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Edition 6

MAY 2011

The global electronic drumming e-zine

Dare 2 be

different PRODUCTS E-cymbals side-by-side VSTs Light ‘n easy TWEAKING GUIDE Mono, stereo or a mix?

And where it all began:

S i m m o n s o n S I M M ON S


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--contributors-Let’s hear it for the band ... digitalDrummer is a combined effort, bringing together the expertise and experience of electronic drummers, industry professionals and experienced writers. Here are some of the people who made this edition happen ...

SIMON AYTON Simon Ayton is the V-Drums and percussion specialist for Roland Australia. He began drumming in 1983 and trained as an audio engineer. Simon’s drumming can be heard on more than two dozen albums and film soundtracks, ranging from metal to electronic and folk, and he is currently working on two new solo albums. He shares his intimate knowledge of module-tweaking in this edition.

PHILIPPE DECUYPER Philippe Decuyper, a.k.a. PFozz, is the founder of the Edrum For Free website. He has consulted to Toontrack since 2005, specialising in electronic drums, and is also the founder of eaReckon, a small independent audio software company which launched in 2009 and recently debuted its BIoXpander MIDI solution. PFozz answers readers’ DIY questions in each edition.

ALLAN LEIBOWITZ Allan Leibowitz founded digitalDrummer in 2010, drawing on a long-time interest in percussion, many years of media experience including stints reviewing everything from sports cars to restaurants, and a love of gadgets. His interest in e-drums is not just academic and he tests gear in the real world as a drummer for gigging tribute/oldies band, City Limits.

JON LEVITT Jon Levitt is a freelance drummer based out of Chicago, IL. Frustrations with equipment led him to discover the Zendrum in 2005 and he has been a devoted player of the instrument ever since, using it everywhere from coffeehouses to the Chicago Theater. He has played drums for 12 years, and spent the last half of that in pursuit of bringing the benefit of electronic percussion to a wider audience. (PHOTO: Seph Victor Mercado)

CHRIS WHITTEN Chris Whitten is a British session drummer who has recorded and toured with Paul McCartney and Dire Straits. He has also recorded with Tom Jones, Johnny Cash, The Pretenders, ABC and The The. Whitten has just completed The Classic EZX for Toontrack. Now based in Sydney, Australia, he has also worked on film and television scores. 2

www.digitaldrummermag.com


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The global electronic drumming e-zine Edition 6

8 13 21

GEAR

One for the money, 2box for the show It’s orange. It’s futuristic. It’s out there. We get behind the new DrumIt Five 2box kit.

Aux triggers for more cowbell At a loss over how to fill those extra inputs on your module? Some low-cost auxilliary triggers will add more cowbell.

Splashing out on e-crashes Our cymbal testing continues with a focus on crashes, splashes and chinas, looking at performance and feel.

PROFILE

33

Simmons on SIMMONS

40

... here’s Johnny

42 46 52 digitalDRUMMER, MAY 2011

May 2011

Dave Simmons is considered by many as the inventor of electronic drums and his iconic Simmons kits are still around 30 years after they were built. Due to popular demand, we revisit an interview with clinician and performer Johnny Rabb which appeared in our preview edition and gives his views on gear and gigging.

production

How VSTs are produced When you see a VST pack, do you ever wonder how the samples got there? Chris Whitten has the back story.

tweaking

Sounds better in stereo Tune-up supremo Simon Ayton walks through getting the best sound out of your module - even with limited outputs.

diy

The low-down on hi-hats Our DIY Doctor answers a question about how modules register open and closed sounds - and how to build a controller.

3


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--from-the-editor-This edition is certainly a gear issue, with heaps of reviews and product tests. is published by DigitalDrummer ABN: 61 833 620 984 30 Oldfield Place Brookfield Q 4069 AUSTRALIA Tel: 61 411 238 456 editor@digitaldrummermag.com www.digitaldrummermag.com Editor & Publisher Allan Leibowitz Sub-Editor Solana da Silva Contributors Simon Ayton Philippe Decuyper Scott Holder Jon Levitt Chris Whitten Cover Photo GearPix Design and layout ‘talking business’ Digital distribution

Copyright: All content is the property of digitalDrummer and should not be reproduced without the prior consent of the publisher. In this age of electronic publishing, it’s obviously tempting to “borrow” other people’s work, and we are happy to share our information – but ask that you work with us if you need anything from this edition. Any reproduction must be fully acknowledged and online dissemination should include a link back to our website.

4

It’s been a long time coming, but at last digitalDrummer got hold of the DrumIt Five 2box kit, a very different e-drum offering which impressed the reviewer and left us wanting more. The kit performs brilliantly, but it’s not for everyone – not least because of that distinctive orange colour. The 2box cymbal also features in our cymbal side-by-side review, which this time looks at crashes and chinas. The comprehensive review looks and listens to all the major e-cymbal system. The notable exception there is the Zildjian electro-acoustic offering which was not available in time for the review, but is scheduled to be tested for the August edition. We continue our head-to-head comparisons with a review of auxiliary triggers – those nifty little add-ons that can be used to trigger anything from cowbell sounds to cymbals and percussion. There are a range of products available, and I hope we have managed to include the most popular ones. One of the highlights of preparing this edition was the tell-all interview with the father of e-drums, Dave Simmons. His Simmons kits have become iconic since first raising eyebrows when they were used on Britain’s Top of the Pops TV show. It’s a tale of success and failure, of bleeding edge design and becoming a victim of one’s own popularity. And the drama continues, with Dave now fighting to get his name back and prevent the giant US Guitar Center chain from using it on its Chinese-made starter e-kits. It’s a complicated issue and one in which, I fear, only the lawyers will win. This month we also meet a new columnist, Chris Whitten. Besides playing with Dire Straits and Paul McCartney, Whitten’s current claim to fame is being immortalised in a Toontrack VST offering. His first column is part of a two-part description of the making of a VST sample pack – a fascinating journey (and, I might add, a fantastic VST product which we hope to review next time). We did manage to review two “lite” VST packs, both of which would be great starting points for anyone interested in dipping a toe in the water. The two packs were easy to install, set up and use, and you can read about the plusses and weaknesses in our evaluation. Of course, we also have all our regulars: Simon Ayton’s tweaking guide, some survival tips from Jon Levitt and Pfozz’s DIY tips. And, as usual, we profile a reader’s Monster Kit. Don’t forget, if you want to show off your excesses, shoot us an email. So, that said, it’s on with the show. One, two, three, four ...

editor@digitaldrummermag.com

www.digitaldrummermag.com


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--gear--

Drumcraft goes electronic GERMAN DRUM MAKER Drumcraft has unveiled its electronic debut offering.

While Drumcraft’s acoustic kits are mounted traditionally, the e-kit is built around the DCE6 rack.

A prototype of the Drumcraft DCE6 was on show at the MusikMesse show in Frankfurt.

The minimalist-design module has a multiplex input which has two additional slots. It has two output jacks, MIDI In and Out and an Aux in.

The kit is a completely new development with brand new hardware and sounds. The samples have been produced especially for this device by Jonathan Moffett (drums), Uli Frost (a German drum tech expert who has developed the cymbal sounds) and Patrice Jaquot, a vintage e-drum expert from France. The prototype features a four-zone snare, three twozone toms, a two-zone hi-hat, three-zone ride and two-zone crash.

Production is scheduled to kick in by June when the kits are expected to go on sale for €1,299. Launched in 2008, Drumcraft last year picked up a coveted “red dot” design award, becoming the first drum brand to win the international design prize. The maker’s premier Series 8 kit was recognised for its design and innovation.

The drum heads are described as “neo-mesh” and consist of a rubber-type material, housing FRS technology.

PHOTOS: Wolfgang Stölzle 6

www.digitaldrummermag.com


Leading the Performance Envelope

HART DYNAMICS, INC. www.hartdynamics.com

Sales@hartdynamics.com

Tech-Support@hartdynamics.com

USA Toll Free: 800.769.5335

International: + 850.279.4738


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--gear--

One for the money 2box for the show

It’s orange, it’s futuristic, it’s out there. Allan Leibowitz sat down behind the new DrumIt Five 2box kit and shares his impressions. 8

www.digitaldrummermag.com


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THE QUIRKY SWEDISH kit has entered what has to date been a two-horse race, and after some difficulty getting out of the starting box, it’s now making good headway down the straight. The 2box comes in one configuration, with one colour option, so there’s not much of a choice. What’s in the box? Like IKEA furniture, the kit comes in knock-down form, meticulously packed in custom-shaped polystyrene protection. It consists of a rack, five drum pads, three cymbals, a module (now also sold as a stand-alone), a couple of pedals and what must be the most minimalistic documentation of any drum kit. And no, there’s no Allen key, but there is a really classy 2box drum key! The hardware The octagonal-tubed aluminium rack is an impressive frame for the kit. It consists of a generous front section with two horizontals and two sidewings, both supported by vertical legs. The rack is sturdy, with all-metal clamps, but not especially easy to construct – mainly because the firstgeneration clamps are very stiff (something that has been addressed in subsequent production runs). The attachments for the pads and cymbals are all metal, except for a plastic ball fitting which provides plenty of flexibility, with almost unlimited horizontal and vertical rotation. The clamps look classy as well as functional, with the distinctive 2box logo emblazoned on each piece. The kit includes a free-standing snare stand and an integrated hi-hat stand. The other pads mount on lrods, while the cymbals attach to proprietary arms which look a bit spindly, but certainly do the job. The rack, if anything, is too generous for the basic kit configuration, with tons of extra space. Maybe that’s just a subtle visual reminder of the upgradeability of the kit as there are a couple of unused inputs on the module, as we’ll discuss later. The design addresses cable management in a unique way; the kit ships with cables of varying lengths (and numbered to let you know which is which), so you can use the shortest to connect the closest trigger and save the longest for the trigger furthest away, using the branded Velcro ties to secure the leads to the rack. It’s an elegant solution that probably saves 2box a few bucks but certainly delivers a valuable service to the fastidious digitalDRUMMER, MAY 2011

drummer who will also go into raptures about the custom key slot in one of the arms. The triggers Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room straight off. If you don’t like the colour orange, you should leave now. You might be able to live with the rack if you don’t like orange since there’s not too much of the colour on the hardware. In fact, you’ll only find it on the detachable silicon pads under the feet and the pedals. But the drum pads are very orange – and there’s no way of disguising that, short of reaching for a can of spray paint. But since this is an e-drum review, not an interior decorating piece, I’ll put on my shades and ignore the colour. For the record, I’m not a huge fan of citrus hues, but after a short while, I didn’t even notice. The 2box kit ships with a 12” two-zone snare, three 10” two-zone toms and a 14” bass. All are fitted with black single-ply tight-weave mesh heads and the snare and toms have a side-mounted trigger assembly. The trigger housing overhangs the head, meaning there’s a small rectangular section of mesh that’s not accessible. The thin rubber-covered rim sections sit on top of the orange housing, set in from the edge, so there’s a bit of playing style adaptation required for those used to hitting the outside edge of their drums. The triggering, once dialed in, is excellent, with the drums displaying flawless responsiveness and tracking. However, the side-mounting of the triggers means there’s no positional sensing (the change in volume or tone as you move from the centre of the head towards the rims) – not a big deal for most players, but it could be a deal-breaker for some. The bass drum, which is supplied with a custom 2box pedal, complete with an orange miniature tennis-ball beater, required some tweaking. But once dialed in, it was responsive and produced a good dynamic range, with a realistic feel. The cymbal line-up consists of a one-piece 12” hihat and two 14” cymbals. All are aluminium disks with a 360-degree choke on the edge, covered in black silicon rubber. The covers are easily removed – unlike other rubber cymbal pads – which will make any future maintenance and repairs an easy DIY job. However, the downside of the loose fit is that there’s a bit of mushiness in the cymbals which slightly impedes stick rebounds. You can certainly feel this when you’re playing 16th notes on the hi-hat edge, and some modification of playing style is 9


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A 10” tom

required – but again, it’s not a big deal, and after a couple of hours, I had already slipped into a new technique. The ride and crash are both three-zone – edge, bow and bell (or ‘cup’ in 2box’s nomenclature) and that’s achieved with a single stereo input for each, unlike Roland’s three-way cymbals, for example, which require two inputs on the module. Amazingly, 2box also achieves a single cable hi-hat, with its proprietary magnet-based system delivering both the cymbal signal and the pedal information via a single stereo connection. The brain The 2box module is certainly more compact than most of its competitors, but it packs a big punch in its orange casing. There are 10 inputs plus a mix-in, six outputs (eight, if you re-allocate the Headphone Out), MIDI IN and OUT and, refreshingly, a USB connection. Ten inputs may seem a bit limiting, but remember that the hi-hat and ride only take one each, so there are still two empty inputs once the kit is all connected.

Phones

Line-in

Six outputs

The company uses the phrase “open sound system” to differentiate its brain from its locked-in competitors. What this means is that while the module comes pre-loaded with 176 sounds, users can replace any of them with their own samples – and 2box even provides the software to do it. While that number of onboard sounds is obviously dwarfed by some of the other modules on the market, most are usable sounds, and the memory is not cluttered with dogs barking or zany electronic effects most drummers would never use. And if you really need the broken glass sound for the start of Billy Joel’s “You may be right”, you can always sample it. In its standard form, the module comes preloaded with 100 fully editable kits. The emphasis is on acoustic-sounding samples, with everything from jazzy kits to Toto’s “Rozanna” kit. Even though the module and software are designed for custom loading of sounds, many users will probably never get around to changing anything, so it is worth noting that the “stock” sounds are exceptional. A number of kits are totally gigable right out the box. Some of the tom samples rival the best

10 stereo inputs

MIDI O/I

USB

Connection central - the rear of the DrumIt Five module 10

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VST sounds out there, and there are several standout cymbal sounds, especially some of the more delicate ride instruments.

