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The Oddness of The Ensoniq ASR-X Sampler Series - B(L)og 021

There has never been a sampler that has put me in a constant state of underestimation than Ensoniq’s last line of samplers. That being the ASR-X and subsequently the ASR-X PRO. It’s generally known that Ensoniq samplers are pretty quirky in comparison to the rest in the industry. The ASR-X on the other hand, took this to another level by including what could be described as noticeable limitations to it’s physical structure as well as it’s software accessibility. It seemed like a step back in progress and it didn’t seem like there was a logical reason for any of it.

What we’re going to take a look at in this B(L)og is the working experiences that I’ve had with this sampler. I’m also going to document how my opinion has evolved over that time.

And by the way…. Thanks a million for reading this entry of The Daydream Sound B(L)og! Much appreciated!!!!

When Did You First See The ASR-X?

Well. One fine day I was walking around in downtown Toronto. Part of my regular routine was to always make a stop by the music stores when they were in my path. That was the case this day, and when I walked into the keyboard section (which was the only section that I was ever interested in) I remember seeing it. Right there as soon as you entered the room was the ASR-X. Ensoniq’s new instrument. Now Ensoniq typically came out with instruments but unless it was a sampler I really wouldn’t stop. This time I stopped!!!

I gotta say I was a bit perplexed when I saw it. It caught me off guard! I was looking at something that said “ASR” and that’s all I chose to see. The next thing that I saw was its size and the Penta pads and I just couldn’t make sense of it. This was no “ASR”! I kept looking at it and saw “ASR-X”. I pressed the pads and heard sounds (and the sounded corny)! I turned the knobs and heard more sounds!

“Okay” I thought! “This isn’t right at all!”

In fact, it was all wrong to me! And what was going on with that screen? The dismissive elitist came out to play judge and jury right away! This was a joke! Ensoniq seemed kinda outta touch with this one! To me it looked like Ensoniq was trying to be cool when the company shoulda just tried to be Ensoniq!

The Ensoniq ASR-X. In all of its glory!

So Why Did You Get The ASR-X?

The Sound! Did I need any other reason? The ASR-X was the sixth sampler that I bought. At that time my goal was to get as diverse a sound palette of samplers as possible. That included a low resolution “analog like” sampler (The Mirage). A rugged aggressive sampler/sequencer (The MPC 2000 Classic). An amazing filter and smooth sampler (ESI 2000). A 13-bit giant (The EPS Classic) and a “Daily driver”! A do all home base sampler in the Ensoniq EPS16+.

I was also amassing sample time. The more samplers I got, the longer I could sample. So after reading and doing research I kept coming back to the ASR-X. The sampler I was dismissive of. I kept hearing about the great attributes of its sound engine. The 20-bit A/D converters! How open it sounded. Better than the ASR-10 even!

I filed that little bit of information away in my brain with a complementary grain of salt and continued looking. What I found was that aside from a few other samplers that I wasn’t interested in, the ASR-X was something of an underdog that was perhaps misunderstood. Maybe……. Possibly?

Either way I was now intrigued. Not enough to go out and get it as yet but I made myself open enough to consider pressing the “Buy Now” button if one should present itself in the right condition and price.

That’s a trick, because what happens is if you look for one in decent shape at a good price, you’ll see another and another. And that's what happened. I saw so many of them in bad shape that when I saw one in great shape at a great price I bought it without question. I was already too familiar with what the baseline condition of the market was. I knew I was getting a great deal!

Got it! …… Here’s What I Didn’t Like

Got it! Came in the mail! It looked just like how I remembered it from the music store 12 years earlier. I gave it my typical The Daydream Sound Used Gear Inspection Routine. But when I did get around to actually using it I immediately noticed the quirkiness that was attributed to it by many frustrated users.

Sequencer - It would be fine with basic stuff but would hiccup and stall when tasked with larger busier tasks.

Screen - It wasn’t bad dealing with it but it was difficult not to constantly compare it to the screen of the EPS series. It seemed like a step back in technology.

