Adam Savage sees what today's percussion alternatives are capable of offering
Originally thought of as nothing more than practice kits, advancements in the electronic drum sector have seen several new models arrive that could threaten the security of their acoustic cousins. Adam Savage bashes out an overview of this ever-evolving market…
Ask any parent what activity they would most like their child to pursue and ‘learn an instrument’ is likely to be a common answer. Following that question with ‘what type of instrument?’ and you would probably get piano, violin or guitar as the most likely replies, but there is one category (with the exception of the bagpipes or alpine horn, perhaps) that would likely come bottom of the list, and this is drums.
And you can’t blame them really, can you? The thought of their offspring smashing and crashing for hours on end would infuriate even the most patient and level-headed of adults, but then along came a solution that changed everything and also increased the number of budding drummers being introduced into the musician pool – the electronic kit.
Early incantations of these instruments offered questionable likeness to the real thing and represented nothing more than a handy stepping-stone before moving on to a ‘proper’ acoustic kit.
The latter comment may still apply, but as technology has advanced drummers have felt the need to wait longer before moving from pad to skin, and many have decided not to switch at all.
Roland is the first name that springs to many minds when electronic drums are mentioned and its V-Drums range has been pretty dominant in this area of the market in recent years. With several new models released in February, there’s no sign of a slow down with this immensely popular series, either.
The new TD-4K2 from the highly successful V-Compact Series has been given an updated Kick Pad and V-Cymbals, resulting in enhanced playability. The built-in Coach and Quick Rec/Play functions allow the user to learn faster and its TD-4 sound module delivers a variety of authentic percussion instrument sounds.
The next step up in the V-Compact Series is the TD-4KX2. This kit features mesh heads on the snares and toms (PDX-8 and PDX-6), V-Cymbals with a natural swing motion and playing feel, and reliable playability that comes from the new mechanics and cloth-designed bass drum head.
The first new member of the V-Tour series is the TD-9K2, which has also been given brand new Kick Pads and V-Cymbals, along with an enhanced TD-9 sound module for enhanced playability. This kit also features an expressive hi-hat combination from the CY-5 cymbal pad and the FD-8 control pedal and if you choose the MDS-9 box option, a drum set rack and a set of clamps and arms for the pads and cymbals are also included as well.
At the top end of the new V-Drums releases is the TD-9KX2. This complete set is equipped with an improved TD-9 sound module and a wide variety of on-board sounds to suit any style of play. Its mesh heads provide an acoustic-like feel and the USB key allows the drummer to play along to their favourite songs.
The latest news from Techtonic may have been its new range of acoustic kits, but the brand is still best known for its electronic offering. This relative newcomer to the scene recently announced a new addition to its digital lineup – the DD512.
This model is the subject of some of the latest developments in digital drum technology and is equipped with a number of unique features compared to other kits found in this price range.
With 40 drum kits options and a selection of 350 sounds, the DD512 offers the drummer plenty of choice and its record and playback function is a great learning tool for beginner and intermediate players.
One other kit that continues to do well for Techtonic is the DD502(J). 20 preset kits are included with this one, along with 50 songs and 215 voices. There are now over 50 stockists for this instrument in the UK and this brand remains a worthy alternative to the big names in this category.
The other Japanese big hitter in this sector is Yamaha and at the top of its offering are the DTX950K and DTX900K kits, with newly developed Textured Cellular Silicone pad technology.
This feature delivers excellent dynamic control and feel for the player and the new pads are the quietest developed yet. The DTX900K can also be linked straight to a computer via USB and also comes with Cubase AI5.
This new series takes drummers on to a new level of expression and control, especially with the combination of the new DTX-Pad with Yamaha’s acclaimed digital sound technology.
For the mid-range, there’s the DTX550K, with its new 10-inch DTX-Pad for the snare and a three-zone design where the rim is divided into two parts for open and closed rim-shot sounds. The added controller knob can be assigned to several functions of the DTX500 module, such as pitch, voices and effects.
The DTX500 module equips this kit with a brilliant selection of acoustic drum samples – including 50 preset kits with multi-layered samples from some of Yamaha’s most popular acoustic kits – using input gained from artists.
Designed to be the ultimate ‘plug n play’ drum kit, the DTXPlorer is ideal for practicing, gigging or teaching and features menus and editing facilities – designed for ease of use – in one very clean and clear module.
The DTXPlorer is equipped with 32 preset drum kits and 192 drum and percussion sounds, which can be experimented with to create 10 drum kit configurations. ‘Groove Check’ and ‘Rhythm Gate’ functions also allow the user to monitor their accuracy and play more evenly and consistently.
Although not a full kit, Korg’s Wavedrum Oriental is well worth a mention. This seems to be another example of the company’s apparent efforts to cater for its surprisingly extensive Eastern fan base, but is also perfect for any musicians looking to add an Asian flavour to their sound.
The striking surfaces are very simple, and yet provide a firm platform for exploring a variety of techniques and styles, which is essential when using the instruments it is trying to emulate.
With 150 preset programs to choose from and a total of 300 variations, there is plenty of choice with the Wavedrum Oriental, which also features a body designed to resemble the ceramic body of a dabuka and a deep red wine colour on the outer rim, which is a common shade used for Arabian instruments.
Based on the brain used in its DM10 model, the new DM8USB from Alesis has borrowed the sound engine from its well-known predecessor.
The DM8 features 750 x 24 bit uncompressed sounds for the 100 presets and a selection of 100 user kits across a variety of musical genres, along with USB connectivity. It is also armed with a sophisticated drum sequencer that offers full editing and real audio sequences, as well as a full rack of internal programmable effects.
The DM8 Pro also utilises the DM8 brain, but offers a different hardware set-up. This version offers real drum heads, with a 12-inch snare and eight, ten and 12-inch toms. The snare is attached to a separate standard double braced stand and also includes a rubber ride cymbal and a crash with choke.
Also from Alesis is the Performance Pad Pro, an eight-pad controller with a cutting edge internal sound source plus MIDI connections. This instrument provides 500 stereo drum, bass, latin and hit samples with effects and it can even be used as a standard drum machine with hundreds of presets. Other features include bass drum and hi hat inputs, as well as a bracket space for industry standard mountings. This product will be available in late March in the UK.
The last newcomer from Alesis is the Percussion Pad – four velocity sensitive pads in a compact chassis, delivering 50 cutting edge internal sounds that can be tuned and edited, making it an ideal addition to any drummer’s set-up. A MIDI out function allows the drummer to record directly on to a computer or use other MIDI devices alongside it.
The Bentley brand has become a favourite for many retailers wanting to stock just a solitary electronic kit in their store. The TD-90 II certainly delivers a great deal for the price, with a library of 215 impressive sample sounds, 20 preset kits and 50 songs all include as part of a set comprised of three tom pads, two cymbal pads, a full-size hi-hat pad, snare pad with hoops and a bass drum, complete with pedal.
Aimed primarily at the beginner – but would also suit the more advanced player – PP Drums has the PP900E electronic drum kit. This fully adjustable set comes complete with four drum pads, two cymbal pads, hi-hat and kick drum pad with pedals.
The accompanying digital drum module contains a library of 215 voices, 20 preset kits, ten user-defined kits and 50 preset songs, along with a click track and metronome.
One other new kit that has created a real buzz is the DD512 from Session Pro. This kit features a rim shot on the snare and the three tom pads, a chokeable crash and a hi hat control pedal with a half open function. Over 300 drum and percussion voices are available, along with seven hi hat sets.
The DD505 kit it still selling steadily, with its high quality pads and
standard five-piece setup, hi hat, crash and ride cymbals.
Another kit worth mentioning from Session Pro is the entry-level DD402D, an affordable alternative with USB and choke cymbal.
Yamaha DTX950K – £5,109
The DTX900 module is a combination of advanced sound technology with a library of effects borrowed from Yamaha’s high-end Motif synthesizers.
Roland TD4K2 – £1,029
The built-in Coach and Quick Rec/Play functions allow the user to learn faster and its TD-4 sound module delivers a variety of authentic percussion instrument sounds.
PP Drums PP900E – £499
This fully adjustable set comes complete with four drum pads, two cymbal pads, hi-hat and kick drum pad with pedal and is supplied along with all the necessary cables, a pair of drumsticks and power supply.
Korg Wavedrum Oriental – £TBC
This innovative device is able to recreate the unique sounds of a whole host of Arabic percussion instruments, such as the darbuka, riq, def, tar and bendir.
Alesis DM8USB – £529.99
This new model uses the company’s acclaimed dynamic articulation, a process that allows the user to grade through samples rather than just velocity switching.
Bentley TD-90 II – £POA
The bass drum is isolated – as oppose to the more common ‘switched’ variety – giving it a feel more similar to that of a real kit.
Techtonic DD512 – £449
Features include USB, MIDI In and MIDI Out connections, a rim shot on the pads, a Choke function with the crash cymbals and a new backlit LCD display.
Session Pro DD512 – £TBC
Over 300 drum and percussion voices are available with this new kit, along with seven hi hat sets, a record and playback feature and a backlit segment LCD display.