At the moment, there is only one effect available – echo, but that will no doubt soon change in a future software update.

Because these are real samples, based on .wav files, they are not really tweakable on the module. So don’t expect elaborate modelling capabilities from 2box.

The module also contains a metronome function and some drumless tracks. Besides those already loaded, there are some extra tracks available on the 2box site, and it’s also possible to add one’s own .wav tracks.

The module operation takes a bit of getting used to, especially if you’re an old hand at other “mainstream” drum brains. The face of the module consists of 10 buttons – one for each of the triggers and a four-line LCD display. Personally, I think the dedicated trigger buttons are a waste of real estate which would have been better devoted to volume sliders. The commands basically fall into two categories – Unit (covering the universal settings) and Kit (used to adjust the parameters of individual kits). There are a range of trigger presets, applying to stock triggers like the snare or tom pads, but also to external triggers and larger pads, and sensitivity can also be adjusted using a number of curves. There are fewer adjustable parameters than on many other modules, but individual instruments can be tuned (an octave down or four notes higher), volume can be increased or decreased and different sounds allocated to the various zones. A few more parameters are adjustable in the companion software, available as a free PC or Mac download. Using the DrumiIt Five editor, it’s relatively easy to drag and drop sound samples onto the kit, and the programme even sorts out hits of different volumes to provide accurate triggering dynamics. And it’s all done by USB, rather than complicated MIDI transfers. Using the onboard kit envelope range, it’s also possible to adjust layering, attack, decay and hold.

The free software allows users to edit kits and load .wav files. digitalDRUMMER, MAY 2011

The module comes with a class-leading 4 GB of onboard memory, but as users are already discovering, you can never have enough memory, and there’s mounting pressure on the company to increase that – which won’t be too difficult as the memory is housed in an SD card. In action The 2box kit, despite its huge customisation potential, is really a plug and play kit. Once it’s set up and connected, it’s fairly straight-forward to adjust and dial in and to calibrate the hi-hat. As mentioned, the supplied owner’s manual is remarkably thin – perhaps an indication of the company’s confidence in its usability. And even though the operating system and controls are a bit different, it certainly doesn’t take long before even the novice drummer will be getting acceptable performances out of the kit. With less adjustability than most high-end modules, there’s probably less for the average drummer to stuff up. What’s not lacking, however, is a range of realisticsounding kits covering most musical genres. The snare sounds cover a wide spectrum, and almost all would be usable to most drummers. Some of the bass drum samples are perhaps on the thin side, but there are certainly enough good ones. The toms, meanwhile, are outstanding, especially some of the resonant floor tom sounds which are among the best I have heard from any electronic percussion solution. The cymbals similarly shine, especially the rides. And even the hi-hat, which initially takes some getting used to because of its feel, is very realistic, although it is let down by some of the splashes which are also a bit thin. Of course, there are some flaws in the 2box kit. Some would see the colour and the design, especially the toy-like (in appearance, not performance!) drum pads, as a total turn-off. I’d see covers bands like my own, which specialises in oldies, refusing to take the stage with a kit that looks more like post-modern bar furniture than a musical instrument. And while the rack and connectors are 11


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sturdy, I found the drum pads tended to have far more give than I would like. The module would benefit from a bigger display and a more intuitive user interface, but for anyone not indoctrinated into one of the existing interfaces, that’s probably a non-issue. The absence of a sequencer or any ability to record on the fly is also a drawback. Sure, the average user may never use the recording function, but it’s nice to have. When you’re gigging, it’s extremely useful to be able to record a pattern, hit “play” and walk away from the kit to set levels on the PA while the kit plays itself. And for those drummers who like to fine-tune and to experiment with FX, clearly more powerful editing and mixing capabilities are required. These deficiencies are all software-related and probably all on 2box’s “to do” list, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re addressed progressively – and for free – in future updates. The company has already shown its commitment to customers by offering additional kit patches, samples and practice songs such as the recent Pete Lockett pack. I also wouldn’t be surprised to find 2box-friendly offerings from the major VST developers – as they have already done with Alesis and Pearl. On the issue of kit patches, it’s worth noting that while the free software helps load sounds onto the module, the recording of drum samples is not a simple task – as demonstrated in Chris Whitten’s column this month. It requires access to the original sound sources (the drums), good recording equipment and some editing skills – and it’s timeconsuming. So unless there is some hook-up with sound source providers down the track, there’s a risk that an “open sound system” will turn into a “limited sound system”. In most markets, the 2box kit is priced to compete with Roland’s new all-mesh TD-9KX2 kit and Yamaha’s DTX550 even though, on many fronts, it offers more realism than either of those. (The kit is not available in the US, but in the UK, its street price is around £1,700, while the TD-9 is around £2,000). For its build quality, standard inclusions like realistic hi-hat complete with stand, snare stand and bass pedal, memory-rich module and terrific sounds, the kit represents great value. But any customer is actually buying more than that, with guaranteed updates to the operating system, enhanced tweakability and the promise of an ever-growing free sample library – things we don’t usually get without having to buy an upgrade card. Just a pity it’s so orange. Besides that, the choice, as they say, is too easy - or is that 2easy? 12

Specifications Onboard memory: 4GB Polyphony: Not disclosed Trigger inputs: 10 dual function TRS Audio inputs: 2 on TRS jack Audio outputs: 6 on TS jack, 2 on TRS jack (phones) Drum kits: 100, all user programmable No of instruments: 176 when shipped, many more to download Sample depth: 16 bit stereo Internal processing: 32 bit Audio out: 24 bit Songs: 18 when shipped, any stereo .wav to download Kit parameters: Instrument: File, Tune, Voice, Layer, Attack, Hold, Decay, Eq, Fx, Balance, Volume Eq: Low, Mid, Freq, High Effect: Type (Echo, Flanger), Tap, Feedback, Rate, Depth, Volume Metronome: Bar (1/4 to 7/4 and 3/8 to 12/8), Tempo (30 to 280), Repeat, Volume Song: File, Volume Unit parameters: Mixer: Kick, Snare, Hi-Hat, Toms, Cymbals, Perc, Fx, Input, Metr/Song Trigger: Type, Curve, Gain, Threshold Metronome: File, Tune, Decay Output: Bus (1 to 8), Input, Submix, Out1+2, Phones MIDI: Chan, Note, Prog Change, Local, Thru Preferences: Save, Trig, Fader, Mixer, Init Display: 20 x 4 LCD Controllers: 18 switches, 3 encoders, 1 level MIDI capability: send/receive note on/off, program change SOURCE: DrumIt Five www.digitaldrummermag.com


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--gear--

Aux triggers for more

cowbell

digitalDRUMMER, MAY 2011

PHOTO: GEARPIX

At a loss over how to fill those extra inputs on your module? Allan Leibowitz found a number of low-cost auxiliary triggers which will fill the slots and allow you to add even more cowbell.

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OF COURSE THE phrase "more cowbell" was immortalised in a Saturday Night Live comedy sketch featuring a fictional recording of the Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t fear the Reaper”. But for many edrummers, adding a cowbell, tambourine or even a giant gong is a simple matter of assigning a sound to one of these trigger devices. They come in many shapes and forms, but are mostly compact single-zone units that attach to a regular l-rod or rack mount. Here are some of the popular add-ons: The trigger: NANO-pad by Koby ($40) Form and size: 4” circular pad on an elbow-jointed 12mm rod. Zones: Single Performance: Set up as a PD7/8/9 trigger on a Roland TD-20X module, the pad responds perfectly with good dynamics. The response is even across the playing surface, and the pad has an excellent rebound. It is also fairly quiet, registering less than 60 dB under firm strikes which recorded close to 80 dB on a 10” mesh pad. What we liked: Well made, compact size, discrete, quiet, responsive and available in a range of colours. What we didn’t like: A reasonably small target. The trigger: Pintech Nimrod ($50) Form and size: A 3.5cm diameter, 15cm tube with a rubber strike surface on the top. One end of the tube houses a mount for a 12mm rod such as a cymbal arm. Zones: Single Performance: Set up as a PD7/8/9 trigger on a Roland TD20X module, the pad responds perfectly with good dynamics. Response is even across the surface, but as the rubber strike pad is only 4cm wide, you do need to be careful where you hit. The Nimrod is quiet, also registering under 60 dB, but does have a distinctive tone that sets it apart from other triggers. What we liked: Well made, compact, ergonomic, triggers well and quietly. What we didn’t like: It needs a rod for attachment and the strike surface is smaller than the total area. 14

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The trigger: Pintech Dingbat ($65) Form and size: This is a Nimrod on steroids, measuring twice the length of its smaller sibling, but with the same diameter and mount. Zones: Single Performance: Set up as a PD7/8/9 trigger on a Roland TD-20X module, the pad responds well, with fairly uniform triggering along the length of the strike surface. In stock setting, this trigger has less dynamic response than its smaller version and is significantly louder, at around 72 dB, with a higher-pitched sound than the Nimrod. What we liked: Well made, generous playing surface, uniform response across the length. What we didn’t like: Noisier and less dynamic response than its smaller sibling. It also requires a mounting rod. The trigger: Dauz 6 pad ($60) Form and size: 15cm rubber-covered circular pad. Zones: Single Performance: This is a tough-looking pad on a lollipop mount which gives a great range of adjustment. The trigger is hotter than most of the other samples, giving a stronger signal when set up as a PD7/8/9. Dynamic range is fantastic and the surface feels like a drum, with excellent rebound. The downside is that this was among the loudest of the test triggers, registering around 83 dB – even more than a 10” mesh drum. What we liked: Excellent response and dynamics and versatile positioning with a large strike zone. What we didn’t like: Noisy.

digitalDRUMMER, MAY 2011

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The triggers: Jman Lectric Moo/Jman Lectracrylic Moo ($75) Form and size: A full-size metal or acrylic acoustic cowbell with vinyl dampening Zones: Single Performance: Both cowbells are fairly hot when set up in stock PD7/8/9 setting (the metal version is a bit cooler), but they’re very responsive and show good dynamics. The stick feel is obviously very cowbell-like, with the rebound a little subdued due to the vinyl. These guys are also very noisy, with the acrylic producing a highpitched clack that registers around 85 dB. The metal version is no noisier than the acrylic model, but the tone is mellower and – well – cowbell-like! With standard cowbell mounts, they attach to an l-rod or cymbal stand. What we liked: Cowbell look and feel, good response. What we didn’t like: Noisy. The trigger: The Cowpaddy/Cowabongo($40/$99) Form and size: The Cowpaddy is a 5”x3.5” foam-covered block, while the Cowabongo consists of two 6”x4.25” blocks on a single mount. Zones: Single in the case of the Cowpaddy, dual for the Cowabongo Performance: Both triggers were really plug and play, needing no adjustment from the stock PD7/8/9 setting. Even more impressive, the Cowabongo, in particular, was just as responsive when played with hands as with sticks. Triggering is even across all surfaces and dynamics are excellent. The triggers are reasonably quiet – at 65 dB and 72 dB respectively, with a distinctive thwack that’s a bit throatier in the case of the bigger pads. Obviously, played with hands, they’re much, much quieter. Both models attach to an l-rod or cymbal arm. What we liked: Good size and feel, good response – especially with hands. What we didn’t like: Very little. 16

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The trigger: Hart Dynamics Hammer ($75) Form and size: Rubber-coated triangular wedge with a 4”x4” surface Zones: Single Performance: The trigger needs a bit of a sensitivity boost from the stock PD7/8/9 setting, but once dialed in, it is responsive and even over all its playing surfaces, including the corners. Dynamics are excellent, and the rebound is very realistic, with a range of surface options as you rotate the wedge. The dense rubber construction effectively mutes the trigger, which is by far the softest, with readings around 58 dB. This is also the only trigger that ships with a cable and instructions. It also requires quite a chunky mount to accommodate its 3.5 cm girth. What we liked: Generous and versatile playing surface, responsive, quiet performance, instructions and cable. What we didn’t like: It needed a tiny bit of module tweaking and it’s not that easy to mount without additional hardware. The trigger: digitalDrummer’s DIY tube ($5 plus labour) Form and size: A 12” long, 3.5cm diameter PVC pipe Zones: Single Performance: Inspired by Crappy Trigger’s auxiliary device reviewed last year, we placed a piezo in a pipe, sealed one end and attached a jack to the other. For aesthetics, we covered the whole thing with black contact plastic. The pipe triggers flawlessly along the whole surface, and needs no module adjustment. Dynamics are great, but rebound is average. And stick noise is at the upper end of the spectrum, around the same as Jman’s cowbells, at about 82 dB. The next version will probably have some kind of rubber dampening! What we liked: Cheap, easy to build, triggers well. What we didn’t like: Noisy and difficult to mount without additional hardware.

digitalDRUMMER, MAY 2011

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VST --gear--

Lite ‘n easy This month, digitalDrummer dips a toe into the murky waters of VSTs with a look at a couple of “lite” offerings – FXpansion’s BFD Eco and Toontrack’s EZdrummer. Allan Leibowitz notes that the former is a pared-back version of the full-blown BFD2 product, while the latter is based on the Superior Drummer VST.

