Of all the cool toys I’ve got to play with, my bandmate John’s EMU ESI-2000 is among the coolest.  It’s a vintage sampler capable of producing some incredible, rich sounds.  The trouble with the device is that you have to haul around a CD-ROM drive and a Zip drive in order to load the samples or save new samples and banks.

The unit also has a 3.5″ floppy disc drive.  Remember those?  A whopping 1.44 megabytes you could carry in your pocket.  Of course where could you find the media today?  What I decided to do was to replace the floppy drive with a Floppy to USB drive.  The unit is the same form factor as the floppy drive and contains data and power connectors that are plug-compatible with a standard floppy disc drive.

I tested the unit first by just plugging it in without removing the original drive.  I like to do this when testing in case the experiment is a total washout.  Less stuff to put back together.  I powered up the EMU and…. it didn’t see the drive.

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No problemo.  I haven’t told you about the jumper block on the drive.  The device came from China and as such contained almost no documentation.  It’s part number is SFRC 922.  The docs indicated there was a jumper block but didn’t describe it.   I removed the jumper from the default second position to the first and voila – the drive was recognized.

Using the EMUs menus I was able to format my USB stick without a problem.  Awesome!

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Now here’s the hitch (you hardware guys out there probably guessed this by now).  The BIOS in the EMU knows that the size of a floppy disc is 1.44 megabytes.  As such it breaks down any disc writes into chunks of that size.  The drive itself contains two buttons and an LED display.  The buttons allow you to increment the Disc Number currently selected.  It’s like having a stack of floppies all on your memory stick.  The bigger the stick – the more floppies.  Seriously though; how many samples do you really need once you chosen your sounds and written your banks.  These samples are tiny.

I loaded the standard Proteus Preset bank from CD-ROM then saved it to my USB stick.  The save required four “discs” which meant I just incremented the disc number on the drive and pushed enter on the EMU when it requested the next disc.  Same procedure when loading from the stick only the stick loads faster than the CD-ROM.

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Because it requires some babysitting during the saving and loading phase the solution is not perfect.  It will also require some floppy disc management as more data is saved to more discs.  This isn’t a major problem though and for live performances I prefer to carry a USB stick with me rather than a pile of drives and cables.  It’s also a handy way to keep a backup of your sounds.  For a very small investment it was well worth it!

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Next up on the upgrade path for this classic vintage synthesizer; RAM upgrade and an internal SCSI hard drive.  Stay tuned!

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