First there was the Fairlight and then came the Emulator.

An inspired name for a sampling keyboard (and I hope that whoever thought that name up at Emu had a very generous bonus in his pay packet!) but the original Emulator was limited with crusty sampling quality and minimal functionality and storage.

However, this all changed in 1984 with the release of the EII (Emulator 2) that took sampling to the next level with (for the time) sophisticated on-board sample manipulation and processing facilities.

The EII was 8-voice polyphonic but, unlike any sampler before, it featured resonant analogue filters and other synth features that blurred the distinction between synth and sampler and with its (limited) multi-timbral capabilities, it (almost) qualifies as one of the first sampling 'workstations'. For many, the EII was THE keyboard sampler to aspire to and, indeed, many did have them on their shopping list!

But the EII was not without its compromises - 8-bit (but with 14-bit playback), a 27kHz sampling rate, 512kb RAM no hard drive (5.25" floppies only) - in this day and age, it all looks a bit crap but to put all this into perspective, the EII represented cutting edge sampling technology at the time it was released and its internal processing matched (or even exceeded) most 'home computers' of the period.

The EII's biggest problem, however, was its price - at around £10,000 it wasn't cheap and so was beyond the reach of most people. It was, of course, a big hit with artists such as the Pet Shop Boys and countless others for whom money was no object but for yer average Joe, the EII was an unattainable pipedream.

Of course, the EII had the wind knocked out of its sales when Akai brought out their 12-bit S900 at £1,800 a year or two later and subsequently their 16-bit stereo S1000 at £2,300 - neither products were exactly 'cheap' but they outperformed the EII at a fraction of the cost.

Emu retaliated with additions to the range. There was the EII+ (1985) that offered a dual floppy disk drive as well as an extra 512kb of RAM but there were limitations on how this could be used - rather than having 1Mb of RAM, you had two banks of 512kb which you could switch between but you could not use both together. Then there was the EII+HD that shipped with a 20Mb hard drive. However, given the market forces at the time, there was little that the EII could do to compete with the dominance of the Akai S900/S1000.

That said, the EII is an influential product in the history of sampling and some of the sounds that were shipped with it became 'classics' in modern music history.

I have some of them here which have been generously donated by Jem Godfrey, an EII owner and Hollow Sun customer who has very kindly entered into the spirit of Hollow Sun by donating some classic sounds from the original EII library.