and velocity can't be edited directly, it's simply a case of deleting the existing beat and replacing it with the corrected version. To this end, the SP1200 'Multi' mode temporarily splits your chosen sound across all eight triggers, at varying volume and/or pitch, making it ideal for precise edits or dynamic fills.   

The sequencer works in the familiar pattern-style, chaining short 'segments' into a song. Swing quantisation and tempo changes are easily added and the sequencer can generate or sync to SMPTE, MIDI or analogue clock pulses. It'll even synchronise to a tapping finger with the 'tap tempo' function.

Transferring SP-12 Samples The sound library from the SP-12 can be transferred to the SP1200 by connecting the cassette OUT of the SP-12 to the SMPTE IN of the SP1200. Power up the SP-12 and load the samples into the SP-12. Then power up the SP1200 with the DISK button held down. This places it into Cassette and MIDIDisk mode. Select Cassette mode (option 1), and then select either Seqs or Snds to transfer either sequences or sounds from the SP-12. When complete select option 3 MakeDisk, and save the samples to a diskette in the SP1200. You will need to name these sounds later on, and you cannot transfer the SP-12 ROM sounds.

 Product Spec

* Sampling Drum Machine
* 12-bit linear resolution
* 26,040 Hz Sample Rate
* 8 velocity sensing pads
* 384 Kbytes sample ROM
* 10 seconds sample time
* Realtime sequencer
* MIDI Sample Dump
* Analog filters!

 Models & Prices

* SP1200 Model #7030
* #7031 for final re-issue
* Launched in Summer 1987
* Re-issued namy times
* Launched as grey body
* Black body re-issue in 1997
* Withdrawn 1999
* Re-issue Price $2495
* Secondhand $1200 - 1500


* User Manual 952KB

* SP1200 Brochure




 Samples more »

The SP1200 came with a set of 5 Sample DIskettes, and there is a wide range of E-mu and third party diskettes available.

 MIDI Sample Dump

The SP1200 can exchange sample information using the MIDI Sample Dump Protocol. Mac programs such as Sound Designer II and Alchemy supported this format, but they are no longer in production. More recent programs such as Wavelab may have problems with the 12-bit format and the specific SDS implemented (MMA).

 Upgrades more »

* Sampler Memory Expansion
* 5.25" Floppy Disk Drive
* Sample Editing Software
* Sample Storage on Mac

 OS Versions

* Diskette based
* OS 1.2 is the latest

 Web Resources

There is a nice SP1200 web forum with some good tips.
more »