The price points on entry-level samplers and sequencers have, arguably, never been more affordable.
With the country’s COVID numbers soaring, there’s a solid (veering towards imminent) chance a lot of you are about to (once again,) have a good bit of time on your hands in the not too distant future.
Grappling with the first wave of the pandemic, many of us, over the last eight months or so, became surprisingly decent bakers, meditators, and serial hobbyists in general. But if you’ve ever had even the smallest interest in music production, round two (or three, depending on precisely where you are in the country,) is as good a time as ever to hone your touch and ear as a beatmaker. Sure, the downtime will be a resource unto itself. But the price points on entry-level samplers and sequencers have, arguably, never been more approachable. And that doesn’t even take into account the additional inventory-clearing Black Friday deals and discounts that will very likely outlast this giving season.
So treat yourself (if you can,) dear beatmaker. There’s a range of machines (several of which have been go-to pieces of hardware in the respective arsenals of legends,) you can scoop, even if that second stimulus check never turns up. And we’ve combed through the consumer reports to compile a list of the best new and used samplers to cop.
Here are eight samplers under $300 for any fully-formed or fledgling producer on a budget.
Compact and stacked with functionality, Akai‘s MPX16 is a mobile-friendly sampler that could easily double as the centerpiece to your first studio buildout. With 16 touch-sensitive pads, an SD card reader, and an on-board stereo microphone, you can capture a sound live or upload your own samples to chop at leisure. And at just $254.99 (or well below that on the secondhand market,) it’s one of the most affordable samplers out there.
Native Instruments Maschine MKII
Though it was replaced by Native Instruments‘ third-generation workstation a few years back, the Maschine MK2 is still a beast in its own right. The largest and most vibrant device on this list, the MK2 is a sturdy and beautifully-built sampler that’s developed a cult following for a unique and intuitive workflow, as well as its colorful 16-pad layout and customizable chassis. A new one will be hard to come by, but you can grab a used MK2 on Amazon or Reverb for $300 or less.
Teenage Engineering PO-133
Don’t be fooled by the toy-like appearance of the PO-133. This special edition micro-sampler from Teenage Engineering is a deceptively sophisticated piece of hardware that features an on-unit microphone, 40-seconds of memory, and pre-loaded Street Fighter sounds. Oh, and it runs on a pair of AAA batteries. Realistically, the PO-133 won’t be the cornerstone device in anyone’s aresenal. But those seeking a cheap sampling and sequencing solution ($89 via Teenage Engineering) should take note.
Korg Electribe 2
While it’s probably best paired with other instruments, Korg‘s Electribe 2 Sampler works damn well all on its own. The sleek, yet surprisingly heavy, frame offers a weighted base for finger drumming. The interface is streamlined and intuitive. And it adds a polyphonic function that allows users to play multiple pads at once, not unlike a synthesizer. Factor in an SD cardreader and a price point that’s easy on the wallet ($300 via Reverb,) and you’ve got a very well-rounded sampler to refine your chops.
Boss Dr. Sample SP-303
Nearing two decades since it was discontinued, Boss’ SP-303 remains the gold standard for on-the move sample-based production. And though it comes with a bit of a learning curve, mastering the iconic machine and the array of effects it houses will transfer well should you ever decide to make the jump to a more modern device. If you’re up for the challenge, you can grab an SP-303 for $300 or just under on eBay today.
Roland‘s recalibrated take on the iconic SP-303 sampler has plenty in common with its elder (including the learning curve, the slightly pricier tag, and the grip of stellar effects.) But the revamp of Boss’ breakout phrase sampler is well worth the investment. The SP-404 features four more pads than its predecessor, a line/mic input to record directly into the machine, and a CF card reader to load and unload your sounds. With a brawnier build, it’s not quite as mobile as the 303. But honestly, who’s going anywhere these days? Find yours on eBay or Reverb today.
Native Instruments Maschine Mikro MKIII
The condensed version of Native Instruments’ Maschine series is a solid option for novice beatmakers. It features 16 large (almost oversized,) velocity-sensitive pads and a “Smart Strip” that allows you to strum chords and manipulate sounds, but lacks the flashy display and snappy software navigation of its big brother. But if you’re already comfortable with a DAW and want a portable production station with great feel and responsiveness, the Mikro MKIII is a great option that, at $269, won’t have you breaking the bank.
Ableton Live’s Simpler
While it’s certainly not a standalone piece of hardware, for the money, Ableton Live’s Simpler virtual instrument is one of the most precise and accessible samplers in the game. Simpler comes stock in even the Intro version of Live 10 (which is now just $79,) and it offers users a full range of functionality without any external controllers at all. Just load up some audio, cut it up as finely as you’d like, and get to stitching those segments together with just your computer’s keyboard as the controller. No external machines necessary.