Ensoniq ASR-10 Rack
Intro: The ASR is one of the best samplers ever made. Back in the early 90s when I was looking to purchase my first keyboard workstation, I considered both the ASR-10 and the TS-10. I went with the TS-10 because of its superior sequencer, but I vowed that someday I would have an ASR as well. It turns out that day was 2-decades later when I was able to buy an ASR-10 Rack module on eBay.
Disclaimer: I always put a disclaimer into my blogs. I am not a professional reviewer or musician, just a guy with a home studio. There is no editor or fact-checker, so it is quite possible that there are inaccuracies. This is all just opinion, for entertainment purposes only, so don’t make any decisions based solely off this info.
Sampling: Sampling an instrument is simple. Just select an empty track, set a few parameters such as the threshold and input gain, then sample the voice. Once you have the sample, you decide if you need a couple more samples in different ranges (multi-sampling), or if just that one sample will do to spread chromatically across the keybed. Lastly, you make a few adjustments, like start and end, how to loop the waveform, maybe put some effects on it. Once you have it right, save to SCSI drive or floppy disk. The ASR-10R comes with maxed-out sample memory of 16MB, good for several minutes worth of 16-bit 44.1-kHz sample time.
Libraries: There are huge libraries of existing sampled instruments for the ASR. It also loads older EPS and EPS 16+ instruments, and it will even load Roland libraries (and maybe Akai) from SCSI CD-ROM drive. There is even software you can get to load WAV and AIF samples into ASR instruments, and write those instrument files to Ensoniq formatted floppy-disks. Sampled instruments from Ensoniq and others sound great, so I would not recommend wasting your time sampling a piano for example, just buy it - you should stick with sampling unique stuff.
SCSI vs. Floppy: Since my ASR-10R has the SCSI interface, I thought I may as well get an old SCSI drive to see how it works. In these days of terabyte-drive, can you believe there used to be hard-drives rated in MBs? I think I remember replacing a couple of daisy-chained 16MB SCSI drives with a new 100MB Zip drive back in the day. Anyway, I connected an old SCSI drive and it worked just fine after I refreshed my memory on SCSI IDs and SCSI terminators and such. In all honesty, I never had a problem with floppy disks, so I find I will often revert back to my old floppies. My collection of ASR sample floppy disks is labeled and organized well, and often I can find sounds faster on disk than navigating through folders on the SCSI drive. Note that the ASR floppies are the newer HD disks that you can still buy online, not the older DD disks that are hard to find these days.
Sequencer: I never built a song using the ASR sequencer, because I have a TS-10 workstation, and that is pretty much the best sequencer ever made. I can say that I have loaded songs and played them back just fine. Basically, the sequence and the 8 instruments on the 8 tracks, can all be saved as a bank, so you just load up the bank and hit play. The ASR sequencer is like the other Ensoniq sequencers, in that you can go into song mode and chain several sequences together to form a complete song, gaining an additional 8 song tracks in the process, so it is really a 16 track sequencer. I always liked the fact that the older Ensoniq modules included the sequencer, which is rare, as generally the keyboard versions of a synth will contain the sequencer, which is removed from the rack-mount version. Many of the older Ensoniq racks retained the sequencer. Sure wish there was such a thing as a TS module.
Display: The vacuum-fluorescent display on the older Ensoniq gear is very nice. Easy to read, and apparently quality-built, because I have both an ASR and a TS, and there are no “burned out” segments (think pixels) on either displays after several decades of use.
Navigation: This is the only knock I have on the ASR-10. There are limited buttons on the front of the unit, so you do need to do quite a bit of menu-diving and navigating through options. On my TS, this is not the case because there is a dedicated button for each menu, and then soft buttons right next to the display for the menu options. The ASR-10 could use the soft buttons on the display.
Sounds: The polyphony is 31 voices. With 8 tracks, you can get by in most songs without running out of polyphony. I run out on my TS, but that is because there are more tracks and you can layer voices. If you need to layer on the ASR, I would think you might as well resample to just 1 layer, so you probably would not run out of polyphony.
Output: The ASR-10R comes with the main stereo output, plus additional stereo aux outputs 1 and 2. I have never used these aux outputs, but I know it is a nice option to have. If you want Bass, Drum, and Piano going to their own separate tracks on your multi-track recorder, then the aux outputs are a must.
Effects: The ASR has nice effects, so I recommend not sampling with effects already on the voice. Instead, sample the instrument dry, then add whatever effects you want from the ASR. Apparently you can load new effects algorithms into the ASR. I have not done much with this option, but there are these really cool Waveboy effects from Rubber Chicken Sys and/or effects from Syntaur that I will probably give a try. If so, I will do a post on them.
Loading into ASR-X: So the question comes up, can you load ASR-10 samples into an ASR-X groovebox? Yes, with some caveats. On the original black ASR-X, you must have a newer OS that supports loading ASR-10 floppy disks. I have the latest OS on my ASR-X, and it will load my ASR-10 samples just fine. The newer red ASR-X Pro already has the newer OS, so they all load ASR-10 samples. Here is the catch, some samples do not sound as good on the ASR-X. There is some information online as to why this is the case, that I won't go into here, but just be aware that most sound fine, but some will sound poor on the ASR-X. I have a large ASR-10 piano sample for example that sounds great, but when loaded into the ASR-X, it sounds more like a honky-tonk piano.