We’ve been playing with the Roland SP-404 MkII sampler for a few weeks now, as part of our ongoing investigation into samplers that may work as part of DJ set-ups.
There are a few things about this particular sampler that make it especially suitable for DJs, so in this article we’ll list them for you and give you some of our thoughts so far as we continue to play with it.
Watch the video
Want me to talk you through all of this on video? Check out this 12-minute in-depth look into why the SP-404MkII is perfect for DJs.
Why use a hardware sampler?
But why would a DJ want a sampler? Well, for the simplest things – dropping DJ drops or idents into a set – a sampler is the obvious solution. But you can get far more creative than that, using a sampler to add drum loops and textures, even begin to create hybrid sets mixing live performance with playing records.
And here’s the crux: Not all DJs have a sampler built-in to their gear. Unless you’re using laptop software, that probably applies to you. So a hardware sampler is a good solution.
A hardware sampler is not the only solution: There are some pretty great software samplers that can work from your phone or iPad, for instance (we’re about to mention one). But for many, a real piece of hardware, with proper pads and knobs, is preferable.
Read this next: 4 Ways To Add A Sampler To Your DJ Set-Up
And so to the Roland SP-404 MkII. The replacement for the iconic Roland SP-404 sampler, much beloved of a whole generation of DJ/producers and especially so in the hip-hop world, it’s accurate to say that the MkII improves in all kinds of ways on the original. And for DJs, it is now particularly appealing:
Why The SP-404 MkII for DJs?
1. The form factor – Let’s not get too complex here: It’s the right size to tuck next to a controller or full-sized DJ set-up: Long and relatively thin, and big enough to be comfortable to use
2. It’s actually a sampler – Many devices out there that DJs may consider to add to their gear set-ups aren’t really samplers, more sample playback devices. That’s cool, but this one can easily also sample, meaning you can sample records, your set, and so on, on the fly if you want to
3. It’s got a hands-on, performance-focused workflow – Some hardware samplers have a lot of emphasis on the sequencer side of things, on building finished productions within the one box, but at the expense of immediacy. This is much more of a performance device, and while some may see this as a disadvantage, for most DJs, we feel it will be a definite plus
4. It will feel mighty familiar to users of software samplers – …and specifically, we mean the hugely popular Koala sampler on iOS, a sampler we have recommended for DJs plenty in the past. If you’ve dabbled with Koala sampler and dreamed of a hardware version, this is it
5. It’s got good pitch/tempo shifting and effects – For DJ use, being able to key shift samples, stretch to tempo, and add effects (and some of the effects here are extremely DJ focused) are all essentials, and the Roland SP-404 MkII excels in these areas
6. It’s got a DJ mode! – Crazily, it actually has a DJ mode, where you can mix tracks as if it were a controller. Yes, you can put whole tracks into the sample slots, then use a crossfader, volume, and all the other features to craft DJ performances. At the very least it’s a good back-up to have in case you need to throw a track or two on between DJs, or when dealing with tech issues
7. It “feels” like DJ gear – To use, it just has that certain something that makes it feel “right”, meaning you develop muscle memory with it and start to use it instinctively, something from experience that can be harder to reach on some hardware (or you never get there at all)
DJs have lots of options when it comes to samplers. There’s the Novation Circuit Rhythm, which in many ways is similar to this. There’s the 1010music Black Box, which is tiny but can do a lot of what this can too (I personally own and use this one). And of course there’s the Pioneer DJ DJS-1000, a pro DJ option – although that costs a lot more. Add in the Korg Volca and Kaoss samplers, myriad drum machines… it’s a long list. And there are phone/tablet software samplers, too, such as the aforementioned Koala sampler.
Learn to DJ like a pro on ANY set-up: The Complete DJ Course
But there’s a strong case for the Roland SP-404 MkII being the most DJ-suited of the lot. It’s certainly worth serious consideration, because for a pretty modest outlay you’re getting something we think you may well find does all you’ll ever need from a sampler, and then some.