A Digital Hit
Dynacord Percuter S
Digital drums the Dynacord way. Or as Nigel Lord would put it, a better-than-average electronic drum kit at a higher-than-average price. Is the Percuter worth the extra?
The Dynacord drum system is finally beginning to make its way into British shops, with some well-built pads and a voice module storing eight digitally-sampled sounds at its centre.
Dynacord's electronic drum system has been in existence, in some form or other, for over two years. It's a modular affair, with the basic digital drum voice unit (Percuter S — formerly just Percuter) designed for use with an add-on sequencer called the Big Brain and a custom sampling unit titled Boomer. Neither of the latter has yet made it into the UK in any numbers, so when I unpacked the carton of review goodies from Dynacord's British distributor, I found myself with a complete set of pads and stands, an eight-channel controller and a whole bagful of plug-in voice cartridges, including bass drums, snares, toms, timbales and rimshots. Quite a wide range, in fact, though by no means as extensive as the complete catalogue from which they were chosen, which currently lists some 60 different drum, cymbal and percussion voices.
In essence, what we have here is a set of electro-pads triggering a central control unit which is, to all intents and purposes, empty of sounds until one or more of the plug-in ROM cartridges is inserted into any of eight sockets on the front panel.
If you've yet to be swayed by Audi's 'Vorsprung durch Technik' TV ads, Dynacord's drum pads will convince you there's nothing to match German standards of build quality consistency. They're beautifully designed, functional, and extremely robust. All of them have steel rims which, though they may look to some eyes as though they've been fashioned from carpet strip, are remarkably tough. Physically, at least, these are the best electro-pads currently available.
The snare pad is worthy of particular attention. It has two trigger outputs, one on the pad itself, the other on the rim. Dynacord have solved the problem of cross-triggering by suspending the inner pad from a 'skirt' of flexible rubber fastened to the rim, effectively isolating one from the other. This has the added advantage of making the inner pad truly 'floating' — it actually moves very slightly when you hit it, simulating the action of a real drum more closely than any electronic competitor I've tried.
The snare unit also features a Balance control to adjust the relative levels of the pad and rim trigger signals, and like all the other pads, is equipped with locking jack sockets to help prevent plugs being dislocated during a performance.
All the stands are off-the-shelf Tama models with a proven track record for sturdiness and durability, and require no further elaboration here.
Sadly, the Germans are guilty of a little excessive trumpet-blowing when it comes to naming their machines. 'Percuter S' is reasonable enough (though quite what it actually means, I'm not sure), but to describe the device on its front panel as an 'eight-track digital drum computer' is downright misleading. How can a piece of equipment which merely 'reads' the internal contents of eight plug-in ROM cartridges be a computer? OK, some of the technology involved may have been derived from computer circuitry, but that isn't really enough. Similarly, the 'eight-track' part is rather confusing since 'track' is a word much more usually associated with tape or sequencer recording. Surely 'channel' would have been more appropriate?
Plugging in the cartridges is simplicity itself, with little or no room for error. The cartridges are as robust as the rest of the system, for unlike, say, those of the Simmons SDS9, these ROMs are totally encapsulated, with two short lengths of printed circuit board being used as connectors, rather than the pins of the chips themselves. That said, it's purely the thickness of the PCB metal which makes the connection, and I can envisage this being worn through with excessive cartridge-changing. Time will tell.
I can also envisage some cartridges getting plugged in upside-down (all too easy under stage lighting conditions, for example), and though no damage appears to ensue if this does happen, I'd have thought it easy enough for Dynacord to design a plug/socket combination which could only be coupled one way round.
The eight Percuter S channels are identical, which makes interchangeability of voices and pads very straightforward, and allows you to set up the kit itself in imaginative ways (like assigning the bass drum to the snare rim, for example). Controls on each channel are few, and comprise simply Sensitivity, Pitch (with associated on/off switch) and Pan.
