Ensoniq ASR 10-The sampler I love and love to hate

When the ASR 10 came out, it was a dimond in the rough. Though technically a synth, it had sample capabilities. Complex sample capabilities. The machine has become a classic over the years. It is still held in high regaurd to this day. Used prices reflect this. It isn't all so great though, this machine does have its share of issues.

The Good:
People often say the ASR 10 has virtually unlimited sample time. At the same time, maxed out, it only has 16 megs of ram which may seem unusable if you are used to other samplers. One of the best features of the ASR 10 is how it uses it's internal memory.

When you record a 60 second sample into most samplers, you have taken up 60 seconds of sample time. When you chop that 60 second sample into smaller pieces, each chop will take up more of your sample time. If your first chop is 4 seconds, you have used 64 seconds of sample time. This cycle repeats itself as you chop the sample up more and more. The ASR 10 does not do this. It lets you chop that 60 second sample over and over again without eating up your sample time. Instead of copying the sample, like an MPC would, it only copies data. This is why the ASR 10 can do so much with so little sample time. This simple revelation makes the ASR 10 vastly powerful.

Along with the ability to handle large samples with ease, with only 16 megs of ram, the ASR 10 is a breeze to chop on. Unlike the MPC, or S-series Akai samplers, you don't use a small data wheel. You use a vertical slider. It seems like a simple change but I think linearly, not circularly. Also, this emulates faders on a mixer or a pitch wheel on a mixer. You have a the ability to go through the sample quickly but with a touch of a button, you can fine chop. This is my favorite sampler to chop on, hands down.

The ASR 10 also is one of the few samplers that came out in the 90's that has usable effects on it. It has far more effects than the MPC's have ever had. More importantly, they sound great. Some people use the ASR 10 as an effects unit and don't even utilize it as a synth or sampler. This machine has the best effects of any hardware sampler I have used, most would agree with me.

Lastly, the ASR 10 is much more than a sampler/sequencer. It is a synth as well. You can easily find soundbanks for this machine so it is vastly expandable. You could easily fall in love with this machine even if you don't sample.

Oh, I forgot to mention...This machine sounds damn good. One of the best sounding machines of the era.

The Bad:
I always felt that the MPC series had some of the best sequencers for any sampler ever built. But, I always felt the MPC's sampling abilities were mediocre. Usable but not great. The ASR 10 is the opposite. It has such a powerful sampler but the sequencer is very basic. It is no frills. If you play something wrong, don't even think about trying to edit. It takes 4x as long as replaying your sample.

The sequencer can also be buggy at times. It often freezes up, just long enough for you to pray you didn't just loose your song. Then it starts again. This never happens while playing back sequences, just when you are making changes, quantizing, etc. It also may not put your effects on right away. Adjust an envelope and sometimes it takes 5 seconds of playback for your changes to "kick in"

I have only had my machine freeze up totally 1 time. It just so happened that it was when I was doing my final arrangement in the song mode. I have a bit of a trust issue with this machine now.

One of the biggest pains for me with the ASR 10 is how many menu's you have to go through. Although all the buttons are set up logically, the menus take some time to get used to. They are slow to navigate as well. On an MPC, making a change to how a sample is triggered takes about a second. On the ASR 10, it takes about 5. This can get tedious after awhile. The manual is not great either, I had to learn much of this machine on it's own.

This machine also lacks in the midi department. It only has the standard out, in, and thru. If you use it standalone, this is fine. I would not want to use this as the master sequencer for alot of machines. I have used it with my Akai S2000 rack alot however. The ASR 10 does it job but the midi should have been better thought out in my opinion.

Lastly, the ASR 10 doesn't do some basic things that it should. The ASR 10 doesn't read wav. files. If you want to transfer you drums to the machine you need to put them in Ensoniq's format. It seems unnecessary to me. You can get translater software from Chickensystems to make your life a whole lot easier. However, it adds a step to the process. I just find somethings on this machine were meant to make me slow down.

Oh...Forget about swing, it doesn't exist on this machine. If you want swing, you need to play it unquantized or offset your drum samples.

The ASR 10 is a powerful sampler with great sound quality. The keys feel great, it is built like a tank. The sequencer lacks which holds this machine back. The buggyness makes me neverous sometimes. Although you can use this machine standalone, I personally think an MPC or Roland MV needs to be the brain of the operation. My MPC as the master, combined with the ASR 10 allows me to use the strengths of the ASR 10's sampler abilities with the powerful and user friendly MPC sequencer. I have used my ASR 10 standalone many times, and as my master sequencer, I can get by but I would rather not. The ASR 10 can be frustrating standalone, I don't consider it to be a "beginner" sampler (well sequencer), but is a great machine. Pair it to your favorite sequencer and you will never want to part with it.