Thursday, July 26, 2012

Akai S-612 "Finally Sampling Made Simple!" ad, Keyboard 1985

Akai S-612 sampler "Finally Sampling Made Simple!" 1/2-page colour advertisement from page 58 in the December 1985 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

After a five or six month run of their rather humorous 1/2-page black and white advertisement, Akai and/or distributor IMC decided to up their game a little bit.

For one, they decided to pay the big bucks and go CMYK on our @ss. Although, I think at the expense of a bit of readability. Actually, looking at this ad again right now, it kinda reminds me of an early 1990's rave pamphlet. It's like Akai already knew that sampling would play such a large role in electronic dance music of the future. Creepy good fun.

But, that rack sampler really does look purrrrdy in colour with its blue and red twiddlies and bitz. 

They also changed their primary message used in that earlier ad from one of cost ("less than a $1000!") to one based on ease of use. A message, I'm sure, that is a direct shot at the Ensoniq Mirage's rather more difficult sampling procedures:
"No longer do you need to be a computer whiz kid to unleash your sampling creativity. Now in just 8 seconds you can sample anything from a Model T to a Boeing 747..."
But it's this next part of the ad-copy that is really wonderful:
"...or permanently store your favorite sounds... from a C.D. to a $25,000 synthesizer!!"
Just to be clear, I'm pretty sure Loop Masters and Time+Space weren't around yet. :) Is Akai suggestingI use there S-612 to SAMPLE music CDs? Like, other people's music? Awesome.

But, like I said - colour at the expense of readability. It took me a while to find that low price of $995.00. And for some reason the designer put a really bright star right behind the price, making it even harder to see. Even if it isn't the main message, its still one of best features of this sampler.

After the introductory black and white advertisement ran from July to November 1985, this colour ad started running in December 1985, and actually continued to run pretty regularly through out the first half of 1986. But still, at a 1/2-page size, I think it continued to have trouble getting noticed over main competitor Ensoniq's full page colour ads for the Mirage. Complicated sampling and all.

But, the S-612 did a get a boost  in November 1985 just before this colour ad started to run in the form of a coveted Keyboard Review by Jim Aikin. After a brief introduction about the pros and cons of sampling in general, he zeros in on two of the S612's cost-cutting measures - no keyboard (played through MIDI), and the fact that you can only hold one sample in memory at a time.

Soon after (and much like this ad's message) Jim points out the obvious - this thing is easy to sample with. In his words:
"The S612 is simplicity itself to use".
After reading this, Akai should have immediately dropped all future marketing plans for the S612 and just put well-respected Aikin's quote above a photo of the S612.

Clap hands. Job done. :D

The review also points out one other feature of the S612 that isn't really mentioned elsewhere - storing sounds with the S612 on its own takes around EIGHT MINUTES BY CASSETTE. Do you know how long eight minutes is? Um... a long time.

But that's why Akai came out with the "optional" MD280 mini-disk drive module.  I put that "optional" in quotes, because it's really not all that optional. This module reduces the time it takes to store a sample from eight minutes down to eight seconds. Aaaaah. Much better.

Jim also rightly makes note of the suannoying 2.8" quick-disk format micro-floppies the unit used. Smaller than Mac's 3.5 inch disks. I hated them on my Roland S10 sampler too. But according to Jim, Akai's reason for choosing the format was because they could "hold exactly 64kb per side, which is what was needed to store one sampled sound and associated voicing information.  64kb? That seems low, no?

Jim also reviews other aspects of the machine, including factory sounds, voice parameters, truncating and looping functions and MIDI implementation (something of great importance in a rack sampler that relies on MIDI to be played).

In his conclusion, Jim once again points out the issue of saving to cassette, calling it "an exercise in frustration". He also brings back the awful memory of how expensive floppies were back in the day and comments "don't forget to budget a couple of hundred dollars for disks". LOL!

Before signing off, he makes one final observation about the future market for samplers:
"At the rate technology is advancing, we can expect to see more units like this one hitting the marketing in the near future, packed with bells and whistles to make them seem superior. But it's hard to see how the basic package found in the Akai could be improved upon."
It's hard to think of Akai as the underdog of sampling. But the company is catching up. Fast.

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