Ready to enhance your music and indulge in a heretofore unexplored side of your creative development?
Ready to develop a keen, untamed thirst for the unexpected and the vibrantly original?
Enter the sampler.
Some of the most groundbreaking tracks by musicians like The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, Avicci, and DJ Shadow are built on a bedrock of sampled beats.
But there is so much more to these wonders than meets the eye.
What is a Sampler?
A sampler is a digital device or program that captures, stores, and plays back audio samples or clips.
It is vital to modern music and is a non-negotiable tool for EDM, techno, and hip-hop musicians.
Samplers create unique, innovative sounds or bits by manipulating the sound waves of the original input audio.
Samplers can mix the samples and create something entirely unique.
One of the most common uses is to render a sound for another instrument.
You can sample drum, piano, or guitar notes or beats for example and tweak them to build a melody for a new song.
This type of single-note beat is called a one-shot sample.
It can take a lot of the headache and guesswork out of building new melodies and tracks.
You can also do loop sampling, which is capturing snippets or sections of previous recordings and looping them, enhancing them, or distorting them, with drums, bassline, or effects.
The sampler has a long history in pop, rap, hip-hop, trap, neo-soul, and electronic, but it can be used to desirable effect across a wide variety of genres.
Most notably, samplers are at the foundation of modern hip-hop.
In the early days, creators would sample old funk drum breaks to establish a consistent, sturdy beat to underpin freestyle rhymes.
The sky was the limit from that point on.
Hardware or Software Sampler?
A hardware sampler is, shocker, a physical device.
These can be analog as heck, and nostalgic musical purists will go wild for them.
These devices allow musicians and producers to capture snippets or beats from other physical sources like CDs and vinyl records.
Samplers emerged on the scene in the 1960s when our iconoclastic musical forebears would experiment and reimagine sounds using good old fashioned tape.
Samplers became veritable digital instruments throughout the seventies, and the first commercial synthesizer was released in 1976 – the Computer Music Melodian.
This device allowed musicians to import vinyl and convert it to digital form directly inside the sampler.
You can hear the first whispers of commercial sampling on albums like Kraftwerk’s Trans Europe Express (1977).
Analog hardware samplers use analog circuitry instead of digital signals and produce a warmer, more ambient character.
Hit up the trendy electronic thrift stores long enough and you’ll probably get your hands on one.
Or you could just consult our list below for the best of the bunch.
Software samplers are the most prevalent offerings in our machine age.
They offer a broad range of features, tools, and effects that the hardware samplers of old do not.
The manipulations and enhancements you can execute on a software sampler are pretty limitless.
You can import your audio straight into your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software and program the sample using a wide range of tools and parameters.
Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) samplers are also gaining popularity as they allow musicians to connect instruments like keyboards and drum machines via USB.
MIDI samplers can create virtual instruments and sequences, which can then be further manipulated using the controller device within the MIDI.
Virtual samplers are a branch of software samplers that replicate the features of well-established hardware units, but are much cheaper and more accessible.
Today we’ll stick to the basics, and we’ll walk you through the five best hardware samplers and the five best software samplers.
Best Hardware Samplers of 2023
1. Teenage Engineering PO-33 K.O!
- Price: $89
- Sample channels: 16
- Sequencing: Yes
- Memory: 40 seconds
- Effects: 16
Calling all alternative, DIY, lo-fi apologists.
Do we have a treat for you?
This nifty nostalgic wonderworker is analog, sure, but it allows you to build an organic, hearty sound with a kick.
Part of the Pocket Operator range, it is designed with useability, playfulness, and creative indulgence in mind.
It offers 16 sample tracks, and a shared sample memory of 40 seconds.
These come categorized as either Melodic or Drum samples.
The samples offer slightly different sounds when played via the pad grid or sequencer.
You can easily overwrite any of these with the mic or mini-jack input.
Oh, and the hand-held vocal synthesis is a punchy and powerful feature you’ll love.
