DISCOVER | 24 MARCH 2015 | 3 MB
The Sinclair ZX Spectrum was the best computer ever. It was cool, with its matte black case and funky graphics. It was tactile, with spongy rubber buttons. It turned your TV screen into an instant amusement arcade. You could even program it yourself.
10 PRINT "Preece is a wally"
30 GOTO 10
But the really cool thing about the Spectrum was that you could slam a Cheetah SpecDrum expansion module into the port on the back and turn it into the next best thing to a Linn Drum. In your bedroom. For twenty-nine quid and ninety-five pence. As we used to say in the 80s, skill.
The SpecDrum was a hardware drum sampler that used its own electronics to handle the sampling bit, and the Spectrum's programmability to host a primitive sequencer program to drive the sounds. Once you'd loaded the program in from cassette - and let's just say that again, folks; from cassette - you were presented with a pattern editor, a song chain sequencer, and eight acoustic drum samples to play with: all reproduced in glorious 8-bit.
Needless to say they blew the socks off anything the Speccie could do on its own. What's really interesting, though, is how good they sound today. They're thick and punchy and they have real drive to them. They really do have the flavour of a Linn about them - somewhere between Linn Drum and Cheetah's own later hardware units, the MD8 and MD16. The samples are short, to conserve precious memory: about a quarter of a second each. But they've been recorded with love and it shows.
And there's more. Cheetah released three more data cassette packs that could load in alternative drum kits. You could pick from groovy Latin, tribal Afro or robot-dancing Electro. Again, the sounds here were astonishingly usable. The Latin snare stands out as a classic, and works very well indeed alongside the basic kit's thick Kick drum. The Electro kit has the best electro-toms ever, plus the painfully addictive and exquisitely-named "Peow" kit piece. (It sounds like this: Peow!) And the Afro kit excels at delicate percussion sounds to give some World groove to your tracks.
Naturally when we first hooked everything up on the lab bench we just wasted a day programming in the intro riff from Genesis's "Tonight Tonight Tonight" on the Electro kit. But once that was out of our system, we turned to sampling this wonderful little beast.
Each kit piece has been sampled at 24-bit, and the four complete kits - Basic, Latin, Afro and Electro - are spread out over four octaves so you can play them simultaneously. We've put in the usual level and pan controls for each instrument, plus Tuning controls that dramatically extend the usable range of each kit piece (and can give you some real floor-shuddering thumps at the low end if you want them). We've also interpolated a Mid tom / E tom / timbale / cabasa in between the High and Low ones.
The Effects block contains compression to hold it all together (or squash it into oblivion), Tube saturation, full-on distortion, and our beloved Bitcrusher. To be honest, bit-crushing a 24-bit sample of an 8-bit drum machine to 4 bits feels a bit like something's gone wrong with the world, but still... the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the Bitcrusher can still make some damn cool effects with the SpecDrum's sounds, so we left it in there!
All in all it's amazing how much fun can be had with a little black plastic box plugged into the back of another little black plastic box. This is what the 80s was all about
: bringing boffin-level technology into the bedrooms of geeky kids so that they could harness its power to make ace music (and get girls, maybe). And now you can bring that powerful mojo to your tracks, squidgy rubber buttons and all. And, because in the 80s if you had something cool and futuristic and cutting edge you added "2000" to it, we've called it the SpecDrum 2000.
SpecDrum 2000: 8 whole bits of pure sonic nostalgia.home page:
Rhythmic Robot Audio SpecDrum 2000 KONTAKT-VON.G: