E-mu Systems Emax

The Emax was the first relatively low priced sampler from E-mu Systems but in no way a bad sampler.

Some of the marketing mumbo-jumbo at the time from E-mu Systems indicated that this was the Emulator II on a chip which I can personally confirm it is not.

But I can see what they mean; 8 voices of polyphony, analog filters, eight separate outputs, an LCD display, 512kb of sample memory and a 3.5 inch floppy drive – the first 3.5 inch drive in any E-mu sampler.

But the sound is distinctively different from the Emulator II which is kind of obvious considering the huge difference in the internals of the two units.

The Emulator II contains a LOT more components than the Emax, and the filters are very very different.
I can see why the Emax became so popular as its price was very competitive and the OS, sample time and feature set not THAT different from the Emulator II.

There were several OS updates made over the Emax’ life span – most importantly without any doubt: the SE update.

Also several updates and revisions of the hardware were made – the Emax SE, Emax HD, Emax SE HD, Emax Plus and Emax HD Plus.

Some of the old Emax mainboards can be updated to an HD, but beware of the mainboard revision number as the update can be VERY hard to perform.

One of my two Emax samplers in an Emax SE (the other one a ‘normal’ Emax), but has the HD SCSI port and SCSI mainboards. Maybe it was possible to have your Emax/Emax SE updated to an Emax HD – but it would have involved a lot of money as both PCB’s inside the Emax seems to have been changed.

Emulator Archive said

The Emax is essentially a complete replication of the Emulator II using custom E-mu chips instead of standard off the shelf silicon chips. This new engineering increased reliability, and reduced the cost of manufacture. The sample resolution was the same 12-bits companded into 8-bits of memory, the samples were still monophonic, but the maximum sample rate was increased to 42kHz. The operating system is very similar to the EII, not least because program ROM was expensive and an “overlay OS” was still needed .

The Emax was also available from Baldwin, a US organ and piano manufacturer.
You will occasionally see an Emax badged as a Baldwin IKE, but with no front panel graphics explaining the OS functions. Other than this, they are identical samplers. The tie up with Baldwin lasted a few years, and included a Baldwin Proteus.

Emax Breakthrough
The Emax brought quality sampling within the reach of the average musician.
Although it was overshadowed by Akai’s S900/950 rack sampler in Europe, where US music products were expensive.

Fully Featured
Memory was still expensive when the Emax was launched, and therefore the 512 Kbytes of the original EII was retained, and unfortunately never expanded.

However the good news is that SCSI had made an appearance (at a reasonable price), on the new Apple Mac computers, and this technology was quickly ported across to the Emax – augmenting the RS422 serial port. Internal and external hard disks could now be used, although the Emax stuck at a 20 MB limit, as hard drives were expensive in 1988.

Emax DSP
Whilst the initial Emax OS provided no major leaps forward from the EII – other than the famous Bird Run!, the Synthesis Enhanced (SE) OS update did move sampler technology forward.
Although not realtime, the SE versions provided new DSP functions called Transform Multiplication and Spectral Synthesis. This new software (and the subsequent OS for the Emulator III – which had digital processing options), was the start of some serious DSP power for sampler users.

Baldwin Versions
These are electronically identical, the only difference is that Baldwin didn’t print the OS module names on the front panel. So it’s a bit tricky without a manual !

Emax Success
Emax’s sold well in the US, and to a more limited degree in Europe. Depeche Mode switched to using Emax’s from Emulator II’s on tour, and the Emax SE HD’s can be seen and heard in use on the 1988 USA tour video “101”.

Front Panel Graphics
The Emax follows the EII tradition of having the OS functions listed on the front panel of the rack and keyboard models (unless you have a Baldwin model!).
This makes it much easier to operate the Emax, but it gave E-mu a problem once they upgraded the software.

The front panel graphics changed during the production life of the Emax, to match the new OS features. Initially the graphics had bold lines linking them to each module button.

However after the SE model upgrade arrived with an extra sticky patch to describe the new Digital Processing options, it was time to redo the front panel graphics and simply list them with no bold lines, just slanted vertical lines of dots to separate the text. These changes have more visual impact on the keyboard models.


The E-Chip. This one in one of
my Emax samplers seem to
have been modified.

Some of the famous funny
text/pictures on the PCB’s.
This one is from my Emax HD
as you have probably guessed.

Watch out !
Heeeeere’s RAMBIRD !

And the ‘E-Bird’