Each sample track has six editable parameters: pitch, volume, filter cutoff (which controls a single bi-directional low/high pass filter), filter resonance, sample start point, and sample length.
This is a great variety for your manipulation needs, without being overwhelming.
It has a crunchy, authentic sound, lending well to rock, garage, and hip-hop.
It won’t get you meticulous, flawless radio production sounds, but if you seek adventure and experimentation, this will tick that box without the bells and whistles.
You can create hooks, loops, and innovative new sounds without extensive tech-know-how.
2. Korg Volca Sample 2
- Price: $149
- Sampling: 200 slots (150 come with sounds)
- Memory: 8MB sample memory (130 seconds)
- Effects: Digital Reverb, analogue isolator (bass and treble)
So easy you could teach it to kindergartners, the Korg Volca is blissfully simple, creatively inspired, and effectively designed for maximum spontaneity.
It is a 10-part digital sampling groovebox that allows you to playback PCM sounds or use its pre-loaded samples.
It offers a 16-step sequencer equipped with Motion Sequencing automation, Step Jump, and Active Step Modes.
You can hook up the sampler to a computer via a USB port, and the audio output comes courtesy of a headphone jack (with a MIDI input and analog pulse clock).
The front panel control allows you to set the source sample, start and endpoints, and adjust pitch and volume for each sample.
Attack and decay controls for amp and pitch add even more manipulation possibilities and hi-cut and reverse parameters allow for enhanced creative control.
An analog isolator EQ can be used to boost or cut low and high-end frequencies, drastically impacting your final product (for the better).
This is probably one of the best affordable hardware samplers for newcomers to production, or those who want something functional and utilitarian without being overwhelmed by glitzy features.
3. Elektron Model:Samples
- Price: $399
- Sample channels: Six
- Sequencing: 64-step Elektron sequencer with parameter automation
- Memory: 64 MB sample memory
- Effects: Filter, delay, reverb
With powerful and razor-sharp precision and sequencing capabilities, the Elektron Model allows producers to take creative flights of fancy and explore unusual tangents.
The one-knob-per-effect function makes for fun and compulsive use.
The ability to manipulate every last parameter means one thing: you’ll spend hours in productive flow states while under its spell.
It amounts to a six-track groovebox with 300 preset sounds, which range from the standard and conventional to the whimsical and unexpected.
You can also import your own live and raw samples.
It is well-reputed for its stellar sequencing workflow, which opens the door to some really exciting creative possibilities.
You’ll get your basic effects like delay and reverb, but not enough to get overwhelmed.
This is a streamlined, beginner friendly device that takes the guesswork, stress, and headache out of sampling, and offers a hand-holding experience for newcomers to the field.
4. Korg Electribe Sampler
- Price: $550
- Sample channels: 16
- Sequencing: 64-step sequencer with parameter automation
- Memory: up to 499 samples/270 seconds
- Effects: 1x track effect slot, 1x master effect slot
The Electribe is a mid-range sampler that offers the high-quality we expect from modern tech and the user-friendly interface and workflow of traditional hardware samplers.
It allows users to export WAVs and Ableton project files and to import their own raw content to input into the sampler.
Each front panel pad can be assigned a sound and you can click on the pads to create patterns, rhythms, and layers.
Has creative production ever been this easy?
The nifty keyboard mode allows you to play a part or sound melodically and the device comes with 400 drums, melodic hits, stabs, FX, phrases, and loops.
You can use the edit knob to adjust the parameters and execute reverse playback.
The time-sliced loops and playback capacities are spot-on, and allow you to experiment with different tempos.
The interface is simple and the menu, scale note mappings, and key adjustments are approachable and ideal for beginners and professionals alike.