ECO RUNS AS a stand-alone, while EZdrummer requires a host, but it does come bundled with Toontrack’s Solo product that is easy to use. The two packages are similar in installation and set-up, so we won’t waste any time there. Instead, we’ll look at what’s included, how user-friendly they are and how they perform.

EZdrummer lives up to its name when it comes to changing sounds: simply click on a tab on any drum or cymbal and you get a drop-down menu of instrument sounds. With Eco, it’s a bit more involved as you need to double-click on the instrument in the panel below the kit representation, select an instrument and hit “load”.

The kits

Mix and match

The basic Eco kit consists of a bass drum, snare, hihat, three toms, a ride and two crash cymbals and three percussion pieces. That’s three triggers more than EZdrummer’s bass, snare, hi-hat, three toms and three cymbals.

Of course, with VSTs, it’s not just about raw samples. Eco boasts 15 built-in effects including EQ, filtering, dynamics, drive and reverb (included in 16 presets), while EZdrummer has a simplified FX approach, with three presets – roomy, dry and flat mono. Eco’s layout is a bit more cluttered, with the mixer displayed on the same screen as the kit view, while the EZmixer is a separate panel that is brought up in front of the kit screen. In a nifty feature, this mixer can also be opened by clicking the miniature version next to the kit.

Each piece in both set-ups can be allocated a range of instrument sounds, and here again, Eco has the upper hand with a choice of five bass drums, six snares, 12 toms, three hi-hats, 11 cymbals and a few odd percussion sounds. EZ, meanwhile, has three kicks, five snares, five toms, three hi-hats and 11 cymbals if we include the bundled Cocktail EZX pack. A couple of those bass drum sounds are available in two versions – with and without snare overtones or with different beaters. Eco uses 24-bit samples, while EZ’s samples are 16-bit – not that you’d be able to tell with the naked ear. 18

Both mixers have sliders for volume, the ability to mute or solo kit pieces, and overhead and room mics. The Eco product, however, has more options in its “channel” window, where you can tune, dampen and apply detailed EQ and FX on each instrument, giving you much more control than you’ll find in the Toontrack version. However, within www.digitaldrummermag.com


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EZdrummer, some of that control is available through a drop-down menu which lets you choose between a basic kit, ambient kit, tight kit or default. Grooving Obviously, no e-drummers would be interested in pre-packaged beats, which must be a concession to the rhythmically challenged buyers like producers, but both VST offerings include grooves, so we can’t ignore them. EZdrummer’s grooves – and there are lots of them – are accessed by clicking a tab below the kit; Eco’s are contained in a third dedicated window. I didn’t count them but Toontrack claims to have included 8,000 MIDI samples. There’s everything from 4/4 to Motown and funk, and the ability to “humanise” them (or add timing errors, to

be less tactful). The grooves are rich and versatile, with many variations. For example, Pop groove number 3 has 20 variations ranging from hats closed to ride bell with or without ghost notes. Eco has fewer grooves - around 1,500 patterns, but personally, I prefer the layout of the Eco samples which are neatly arranged by genre, time signature and BPM range, with adjustable quantising and “human time”, and the ability to simplify and add swing – all with variable controls. Connecting I tried both products with a Roland TD-20-based kit and with a Zendrum. BFD Eco has an easy-to-use Key Map already set up for various trigger devices from a Korg Nanopad to the TD20 and Yamaha’s

The main pages: Eco’s (left) is a bit more cluttered while EZ is more basic. Eco has three panes - kit, channel and groove, while EZ has the mixer and grooves stashed away. Note both are shown in standard kit configurations and get extra pieces with their expansion packs. Below: The mixing desks - Eco’s channel window reves a range of tweaking options while EZ has fewer controls, contained in a stylish-looking console.

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Grooves: The two packs have different lay-outs for their grooves and the choice is personal: some will prefer the cascading options, others prefer less choice. Below: Eco’s added advantage - the MIDI map allows you to edit trigger allocations and even articulations, something you can’t do with EZ. DTXIII. While I couldn’t locate anything similar on the Toontrack product, it certainly found all the triggers from the TD-20 and had no trouble with the Zendrum’s General MIDI output. However, Eco’s detailed MIDI tweaking capability came to the fore with the Zendrum, offering enormously powerful allocation of triggers thanks to its detailed articulation scope. For example, not only can you assign a snare to a trigger, but you can set it as a drag, a flam, a rim shot, side stick or even a choke. Overall impression Both VSTs are easy to install, connect and use. They are both easy to learn and drummers will soon be flipping between kits, altering levels and playing realistic-sounding kits. By fiddling with the buffer size and sample rates, latency can be reduced with even ageing computer hardware. The real choice between the two is simplicity versus tweakability. EZdrummer is certainly the most idiotproof of the two, with less to adjust and more simplified operations. Eco has more choices, more control and, potentially, more chance of confusing the novice. Both are good tools for getting realistic drum sounds out of electronic triggers, and either would probably satisfy most drummers. And even though they come with limited kit choices, both are easily (and reasonably cheaply) upgraded, with Toontrack and BFD offering expansion packs. And when you’ve mastered these programmes and are keen for even more control and options, both are upgradeable to the full-size offerings. Sound-wise, the two packs are equally good – and certainly better than stock sounds from most modules. 20

While the base products’ sound palettes are limited, both developers offer a range of add-on kits, and here Toontrack seems to have the upper hand, with at least 10 EZX packs ranging from Latin to Metal as well as several kit packs for its big brother, Superior Drummer. Interestingly, Toontrack’s latest expansion offering, The Classic, is available only for the EZdrummer platform. There are fewer dedicated add-ons for Eco, but drummers can access several SD expansion packs and kits – albeit with reduced articulation. Pricewise, both are somewhere around the $100$125 (€95-€120) range, with Eco coming in cheaper, but in past weeks, there have been some specials which have given EZ a slight price advantage. Okay, so if there has to a reckoning and I have to choose, I’d go for the Eco – not because of the bigger base kit, more detailed samples or the more advanced mixing options, but just because of the tweakability. www.digitaldrummermag.com


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--gear--

Splashing out

on e-crashes In this issue, we continue our cymbal testing, this time focusing on crashes, splashes and chinas. Unlike last time when Scott Holder tried to find the quietest, he now judges the subjective areas like playability, feel and responsiveness. ER

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PHOTO: ZILDJIAN

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E-CYMBALS RUN THE gambit from light plastic or rubber to metal and they encompass all price points. Each brand has certain ways of approaching issues like mounting and rotation during playing, but all want to provide reliable triggering while being something other than a static pad. Modules play a crucial role in the evaluation process because some of the features found in various e-cymbals are geared toward higher-end models. Moreover, module features often determine what cymbal works best with that model, for example, features like swells. Comparisons of brands and models are inevitable but we’ll take the same approach as last time and look at each brand as a stand-alone option. “Responsiveness” is harder to judge because module settings, usually Sensitivity and Threshold, can be tweaked to change the characteristics. Significantly changing them, however, can make a cymbal so “hot” that it’s impossible to get any playing subtlety. That also makes edge hits harder to manage. Each cymbal was played according to the manufacturer’s specifications for the module - a Roland TD-12 and for Yamaha, the DTX950. Another aspect of responsiveness is how much surface area returns reliable triggering before that falls off. This was tested by lightly striking each cymbal outward from the “sweet spot”, usually where the trigger housing is located, and then noting when the cymbal started to become less responsive. We weren’t expecting 360-degree coverage, but there were quite noticeable differences. One thing is clear - not just from our reviews but from years of online commentary: e-cymbals, no matter what brand or model, still don’t swing and move the way an acoustic cymbal does. Even the metal cymbals in this review don’t act like acoustics. Well, one e-cymbal not part of the formal review comes closest: the Concept One (shown below). A US brand developed in the 1990s, Concept Ones don’t have the look of any contemporary e-cymbal. The designer at Concept One did something no e-cymbal maker is yet to equal: create a cymbal that swings like an acoustic. How did they do it? The central cylinder that slides over a cymbal arm is connected to the rest of the cymbal by a material closely approximating raft rubber. We used the Concept One as a yardstick for swing. As an old, single-zone, no-choke cymbal, it triggers fine, but definitely doesn’t look or have the other capabilities of even some of the modestly priced cymbals reviewed. Finally, there’s always the “how will that look on my kit” aspect of many cymbal selections. That’s an impossible area to make any sweeping judgments about. Some folks want the look of “real cymbals” and thus will look carefully at Alesis and Hart. Others might be attracted to the somewhat exotic look of Pintech’s Visulite line and its many available colours. 22

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Alesis Surge Reviewed was the 13” single-zone crash mounted per Alesis’s recommendations, i.e. “traditionally”, as if it was an acoustic cymbal. Since Surges are single-layer metal cymbals, that approach seems reasonable although, as we’ll note later, Hart recommends using an Aquarian spring on its metal cymbals. Swing and play aren’t what you might expect from a metal cymbal. Like all the cymbals, the trigger box connected to a cable inhibits movement. The Surges fell somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of movement, not too restricted, but also not as acoustic as expected. The crash chokes very well; it was the easiest cymbal to choke of all tested. No need to find the right spot or use the “grip of death” in order to choke it: you get anywhere over almost half the cymbal and just a modest squeeze of your thumb and a finger gives fantastic results. The crash is relatively “hot” and we had to drop sensitivity to 5, one of the lowest sensitivity levels needed. Although “hotness” of a cymbal can be somewhat mitigated by the module settings, the problem then is finding a happy medium in order to get lighter, softer strikes and edge swells. If your module supports the latter, then a hot cymbal like the Surge crash could make it hard to get that deft feel. The best way to describe it is you start soft, then increase the strike and get a bit louder, then you gently kick it up another notch and WHAM! Full sound, no swells. At least when used with a Roland module, this could pose a problem. However, since Surges are aimed at Alesis DM-10 and Trigger iO users, this might not be an issue. If you have a module that doesn’t support “interval control” (to put it in Roland terms), then much of the hotness becomes a non-issue. In terms of responsive strike area, reliable triggering fell off quickly as one moved away from the trigger housing, especially when compared to almost all the other brands and models. About 20% of the overall area of the Surges could be termed the “sweet spot” - and that was less than any other cymbal. The Surges rotate easily, which is a common annoyance among metal e-cymbals. There are plenty of DIY approaches to stopping this, such as rubber washers.

Hart Dynamics Ecymbal II We reviewed the 12” china and the 14” crash; both are single-zone and only the crash chokes. The Harts are doublelayered metal cymbals and are heavier than the Surges. Unlike Alesis, Hart recommends - and provides - medium (the red kind) Aquarian springs for mounting. digitalDRUMMER, MAY 2011

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After years of playing Hart cymbals, the Aquarian spring option makes no sense. The weight of the cymbal dictates using a heavy (yellow) spring because of all the movement generated by a heavy cymbal. When set up according to Hart’s instructions, both the crash and the china often shook the drum rack; the china was particularly pronounced because of its shape and the angle of stick impact. By comparison, the lighter Surges, when mounted on a spring, generated less secondary rack wobble. We played both side by side, mounted on and off springs and, particularly for the Harts, the springs ended up masking what turned out to be the best swing of any cymbal tested, with the possible exception of the Visulite ride. If you do go with a spring, definitely “spring” for a yellow, heavy type. The Hart cymbals are certainly not “hot” when hit, despite the hardness of the rubber strike pad. We had to turn sensitivity to 20 (from the recommended 12) in order to get about the same level of responsiveness as on the Surges. Of course, if you hit the bare metal area of any cymbal set like that, it will be very “hot”. In order to compare it to the Surge, we did some set striking and regular playing and sure enough, we had to turn down the sensitivity to 7. That means avoiding the bare metal! Both the china and the crash had a wide “sweet spot”, almost three-quarters of the cymbal and that extends far beyond the area covered by the strike pad. That means you can be confident that anywhere you hit on the strike pad, you’ll get a consistent trigger response. The crash chokes well, not quite as easy as the Surge, but again, you don’t have to really think about the choking action. You do it, it chokes. Like the Surges, the Harts rotate easily. Aquarian springs stop that completely, but if you prefer an acoustic mount, you’ll need a DIY approach like rubber washers to stop your strike pad from rotating away from you.

Kit-Toys TD-V2 We tested the 10” splash, 14” crash and 14” china. All have single zones and only the crash chokes. UK-made Kit-Toys were first covered in the January 2010 issue. Their sleek look has made them popular and whenever a batch comes up on eBay, it sells quickly. They are very competitively priced and even US buyers can get them for around the cost of Pintech’s PCs. The cymbals are lightweight; the acrylic composite is very stiff - think of it as somewhere between the Pintech PC-14 and the much thicker Visulite. The hard rubber strike area attempts to subdue the harshest stick noises while not giving up any responsiveness. It uses a conventional mount and has an interesting anti-spin mechanism built in: two rubber flaps that attach to a mount that screws onto the cymbal stand just below the actual cymbal. While it does a great job of preventing spin, it also makes plugging the cable into the trigger housing somewhat difficult since you have to angle it in — I’m constantly jiggling 24

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mine to get in and I’ve had the cymbal for two years. That attachment can, depending on where you mount the bracket on the cymbal stand, give you a stiff or flexible swing to the cymbal. As an experiment, I mounted it on Aquarian springs, my older, looser medium spring and a new, far tenser medium spring. It barely moved the newer spring but on my older, looser spring, it was a joy! Loved the movement on that particular spring, so if you have one similar to it, give it a shot. The KT line is similar to the Surges in “heat”. In fact, they were slightly hotter than the Surges. It bears repeating that this affects only the crash since accent cymbals such as the china and splash typically don’t require any subtle, nuanced stick work; you just hit ‘em and expect a reliable trigger. There was little response dropoff with the entire strike area equally responsive. Crash sensitivity was set to 3 and the threshold 18-20 and still a light touch would trigger them. This made it very hard to get good cymbal swells. Furthermore, the choking mechanism on the KT crash often resulted in a “dual zone” effect in which the choke circuit started behaving like an edge switch. The problem wasn’t “getting two zones for the price of one”, but rather that the effects weren’t predictable. The KT crash was like the Surges, very easy to choke - reliable and no need for a death grip.

