Vintage Sampler Sound Battle: E-MU Emulator II vs. Emax SE

This video, via RetroSound‘s Marko Ettlich, captures a head-to-head comparison of the E-MU Emulator II (1984) vs. E-mu Emax SE (1986). 

Here’s what he has to say about the video:

The EII was the direct successor of the EMULATOR and the most famous sampler in the world, 8-bit sampling, 27.7 kHz sample rate, SSM2045 24 dB/oct analog 4-pole low pass resonant filters, arpeggiator, sequencer…

The Emax was the little brother of the EMULATOR II, 12-bit sampling, 42 kHz sample rate, analog filters SSM2047 low pass with resonance, arpeggiator, sequencer…

The comparison video shows the different sound-character with identical samples.

How do you think they fair? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

14 thoughts on “Vintage Sampler Sound Battle: E-MU Emulator II vs. Emax SE

  1. If I recall correctly the Emulator had a street price upwards of $10,000. The emax was much cheaper, maybe $3000? But in 1985 I went with the Mirage ($1500) and never regretted it – but eventually got an emax, an esi-32 and some proteus modules – would be nice to compare all 4.

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  2. You’re making me want to dust off my Emax and use it again! It sounds great here. I need a hard drive retrofit though. Loading floppies at a gig is a no-go. And editing with that tiny LCD display, ay yi yi. Any advice on putting a hard drive in?

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  3. The Emulator II has a warmer sound, better sounding filter along with a lower bit word storage rate and lower khz. The Emax still sounds good though.

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    1. Nevermind, Wikipedia says around $3K. Maybe I was thinking of an expanded Emax II, which went for upwards of $8,000. I’ve got an old Emax and Emax II sitting around gathering dust since the 90s.

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  4. Based on the vid – i’d have to say surprisingly the EII sounds best , although there is a level mismatch which might be contributing. Havn’t used a dedicated H/W sampler for >15yrs – last one i bought was a fully loaded ESi4000Turbo with external SCSI drive , can’t remember the last time I powered it up. 🙁

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    1. What a crying shame! A fully loaded and decked out machine and it’s just sitting there with all that potential gathering dust?

      I might take it off your hands if you want… I mean, since you aren’t using it. ;P

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  5. The SE was my first proper keyboard and foray into sampling. I got it secondhand around 1989 / 90. I’ve still got the original discs and use some of the sounds via Mach Five. When the band i was in got a publishing deal i got the rackmount hard drive version (saved having to feed floppy discs in between songs!)
    That died eventually then i got possibly an ESI32, then a 4000 i think. Loved them, squeezed every second of sampling time out of them, brilliant filters. I kind of miss them now.

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  6. I’ve owned an emax mk1 since first release. I’ve also had extensive use of an emulator II, which prompted my purchase of the emax when it came out. Both great machines.

    The subtle differences are nothing that cannot be resolved with eq and compression.

    The emax’s filter was its strength for me. Lovely analogue warmth. Whatever I sampled in sounded even better coming out.

    And don’t forget the impressive bird run feature!

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    1. (youtube search…) Haha, that’s funny, also “Can’t Play Empty Sequences, Dude!” 🙂

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  7. I don’t know why, but the Emulator II+ sounds cleaner than it’s younger counterpart, in spite of the stats showing otherwise…

    More hiss and high spectrum digital aliasing to my ears, and as confirmed by a Spectrum viewer.

    I was about to say that maybe it had to do with the low pass filter being analog, but that isn’t the case because they’re both analog. Maybe the Emax SE has it’s filter open wider than the Emulator II+, letting more artifacts through? I dunno.

    Other then that, gotta love that early digitally sampled sound! Clean and sterile like a new petri dish, but so emotive and otherworldly in the right hands, making it a natural fit for ambiance and movie soundtracks!

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  8. It’s the SSM filters that make everything freaking sweet. Mono/Poly was same. So wish there was polysynth these days with it.

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  9. I believe the info is wrong. I’m pretty sure the original Emulator was 8 bit, but the Emulator 2 had 12 bit ADCs with data compression to 8 bit storage. On playback, it would expand back to 12 bits and go through a 12 bit DAC. The later Emulator III had 16 bit stereo sampling.

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