5. Polyend Tracker
- Price: $599
- Sampling: Record up to two minutes of 16-bit/44.1kHz samples using built-in Radio, mic, and line inputs
- Sequencing: Tracker style Step Sequencer and Song Arranger
- Memory: 133 seconds of mono samples, SD card
- Effects: Effects per step x 2
Get inspired with the groovy, simple Polyend Tracker sampler, a hardware heavyweight that works hard and plays harder.
The interface is sleek and provides an emphasis on pattern sequencing.
You can load samples via an SD card slot which is easy as heck, and you can use these samples to construct 48 separate instruments.
You have a lot of latitude with enhancements and manipulations.
The interface is intuitive, with patterns arranged across eight tracks from left to right, and steps running the vertical length of the screen.
It comes with line and mic mini-jack inputs so you can sample directly with raw or live content.
The retro aesthetics and pad-based keyboard will have you feeling like you’re in Back to the Future.
This dreamy lil model incorporates the basics of OG, cult-fave tracker applications, without compromising the best parts of a traditional hardware sampler.
Best Software Samplers of 2023
6. Steinberg HALion 6
- Price: $355
- Bit rate: 64-bit
- System requirements: Mac OS X (OS X 10.11/macOS 10.12), Windows (64-bit Windows 7*/8.x/10): 64-bit Intel or AMD multi-core processor (Intel i5 or faster recommended) and 4 GB RAM (8 GB recommended)
Get ready to be knocked off your feet and totally overwhelmed by the sheer dynamism and production parameters of the HALion 6.
With three levels of instrument creation, resonator effects, and wavetable synthesis capacities, it is a producer’s dream.
It has developed significantly since its birth in 2001, and is more aptly described as a sound design workstation rather than a traditional, basic sampler.
Creative daredevils will love the synthesizing capabilities and ability to create unique instrumental customizations.
You can basically enable and build up multi-sampled instruments from the ground up.
The analog-like synth, sample, grain granular synthesis, and organ tonewheel emulation zones allow a truly eye popping amount of tweaking and manipulation.
The wavetable zone is a recently added feature with staying power.
The HALion 6 adds over 25 GB of fresh sample content and six scripted instruments over the last version.
The interface is meticulously crafted and allows you to observe and adjust every parameter you can think of.
You can also see the position, speed, and direction knobs visualized in both a 2D oscilloscope and a 3D topographical map.
7. Native Instruments Kontakt 5
- Price: $400
- Bit rate: 64-bit
- System requirements: Windows 7 (latest Service Pack, 32-/64‑bit), Intel Core Duo or AMD Athlon 64 CPU, 2GB RAM. Mac OS 10.6 (latest update) or 10.7, Intel Core Duo CPU, 2GB RAM. Native 64‑bit support for stand‑alone and plug‑in versions. 1GB free disk space or 48GB for complete installation.
If you have even the most cursory knowledge of music production, you’ll be familiar with the Kontakt 5’s outsized reputation.
The features are so high-powered they are basically out of this world.
The third-party library support and incomparable SSL-style EQ/compressor makes this a cinch to use, and will satisfy even the most demanding, out-of-the-box production needs.
Let the innovative sampling manipulation begin!
The category library comes with choir, band, orchestral, world, synth, vintage, and urban modes and over 1,000 instruments.
This makes it an ideal companion for any genre under the sun.
The interface is complex at first glance, reminding us of the console or dashboard of a rocket ship, but it is eminently practical and dynamic.
You get eight sound variations per patch and you can pivot from one sample to the next with a simple slider feature.
A sound knob allows you to conveniently adjust settings as you work.
The Kontakt 5 generation offers groovy new effects like Solid EQ, Solid Bus Comp, Transient Master and Tape Saturator.
The new timestretch algorithm makes real-time production easy and addictive.
8. MOTU MachFive 3
- Price: $295
- Bit rate: 64-bit
- System requirements: Mac (OS X 10.9 or later), PC (Windows 7 SP1 or later): 4GB RAM or more recommended, 45GB drive space. Intel Core 2 Duo or higher for Mac and Multi-core 1.83GHz Processor or higher for a PC.