Pintech PC and Visulite Pintech aims at both ends of the market, with the budget-priced PC line and the higher-end Visulites. The PC-14 is a dual-zone, chokeable crash. Several years back, Pintech changed the plastic on this cymbal from a thicker, very rigid design not unlike Kit-Toys to a thin plastic that’s easily bendable by hand. I mounted it on an old, loose, spring which resulted in a “spastic wobble” when hit, which was completely unlike the KitToys or Harts. However, when mounted on a new, medium spring, the spring itself never moved; that’s how light a PC-14 is. Most movement came from the flexibility of the cymbal itself. The strike area produced very consistent response with no drop-off as one moved out from the trigger housing. The edge trigger is on bare plastic and there is no edging rubber (unlike the Visulite). Edge hits require you to strike somewhat higher on the edge with the stick at a lower angle from perpendicular than other two-zone cymbals. Not a problem, but one needs to be aware of the edge “sweet zone”. The cymbal’s hotness falls well beneath Hart and above both Surge and Kit-Toys. Pintech recommends a sensitivity setting of 8 but I found that just a bit hot, particularly when hitting the cymbal hard. Don’t forget that the strike pads are made of very soft foam and, while that literally swallows stick noise with light hits, if you thwack it hard, the foam compresses and you get a “hot” response. Just dropping sensitivity by 1 or 2 made a world of difference, particularly on edge swells which were, for a cymbal this inexpensive, pretty good. Since they’re mounted on springs, rotation isn’t a problem. The PC-14 was the hardest to choke and the trigger housing is located right under the strike zone so if you’re not careful, you semi-grab it and not actually the cymbal - when trying to choke it. digitalDRUMMER, MAY 2011

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The Visulite crash is an entirely different beast. A plastic composite similar to Kit-Toys’, it’s far thicker and heavier than that cymbal and obviously the lightweight PC line. Pintech also recommends mounting them on Aquarian springs and the play of the cymbal was almost as good as the Harts. The strike area “sweet spot” is not as broad or as uniform as the PC-14 and is also less than Harts’ but wider than Surges’. The edge has hard rubber trim akin to the Hart’s rubber strike pad. This contrasts with the bow strike area which uses the same soft foam as the PC-14. The dual-zone separation is a bit odd in that the physical edge and bow produce the same sound but the actual edge sound is, like the PC-14, “further up” on the edge. You have to lessen the angle of the hit and lay the stick somewhat flatter on the edge/bow in order to get the edge sound. Again, different from all the other cymbals, but once I figured it out, it wasn’t hard to do. Bow sensitivity set to 10, so you had to adjust your playing style since the physical edge was somewhat “hot” because the bow’s sensitivity was adjusted upward. Again, not bad, just different. The soft strike pad totally absorbs light to medium hits which made it harder for me to do rapid two-stick flams than on any of the other cymbals. This could be mitigated by adjusting sensitivity and threshold settings, but then you run the risk of making the cymbal too hot and thus, ruining soft edge hits and swells. Therefore, expect to spend a little more time than usual tweaking. Unlike the PC-14, the response wasn’t as uniform over the entire strike area; it tapered off toward either side. However, those two areas (left and right sides of the strike pad) are where you would flatten the stick hit to get edge sounds and once I figured that out, the Visulite suddenly became a very reliable trigger. The choke requires a slightly different technique from the usual “squeeze the very edge”. Here you have to make sure your thumb hits the bow/edge border. Once you figure it out, it has a very gentle choke that works well.

Roland Cymbals reviewed were the CY-5, 8, 12 and 14. The CY-5/8 are similar in that they’re not all-rubber; the 12/14s are very much alike in layout, with the obvious exception that the 12 is smaller and can also double as a three-zone ride. Many comparisons will be drawn not just to other brands but also within the entire CY line since there were some surprising differences. CY-5 Although the CY-5 is targeted mostly for static hi-hat rigs, it’s a two-zone cymbal that chokes, making it versatile in any role and the temptation is always to use anything to fill a niche. One of the first things we examined was the relative firmness (or hardness) of the edge and the CY-5 was surprisingly firm. Edge strikes also differed from the CY12/14 in that you had to flatten the angle of the stick and hit it right above the edge, just like with the Pintech PC and Visulites. Edge sensitivity was consistent across the strike area as was the bow. There was virtually no drop-off in response across the rubber strike area; it’s very much like the Kit-Toy 10” splash in that regard. Using Roland’s standard wedge-shaped plug, the CY-5 doesn’t rotate. 26

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However, and this is true for all the Roland cymbals reviewed, that leads to mostly up-and-down movement. But at least with the CY-5, it has a surprising amount of rebound and “good wobble”, making it unique among the Roland cymbals. The CY-5 was hard to choke. A firm grip was needed, although the cymbal wasn’t particular about where along the edge the choke occurred. It was probably not as hard to choke as the Pintech PCs, but it was close. As a crash, most people will probably find it too small, but that makes it ideal for that umpteenth crash in a large kit in a tight space. Also, when used as a china or splash, the two zones provide additional sound possibilities. CY-8 The other “budget” cymbal in Roland’s line-up, it’s also likely to be discontinued with the release of the crash-only CY-12 and the crash/ride CY-13. The first odd thing that strikes you about this cymbal is its pronounced leftward tilt. The trigger housing is on the left and it consistently pulls the cymbal that way despite the Roland plug. Yes, you can adjust your cymbal arms to address this, but it’s the only cymbal of any tested that leaned in a direction other than up and down. The strike “sweet spot” is less than even the one-fifth area of the Surges and obviously far smaller than the actual rubber strike area of the CY-8 itself. There was significant drop-off to the right and left and even down to the edge. Bow triggering outside of that very small sweet spot was extremely inconsistent. The soft edge of CY-8 would lead one to believe it should excel at soft hits and swells. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Edge triggering was not nearly as responsive as any other two-zone cymbal tested. As such, it took harder strikes and more thought when hitting the cymbal. For example, striking the sweet spot with a light to medium hit would produce a decent response, but then quickly move out to the edge and you need to hit the cymbal hard in order to get a similar sound. That edge triggering issue means that cymbal swells are problematic. We set up the CY-8 directly alongside a CY-12 and CY-14 using Roland’s factory settings on a TD-12 module and using the same cymbal sound. Whereas the 12/14s were consistent, the CY-8 took harder hits on the edge and serious thought about hitting that bow sweet spot to trigger - and we could never get good swells. Adjusting the rim gain upwards from the factory setting helped, but if we weren’t careful and hit the cymbal hard, we’d get a piercing loud crash sound we didn’t want. It does, however, choke better than the CY-5 and CY-12. I’ve had experience with three CY-8s over the years. I used one with a TD-7, then an expanded TD-10 module, with the sort of experience described above. However, I demoed a TD-9 kit with CY-8s and was struck by how good they were. Nonetheless, you’ll find plenty of online complaints about the uncertainty of what you get out of a CY-8. If you need chinas and splashes, they’ll work fine in those roles, but don’t expect them to excel as crashes.

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CY-12/14 If you’ve experienced the frustration of a CY-8 and then move up to a CY-12 or CY-14, you’ll wonder what took you so long to make the jump. Both cymbals exhibit similar characteristics. Both have little lateral movement unless you keep the nut very loose. Interestingly, the 12 has a firm edge whereas the 14 is rather soft, and yet both have identical edge triggering characteristics. Swells are easy and more achievable than one might think on a module that doesn’t even support interval control. Another bonus is the transition from edge to bow, with both cymbals, was seamless. Striking the edge literally on the edge produced the best results. The bow sweet spot was a good third of the cymbal with little drop-off moving away from the trigger housing. The 14, being one the bounciest cymbals, was very capable of flams – more so than anything else tested. Another difference is choking. The 12 is the hardest of all the Roland cymbals to choke, while the 14 is fairly soft. In both cases, you have to use your thumb at an angle on the edge in order to get consistent chokes. Combined with needing a tight grip, it makes choking something you need to practice in order to get the muscle memory, otherwise, choking will be erratic when compared to the Surges or Harts. Cymbal hotness wasn’t an issue with any of the Roland cymbals. For example, if sensitivity on the Hart crash was set to 7-8, it was 10-11 on the 12/14. This balanced approach was another reason why edge-to-bow transitions were easier than the rest.

Yamaha The PCY-135 and 155 were almost identical in all regards. Both have soft edges and the choke far easier to achieve than any of the Rolands. Because both are three-zone cymbals, when paired with a Yamaha module like the DTX950, you get the broadest dynamic range of crash sounds – more so than any other cymbal hooked up to a Roland module. One unique feature is if you choke the cymbal while simultaneously hitting the bow, you get another sound, almost a fourth zone. However, the choke wasn’t as tight or distinct as on other cymbals because of that extra zone. The sweet spot was comparable to the CY-12/14 and Harts, easily a third of the cymbal with no drop-off in trigger response until well past that. Flams were a bit harder than the CY-14 but on par with the Harts. Yamaha has an L-shaped bracket that attaches to the cymbal arm which then extends upwards through a hole in the cymbal. 28

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That stops rotation without sacrificing too much lateral movement. None of the Yamaha or Roland cymbals had that much lateral movement anyway. The question is always asked if the PCYs work well with Roland modules. As two-zoners, they’re fine. But you do need a lot of module tweaking to get them dialed in and you might not ever get them exactly where you want, particularly for smooth swells and transitions. On the other hand, pair these with a Yamaha module and they excel at swells and transitions.

2box DrumIt Five A relative newcomer, the 2box cymbal is designed as a threezone cymbal and should work as such on lower-end modules. For this review, Gerald Langenfeld tested the 14” crash on a Roland TD-20X module where it functioned as a dual-zone. Cymbal motion is probably the best you can get from a rubber-type e-cymbal. Since the piezo is mounted centrally in the bell with edge triggering and choke set for 360 degree triggering, there is no reason the cymbal needs to be facing one way or another. This means you can mount with standard hardware and let it swing as much as you desire. Personally, I prefer cymbal springs, so by using the cymbal spring base with a wing nut for the top, mounted loosely, the cymbal can rock and roll. The 2box requires little to no tweaking to get excellent trigger response for both zones. I tried several Roland pad type presets. With pad type set to CY-8, no further adjustment is necessary. All areas of the cymbal trigger well, the bell area might be considered the hot spot since that is where the piezo resides, but there is excellent trigger response on bow and edge. The cymbal shines in its playable area, with 360 degree trigger response on bow and edge. The whole area of the cymbal is playable, with no “bad” areas. Edge response is roughly equivalent to something like a CY-14C. It has a relatively sensitive edge with good swell capability. The crash is very easily choked and, like the bow and edge sounds, the choke is 360 degrees. I am very impressed by the quality and solid simplicity of the 2box crash. The build is different to anything I have seen to date and I especially like the way the edge switch was incorporated. A simple type of switch results from a flexible serrated metal top edge. When any of the metal of that top plate touches the bottom plate, the switch is activated. With the piezo situated in the centre of the bell, you have the advantage of 360-degree response. Although a relative newcomer, 2box nailed it with this crash! Conclusion Cymbals are undoubtedly the most sensitive portion of any e-drummer’s kit. What module you use really should drive what you get from the technical standpoint. Although we’ve focused on swells, hotness and transition, that stems from the modules used for testing. If you’re using a module with less capability, then some of the differences between models and price points are less significant, providing more options. digitalDRUMMER, MAY 2011

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--gear--

Your name on your bass The proliferation of full-size bass drums in e-kits has presented a blank canvas for self-expression. As Allan Leibowitz reports, e-drummers, like their acoustic counterparts, are now able to personalise their kits with custom bass heads, and mainstream head-maker Evans has launched a product to tap into the need for creativity. EVANS’ NEW “INKED by Evans” programme allows drummers to print a large, colour graphic on bass drumheads with a new high-resolution printing system. There are a few options. Drummers can choose from a range of stock designs and backgrounds or upload their own images. They can also add text, with several fonts and a range of colours and sizes available. For its test, digitalDrummer decided to go all the way. The first step was to access the Inked by Evans website and select the “Build it now” option. There were three choices: Gallery, with a range of textures and images, from big band-style crests to screensaver-like nature images; Showcase, with a number of ready-made designs, from Woodstock artwork to the work of Al McWhite; Custom, where you effectively get a blank slate for your creativity – for an extra US$15. I chose the last option, selected a 20” head (without mic hole – for obvious reasons, and not just to save $5). I uploaded my band’s logo, an octagonal traffic sign 30

with “City Limits” in the middle, and experimented with various sizes. The beauty of the online design process is that you get an instant preview and I soon realised that no matter what size I selected, the traffic sign would look like a sticker – almost an afterthought. So I enlarged the logo until I got a solid red background filling the whole head – which looked really striking. The next step was to add even more personalisation – putting my name on the head. Now some people have names that are just perfect for drumheads, but “Allan Leibowitz” is not one of them, and no matter what font I tried, the name was either too big and dominant or too small to read. So, hard as it was to settle for anonymity, I deleted the name and proceeded to the next step, hitting “I’m done”. The order window asks for your geographic location and depending where you are based, you can select your “regular” Evans dealer – if you have one. Note the message: “Please review your custom drumhead carefully. It will be printed just as it is shown here.” They’re not kidding. No-one at Evans will check your spelling – nor will they make sure the resolution of your image is good enough. This can be an issue for some people, especially those who type faster than they think and those not too familiar www.digitaldrummermag.com


