How to get the classic breakbeat sound in your DAW

Last week we dug deep into the History of breakbeats in music productionlooking at how artists and producers in the early days of hip-hop and jungle turned sampled breaks from vinyl records into beats that laid the foundation for new genres of music.

Then we’ll show you how to work with breaks in the modern DAW, taking advantage of the nearly endless possibilities that contemporary music technology offers. First we slice up a sampled break and rearrange it to make it our own. If you’re missing the breaks to work with, you can find a selection of free breakbeats on SampleRadar.

How to split and resequence a sampled break

ableton

(Image credit: Ableton)

Step 1: We’re using Ableton Live here. Import the song with the source break into a Session View clip slot. Use Live’s warp tools (Beats Warp mode) to isolate and loop the break, then right-click/clip the sample. This is non-destructive. You might want to quantize the beat, but that depends on what the beat is and what you’re playing it against.

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(Image credit: Ableton)

Step 2: There are now two paths we can take; this is the first. Load Simpler into a new track and drag the trimmed beat into the labeled drop area – the waveform will appear. On the far left of the Simpler screen are three modes – click Slice and Live will add vertical lines based on the transients in the beat. If this automatic slicing doesn’t do what you want, you can slice it by grid (note values) or manually.

ableton

(Image credit: Ableton)

Step 3: Now, when you play MIDI notes from a keyboard or drum pads, notes from C1 and up will trigger the slices, allowing you to create a new beat while preserving the sonic characteristics of the original, at any tempo. Turn on Poly in Simpler so you can trigger more than one drum hit at a time. This is a quick way to get a sample-to-slice beat, ready to use in your music.

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(Image credit: Ableton)

Step 4: Here is the second way. Right-click the source drum beat sample and choose Slice to New MIDI Track. You will see a field where you can enter values ​​for the note length/slice and leave warping enabled – try some trial and error. A new MIDI track is created, with a clip containing a note for each slice and a Drum Rack with a Simpler device for each slice.

ableton

(Image credit: Ableton)

Step 5: Start the clip and check if it plays correctly. If not, adjust the playback positions of each slice—the Drum Rack macros include Start Offset and Loop Length controls—or reslice the original clip with different grid settings. If you can’t see the Simpler, click the Show/Hide Devices button to the left of the Rack, or double-click the appropriate drum pad.

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(Image credit: Ableton)

Step 6: You can re-sequence this beat while keeping the original sound as you rotate it. Drag the notes horizontally to trigger the sound at different positions. Drag vertically to trigger different sounds at the same position. You could delete individual beats or use other MIDI editing tools or effects, including using the velocity editor below the notes to flatten or expand the dynamics in the beat.

Emulate the classic Akai sound in your DAW

How to recreate the classic sounds of Akai’s MPC60 and S900 or E-mu’s SP-1200 with modern plugins.

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(Image credit: Apple)

Step 1: Akai’s classic early samplers use a complex signal chain that includes input amplification, pre-filtering, AD and DA conversion, and post-filtering, and all of these stages affect the sound by introducing soft saturation, noise, and subtle aliasing. Still, to feel the full impact of these stages, start with some decent, high-quality audio.

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(Image credit: Apple)

Step 2: The most significant aspect of early samplers is undoubtedly their 12-bit resolution. This is significantly lower than the 16-bit or 24-bit we typically use to record audio these days. Nonetheless, it’s easy enough to use a bit reduction plugin, and many DAWs include these by default.

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(Image credit: Apple)

Step 3: Paste this plugin over a suitable high quality audio and gradually reduce only the bit resolution. You’ll notice subtle changes in the accompanying noise as you get down to 14-bit and below, and maybe even some swirling noise at the 12-bit setting. Try different sources to see how they affect you
the result.

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(Image credit: Apple)

Step 4: Sample rate is the next issue. With adjustable sample rates to maximize recording time, early samplers also battled sample aliasing with varying degrees of success, and actually created a rather unique sound in the process. In fact, the bandwidth of the S900 could be adjusted from 3kHz to 16kHz.

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(Image credit: Apple)

Step 5: Once again, your main tool is a simple plugin. If you reduce the sample rate, you’ll hear high-frequency artifacts creeping in, and this can really improve things like kicks. Control these artifacts with a smooth, non-resonant low-pass filter, adjusting the cutoff frequency to your liking.

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(Image credit: Apple)

Step 6: Despite its digital core, a sampler’s analog input circuitry can color the sound slightly. To recreate this, a simple analog channel emulation adding some subtle harmonic distortion should suffice. Finally combine all aspects in the steps to achieve the vintage sampler sound.

Strike out your cut breakbeat

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