It came with 16 internal
drum sounds which could be augmented using (optional) ROM cards.
Up to two cards (Ext 1 and Ext 2) could be used simultaneously.
Sounds (internal or external) could be extensively edited and modified.
You could adjust pitch, pitch modulation, amplitude envelope, amplitude
modulation and more. Sounds could be assigned to any note and the
unit also had eight individual outputs to which any drum sound could
be assigned for outboard processing and manipulation.
The sounds themselves were OK for the most part and some
of the samples were (for the time) luxuriously long and detailed
- long cymbals and closed, medium and open hi-hats. However, bandwidth
was limited which made some of the sounds a bit 'muddy' but nothing
that couldn't be rectified with judicious EQ.
So ... What more could you want? Loads of editable drum
sounds in a compact, portable and convenient format with individual
outputs.... an almost perfect drum module you'd have thought and
by all accounts, the XE8 should have been a huge success for Akai.
But it wasn't.... in fact, it almost disappeared without trace.
Why? What went wrong?
Well, although there was a lot to like about the XE8,
there was a lot that was wrong with it too.
Firstly (as a quick glance at the front panel will reveal),
it had 2 x 2-digit LCD displays. One of these was reserved for showing
the program number (or data value when editing) and the other showed
the selected sound number. No names... just numbers! So you either
had to remember which sound was which or you were constantly having
to audition the sound first before proceeding with any edits.
The PLAY/EDIT SELECT rotary switch was also a bit cumbersome
to use and you had to remember to switch it back to PLAY all the
time to prevent accidentally messing a sound or program up.
The biggest problem, however, was the combined, dual-concentric
DATA/SOUND SELECT control. The outer control selected the sound
to be edited and the inner control changed the data for the selected
parameter. Unfortunately, whilst neat and compact, it was all too
easy to accidentally change the sound you were editing when adjusting
the inner DATA control. For example, in use, what could happen is
that you'd carefully select Sound #3 and you'd select a parameter
to tweak... as you moved the inner DATA control to adjust that parameter,
you could accidentally catch the outer SOUND SELECT control, select
a different sound without realising it and apply the changes to
that sound! So.... you'd be modifying the parameter and banging
away on the keyboard wondering why the sound wasn't changing....
then you'd look closer at the module and discover that you had accidentally
selected Sound #4 (or whatever) and you were actually editing that
sound and not Sound #3 as you thought. The net result was that
you hadn't changed the sound you wanted to ... you had inadvertently
messed up a completely different sound. And then you'd realise that
you couldn't remember what the original value was for that parameter
on that other sound... the whole process could be very frustrating.
Then there was another issue... the ROM cards. Or rather,
the ROM card slots! There were two... one on the front panel and
another ..... wait for it ..... on the REAR panel!!! I mean... what
use was that when the XE8 was neatly tucked away in a rack? It meant
that unless your XE8 was free-standing out of a rack, one card had
to be pretty much regarded as 'internal' meaning that you could
only (in practice) interchange one card.
And as I recall as well, the cards weren't exactly cheap (and they
weren't exactly in abundance either).
It also has to be said as well that some of the key sounds (kick
and snare in particular) were, frankly, a bit dull and failed to
capture the imagination of prospective customers.... people would
go to the shop to try out the XE8 and whilst they might have marvelled
at the lovely, long cymbals, the detailed hi-hats and diversity
of sounds, etc., they were less than impressed with the kicks and
snares which were... well.... a bit 'ordinary'.
So, all in all, despite being an inspired concept (especially at
the time), the XE8 was a disappointment. Which was a shame. I guess
the thing was built to hit some magic price point (it was originally
£499 in the UK I believe) and compromises had to be made.
The XE8 also suffered a bit of an identity crisis. Who was the
product aimed at? Drummers? Maybe but they also needed to buy the
ME-35T trigger unit and that made the whole system a bit expensive.
Keyboard players? Maybe but they could achieve the same (and more)
with an S900 (albeit at greater expense).
In spite of the above comments and criticisms, however, there are
many good and usable sounds to be had from the XE8 that you might
find useful in your work and one person's flabby kick drum might
be another's inspiration for exciting new ideas!