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with digital printing technology – and anyone in doubt should check with a graphics-savvy friend before hitting the “Next” tab. You’ll get a confirmation window next which will explain the process, as it differs in different locations. But as a rule, your order The order form goes through to your local dealer (above) and the who will contact you for payment. finished head. Pricing may also vary in different regions, but Evans quotes US$74.99 to $84.99 (depending on size) for a basic printed head, with an extra $15 for custom images or text and $5 for a mic national distributor, hole. it could easily Production is reasonably fast for a “stock” head, with have taken three Evans quoting US shipping within two weeks for any months or more. standard order. Domestic US customised heads ship within four weeks, and if you’re an international The end result was not quite as good as I expected – with the image slightly pixelated. But, I can only customer, make sure you’re in a long-term arrangement with your band before putting their logo blame myself for the final resolution of the image. In retrospect, I should have recreated it to a bigger on your head as shipping can take 90 days! size rather than simply enlarging it. But from far, it Bottom Line looks good. The online design and order process is easy, intuitive and efficient. You get to see what you’re ordering before you commit and the design tools are simple and effective. In my case, with a little help from my friends in high places, shipping to the other end of the world took a bit less than the 90 days quoted, but I suspect that had the order gone through a local dealer and the

The build quality is excellent and the print area goes close enough to the ends of the head for there to be no bare head visible anywhere. Of course, I couldn’t care less about the acoustic qualities, but as an ego-booster and object of aesthetic appeal, the Inked By Evans head does an excellent job.

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--performance--

Kit First-Aid Jon Levitt always carries a bag of spare parts to a gig. One of the good things about electronic percussion is that it’s much easier to throw a full set of cables into the car rather than trying to wrestle an extra snare drum to the gig. The exact contents changes over time and is determined by the gig, but generally speaking, this is what you’ll find…

Spare Cables: 1/4, 1/8, RCA, XLR - in all sorts of permutations. Adapters: 1/4, 1/8, RCA, mono and stereo. I try to include at least two of everything, sometimes the obscure becomes the invaluable. I also include my DI in this category. Power: spare cords, outlet splitters and extensions. Parts and Tools: markers, some homemade triggers, cable tester, tape, tension rods and felts if I’m using a pad set. Hum Eliminator: I’ve only used this device to take hum out of a signal path involving my field recorder, but it worked miraculously in that instance. Spare sounds: I’ve gone through phases of what this is. When I had an SPD-6, I used that; these days I carry my old drum module as a spare. Next time: e-drum triage - Jon’s guide to coping with crises. 32

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--profile--

Meet Mr E-drums

Simmons on SIMMONS Dave Simmons is considered by many as the inventor of electronic drums, and his iconic Simmons kits are still around 30 years after they were built. Simmons spoke to digitalDrummer editor Allan Leibowitz about his legacy.

digitalDRUMMER, MAY 2011

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digitalDrummer: The name Simmons is still synonymous with electronic percussion many years after the last kit rolled off the production line. What do you think was your single biggest contribution to electronic drumming? Dave Simmons: Phew, the hard question first, eh Allan? I have to say that I am continually amazed after 25 years that the products we produced are remembered at all, let alone held in the respect that some people hold for them. Having said that, having just spent months going through the masses of documentation I have in the vault covering the period 1979 to 2006 where we were inventing, manufacturing and eventually going bust, it is apparent that something strange and a bit wonderful happened during that period. I’ve recently had to drag all this stuff up in preparing my case against Guitar Center (more of that later), and there are hundreds and hundreds of pages of press on the Simmons products, the drummers that used them and the resulting music. Some of the advertising that Geoff Howarth (sales director) created were works of art in their own right, so he must take a lot of the credit (or should it be blame?) for the public face of Simmons. I’ve looked at the original design drawings scribbled in my own note books in 1981, and then the spectacular developments in custom chips and multi-processor systems created by the hardware and software engineers under the guidance of Simon Davidman and Jim Lindop only five years later, and I am staggered at what we achieved as a small independent British company. We didn’t borrow a lot of money to do it. We built five drum kits and sold them. With the money we built 10 drum kits and sold them. Within a few months, we were building 100 drum kits. And with the money from those, we took on design engineers, assembly workers, accountants and shipping people, sales and marketing, etc, etc. We went from one person in a shed to 150 in a brand-new assembly plant in St Albans in four years. Everyone that I talk to now, that was involved in the whirlwind that was the growth of the company back then, says the same thing: it was the best years of their working life and nothing they have done since came close to it. It was certainly an exciting time for all of us involved in creating the drums, and maybe some of that excitement was reflected in the drummers who saw the kits on Top of the Pops and said “what the f**?”. I know of drummers that were on the waiting list for the kits for months, were saving hard to get one, were really excited about the visual and aural aspects of something quite new for drummers. But I also know that the majority of drummers were either anti-electronic drums, or downright hostile towards them. 34

Ads from Simmons’ heyday

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20 years on, Simmons kits are still in use. So, what was my biggest contribution to electronic drumming? I would say the excitement, anticipation and mystery in a period where we invented something really different and developing it as technology rushed ahead at a staggering pace, bringing out something new every few months. The contribution to drumming would be different, though. I don’t think it had much effect at all. The professional drummers jumped on the bandwagon as producers insisted they have a “Simmons” and jumped off again as soon as the sound and look was done to death. So maybe that’s what remains? Almost a tribal memory of lots of new things, lots of turmoil as the industry and drummers came to terms with it (or not, as the case may be), of a period of rapid change, of threats (the Linn drum machine was hitting drummers at the same time) and a brash, bright and modern-looking piece of equipment that changed the look and sound of music, albeit for a short period. dD: Your venture obviously put you in close proximity with some of the biggest names in popular music, especially in the '80s. Who really stands out in your memory and why? DS: Richard Burgess, the drummer with Landscape. He helped me a lot with getting the detail right in creating the original SDSV sound, and the band was instrumental in launching the global interest in the drum kits. He appeared (just) on Top of the Pops playing the “head” kit during “Einstein a go go” and it caused a riot. Our phones rang off the hook. The performance nearly didn’t happen because there digitalDRUMMER, MAY 2011

PHOTO: SIMMONSMUSEUM.COM

was a musicians’ union strike on and Top of the Pops was threatened with being pulled off air. Who knows, if that had happened, the drums might never have made it at all? I remember a young, strange-looking fresh-faced boy wandering into the Mill in St Albans (we were making the SDSV in the loft). His dress was somewhat bizarre for the times, and he asked politely if he could get a kit. That was Boy George. He sure made an impression, even before anyone had heard of him. Vangelis (I know, I know, not the sort of name you’d expect) had an SDS3. Hooked up all sorts of triggers to it and played some tracks to it, and just saw what sort of noises he could wring out of it and then used those “off the wall” sounds so musically in his compositions. I remember this so clearly, as it would be contrasted so drastically time and time again later when drummers would sit down at a Simmons SDX, capable of a trillion different subtle and not-so-subtle tones and colours and go duggadugga-dugga-dugga around the toms as fast they possibly could. They would do this whether the sound was toms, cowbells, cymbals, J Arthur Rank Gong, or whatever. It didn’t matter – dugga-duggadugga-dugga is what they did: musicians is what they were not. Vangelis listened to what this simple machine could do, found some unique sounds and used them musically. I was really privileged to spend a day with Billy Cobham and the SDX. We were preparing for a SDX demo at the British music fair. He’d never seen 35


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an SDX, and I was a huge fan of his music (Spectrum, etc), I switched it on, Billy sat down and stroked the pads gently with sticks and hands, explored the dynamics and the sounds in the factory set-ups. He instantly found the subtle changes in sound across the pad head from centre to rim and the crossfades from piano to forte. Then he played. With such subtlety and grace and never “bottoming out” the dynamic range. He’d instantly adjusted his touch to the dynamic range of the pads. So many drummers would hit everything so hard that everything was maxed out all the time. All the nuances and sonic variation and possibilities built into the hardware and software at such great cost are simply bypassed and irrelevant to a drummer that just hits hard. After a few minutes, he said: “Great, Dave, it sounds like drums. I’ve got a kit that does that. What else can it do?” We then spent 30 minutes sampling anything - mostly Mr Cobham laughing, giggling and grunting. We mapped these samples in different pitches across the pads, used variable sample start to trigger them at different points in the sample, and the filters and envelopes to shape them. No, this sort of thing does not work for the dugga-duggadugga merchants, but when the kit was set up with Mr Cobham’s ‘laughing kit’, and he played it, what was produced was totally unique and totally musical. I was blown away. When Billy Cobham used that Laughing Kit at the show the following week, he brought the house down. I wish I had it on tape.

dD: It's been said that Simmons was ahead of its time - and obviously you paid the price for being leading-edge without a mass market to subsidise it. Was this the main reason for the ultimate collapse of Simmons? DS: Sort of, but it’s more complicated than that. I’ve mentioned earlier that there was something special and almost magical about the first five years or so at Simmons in St Albans. I’m a musician, not an accountant. If I were an accountant, I would have cashed in on Simmons in 1985. We had an amazing track-record, a trade mark recognised worldwide and IP to die for. We had a self-contained R&D and manufacturing facility in a building we owned. I should have sold and retired to Necker Island before Branson could get his hands on it. But I was never interested in the money - that is, until it ran out. The massive hit that was the SDS5 was followed up by taking advantage of the rapid development of electronics to produce similar items with more features for less money: the SDS9, 8, 800, 400, 200. We added MIDI (MIDI wasn’t invented when we first made drums), we started sampling, we added hard drives, TV screens, tracker balls, 64 track sequencing, ZI Pads, chokeable cymbals, Bosendorfer piano sample sets (with a separate set taken with the sustain pedal down - something not seen in digital piano till 15 years later!), amplifiers, MIDI-controlled mixers, FM and sample-based expansion modules. The list goes on and on. But all

PHOTOS: SIMMONSMUSEUM.COM

These guys are rare. Another one is, of course, Bill Bruford, who took the SDSV, MTM, SDE and latterly the SDX further than anyone - again, using the instruments to expand the palette of tones and textures available to him as drummer, percussionist and band leader. Bill had his MTM programmed up

with a mind-boggling array of preset chords and rhythms. So much so that I know the complexity of it all proved to be ultimately unsatisfying and frustrating. I guess, in the final analysis, 98 black and white keys and 10 digits is a far more economical way of creating melody and harmony than two sticks and two feet.

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Dave Simmons with his original design drawings

of that was funded from the visual aspect of the original SDS5. And visual aspect was tied inextricably to that sound. The sound you can still hear at the beginning of East Enders (a TV soap in the UK), and once that sound and that image went out of fashion, no-one wanted them anymore, no matter what technology, the passage of time and some clever R&D had produced. Simmons was dead because once it was fashionable and suddenly it was very uncool. Meanwhile, the guy in charge still believed that the next thing coming out of R&D would change people’s minds if it was good enough. So all the money was ploughed into keeping the dream alive, come what may. The SDX was way ahead of its time, but its scope was misunderstood (it’s just a very expensive electronic drum kit, right?) and the technology was not ready for it. It had 2 Mb (not Gb!) of 16 bit RAM and you could have a 20meg hard drive. And that was the biggest we could get, and it cost a fortune. The SDX was a Fairlight for drummers, and it cost about £5,000 at a time the Fairlight was selling for £32,000. Yes, it was an expensive drum kit, but a cheap Fairlight. But most drummers wanted to go dugga-dugga-dugga-dugga, and not many were interested in having 24 semitones spread radially across a drum pad, or to go and carefully sample a snare drum nine times. The instrument was phenomenal, and that in itself was a triumph for the guys at Simmons that dreamt it up and made it real. We sold about 250 and made about £1million loss on it. And I don’t regret doing it. digitalDRUMMER, MAY 2011

It’s only recently that anything has come anywhere near it. dD: Looking back, what would you have done differently? For example, would it have made sense to try and sell your idea to an established drum/instrument maker rather than going your own way? DS: I wouldn’t have done much differently. It was a brilliant time -1980 through 1986 - and it was horrible when we ran out of money and had to downsize over the period 1987 through 1992, where we moved the factory three times and went from 140 staff to 10. But that rollercoaster ride was not unique to Simmons; it’s been repeated a thousand times in many industries where a global fashion takes hold for a few years and then is just as quickly rejected. When I first made an electronic drum kit, no-one in the music trade was interested in it. It was simply too bizarre for them. They didn’t even have a department they could easily slot it into. Did the drum department sell it, or did it go in with the organs, amplifiers or synthesizers? They’d have to put electricity in the drum department and amplifiers and train a drummer to work the thing. I never had a single offer from anywhere in the world for the company or its IP. The whole industry was surprised by the rapid emergence of the products and the brand. The big international musical instrument companies waited a couple of years and made their own versions and by the time 37


