E-Mu SP 1200 sampling drum machine

E-mu SP-1200 is a classic drum machine and sampler released in August 1987 by E-mu Systems, Inc. as an update of the SP-12, which was originally created for dance music producers. It became famed for its gritty texture and ability to simulate the "warmth" of vinyl recordings.

The SP-1200 became an icon of hip hop's golden age, due to its ability to construct the bulk of a song within one piece of portable gear—a first for the industry. This resulted in reduced studio costs and more creative control for artists. In 2007, Ben Detrick explained, "The machine rose to such prominence that its strengths and weaknesses sculpted an entire era of music: the crunchy digitized drums, choppy segmented samples, and murky filtered basslines that characterize the vintage New York sound are all mechanisms of the machine." Designed to be used as both a drum sequencer and sampler in one, the SP-1200 features a 26.04 kHz sampling rate (roughly half the fidelity of a compact disc) and 12-bit resolution. Those audio qualities, combined with the idiosyncratic SSM2044 filter chips with which these machines were fitted, make for a dirty, gritty sound. One of the attributes of the SP-1200 is its extremely small amount of memory—roughly 10 seconds.

The SP-1200 can store up to 100 patterns, 100 songs, and has a 5,000-note maximum memory for drum sequences. It also has a mono mix output and eight individual outputs, MIDI in/out/through, SMPTE sync, and a metronome output. There is one button that allows you to select between banks A, B, C, and D, which gives the user easy access to each of the 32 sounds. The front panel contains several LED lights, buttons, and eight volume and pitch faders for each sound in the selected bank. Below each fader is a large button to initialize the sound, or select the sound for editing, and a switch to turn the trigger's velocity sensitivity off or on. The sequencer works in the familiar pattern-style of placing short consecutive sections of samples into a song. The user can easily add swing quantization and tempo changes. The sequencer can sync the tempo to SMPTE, MIDI, or analogue clock pulses and is also capable of synchronizing the tempo to a tapping finger with the tap-tempo button."

The limited sampling time of the SP-1200 was overcome within the late 1980s hip hop production circles by sampling 33⅓ rpm records at 45 rpm, with an additional pitch increase, then replaying the sample from the SP-1200 at a much slower speed (by the use of Multipitch and/or Tune/Decay edit functions). This expanded the total sampling time while at the same time decreasing the resolution. By the early 1990s, nearly every working hip hop producer had adopted this technique as industry standard until the advent of newer samplers such as Akai's MPC60, which provided higher sampling rates and more sampling time.


Could be used in Dirtchamber's Intro Beats and Spitfire. Also used in Fat Of The Land album.

You can see this machine in Dirtchamber Sessions Volume One's inside sleeve above. Liam is lying on the floor of his Dirtchamber studio and this machine is front of him! Liam has the original 1987 version of SP1200 that's why it looks a bit wider in that pic. 90's new version was more like square in shape (also pictured above).

Liam's comment:

"The original hip-hop drum machine. That is fat! I'm really into the hip-hop scene, and did a lot of research into the equipment they used to get that real heavy sound. A guy from our record company went to New York and got this for me for my birthday; it was a really good present. It's so nice, just for single drum hits. "

Talk about this gear at JPN board with other users!
If you know something else about this piece of gear, please mail to me or contact me via feedback form.
Jump to equipment main | Prodigy main