An Amiga Sampler 30 Years Later

There was a magic moment for a few years around the end of the 1980s, when home computers were better than professional ones. That’s a mighty grand pronouncement, but it refers to the crop of 16-bit home computers that genuinely were far better than nearly all PCs at the time for multimedia tasks. You could plug a sampler cartridge into your Amiga and be in the dance charts in no time, something which sparked a boom in electronic music creativity. As retrocomputing interest has soared so have the prices of old hardware, and for those still making Amiga music that cart can now be outrageously expensive. it’s something [echolevel] has addressed, with an open-source recreation of an Amiga sampler.

As anyone who peered inside one back int he day will tell you, an Amiga sampler was a very simple device consisting of a commonly-available 8-bit A to D converter, a CMOS switch for right and left samples, and maybe an op-amp preamplifier. This is exactly what he’s produced, save fpr the CMOS switch as he points out that Amiga musicians use mono samples anyway. At its heart is an ADC0820 half-flash ADC chip, and the whole thing is realised on a very retro-looking through-hole PCB.

For a Hackaday scribe with a Technosound Turbo still sitting in a box somewhere it’s a real trip down memory lane. It was a moment of magic to for the first time be able to edit and manipulate audio on a computer, and we’re glad to see that something of those days still lives on. See it in action in the video below the break.

21 thoughts on “An Amiga Sampler 30 Years Later

  1. To be fair, 8-bit ADC was quite common even on C64 with “Soundtrackers” doing the melodic work and a sample line using the weird “undocumented waveform” on the SID plus volume-“DA-hack” for the rhythm section. One of the many things the dumpster downstairs was filled up with many years ago was a C64 8-Bit ADC/DAC Soundsampler module with keyboard overlay “musical keys”. And that was in the Mid-80s.

    Not diminishing the creative work done here, just saying that Amiga definitely was more 16 bit even in the early days than 8 bit.

    1. The amiga sound hardware was using 8 bit samples. By combing the two left or right channels it was possible to get something approaching 12 bit playback but this was a hack and not normal operation since you sacrifices alot of power of the platform to do this.

    1. Well now that originally produced hardware is fetching inordinate amounts of money, it’s making sense to make your own again especially since the methods (PCB manufacture, 3D printing etc) have become so cheap. Paying £80/$100 for original collectors has become something only hardcore collectors need/want to do.

  2. “It was a moment of magic to for the first time be able to edit and manipulate audio on a computer, and we’re glad to see that something of those days still lives on. ”

    Thinking history overall could have been better audio-wise. Thanks Soundblaster.

      1. They were the “just about affordable if you grit your teeth” option originally, which made them far more popular than the $500+ Turtle Beach and others which were more pro-audio oriented. So since the installed user base began to look significant, publishers supported them in games, so more people bought them… then clones started to appear and other soundcard makers even with 16 bit chips were offering SB compatibility mode, and we were stuck with them, and so were they, meaning future models had to be very careful not to break backwards compatibility. So your sound options were i) PC Honker ii) $200 tooter (Soundblaster) or iii) Holy crap I could get a running car for that. Multimedia became the big buzzword thing in the mid 90s though so sound hardware became more mass market and prices dropped a ways. You could get some Crystal or ESS based card for $20 ish, or a white box OEM soundblaster bog standard edition for not a lot more.

  3. i just enjoyed the photo of 3.5″ disks. when i see floppies, i still feel deep inside of me the thrill, looking forward to opportunities to play with a computer. even though rationally it should be looking backward.

  4. “…realised on a very retro-looking through-hole PCB.”
    We’re also working on a weenie SMD version (in the SMD-fork folder of the GitHub project) that fits inside a boggo grey DB25 shell or a custom 3D printed case. The PCB’s are winging their way from JLCPCB as we speak! And the prints are going through iterations to check for fit. Pics on my twitter @abrugsch

    1. Is the existing board designed for some particular case? I couldn’t figure out why the audio connectors and potentiometer are hanging off leads instead of just having securely mounted through-hole parts.

      1. @echolevel was aiming at a specific retro case yeah (a CARE electronics one that one of the classic samplers was shipped in) but they are also doing a 3D printed case for the through hole board. I just did the smol PCB+case

  5. Cool! Reminds me of my early days when I was making my own Covox Speech Thing clones for my 286!
    The stereo thing also reminds me of Stereo-on-1 or the dual LPT port modes of MODPlay Pro and other MOD players/trackers. That way, you essentially had stereo or quadro, even (one 8-Bit DAC for each of the four Paula channels)..

    1. Well if you’re not interested in music, there’s the speech recognition I mentioned above.

      But also few other things listed in here…
      like oscilloscope utilities, combined with that maxsampler which is supposed to do 1 million samples per second, those could approach useful. The lower end ones though, having sample rates in the ~10khz range aren’t going to be so much use apart from audio visualization displays.

  6. I still have 2 A500s – samplers – midi interface and trackers. I also have about 7,000 disks- every sample – mod – tracker – hacker – ripper. Just use a mod player on the PC now. However writting music for demos in 80k inc samples seems crazy now – but back then you were more inventive.

  7. I have an a500 with a technosound sampler and a midi midi interface waiting for it’s moment to be setup in the studio with the akai and ensoniq samplers.

    I wish I could find a bit of software for the Amiga that would let me use it as a sample player via midi. Not a tracker, just play samples via midi, either pitched across the keyboard, or mapped like a drum kit, ideally both.

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