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every company had an electronic drum kit, the fashion for electronic drums was already changing. You have to remember, I never made an electronic drum kit to make money. I was involved in the three things I enjoyed most – music, electronics and inventing stuff. I wouldn’t have sold that to anyone at the time. dD: When you look at the rise of e-drums and the plethora of products on the market today, what Simmons influences can you still detect? DS: If you look at all the kits today, they have to solve the same problems we had to in 1980. The problems are exactly the same, so I don’t know if the R&D departments of the companies that make electronic kits today read an MTM or SDX manual to find out about “trigger thresholds” or “hold-off times” or whether they started with a clean sheet. I was amazed when trying out some of these kits recently how little had changed and how primitive they still were. In the SDX, we had “virtual drum heads” which you could stack onto a drum to give different playing or sound characteristics, we had “variable sample start” where the sample was triggered further down the sample for lighter strokes, both of which I’ve seen on current kits. We used FSRs (force sensing resistive films) in the SDX which allowed for an amazing amount of control (128 concentric areas on each drum pad, not three or six as is often reported), allowing any of the standard MIDI controllers to be assigned to “position” on the 38

drum pad, so you could control filter pitch, resonance, amplitude, decay, noise, pitch, bend amount, etc, etc, just by when you played on the pad. The only thing that comes close to that is the Mandala, a single pad made in the States. SDX had 15 positional pads, all capable of an amazing amount of control. Position control on pads today is used to mimic only what happens on an acoustic drum, so there is some influence there, or are they just doing what needs to be done to make it sound as acoustic as possible? I don’t know. And, of course, there is the Guitar Center kits where there is simply a lifting of the name and reputation of someone else’s work for commercial gain. Now, I see they’re slowly adding the hexagon in the designs. dD: Just to explain, you’re referring to the major US retailer which started using the Simmons trademark on its no-frills kits. That must hurt! DS: Guitar Center is the biggest retailer in the world, I think I’m right in saying. This is a really difficult one for me, for three reasons. One, I have to be careful what I say as Guitar Center employ some pretty sharp lawyers and would think nothing of writing me www.digitaldrummermag.com


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a fearsome letter or two, and secondly, I’m currently pursuing various legal actions to get my name back from them. And thirdly, because I am so proud of what the guys and girls at the factory achieved in the ‘80s, I should have made sure that my name was not available for anyone else to use on a whim and confuse the market in the way they have. Seeing what they are doing is like watching a horror movie in slow motion. I can say that I was immensely depressed when the first kit came out, and thought it was so typical of a giant like Guitar Center. All they’ve done is to hijack the reputation of something that was very special and innovative and bolt it onto something that is neither special nor innovative. Why would they do that? Because it gets them a bigger marketshare quicker than if they had put “Guitar Center” on it, more money for them, quicker. It’s got worse recently as they’re testing the water by putting little hexagons on things. They even used the names and numbers for the kits we used, and now I see they have a version of our Portakit, complete with hexagonal playing surfaces. It’s real easy for them, they have a giant Chinese manufacturer going through the Simmons catalogue from 1986 and copying the ideas, although they will strenuously deny they had any knowledge of the products and reputation of the original Simmons company from the ‘80s. dD: How did Guitar Center end up with the Simmons name? Did they acquire it from the liquidator? DS: Guitar Center re-registered the name as a trademark after I stupidly let it lapse in the early 2000s. So, no they did not buy it from a liquidator. In fact, the intellectual property associated with all the Simmons designs and brands are still owned by the last company that made the equipment - Sound Unit Ltd, a UK company still in existence and owned by me. So I own the designs and the whole history and goodwill surrounding the name, the hexagonalshaped drums and the history and reputation of Simmons. Guitar Center are pursuing the registration of the brand through the various trademark registration bodies around the world, based on their original re-registration. I am opposing them at each step and the whole thing will eventually succeed or fail based on a judgement to be made over the original registration. digitalDRUMMER, MAY 2011

dD: So, are you attempting to get the trademark back for yourself, or merely trying to prevent Guitar Center from using it? DS: I want to get my own name back for use on my own range of electronic percussion. (Editor’s note: Guitar Center was approached to explain its position, but did not respond to digitalDrummer’s questions.) dD: What are you doing these days and are you ever tempted to go back to e-drum development? DS: I’ve been very lucky to be able to repeat some success in a completely different industry. I like making new things, as you probably know, and 12 years ago, a friend and I designed a realistic training hand for the beauty industry. It was unique, we have worldwide patents on it and have built a successful international company around the product. I have a recording studio with Pro-tools in which I write my tunes, and a four-camera HD video studio where we produce films for training in beauty skills. I have kept up to date with most of the developments in the e-drum world and have a book full of designs and ideas for future e-drums, but it’s on hold until I can get the rights to my name back from Guitar Center. dD: There are still lots of original Simmons kits and various clubs, museums, tribute websites and the like. Do you still have much gear yourself and do you play it? And do you stay in touch with your fans or former artists? DS: Those museums are amazing, and I have a lot of respect for the guys that have put so much time into preserving the memory of the equipment. I don’t have a kit myself, but know some of the guys that still have it. I do have a barn full of parts and drawings and I’m still in contact with some of the guys who worked for me or used the equipment, some of them have helped me recently in my case with Guitar Center by writing statements pertaining to the reputation and worldwide standing of the brand in the ‘80s and through today, and I owe them a great deal of thanks. dD: Dave, thanks for sharing your thoughts and good luck in your quest to get your name back. We didn’t have space for all of the interview, and readers can find out your thoughts about contemporary gear and the future of e-drumming by clicking here. 39


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--profile--

...here’s Johnny The preview issue of digitalDrummer included an interview with clinician and performer Johnny Rabb who is now a columnist in our line-up. In the wake of repeated requests to republish that interview, here are some of Johnny’s thoughts on gear and gigging that he shared with editor Allan Leibowitz. digitalDrummer: You’ve been endorsed by both acoustic and electronic drum companies. What kits do you currently have at home and in the studio? Johnny Rabb: I have some acoustic drums and a Roland TD-20KX that I use for home studio projects – demos for people and drum tracks. I prefer to use v-drums and give them a MIDI file or a multi-track. That way, it’s got a digital sound and it’s very quick and it’s easy to engineer without having to use mics and recording gear. dD: What do you use for gigs? JR: With my band BioDiesel, I use a very small acoustic drum set-up – a 14” bass drum and a 14” snare – and a Roland SPDs (sampling pad) that’s triggering off Ableton Live. When I was in a rock band, U.S.S.A., I had a Pacific Drum set – a 24” kick, two floor toms and a snare. dD: So is there a reason you don’t gig with vdrums? 40

JR: It’s mainly that I travel a lot, so when I’m travelling, my acoustic kit is compact and easy to move around. Right now, I’m on the road so much, I use backline stuff. dD: Lots of bands still turn their noses up at electronic drums. What would you say to them? JR: You certainly can use v-drums live, but you have to take care of the amplification and monitoring. Make sure the front of house guy A/Vs them like they would an acoustic kit. You have lots of control over an electronic kit because there’s volume control and if you’re in a covers band or a band that goes from a rock thing to a techno thing, you can change your drum set with the touch of a button. I like that a lot. dD: Do you usually have a drum tech or do you set up yourself? JR: I would love to use a drum tech, but half the time, it’s just me. When I work with Roland, I have www.digitaldrummermag.com


PHOTO: PETE LOCKETT.COM

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dD: Drummers are often in the background but you, for example, seem to be the main focus of your bands. Where should drummers be?

great help, but I’ve never had a drum tech and I still set up my gear myself. At BioDiesel, we have a person that does multiple jobs and we’ve got to the point where 99% of the drum set will be ready for me now – and that’s a nice comfort. dD: When you set up, what are some of your tips and tricks? JR: The biggest thing is making sure the positioning of drums feels good. Even if you’re using someone else’s kit, taking the time to make sure it’s adjusted properly for yourself is vital. And then when you get it right, make sure you take the time to fasten it down because I’ve had so many dumb mistakes happen because I didn’t tighten down a small screw on the bass pedal or cymbals loosening up when wingnuts fly off. Gear is made to be taken apart, so it can loosen.

Rabb: You need balance. I’m very honoured and flattered when I get to do solo clinics because I get to play my own music. If I want to play a big fill or chops, I can and I’m not going to get fired. But I also like the idea of backing a band so you’re not the forefront because it’s such fun and I love music and I like to add to the song. So you need a balance of being able to play all styles or as many as you can and learning as much as possible and then finding your own voice, hopefully.

: p a r w Rabb

world’s e h t f o le itle ld the t ng 1,071 sing e dD: Especially with gravity and some h b b Ra teri enthusiastic bashing! Johnny ummer, regis dr conds. fastest e s JR: Absolutely. arnell 0 P 6 y n a i l C s nd stroke Rabb a pecialises in dD: Other musicians have quite a lot of control y n n h hs , Jo over what goes to the mixing desk. Guitarists In 2006 ioDiesel, whic Intelligent B dly have volume controls and the like, but when formed ly frien l a t n e nm you’re sitting behind the kit, there’s not a lot you "enviro usic". can do. You’re pretty dependent on whoever is M ical Dance er mus .A., a rock n' h t manning the mixing desk. What should we tell the o ’s Rabb U.S.S th bloke on the knobs to make sure we’re not drowned Johnny tions include eys, a duo wi ck oa out, but also not overpowering? collabr and Drum Jo rson (DJ t tte fi Rabb: You have to be careful, especially if you don’t roll out nist Chris Pa sio have your own sound man. If you run across percus b r). someone like a house sound man at a club, you can ny Rab n h o Krusha J is n get attitude. “Don’t tell me how to do my drums, I venture ed at NAMM i t s e t a l ch know how this place works” kind of thing. So try to His s, laun k c i t s m work with the sound guys – don’t tell them what to t dru ilable a 2011. a y v r a do. Also, I don’t like to run my drums with effects on a s u i n Ja ing ne train them – I just have a clean signal and a dry sound, i l n o ’s Johnny m365.com. so that makes it less complicated for the desk. ru digitalDRUMMER, MAY 2011 41 www.D


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PHOTO: TOONTRACK

--PRODUCTION--

H ow VSTs are produced When you see a VST pack, do you ever wonder how the samples got there? Chris Whitten, whose latest Toontrack offering, The Classic EZX, came out recently, has the back story. “THAT’S YOUR SNARE!” laughed record producer Paul Staveley O’Duffy the next time I saw him. He was referring to the debut single by new band Swing Out Sister. We’d both been working on their album on and off and I’d expressed consternation that one of the songs I didn’t play on, ‘Breakout’, had shot straight to the top of the charts. Presumably, O’Duffy saw his use of my snare sample, collected behind my back, as some kind of consolation prize.

Man Machine It was the mid-‘80s and as a freelance studio drummer, I’d become used to producers adding my drum sounds to their own sound libraries. Sampling 42

was still in its infancy and pretty basic. My first experiences were around 1981/82, when a single sample, usually of a snare drum, could be captured in a digital delay unit, then triggered by a pulse, often a heavily gated live snare performance. At first, a drum might be sampled off-tape on the day of the session, but then as sample storage became possible, producers would carry personal sample libraries from session to session. In fact, they regularly had me play individual drums after a successful recording session, allowing them to employ my drum sounds even when they didn’t employ me. One drawback of not employing me, or any other www.digitaldrummermag.com


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drummer, was the sheer amount of time and effort involved in assembling a believable drum performance from a collection of un-dynamic, singleshot drum samples. That heralded the next chapter of the sampling story: the drum loop. With dedicated hardware samplers like the Ensoniq Mirage, Akai S900 and the Fairlight (which had the same price tag as a small London house), longer pieces of stereo audio could be captured and stored. So the sounds and feel of the drummer were now sampled. A real creative revolution was born when musicians realised they could sample any drum groove from any record. As the 1980s turned into the ‘90s, and I set off on a couple of years touring with artists like Paul McCartney and Dire Straits, who played everything live, the music that had me glued to my Walkman was all samplebased - Soul II Soul, Public Enemy, Italo House, early Rave and Electro.

Making Movies Fast forward to the end of the 1990s, and I’d swapped the departure lounge at Heathrow airport for a small computer-based studio at my home in South London. I was writing and recording music for television, mainly documentaries, which allowed me to indulge my two long-held passions - analogue synthesizers and dance/electronica-influenced music. Here’s how the scene played out. Directors would edit their film using commercially recorded music as a temporary score. Towards the end of the edit period, the producer and director would start looking for a composer to write original music, often guided by the temp score. Well, there’s no doubt which music was popular with documentary film makers in the 1990s: the ‘Endtroducing’ album by DJ Shadow, anything by minimalist composer Philip Glass, and Craig Armstrong, a Scottish composer/arranger who’d worked with Massive Attack and Bjork and scored Baz Luhrmann’s movie ‘Romeo & Juliet’. Both DJ Shadow and Armstrong were heavy users of loops and radically processed audio. Not having the time or financial backing to legally clear audio sampled from other people’s music, like most other film composers at the time, I was using commercially available drum sample collections. This seemed a bit crazy as I was a competent drummer myself, albeit working out of a bedroom digitalDRUMMER, MAY 2011

studio. So in 1999, I teamed up with good friend and record producer Peter Henderson and embarked on a series of fairly loose and impromptu recording dates. The goal was to create our own personal loop library. Initialy, we chose a couple of the best studios in London. But soon we realised the secret to a great drum loop was something more quirky, even lo-fi. We started to seek out the low-budget, offthe-beaten-track studio. And the sessions got wilder. We dug out the most unusual mics the studio owned. I would buy unusual drum head combinations and tune the drums oddly. After each day-long session, we’d spend a few days mixing the multi-tracks down to stereo loops in my home studio, often mangling the drum sounds through my extensive modular synth collection. Towards the end of 12 months doing this, we realised we had so much material that it might be of interest to other people, perhaps even a sample CD production company. This proved to be the case and in 2001 our drum loop sample CD, ‘Monster Beats’, was released by Zero-G. Even as we completed ‘Monster Beats’, I realised the limitations of drum loops. Basically, if the loop didn’t fit in style or tempo, you were screwed. The most flexible solution for drum programmers would be the multi-sampled drum kit: the ‘virtual’ drum kit.

