After seeing a Fairlight CMI at a convention in 1979, E-mu founders Scott Wedge and Dave Rossum began working on designing a less expensive sampler. In January of 1981 the E-mu Emulator debuted with a list price of $7,900, being less than the $30,000 Fairlight. It was the first sampler to cost less than $10,000.
The Emulator was a floppy disk-based keyboard workstation which enabled the musician to sample sounds, recording them to non-volatile media and allowing the samples to be played back as musical notes on the keyboard. The 5 1/4" floppy disk drive enabled the owner to build a library of samples and share them with others, or buy pre-recorded libraries on disk.
It was a very basic 8-bit sampler: It only had a simple filter, and only allowed for a single loop. The initial model did not even include a VCA envelope generator. In came in three forms: A two voice model (only one of these was ever sold), a four-voice model, and an 8-voice model.
Stevie Wonder, who gave the sampler a glowing review at the 1981 NAMM convention, received the very first unit (serial number "001"). In 1982, the Emulator I was updated to include a VCA envelope generator, a simple sequencer, and the price was lowered. Approximately 500 units were sold before the unit was discontinued in late 1983. Six months after being discontinued, the Emulator II came out.
The Emulator II was later followed by the Emax and the Emulator III