Internal Sounds - I always thought onboard sounds were corny and this was no exception. I just wasn’t absorbed by them but they were welcomed.

Sampling - The whole sampling procedure just seemed a bit too convoluted. I wanted to see an expansion of the traditional Ensoniq sampling method. I couldn’t change sample rates or touch the aliasing filter and while I understood the obsoleteness of both options on a modern sampler, I didn’t like being deprived of the option to do so. And why couldn’t I layer anything when some of the internal sounds were clearly layered themselves?

A look inside the ASR-X during inspection. Notice the EXP-3 expansion card!

Overall I’m pretty lenient with these sort of things and I wasn’t expecting anything other than what I bought it for. And in light of that; It had ample sample memory and its sound was spectacular! Better than I expected!

First Time I Noticed Something Was Amis

When I believe I have a sampler figured out. It typically falls into a category where I only use it for the purpose that I think it’s best for. I don’t expect it to do more than I estimate that it can. This assessment only changes when I encounter something to prove my initial appraisal to be inaccurate.

So while using it a few times I notice that the workflow of the ASR-X was misunderstood by me. Resampling is the key with the ASR-X. As a matter of fact, it states it right there in writing on the sampler! “ASR-X Advanced Sampler/Resampler”.

If you simply try to treat the ASR-X like a traditional sampler, you’ll be missing out on a lot of things. Chiefly it’s power to create new sounds by resampling anything at anytime.

The Daydream Sound Underestimated The Ensoniq ASR-X

Second Time I Noticed Something Was Amiss

You’re never happier to be wrong than when it comes to thinking that you know everything about a sampler. Which I thought I did at this point. But I was wrong again. Resampling was just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath it all was an insane mass of synthesis infrastructure that I somehow did not take seriously in the past.

When I really looked back at it I think that the small screen encouraged me to view the ASR-X like some type of joke. In my world “Serious Contemporary Sampler” = Pro Level Display! But…. As I came to understand. The ASR-X has so much synthesis power accessible from that very small screen. Needless to say I initially overlooked its synthesis structure.

Third Time’s A Charm

So I’m an ASR-Xpert at this juncture right? Well you couldn’t tell me I wasn’t. Not you, or even me. But the ASR-X sure did!

I began making a manual for the ASR-X as an addition to my vintage manual series. I had already done one for the ASR-10 and Akai S-950. Soon after the requests for an ASR-X manual began to come in fast and furious. I wasn’t looking forward to making the manual. In all truth I was hoping no one would ask for it. I knew the ASR-X and I had a pretty good grip on it but to explain it in a clear consistent way that any number of people could learn and understand? That’s another thing!

As it became clear that it would be a good idea to tackle this project sooner than latter, I began to dissect the ASR-X. Bit by bit feature by feature process by process; And you wouldn’t believe what I found. I yet again had more to learn about this enigmatic sampler! Everything came full-circle! For the first time I saw the similarities between it and its older siblings. As powerful as the ASR-X is, I never really saw a clear reason for it’s existence or any tie to the legacy of Ensoniq samplers.

This time around while studying the ASR-X at length I began to see that this sampler is an amalgamation of Ensoniq products on a whole. Not only that, it still maintains and in many areas advances the progress of Ensoniq sampling technology. There are so many similarities between the EPS/ASR-10 and the ASR-X/PRO that are for a lack of better words; “Hidden in plain sight!”

When you get to that point you just kinda leave the door of understanding ajar when it comes to the ASR-X. It’s capable of a whole lot and like all the Ensoniq samplers, it will continue to re-invent itself as time goes on. Why? Because it has so many resources that are pretty configurable to your taste. And that’s where I went wrong in my initial evaluation of the ASR-X. I thought it was a generic closed infrastructure that wouldn’t allow you to explore in the truest sense.

I’ll close out by saying this. The ASR-X is all you think it to be in terms of its shortcomings. It’s also something else. And you’ll have to find that out for yourself.

Thanks for reading!


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