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The Art of Discovery

Purchasing the complete Emulator II Factory library today would cost $8,638.21, a massive investment considering the average US income in 1984 was $15,215.03. The extensive time and cost required made sound libraries valuable and treasured possessions back then, unlike quickly obtained and often overlooked sounds of today.

In the article Fast Nerd ↗️ FACTS you’ll find “In today’s money to purchase the complete Emulator II Factory library would cost $8,638.21!!”

Nearly THREE THOUSAND dollars back in 1984 to buy the full Emulator II library mailed directly from E-MU to your door.

That is, of course after you had filled in your order sheet and sent it to their Head Office in Scotts Valley California.

Image shows a mail order info sheet from E-MU Systems.   From the article: The Art of Discovery courtesy of

Let’s take a moment to imagine that!

If after having spent $8,000 on the sampler itself you couldn’t quite stretch to buying the whole library in one go. You could at the time of purchase settle for buying one or two disks a month.

So, if you bought the EII in January 1984 and you bought a disk at one a month for $30.00. It would take you until January 1992 to own the whole factory library – that’s eight years!

It would be like finally attaining the complete works of Shakespeare or Dickens. No doubt you’d treasure your collection after all the time, money and effort you’d put into acquiring it.

To understand and appreciate the value of something is surely a means to get more out of it. So, let’s put all this into some historical context.

The Chicago Tribune has a great article on the average wage in the U.S taken yearly since 1962, it states:

“In 1984, the average individual income increased to $15,215.03, roughly $39,055.30 in 2020. 1984 was another year of recovery for the U.S. economy after the 1982 recession”

Image shows a rolled-up bunch of dollar notes from the article: The Art of Discovery courtesy of
Credit: Chicago Tribune

In the UK, the average salary for a teacher was £10,100 according to an October 2022 article from Retrowow.

Image shows a 1980s photograph of workers at their computer consoles from the article: The Art of Discovery courtesy of
Credit: Retrowow
A little history

Deep sound editing was less accessible than it is today, it was more time consuming and expensive.

Many would argue that it was more imaginative too. Musicians and composers would utilise whatever was to hand in the studio or rehearsal room. To get that particular sound or effect that was being looked for.

Instances of this kind of experimentation abound, but the more famous ones can be found in the Star Wars franchise.

Popular Mechanics has a break down – per movie, on the Star Wars sound effects if you’re interested. It goes to show the ground work that ultimately gave these sounds a powerful authenticity.

Image shows a Star Wars screenshot by Popular Mechanics from the article: The Art of Discovery courtesy of
Popular Mechanics article
Early libraries

In our earlier days sound libraries generally had whatever effect already incorporated into them. This means that they were intended to be a kind-of sonic plug-and-play. This was also how the new owner would have generally their sounds.

Of course, you might have added ‘back-end’ effects, and run your chosen preset through the standard studio effects of the day.

But todays relative ease of loading a sound and engineering it. Into grains or other of the sonic gymnastics that we’re fairly cheaply able to do today had not yet arrived. So, in short, they were to the end user “stock sounds.”

You might now be thinking: “thanks for the history lesson!” “I can get whole libraries in a few minutes and mangle them to infinity.”

No argument here. It’s true. For not much money we can get gigabytes of sounds from the servers of a number of online sound distributors.

There is little way however of knowing the origin of these – especially from auction sites. Whether they are pirated from other sampling systems or they are quite simply cadged from other sites and sold as their own.

But here at I’m wondering are we missing a trick?


The financial stats offered earlier may lead us to imagine how much we might have treasured our finally completed library. And perhaps the interest we might have shown in taking these new sounds on a journey of discovery to new and wondrous places. Libraries you built a rewarding relationship with. Something we might be less inclined to do today as we play patch pontoon on our laptops.

Perhaps we have less free time for such adventure. Or we’re basically less inclined to go out there in the field – as it were, and experiment with the libraries we have already. The point is: many successes of yesteryear were born from its limitations.

And that unique sound that has seeped its way into our cultural consciousness via a hit record or film just wouldn’t have been discovered.

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