London Callin’ The two main virtual drum instruments in 2004, BFD (FXpansion) and Drum Kit From Hell (Toontrack), were both understandably aimed at the widest user base, with a roomy, rock/pop sound. Peter and I saw a need for an alternative, so we contacted Toontrack, telling them what we’d been doing with our loop sampling and sending them some examples of some drum sounds we thought would make a great addition to their product range. Toontrack agreed. In the course of recording drum loops, we’d come across a small studio equipped with a rare EMI TGI recording console. The sound of my drums through 43


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Chris at work producing “hundreds of individual samples”. the console’s pre-amps was fantastic, and as the studio, 2Khz Studios, happened to have a dry room (contrasting the normal ambient rock sound), we suggested this as the perfect venue for our multisample recordings. Although I’d done some multisample drum recordings back in the ‘80s, neither Peter nor I had any idea how Toontrack structured their recording sessions. Mattias Ecklund, the creative force behind all Toontrack recordings, suggested we book four days at the studio and added he would travel to London and run the session so we would know what to do. Before the first recording day, Peter and I discussed the various drums I had available and which ones we might want to record first up. Also, as luck would have it, 2Khz was a short distance up the road from the best drum rental company in London. Day one started like any recording session. I set up my main drum kit, tuned it and was ready to go. Meanwhile, Peter had determined the microphone selection he wanted to use. I left that side of things to him because I totally trusted his judgement in the recording process, and we had Mattias to guide us overseeing the recording from Toontrack’s perspective. We then spent a few hours with me playing the whole kit or parts of the kit while Peter moved mics, adjusted input levels, tried EQ, and so on. The approach was the same as a normal album tracking session. With half the day already gone, it was finally time to start committing some recordings to hard disc. It 44

PHOTO: TOONTRACK

was then I realised the contrast between a musical collaboration, exciting and rewarding; and a sampling session, rather more tedious and less rewarding. As we worked our way through the kit, Mattias described the samples he needed and listened intently as I attempted to deliver. Not as easy as I thought, and straight away I realised all the pressure was on me.

Under Pressure On a regular recording session, I might play a song through three or more times. Speed was the key: a first- or second-take performance was the goal. Then I could take a break while the drum takes were listened through and finally okayed by the producer and songwriter, or while a bass part was fixed up, or a guide guitar part was added if I’d been tracking alone. On the sampling session, it was all about me. From the first drum stroke of the day to the last, I was ‘on’. The virtual drum software demands hundreds of individual samples, all as closely related as possible, and without any imperfections or extraneous noises. Rather than playing a kit as a whole instrument in context with other musical sounds, you are playing a single tom, for example, with the sonic microscope in full effect. Suddenly, it seemed any skin rumble, or pesky snare buzz, sounded twice as loud as it would as part of a drum fill. The other shocking realisation is the need for absolute consistency - not only within the single drum, but across the kit, then across the day and www.digitaldrummermag.com


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across the whole recording process. I always thought of myself as a consistent player. I’d been brought in to replace drummers on their album sessions because I could give very consistent results, like playing the drums the same volume from beginning to end of a song, even playing the same fills from one take to another, when the band’s drummers couldn’t. But this, as I soon realised, required a much deeper level of consistency. You might be sampling the softest hits on a 12” tom, for instance. There are no VU meters on the drum or anywhere near your kit, so you have to use your ear and touch to determine the right velocity stroke to achieve a group of consistent soft hits. Then you switch to a 14” tom. You may spend some time sampling louder hits, but when you eventually get to the soft hits, those hits on the 14” tom need to match, both in loudness and tone, the softest hits recorded earlier on the 12” tom. You might spend the rest of the day recording snare drums and cymbals, on which the softest hits should still match those recorded on the toms. Over the next few days, you will record other toms, with different heads and tunings, but all the soft hits should match the ones first recorded on the 12” tom on day one. The same is true of the loudest hits and all the hits in between. If the utmost consistency isn’t there, your drum sample product will jump around unacceptably in tone and volume once the user is selecting drum choices from the menu in the software. Likewise, if you are recording rimshots on a snare drum, each one has to have an identical brightness of attack, the identical mix of head and hoop in the stroke. You need the stick to target the same one-inch zone on the drum head. Stray from that and the rimshot will

have more overtones, more ring to it. Again, this continues across several days of snare drum recordings. You spend a couple of hours sampling one snare drum with sticks. Then you do it all again, this time with brushes, and then again with hot rods. In the end, as the drummer, you find yourself sitting with tight shoulders arching upward and maybe even an irregular breathing pattern as you attempt each perfect stroke and wait for the resonance to die away, hoping not to hear a squeak from the drum stool, or a gasp as you breathe out, after having held your breath for the 30 seconds it took to hit a floor tom and let it speak its full sustain. I soon realised this wasn’t the fun, creative process I was used to after years of recording songs. But I understood this was a means to an end, a necessary evil. The enjoyment and satisfaction would come with the finished product, using the drum software myself and seeing others happily using it. At the end of four days, we’d recorded most of what we’d set out to do, but still had some great cymbals and snare drums from my collection that remained untouched in their cases. We decided to book a second session, but would use the hiatus as an opportunity to listen to what we’d recorded so far and make note of any specifics we needed to cover more effectively on a second visit to the studio. This we did a few weeks later. Chris continues his explanation next edition, when we discover how the samples are produced and turned into VSTs. In the meanwhile, check out his latest expansion pack for Toontrack here.

www. ear eckon. com digitalDRUMMER, MAY 2011

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--tweaking--

PHOTO: MACKIE

Sounds better iin n sstereo tereo In this tweaking guide, tune-up supremo Simon Ayton asks how many ears you see in the mirror. If the answer is two, then why are you connecting your kit in mono? Even if your kit only has left and right outputs, there are numerous ways to improve its sound through any sound system.

AS YOU’LL (HOPEFULLY!) be aware by now, when any drum is played in a room, we hear the direct sound waves that come from it as well as from any effects of the reflected sound bouncing around the room. Depending on many factors like how hard the drum is hit, where the listener stands, the shape of the space, types of furnishings, density of the air in the room, etc., the sound arrives at our left and right ears at slightly different times. These differences in the time and volume levels allow our brains to build a three-dimensional image of the space, making it possible for us to locate it in the given space. 46

Unfortunately, as we are mostly still dealing with relatively ancient left and right speaker setups, we are lumbered with the job of trying to get the widest and most realistic drum sound out of often crude and outdated front of house (FOH) sound systems found in venues around the world. The fact that sound engineers themselves are far too often at a loss for what to do when confronted with your electronic kit on stage is no help. So it’s up to us drummers to educate the engineers about how drums should sound - both on stage for all band members and for the paying punters out front. www.digitaldrummermag.com


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Important points on stereo vs. mono

Kit in stereo:

Two channels doesn’t necessarily mean stereo!

Output Left (use alone for mono) KIT L => Front of house mixer pan hard left

Take, for example, the kit connections on the Roland TD9 module. There’s a Left and Right. Note that the Left output also serves as the Mono output. To hear the effect of listening in mono, block an ear with a finger or earplug and close your eyes. Standing at some distance, get someone to strike a drum in a room. First thing you’ll tend to do is stand side-on and point your ear in the direction of the sound. Determining the position source of the sound now comes down to a crude case of where it’s loudest. With both ears open, the position of the source is much more obvious regardless of level. To understand the fundamental significance of the role air plays in transmitting sound waves throughout the space, sound can only exist where there’s air; so without it, there would be silence (even if the player had an oxygen tank!). To hear an electronic kit in full stereo, you generally don’t need to change the mixer panorama or ‘pan’ settings. All good kits these days are shipped with stereo use in mind, so all the pans will already be adjusted to give you a stereo output as long as you have the left and right outputs connected to either a single stereo channel of a mixer or two mono channels on the mixer with their pans set hard left and hard right. The internal mixer of the drum brain itself should already be adjusted so that the drums are spaced out in their logical positions: tom 1, slightly right; hihats, slightly right; ride, slightly left; kick and snare, centred; etc. Plugging only out of the Left (mono) output will do all the work necessary for you to get a spatially centred and volume-balanced, single-mono output from the kit if you really only have one channel available for drums at the FOH, but this is not ideal.

Output Right KIT R => Front of house mixer pan hard right Kit in dual channel use: Running the snare out of one channel and the rest of the kit out of the other output helps the FOH engineer have more control. In the mixer settings of the kit, pan the snare hard left and the rest of the instruments in the kit hard right. Make sure you turn off the ‘Ambience’ of the kit to avoid any spill of the snare coming through the ambience effect into the right channel, etc. See your manual for this. Note this generally needs to be done for each programmed kit you will be using, as the pan and effects will be different for each kit and not ‘global’ settings that affect every kit. This is the least desirable way of connecting the kit as it also offers the least control over the sound. If you have a record function on your kit (as do the Roland TD series kits), the best way to check the sound out the front Is to simply record yourself playing for a minute or so, starting with individual strikes of each instrument of the kit and finishing with playing some ‘time’ or groove which increases in intensity and complexity so you can get an accurate sense of how the kit will sound. If possible, the idea is to play one of the songs you’ll be playing so that the other band members can play to your phantom playing while you stand out the front with the punters (and heckle perhaps?). Be sure to save this sound-check to your kit or a USB stick if possible.

TIPS:

Getting started:

Avoid direct inject (DI) boxes where possible. Connect the outputs of the kit directly into two line inputs on the FOH mixer where possible to avoid loss of signal through the DI. 20 foot runs are possible from most good quality line output level kits. Use a joined pair or matching good quality leads.

Before proceeding and in order to start from a fresh slate, I recommend you take note of or save any custom kit settings to a standard USB stick so you can recall any custom kits if needed and then perform a factory reset to get back to the shipped settings and original pan/mixer settings. (See page 60 of the TD-9 manual).

Your ‘on stage’ monitor levels can be in stereo, even if the front of house engineer is listening in mono. Simply use an ‘insert’ cable. These are available with a stereo, quarter-inch three-pole TRS jack on one end and two mono two-pole jacks on the other end.

Never connect only the Right Out when trying to run in mono as the output will be low and you will only hear instruments that are panned to the right channel; the ones in the left channel will be nonexistent or very quiet.

digitalDRUMMER, MAY 2011

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Plug the stereo end into the Headphone Out of the kit and the other two ends into a stereo monitor system like Roland’s PM-30 or even a pair of powered wedges next to your kit - left and right on stage - for a great stereo sound. Beware that the output from the headphones is much hotter than the output from the Line Outs, so if your monitor wedges have a ’20 dB pad’ or similar, try it with this switched in first and the volume of the monitor wedges turned down to reduce the chance of the monitors clipping.

Two drum fill wedges, please? Important: Electronic instruments live or die by the sound system. Many venues have the obligatory beer- and sweatcaked single drum monitor speaker up the back in the usual drum kit position for a bit of vocals and guitar for the drummer, but that’s just not going to cut it for electronic drums on stage. Remember that a big part of the depth and volume that can help acoustic drums sound great at a venue is the fact that so much of the sound is coming from the drums themselves, which helps everyone on stage to connect musically and visually with what the drummer’s playing - and also connects the audience by helping to draw attention towards the stage which, in turn, hopefully puts the focus on the music and performance. Out the front, things can also improve significantly as the depth of the image becomes more 3D (as discussed earlier) as sound is now coming both directly off the stage and from the speakers. Now that’s more like it! With electronic drums, at best, nothing of any musical worth comes from the instrument itself, so the sound system is absolutely everything! Good sound both on stage and out the front, I believe, is where we will have to hear major developments for electronic drums in the future. Often simply asking the mix or foldback/monitor engineer to send some drums to the on-stage monitor wedges will help fill out the stage sound, which will really help band-mates play in time with you. But for the drummer, there’s really no substitute for good clean stereo in-ear monitoring, preferably where the drummer can adjust how much of each band member they want to hear. If in-ears are not available, the engineer might be able to position a second (hopefully matching) drum fill so you have monitor speakers left and right of your kit. As for some low-end boom, signals fed to sub speakers generally pass through a crossover network first which rolls off the high end and only 48

lets signals below a selectable frequency ‘pass’ ie: LPF (low pass filter), so even if the engineer sends some of your entire kit from the mixer to the subs, you’ll only hear the low thump from the kick and toms and possibly some whack from the snare, while the main speakers will handle everything else. For the ultimate, a sub speaker placed behind the kit with some drum signal sent to it can really help you get that great kick in the pants you require.

