Serato Sample is a digital audio workstation plugin meant for DJ/producers looking for an easy way to sample music for beat making. The familiar “waveform and hot cues” interface is the biggest strength of the app because it’s geared towards digital DJs. There are more powerful samplers out there, but what makes Serato Sample a contender is its simplicity. The steep price is its only downside.
First Impressions / Setting up
Serato Sample is a download you can grab on the Serato website. It costs US$99, but it also comes with a 30-day free trial for you to check out.
It’s worth repeating that this is a plugin. That means you need to use it inside a digital audio workstation like Ableton Live, FL Studio, or Logic Pro. It is not a standalone app that you can use on its own – so I launched Ableton Live, added in Serato Sample to a track, loaded a music file, and got to work.
The interface looks similar to what you’d find on a Serato DJ screen: it has a coloured waveform, hot cue pads where you store each sample slice, knobs to tweak each individual pad, and other controls that let you manipulate your samples.
This makes the user interface and experience more friendly towards DJs – there are many sampler apps out there, but most (if not all) of them will look unfamiliar to digital DJs because they’re aimed more at producers. Serato Sample is different because it looks and feels like a DJ app for the production world.
Picking sounds from a piece of audio is easy: just drag and drop it into the Serato Sample window. It’ll analyse it for tempo and musical key, and then draw a waveform for it (sound familiar?). You then drag around the playhead and, when you find a spot you like, you then press any of the 16 pads at the bottom of the screen to add a hot cue. It’s awfully similar to using Serato DJ.
You can then change the pitch of the sample that you’ve placed a hot cue on, or slow it down or speed it up.
Serato Sample has the Slicer feature onboard, which automatically chops up a portion of music and spreads it out over the 16 pads. You can then trigger these and alter them as you would a normal hot cue that you’ve placed manually.
Serato Sample comes with a feature that looks for the “best” bits in a piece of audio to sample. This is hit or miss in my experience: I tried sampling an instrumental of a Notorious B.I.G. track, and though it gets points for adding cues to drum beats, I found that it would often place cues on similar samples (eg it kept placing hot cues on kick drums).
Still, it’s a handy feature for those just starting out in sampling, and no doubt this will improve over time as the software gets updated.
There’s a keyboard mode in Serato Sample that turns the “A S D F” row of your computer keyboard into a piano. You use this to hear how a hot cue would sound if you were to pitch it up or down. It’s handy, but you can’t record the change in pitch – you still have to change the pitch value in the Key Shift window.
Pitch ‘n Time
Picking out sounds from music and audio files can be fussy – it takes a bit of work just to chop up a snare sound or vocal, for example. It makes it doubly difficult if you need to change the pitch of the sound – let’s say you’re trying to create a beat that is in the key of A minor. That means that all the notes you have in your beat should fall in that musical key. If you don’t, then your beat will have sounds that are bad or “off”.
Serato Sample makes both of these tedious processes simple, and the way it does this is through its Pitch ‘n Time algorithm. This is the same algorithm that Serato DJ uses when you speed up or slow down a track without changing its pitch.
Serato Sample really is quite easy to use as far as software samplers go – the familiar “waveform and hot cues” interface is the biggest strength of the app because it’s DJ-friendly. There are more powerful samplers out there, but what makes Serato Sample a contender is its simplicity – Serato has done a good job of picking out essentials from the sampling production process, and distilling it in an approachable package. Of course, this also means that it has a limited feature set, but that’s to be expected in a niche product.
The only downside here is its price. It comes in at a rather steep US$99 (the Serato DJ upgrade cost the same), but if you’re going to use it often to make beats, then it’s worth it. It’s just a matter of deciding whether or not sampling is central to your production workflow. In all, a decent sample plugin for DJ/producers.