Part of the marketing tactics appeal of the new generation of drum machines from companies like Akai (Numark Corp.) & Native Instruments is the so called “Vintage Mode”. In general, Vintage Mode promises us the analog flavor and characteristics of drum machines past including the Akai MPC 60, E-Mu SP-1200, ASR-10, and more. While not perfect, Vintage Mode offers us a close software emulation of the legendary grit that these vintage drum machines are known for. With the switch of a button, your entire track is turned “Vintage”. As if to instantly inject some life and soul into your music the new generation of drum machines are capitalizing on our lust for analog.

The inherent problem with the so called “Vintage Mode(s)” aside from the technical limitations of emulation (I’m sorry but SP-1200 emulation doesn’t come close to the real thing), is the fact that Vintage Mode can be applied to your ENTIRE track.  Part of the allure to drum machines past (ala E-Mu SP-1200 & Akai MPC60) are their limited tech specs. For instance, the E-Mu SP-1200 has only 10 seconds of sampling time which is spread across 4 banks. Thats 2.5 seconds on sampling time per bank. Yes sir, you can only sample 2.5 second chunks of your favorite wax. Limitations such as memory size, effects, & workflow force(d) beatmakers and producers to work within a limited enviroment. Whether its a strength or crutch, Modern DAW’s, Samplers, & Drum Machines have infinite memory and sample capacity.

Pressing a “Vintage Mode” button to emulate the SP-1200 on your beats won’t necessarily give you that authentic SP-1200 sound. Why? Because you were never working within the limitations of the original machine. The same applies to the Akai MPC 60, and numerous other classics. In addition to arming SP-1200 Emulation, the new jacks utilizing Vintage Mode need to recreate a workflow that emulates the limitations of the original drum machine/sampler. Instead of chopping up 30seconds – 1 minute of samples. Work with smaller chunks of samples. Try sampling 2.5 seconds of material and working with that. It will certainly force you to accept the minimalist workflow of times past and in my opinion boost your creativity.

Further, the SP-1200 only had MONO outputs, so slapping SP-1200 Emulation on your stereo sample will also sound subpar and cheap. Golden Era beatmakers sped their vinyl up to 45RPM and sampled sped up chunks of music to “squeeze” more sample time out of their machine. They then tuned the sample down to match the original sample. During the tuning of these samples w/in the SP-1200, the SP interpolates the sample (mathematically) to calculate what the new sample should sound like. Aliasing artifacts (Digital Distortion) is introduced to the sample giving it additional character & sparkle.

Minor details in workflow and technical limitations of vintage samplers & drum machines are often overlooked while emulating via Vintage Mode. To create a more authentic vintage track, study the technical limitations of the drum machines past and try to recreate these limitations in your current workflow & production enviroment. If you want the original sound characteristics of vintage drum machines, save up some loot and jump on eBay. Nothing comes close to the original analog characteristics that Akai MPC 60, ASR-10, & SP-1200 offer. NOTHING. Its my opinion, that the Vintage Modes of the Akai MPC Rennaisance & Native Instruments Machine are nothing more than sales gimmicks to attract new beatmakers who are curious about recreating Golden Era flavor with modern technology. They are close representations, but lack soul.

I love modern music creating technology and the workflow. I also love analog drums! They sound phatter, thicker, and generally hit harder than stale in the box samples. With that being said, I wouldn’t compromise my modern workflow & sound to work exclusively with a vintage machine like the SP-1200. The SP is a great sound module to phatten up my drums, but making all my beats on it would be near impossible and I don’t always want the “Vintage Sound”. For those of us curious about adding some analog flavor to our music, investing in the actual machine is the best route. Its more expensive, but offers unmatched sound quality and a piece of music making history.