Originally, E-mu considered selling the design for the Emulator to Sequential Circuits, who, at the time, was using E-mu’s keyboard design in their popular Prophet-5 synthesizer. However, soon afterward, Sequential Circuits stopped paying E-mu royalties on their keyboard design, which forced E-mu to release the Emulator themselves.
It was a very basic 8-bit sampler - it only had a simple filter, and only allowed for a single loop. The initial model did not even include a VCA envelope generator. It came in three forms: A two-voice model (only one of these was ever sold), a four-voice model, and an eight-voice model. When the original Emulator was turned on it was split. It was designed to be played in split mode, so playing the same sound on the full keyboard required loading up the same sound floppy disk in each drive.
Stevie Wonder, who gave the sampler a glowing review at the 1981 NAMM convention, received the very first unit (serial number "001"). Originally 001 was promised to Daryl Dragon of Captain & Tenille, because Daryl had been a loyal E-mu modular system owner for a long time before that. On the other hand, Stevie at the time had a slightly larger name-recognition value. In 1982, the Emulator was updated to include a VCA envelope generator and a simple sequencer, and the price was lowered. Approximately 500 units were sold before the unit was discontinued in late 1983.
Released commercially in 1984, the Emulator II was E-mu's second sampler. Like the Emulator I, it was an 8-bit sampler, however it had superior fidelity to the Emulator I, and allowed more flexibility in editing sounds. It was priced similarly to the Emulator I, at US$7,995 for a regular model, and $9,995 for a "plus" model featuring extra sample memory. Several upgrades, including extra disk drives and a 20 MB hard drive, were available as well.
The Emulator II was featured in the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off, where it was the device Bueller used to simulate the sounds of being sick.
It featured 4 or 8 megabytes of memory, depending on the model, and it could store samples in 16-bit, 44-kHz stereo, which, at the time, was equivalent to the most advanced, professional equipment available. The sound quality was also improved greatly over its predecessors, the Emulator I and II, with quieter outputs and more reliable filter chips. However, the Emulator III was considerably less popular than its predecessors, largely due to its price - at a time when manufacturers such as Akai, Ensoniq, and Casio offerred samplers at less than $2,000, the Emulator III's use of high-quality components drove the price up to $12,695 for the 4 MB model, and $15,195 for the 8 MB model. E-mu had previously been able to sell their Emulators at around the $10,000 range because the only alternatives were the $30,000 - $200,000 (depending on which package you went for)Fairlight CMI and the $200,000 to $500,000 NED Synclavier System; however, times had changed, the technology had become more and more accessible, and E-mu was not able to keep up.
Although the Emulator III may not have been a success with working musicians, it did find a place on the records and in the studios of many prominent artists, including Tony Banks of Genesis, and the members of Depeche Mode, who used it on their successful 1990 release, Violator.
The Emulator IV series of samplers were introduced in 1994. They are compatible with the Emax 2 and EIII libraries and later versions can read Akai and Roland CD-ROM (some reports state that only the Ultra versions can consistently load Roland 16 bit Samples)
The first to be released was the Emulator IV rack which could came with 128 voices and up to 128 megabytes of RAM. Later you could a multi effects processor, additional output sockets and 32 midi channels.
These early EIV's had a vastly superior user interface than the Emulator III (which itself reappeared, in all but name and some unnecessary functions, as the ESI32 - ESI400 range) despite being only 3 rack units high. The screen worked on a series of windows that were far more informative that the previous system which dated back to the Emax range.
The new Operating System became known as the Emulator Operating System or EOS which was updated regularly, the 48 track sequencer being one of the first updates.
EMU appreciated that not everyone could afford a £5000 ($7000) sampler or even needed 128 voices or a potential 128 Megabyte memory so a cut down Emulator IV was launched based upon the EOS. This was the e64 and as the name would suggest this unit had 64 voices and could only expand to 64 megabytes. It was quite a bit cheaper than an EIV but was, for some, a false economy as the e64 was not upgradeable once it left the factory (memory excepted, which was limited to 64 megabytes).
To get around this EMU released the e6400 which could be upgraded to full EIV status.
Next came the e-Synth. This was a 128 voice fully expandable EOS sampler which could be expanded to 128 megabytes and had the effects board as standard. It also came with the e-Synth flash ROM, which unfortunately reduced the number of voices available for sampling to 64; you could disable the ROM if you needed the full 128. The ROM was filled with hundreds of pre-made sounds which could be edited like a synthesizer (the same editing features were on the EIV, e64 and e6400 as well). A number of e-Synth ROMs became available.
Somewhere around this point the e64 was dropped and the internals of the EIV and e6400 were changed to accept the e-Synths ROMs.
Two keyboard versions became available the E4K and the e-Synth Keyboard. These have unique circuit board and are not as expandable as the rack units. They can be upgraded to 128 voices but not to Ultra status.
EMU systems were taken over by Creative in 1993 and their influence led to the introduction of the Ultra series of EOS samplers based on the previous rack models. Ultras' benefit from greater processing speed (due to the 32 bit RISC chip, 20 bit A/D converters and a new 32 bit Effects Card option as well as many other minor tweaks and a new V4.0 EOS).
You can upgrade to Ultra status unless you own an original 1994 EIV an e64 or any of the keyboard versions.
The next three releases seemed to overlap with the e6400 and e6400 Ultra. The E4X was an expandable E4, but so was the e6400. The only difference being that the E4X had a half gig hard disk as standard. It had 64 voices and 4 megabytes as standard, but so did the e6400. There was also a turbo version launched called the E4XT which was basically the original EIV (128 voices and 16 - 128 megabytes of RAM), but also included a 1 gig Hard drive.
The other oddity was the E5000 Ultra which again seemed to be another rehash of the e6400 even though there was an e6400 Ultra! However the E5000 was £1500 unlike the e6400 and had fewer outputs and connectors - though these could be addressed unlike the previous entry level machine the e64 (though not the number of voices which remained at 64). The E5000 Ultra was obviously designed to tempt potential Akai purchasers.
The final version was the lovely silver coloured Platinum E4 which as the name suggests had all the bangs and whistles (i.e. a run out model to get rid of the remaining parts). It retailed at just over £4200 (with RFX card) against £899 for the E5000. EOS samplers were discontinued in 2002.
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