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One of the most popular hardware samplers over the years for hip hop producers was the Akai S950. Essentially an upgraded version of the S900, this sampler became popular amongst hip hop heads, namely for its 12-bit linear sampling capabilities. Most producers would stack this with an E-MU SP1200, giving them the perfect 1-2 punch to deliver some knockout, hard-hitting, rough-as-can-be hip hop tracks.
Produced between 1988 and 1993, Akai gave this machine a 48kHz sampling rate, with a maximum of 2.25 MB of RAM, and features such as crossfade looping and pretrigger recording. Those features were on the S900, but were considered optional, so you would have had to upgrade your machine to get those options.
Even though the S950 had a 48kHz sampling rate, by having that it reduced the maximum sample time, taking up more room. There were eight outputs, and this was also the first Akai sampler to have time stretching, which of course enables you to alter the sample length withouth messing with the pitch, and it did a great job at it since most time stretching (or stretching too much) will give your sample an artificial sound to it.
One of the best functions of the S950 was to use it for drum loops, which is a huge plus for hip hop production, giving you 12-bit drums. A nice feature that was also added was the fact that you could use S900 disks and even S1000 disks with the S950! That's a big bonus because who would want to get rid of their S900 disks with all those old samples, just because of a new format? Props to Akai for that feature.
The S950 was never meant to be a fancy-looking machine, but it definitely got the job done, and it did it well. Sure, there were some well-known issues with this unit such as some of the expansion chips could easily fall out if you threw your machine around (who would do that?), plus the disk drives would sometimes fail and it could be costly to replace them.
Many, many, many hip hop producers used the S950 over the years, guys like Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Clark Kent, Da Beatminerz, Lord Finesse, and the list goes on. If you ever see an S950 for sale, think about picking one up if you're feeling nostalgic!
Here's a video showing the sampling features of the Akai S950: