Electronic drums redefine playing experience

21 Jan

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January 21, 2008

By Geoff Meeker

This week, I nearly missed my deadline, so engrossed was I in beating up my latest new ‘tech toy’, a set of Roland HD-1 electronic drums.

I have been hammering on drums off and on since I was a teenager, when I purchased an old set of drums from my buddy, Stan. I have never played professionally – anyone who has come within earshot has told me I’m not very good at it – but this didn’t stop me from cranking the stereo to 10 and bashing along to Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple.

Well, I did stop eventually. In fact, my drums have been gathering dust in the crawlspace for more than 20 years. All that noise just isn’t compatible with raising a family and, yes, keeping peace with the neighbours.

However, my new Roland kit changes everything. The drums are electronic, which means the various drum heads and cymbals are actually durable rubber pads (and a springy mesh for the snare). When you hit them with drumsticks, a signal is sent from the control panel to a connected sound amplification device (they plug into anything from a home stereo to a ghetto blaster to a set of computer speakers).

With the power off, the drums hardly make a sound when you strike them. But when switched on, the pre-programmed drum sounds – snare, three tom toms, bass, hi-hat and crash and ride cymbals – are surprisingly realistic. They are touch-sensitive, so if you tap lightly, they make a soft sound – hit them hard and they boom nicely (though the volume control is a wonderful thing). There is a nice bounce to the pads so they feel as real as they sound.

What’s more, the control panel is loaded with a variety of drum sounds, from basic to a rumbling concert sound to eighties electronic and much more. And the beauty is, the drumheads never go out of tune, though it is possible to wear them out (they are replaceable).

A headphone jack in the control panel allows you to whack away without disturbing anyone else in the house. But what really makes it for me is the sound device input, which allows you to connect an iPod or something similar, and play along with your favourite music. The processor mixes your drums into the music so seamlessly, it sounds as if you are playing along with the band – all within the privacy of your headphones.

That’s right, no more blasting stereo, bleeding eardrums or irate neighbours. It’s precisely this feature that brought me around to the idea of playing drums again.

But there are other pluses with this kit (and a similar model, the Yamaha DTXplorer, which I also considered). Because there are no drum ‘barrels’ – just thin pads – the overall size of the kit has been substantially reduced. A set of acoustic drums occupies the same area as an office cubicle, whereas the electronic set is more compact, with a footprint the size of an armchair. The drums are also light – just 15 kg – and mounted on a single tubular chassis, thus easy to move.

Another feature is price. Electronic drums used to be an expensive novelty that most hobby players could not afford. For the Roland and Yamaha kits, the price has dropped to roughly $1,000, which is within reach of most people, not just the pros (some players do use these kits onstage). In fact, there is a MIDI output that allows users to connect to studio-quality recording systems.

Finally, there is a metronome built into the control panel, which is supposed to tick along and keep time while you practice. However, mine doesn’t work. It keeps slowing down and speeding up.

Or would that be me…

For more information, go to www.roland.co.uk and click ‘Drum Room’ or http://www.yamaha.ca and click ‘Drum’.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.


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