With an astonishing sonic range, accessible library, and dynamic synth and mixing capacities, the MOTU MachFive 3 is a one-stop-shop and a power unit that will offer all you need and more.
It offers a virtually unlimited selection of keygroups and 12 synth engines.
The engines can be used independently or combined with the sampling engine to create thrillingly unique hybrid sounds.
It offers analog Stacks, FM, Wavetable, Granular and Drum oscillators for the experimental and iconoclastic among us.
When it comes to sampling, you get just as much variety and breadth.
The Loop Lab feature allows you to slice and rearrange audio loops.
But hold your breath – there’s more.
Every single one of the infinite keygroups has its own volume, pan, drive, filtering and envelopes, and the parameters for each can be automated and modulated.
The various effects are enticing and the MachFive 3 replicates electronic and acoustic instruments like it ain’t no thing.
The customization and manipulation is pretty astonishing, and you might find yourself going down to part-time hours at work so you can dedicate yourself more fully to the craft.
The interface and display also feel decidedly elegant and will have you feeling like a production professional.
9. UVI Falcon
- Price: $350
- Bit depth: 64-bit
- System requirements: Mac (OS X 10.9 or later), PC (Windows 8.1 or later)
It sounds like a plane out of Top Gun, but is oh so much more groovy and practical.
The Falcon is a showstopper, and if it were a person, all heads would turn when it enters a room.
It has vast functionalities with countless generation options and modulation potential.
You can also load the library of UVI sound banks directly into the software.
Its patches are constructed from Oscillators, Effects, Modulators and Events (MIDI generators), which can then be dragged into the main interface from the Browser.
The user-friendly dashboard has five tabs for info, edits, effects, events, and mods so you can easily wrap your head around the workflow.
You can access your installed soundbanks from a six-tab browser panel to the right of the main dashboard.
The interface is sleek and inviting, but its sheer functionality is what will win you over.
It contains 15 Oscillator types onboard, which include seven sampling and eight synthesis, and includes virtual analog (Analog and Analog Stack), four-operator FM, Wavetable and Drum synthesis.
This will certainly entice the ambitious and audacious creators among us.
10. 112dB Morgana
- Price: $199
- Bit rate: 8-bit
- System requirements: Windows : 7, 8, 10, 11
- Mac OS X (Intel or Apple Silicon ): 10.8 (Mountain Lion), 10.9 (Mavericks), 10.10 (Yosemite), 10.11 (El Capitan), 10.12 (Sierra), 10.13 (High Sierra), 10.14 (Mojave), 10.15 (Catalina), 11 (Big Sur), 12 (Monterey)
With hardware-style features, the Morgana will allow you to marry high-tech with retro aspirations.
This software replicates the analog hiss and distortion of old school circuitry, producing a raw, organic finished product.
If you want polish and perfection, you might consider giving this a miss, but if you seek authenticity and an idiosyncratic, untamed personality, the 112dB beckons.
The interface is user-friendly and makes it easy to edit and tease out the effects you seek.
When you hover over a given parameter long enough, a help menu will appear that offers parameters and tips, making it a pinch for the less tech-intuitive among us.
It truly is easy on all fronts.
Simply put your samples in, tell the sampler which notes to place them on, set loops, start, and end points, and tune them to your heart’s desire.
You can edit in real-time, and the sample rate control feature allows you to decide how lo-fi and retro you want your sounds.
The analog knob in the setup panel allows you to use a nifty sliding scale feature to clutter up or mellow out your sound.
How to Choose the Best Sampler
Identify your sampling needs
What’s your preference – the future or the past?
We joke, but it pays to decide whether you want an analog hardware sampler or a dizzying, techy software sampler.
Both have their draws and drawbacks, as you may have gleaned from our product descriptions above.
What is more important to you – synthesizing power, virtual instrument sampling, a large library of pre-loaded samples, loop-based sampling capacities?
