The ESX-1 is a sampler and sequencer that allows easy hands on editing of your samples. The EMX-1 looks very similar to it, so much so that people often ask which one is better. Well, neither is better, as they are completely different beasts. The ESX plays only what you put into it. The EMX, on the other hand, doesn’t allow you to sample and has an analog modeling sound engine in it. Apples and oranges, really.
The first thing you’ll notice is that this is a hefty, well built machine. The pots feel nice and firm, despite the plastic knobs (something rubber-ized would feel much better). The red faceplate, meh, I could take it or leave it. My wife insists that it’s actually pink and, if I’m being terribly honest, I think she’s right. If it really bothers you, there are places to get a custom overlay made. In any case, this is a massive upgrade to the original Electribe line, as the first generation of them were very plastic and cheap feeling. I turn it on, it loads its memory within seconds and it’s ready to go.
It has vacuum tubes but it’s kind of a matter of opinion how much difference they actually make. In my opinion, the stock Electro-Harmonix tubes are shit. You turn up the tube overdrive knob and the sound gets loud and obnoxious (in a bad way) after about halfway or so. I’m currently using a pair of Mullard ECC83’s and I had the JJ ECC83’s in the previous ESX I owned. I would say I prefer the JJ’s, but the Mullards are ok. In both cases, the curve is much more gradual and the tube overdrive knob is much more useful as a bit of a boost and warmth for the output. Expect to spend around $30 to upgrade to either of these models. Eventually, I would like to try an original vintage pair of Tesla tubes, but that’s when I have a good chunk of money to throw at it. For now, it’s not a problem and I’m quite happy with my ESX as is.
So, is the ESX any good? As for functionality, you have to know what you expect to get out of it and how you plan on using it. I use mine mainly as a drum machine and at this, it excels like few other machines I have used. I would probably advise you to look elsewhere if you’re planning on using it as an all in one solution (perhaps an MPC, MC-909 or RS-7000) or for processing large chunks of audio (probably an MPC or something the Roland/Boss SP range). One of the limiting factors is the amount of sample time allowed. At 285 seconds in mono, it’s far from the worst I’ve dealt with, but there are a few things you should know about how that 285 seconds is used. First of all, you can store a total of 100 mono samples and 128 stereo samples. Max out your mono sample slots (with drum hits, for example) and there’s no way to allocate those stereo slots as additional mono slots. Also, with stereo samples, there are limitations on how you can edit them and they also take up two pads when assigning them to your track. So if you’re going about working with a lot of loops and longer/stereo samples, you’ll probably want to treat it as “1 .esx file = 1 song”. The other side of that being the way I use it, “1 .esx file = all the drums I could ever need”. See, there is a workaround where you “stack” your mono drum hits into one long sample (so it takes up one slot) and then slice it and freely assign each drum hit where you need it. I will go very in depth on this in another post.
Ok, so as far as actually sequencing and editing your samples? The ESX is one of the most hands-on samplers you will find. Say I assign some 909 drum sounds to the one shot pads and make a cool pattern. From there, I have knobs to alter pitch, filter, volume, panning, start & end points, LFO and a few other parameters, independently for each pad. Furthermore, you can record motion control for each parameter in no time flat. I mean, this is huge! Hit a button, turn a knob and it plays back like that every time. So, though the LFO’s are not that great on here, in my opinion, you can modulate anything you want in any way you want simply by recording the motion. The best part of this is that it doesn’t affect the actual sample. By this, I mean that if you change the pitch of something in your pattern, it saves with the pattern only and if you assign that same sample in a different pattern, it will not be affected. This takes away a lot of confusion.
So, bottom line, the ESX is dead easy to use and has great functionality. In my view, it’s better as a drum machine than phrase sampler and it is not really an all-in-one solution. My recommendation is to load it up with your favorite drum samples, pair it with a Roland SP sampler and a synth or two and you’ve got a very capable set up. I sold mine once awhile back and I can tell you that I won’t do it again; it’s simply too useful as a highly editable drum machine for me.
Quick Start Tutorial
Easy Start Guide
OS Version 1.01 (PC)
OS Version 1.01 (MAC)
OS Version 1.02 (PC)
OS Version 1.02 (MAC)
Original Factory Soundset
MIDI Specifications (PC)
MIDI Specifications (MAC)