Get Perspective! If you’re a right-handed drummer, you’ll most likely want the ride cymbal to come more from the left FOH speaker and the hi-hat more from the right so it makes sense from the audience’s perspective. (Opposite for lefties, please!). On the flipside, you will want to reverse any connections for your stereo on-stage monitoring so that the ride comes more from the right stage monitor speaker and the hi-hat from the left. Sound-check your kit by recording yourself and have the band play along so you can verify the engineer’s comments and get a better idea of how the kit, sound system, room (and band!) is sounding in the venue. Walk around the entire room and even sit at the bar for a bit to hear any nasty areas and, if possible, consider blocking off the bad areas to avoid bad sounds in the space - although blocking off the bar may not be a wise option? Mixer level adjustments that can work well for live gigging. A kit mix that sounds great for solo practice won’t necessarily cut it in the band context. You’ll always need more snare and kick at least to help the rhythm drive the music. As a good reference start point, turn the snare up to full and the kick near full and the toms at around 90, with the hi-hat and cymbals around 80 and 75. This gives a more band-friendly balance with the music and ensures the vital backbone of the rhythm remains loud and clear. If possible, adjust the curve shapes in the trigger settings of the kit for each pad to better optimise the response of the kit to your particular playing style and to suit the music you’re playing. These are often global settings that affect all kits in the sound module, so they only need to be set up once and the master kit settings saved. Once you’ve got it all sounding good, save the entire ‘backup’ of the kit (Roland TD-9 to USB stick, TD-20 to flashcard) with the name of the venue, which makes it quicker to load the exact settings the next time you (fingers crossed) roll through town! www.digitaldrummermag.com


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Missed a review? Using the search function and the archive option, you can search back issues for any content, including our reviews and head-to-head comparisons.

Here is a summary of our reviews to date: January 2010:

October 2010

Reviews:

Reviews:

Yamaha DTX M-12

Roland HPD-10

Korg Wavedrum

JamHub

Roland TD-8

682Drums e-conversion kit

Comparatives:

Comparatives:

Amps and Powered Speakers

Double pedals

April 2010

Notation software

Reviews:

February 2011

Diamond Electronic Drums custom 12� snare

Comparatives:

Crappy Triggers external triggers

Drumsticks

Jman cymbal conversion kit

E-cymbals (stick noise)

Comparatives:

Cymbal VSTs – Bosphorus vs Zildjian

Mesh heads Headphones

July 2010 Comparatives: External Triggers Racks

Your definitive guide to e-drum gear


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--DIY--

Making our own head: marking carefully, threading the hose and the finished product.

I t ’s t u f f , b u t i t ’s a ls o to ugh goi ng COST-CONSCIOUS E-DRUMMERS have for some time been making their own mesh heads and the materials of choice to date have been insect screentype products. An enthusiast recently added a Kevlar-type cloth to the mix, launching a website to sell the Tuff Mesh material. According to the website, “Tuff Mesh is a space-age material designed to stand the test of time! It is an extremely tough, resilient and durable dyneema product that won’t stretch!” The fabric is sold unmounted and it’s up to buyers to find their own way of attaching it to a hoop. The product’s strength is its biggest weakness, and buyers have found it difficult to mount using traditional methods like gluing or sewing. So the seller came up with a “very easy” installation method. The method requires the insertion of tubing into holes or slits in the fabric. To test the mesh head alternative, I worked with Rob Duggan, an experienced DIYer with lots of trade skills. Rob had previously tried to follow the installation directions on a 20” bass drum, only to find it impossible to create enough tension using the 50

tube method. However, in the process, he did discover an easier method for making the holes required to thread the hose through the fabric. As I documented the process, Rob measured, marked and prepared the fabric for a 12” head, following the instructions closely. It would be fair to say that this was not a simple process, and even armed with the experience of a trial run, it took around 50 minutes from laying a hoop on the fabric to pulling the completed head onto the shell. The construction is actually quite complicated because the position of the tubing will determine the fit on the shell – and, in turn, the maximum tension that is possible. In our case, Rob’s measurements were fairly accurate, but even then, the head needed to be tightened very hard to sit evenly on the shell, and the finished product has the hoop much lower than any of our bought heads. This experience is not uncommon, and a number of DIYers report similarly high head positions. However, a few millimeters the other way, and the opposite could be true – the heads would sit too low on the drum. This may be a cause for concern. www.digitaldrummermag.com


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What about performance? I chose a 12” head - not because I needed one after assembling a huge collection for the digitalDrummer review - but precisely so that I could test it against our previous benchmarks. Using the testing rig from the last review, the Tuff Mesh registered a range of 79dB (controlled hit) to 85dB (full hit). The controlled hit is certainly in the acceptable range (heads in the previous test measured 76dB to 81dB). The real surprise is in the top end, where Tuff Mesh is actually significantly quieter than most heads in our previous test – which measured from 85-95dB. That said, the tone of the Tuff Mesh is much, much lower than any of the other heads tested, possibly due to its density. The material is a crisp cream colour and almost totally opaque due to its thick strands and tight weave, and is quite attractive-looking. To do a 12” head, one needs a 14”x14” piece of Tuff Mesh, which sells for $12.99 plus postage. You will also need a couple of bucks worth of tubing and some reasonably sharp cutting implements – and an hour or so to do the work. So, depending on how

you value your time, these guys can be a cheaper alternative to the real thing. One advantage they should have, however, is durability. There’s no doubt this stuff is tough, and after a couple of months of playing – and some serious tension - the head is still looking as good as new. And there’s no sign of fraying on any of the cuts. Bottom line: The Tuff Mesh material is excellent and if anyone started selling it in ready-made heads, all the other manufacturers could be seriously challenged. It performs well, but the one potential problem might be the mounting process, which is not easy. I know of at least one failed effort and $13 worth of mesh in the trashcan, but there are obviously many edrummers who have managed the DIY successfully. My advice would be to buy more than you need so that you can cope with any disasters, and don’t try this unless you have some confidence in your craftsmanship. If you have the time and the skills, this will certainly work for you. If you don’t, it might not. -Allan Leibowitz

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--diy--

The low-down on hi-hats Whether you’re building a trigger from scratch or doing a home repair, digitalDrummer can help. Philippe Decuyper will find the answers to your DIY dilemmas. Just email your questions to editor@digitaldrummermag.com. This month’s question is from Ho Gaik Kim in Malaysia, who asks: “How do I make the module register the open and closed hi-hat sound? I’m converting an acoustic hi-hat together with the hi-hat pedal. Is it possible?”

GETTING A REALISTIC hi-hat simulation from electronic drums has probably been one of the most challenging things over the past 20 years of e-drums improvements, but some amazing results have been achieved. Basically, an electronic hi-hat is made of two separate parts: a pad and a controller. The first-ever controller to be used was a simple foot switch. To understand how it works, we need to remember that in the General MIDI context, three notes are assigned to hi-hat: Closed, Open and Pedal. Some modules (older ones especially) are able to send the right note, depending on actions of the switch. 52

A hit on the hi-hat pad will then be translated to a ‘Closed’ note if the switch is ‘On’ or an ‘Open’ note if not. Some modules were even capable of sending a ‘Pedal’ note when this switch was going from ‘Off’ to ‘On’ position. Modern modules generally conform to this norm because they cannot anticipate what may be connected to their MIDI port. And the General MIDI reference is usually followed by conscientious manufacturers and software developers. While three states and a switch can be great to control electronic sounds, it is not enough to satisfy the demands for good acoustic hi-hat simulation. www.digitaldrummermag.com


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The ‘mechanical feeling’

What can you build yourself?

A real hi-hat stand does not feel like a switch, and this created a challenge for designers who replaced the old foot switch with a variable controller and shaped it like a hi-hat pedal.

There are various DIY designs available on the Internet. Most are based on a slide potentiometer.

The next stage, obviously, is the simulation of the movement of the hi-hat cymbal itself. How does it work?

It progressively applies a bigger resistance as the pedal is released. In the MIDI domain, it is not that different from the ModWheel of a MIDI keyboard. Depending on the applied resistance, a MIDI Continuous Controller (CC) is sent on changes, corresponding to the level of openness. It has up to 128 different values, which are probably more than enough! So, one MIDI note and this CC value provide fairly detailed information about what you are currently doing with your hi-hat. Two notes are even better, in the case of a dual-zone pad. Moreover, your module will keep sending multiple notes (Open, Closed, Pedal), so it is able to control samplers, expanders or virtual instruments that do not make use of the CC data as an indication of the hi-hat openness.

PHOTO: GERALD LANGENFELD

A hi-hat controller usually acts as a single potentiometer. Its resistance is null (as if it was replaced by a wire) when the pedal is fully “closed”.

Some are simpler to achieve than others, but they may be built around a resistor array, a potentiometer or even a stock hi-hat controller - all designed to achieve variable resistance values. I have seen some DIYers attaching an FD-7 to a hihat stand. This is a very interesting idea. All you have to do is remove the pedal of a classic acoustic hi-hat stand and replace it with a stock controller. Obviously, some stands are better designed for this conversion than others. You may have to craft a small piece of metal to fix your foot controller to the chain of your stand, but you can certainly get great results and a quite good feeling without having to deal with complex assemblies. However, to accommodate the full range of your stock controller, you may find the movement of the cymbal somewhat limited. If you want to build your controller from scratch, the trick is to use a potentiometer to follow the vertical range of the cymbal. Actually, the variable resistor is to an e-hi-hat what a piezo is to a pad.

All that remains is to build a suitable housing for it. You can use a metal wire (or even a metal bar) attached to both your pedal and the slide potentiometer (in Mechanical solution: An FD-7 the case of a wire, a spring must connected to an acoustic When using a dual-zone pad, be added to help the slide stand. more than three notes can be potentiometer to retrieve its top sent: Open/Bow, Open/Edge, position). And don’t Closed/Bow, Closed/Edge, Pedal. Some modules underestimate the importance of the potentiometer. even send up to eight notes. Some drum Choosing the right potentiometer is a critical first samplers/expanders take care of these nuances, step in the build process. Its length and ohm value while some virtual instruments (eg. some Toontrack depend on a range of factors which are beyond the products) can even amazingly “transmute” from scope of this introduction. some sounds to others. There are other design approaches, but they are You will, however, have to assign the same note to even more complex. They involve photoresistors, different articulations if you want to control a MIDI FSRs (Roland FD-Series) or Hall Effect Sensors device which provides only three hi-hat articulations. (Clavia/DDrum) and they are not as easy to implement as they tend to require additional Setting your module the right way depends on the electronics. MIDI destination and the module itself. digitalDRUMMER, MAY 2011

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--gear--

MyMONSTERkit

They’re obviously big Down Under. This month’s Monster Kit hails from Coffs Harbour, Australia, where it was put together by Ian Power. Ian’s story:

Drum equipment:

About two years ago, I made a conscious decision to stop denying myself the pull towards drumming and abandoned my bass playing days (still love to pick it up though). I started with a Legacy DD-501 (a VERY cheap electronic kit) to make sure it was what I wanted to do, as acoustic volume was an issue in my leafy suburban street. I quickly outgrew the "toy", and finally bit the bullet and purchased a slightly upgraded Roland TD-8 kit.

Modules:

The GAS bug bit me, and I started to upgrade little bits here and there to begin with: a cymbal, a better throne, then a TD-20 module. Then I purchased a set of VH-12s for serious hi-hat work. Then a bigger snare and kick. More cymbals. That was the problem with the TD-20: too many inputs to fill!! Now I use all four tom inputs split, and have four low and four high toms. My most recent modification is the slick brushed aluminium "pimped out" tom shells. 54

Roland TD-20 Expanded Roland TD-3 Roland SPD-S multi-pad Pads: PD-125 5 x PD-85 4 x 10" Alchemy Ecoustic Toms 2 x 8" Alchemy Ecoustic Toms Cymbals: VH-12 3 x CY-12R 1 x CY-15R 1 x Kit-Toy 8" Splash 1 x 13" Kit-Toy China www.digitaldrummermag.com


For their own safety, digitalDrummer advises impulse purchase-prone readers to avoid this feature.

WARNING...WARNING...WARNING

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Above: Ian and the kit.

Hardware: Chrome rack enhanced with ball-joint mounts KD-120 kick DW7000 dual kick pedal DXP hi-hat stand Generic ‘mildly comfortable’ drum throne Headphone amp: Behringer HA-400

digitalDRUMMER, MAY 2011

Right: Roland TD-3 and TD-20 modules. Below: Ian’s new brushed aluminium 8” and 10” Alchemy Ecoustic toms. If you have a monster, email us your details.

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gear Guide SOUND SOURCE

TRAINING

DIY GEAR

CONVERSION KITS

www.stealthdrums.com

Acoustic elegance Stealth electronics

www.stealthdrums.com 56

www.digitaldrummermag.com


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gear Guide CUSTOM DRUMS/KITS

CABLE LABELS

SOFTWARE

MARKETING

VDrumLib allows you to create custom drum kit libraries for your Roland V-Drum module. The same simple user interface is employed for all of the following Roland V-Drum modules: TD-3, TD-6, TD-8, TD-9, TD-10, TD-10EXP, TD-12, TD-20 & TDW-20 VDrumLib is trialware, so it is FREE for you to try. If you wish to continue using it beyond the 10-day trial period, a license can be purchased for $19.99.

GOING GOING GONE This space for less than $200 CLICK HERE

digitalDRUMMER, MAY 2011

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digitalDrummer May 2011 preview  

Preview of free online magazine, digitalDrummer

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