There are hundreds of models on the market, and not everyone will be your perfect fit.
How much groundwork do you want to do?
Do you want to put a battery in and get going?
Do you have enough RAM on your computer to run a large and demanding software package?
Are you willing to configure your laptop settings to accommodate a software sampler?
Do you want to have the ability to plug your hardware into a computer or instrument?
Are you laidback and happy to use the basic features, without over-exerting yourself?
This is all down to your individual temperament as a producer.
The Benefits of Using a Sampler in Music Production
Samplers open the door to a universe of experimentation, dynamism, and creation.
Dramatic, yes, but also true.
They allow you to utilize and access sounds that traditional instruments just can’t produce and they tap into the disruptive potential of technology for the benefit of the human ear.
Samplers allow you to create arresting, heretofore unknown modes of sound and can help you build unreal, otherworldly textures and ambients.
By layering you can do quick work without having to record each element separately, saving time and inspiring new ideas.
Samplers allow you to reference the talent and creativity of other artists, and to blend different genres together to produce curious and unexpected sonic offspring.
They allow you to tap into an extensive global catalog, almost like a reference library of sound.
Samplers are portals into the history and heritage of music, and a veritable wellspring of inspiration.
They allow you to edit and manipulate existing sounds rather than reinventing the wheel every time – a huge burden off of any producer’s shoulders.
Samplers allow you to blend the sounds of vinyl, drum machines, synthesizers, and vocal plugins, and they can produce mash-ups that were unthinkable in the low-tech days of yore.
Samplers allow peak complexity and texture and allow you to construct truly labyrinthine soundscapes.
How to Get Started With a Sampler
Samplers = creative possibilities.
What you do with your sampler is up to you, and the options are staggering.
You can make small adjustments here and there or you can completely renovate and manipulate your original sound.
Input does not necessarily equal output where the sampler is concerned.
Indeed, for the untamed and misbehaved among us, sampling is the most gratifying part of the production experience.
Loading the sampler is the easiest bit.
You can input samples from audio files, existing loops and one-shots, or you can produce them yourself live.
At this point you can play around with producing loops, making cuts, changing the attack, pitch, and velocity, and layering with other sounds.
The first step is to learn the basic functions of the sampler, which include sound editing, looping, sequencing, and synthesizing.
Sound editing is barebones stuff and involves cutting up samples into bite-sized pieces and rearranging them to create a completely new sound.
Looping allows you to create drum beats and melodies.
Sequencing allows you to layer multiple samples to build melodies and create innovative structures and soundscapes.
Synthesizing is the act of manipulating your samples with effects like reverb, delay, filter, compression, and EQ.
Effects open a door to truly astonishing constructive possibilities.
At this stage you can execute pitch shifting, add distortions, and chorus effects, and make tonal adjustments.
You can build some wild stuff at this juncture of the production journey.
The possibilities for enhancement, manipulation, and creative distortion are intimidating, but once you get used to tweaking the different parameters of the functions above, you’ll learn which edits and adjustments you like.
A good self-teaching exercise is to practice building drum beats.
When you build up your library of drum samples you can choose an array of both faster and slower tempos, and then you can adjust them accordingly in the sampler.
Once you gain a degree of fluency with the different features and parameters you can widen the scope and pair your sampler with instruments and software (like vocal plugins and compressors.)
At this point you can play guitar riffs or dish out some classical melodies on the violin, and pair them with futuristic, otherworldly synth or groovy drum beats.
If you are into the digital and electronic possibilities inherent in the sampler, you might consider learning how to remix.
This is the foundation of most EDM and techno, and the latitudes here are truly unparalleled.
Ready, Set, Sample
Convinced it is time to take the next step in your production journey?
Ready to astound yourself with unexpected sonic experimentation?
Samplers are the first and last word for music producers, and they will elevate you to dizzying new heights.