These are all pretty self-explanatory, and anyway, only the Pitch control offers the musician any real say in determining the sound. A little control can go a long way, though, as the Pitch function's mammoth ±1-octave range (well, it's a lot in percussion terms) means that a snare voice, for example, can be taken from bass drum pitch to well above that of a timbale. The sound produced at these two extremes isn't always useful in the conventional drum-kit sense, mind you, and I found the control to be of far more value when used over a more limited range, to fine-tune each drum sound to a specific pitch. With this in mind, the on/off switch comes in useful in allowing you to compare the original drum pitch with the tuned version at a single touch. A master Pitch control raises or lowers the pitch of all eight channels by a further half-octave.
Rear panel connections — in addition to the obligatory pad inputs and individual channel outs — comprise Mono/Stereo mix outputs, a Multi Trigger In (for connection to the Big Brain programmer), and a Remote Pitch socket, which, on connection to a footpedal, allows external control of the master Pitch function.
Unhappily, none of the eight or so cymbal and hi-hat sounds in the Dynacord range was present in the selection of ROM cartridges supplied for review. Given the demands a crash cymbal, for example, can make on a digital storage system, this was an unfortunate omission.
Undaunted, I went on to try all the cartridges I was supplied with, and this is how they sounded.
Natural Snare 8" had a good all-round quality, and succeeded in going quite deep. Metal Snare 6½" was hollow, quite dry and slightly damped; it didn't sound too much like a metal drum to me. Rock Snare 1 was rather hollow and undamped, with a loose snare sound; a studio engineer wouldn't like it, but with a little reverb added, it could be quite useful. Rock Snare 2 was a more extreme version of Rock Snare 1, which even I didn't like. Electrified Snare 1 was short, with a slight pitchbend and little snare sound, yet it's probably more useful than it looks on paper. Reggae Snare was utterly wonderful — a very live sound with a pleasant metallic ring to it, and bundles of character. It works especially well when assigned to the snare rim. Natural Rimshot was good on the whole, despite lacking a little in the way of top end. Handclaps wasn't terribly convincing as an imitation of the real thing, but as a sound in its own right, quite useful. Rock Toms 8"/10"/12"/13" were generally very good, and surprisingly deep considering the size of the sampled drums. They had what I can only describe as a 'recorded' feel to them, so that you could almost hear the distance between the drums and the mic. But they are all different — it's nice to see they've been generated from recordings of separate drums, rather than simply one sample replayed at different pitches. Natural Toms 10"/12"/13"/16" had a simpler sound than the rock toms, but with plenty of attack. The 16" was a little dead, and all seemed slightly damped. Generally excellent, though, and again, all were samples from different drums. Rock Bass had a lot of snare noise added to it. Some might like it, but it didn't sound much like a bass drum to me: interesting, nonetheless. Natural Bass was nice and tight, with a pleasing slap. With clever use of the Pitch control, this could provide a wealth of usable bass drum sounds. Timbales 10"/12" were both very realistic, and cut through a mix beautifully.
Overall, then, an extremely high standard of voices — and I think it's fair to assume this is maintained across the entire range of Dynacord drum cartridges. You can't really challenge the realism of the sound itself because, presumably, all the recordings have been made from genuine instruments. What you can do with a number of digital drum systems is find fault with the quality of the recording and the instruments used, but I'm happy to report that Dynacord seem to have spared no expense here.
From an electronic drum standpoint, the weightiest, most annoying problem with sampled sound is the high level of quantisation noise which frequently accompanies digital recordings, but again, I'm pleased to report that on the Dynacord voices I tried, this was kept to an impressively low level.
An overall appraisal of this setup is a little difficult without the accompanying Big Brain and Boomer. Both machines have excellent paper specifications, and there seems little point doubting the integrity of their construction, but even so, I'll have to defer final judgement until we get our hands on some production review samples.
On their own, the Percuter S' accomplishments are clearly more modest. It's confined to digitally-sampled sounds, it's a bit on the expensive side, and it prevents you from doing much sound-changing of your own: if you don't like a particular factory sample, you're pretty much stuck with it.
Even so, I feel it's a system that has a lot going for it, particularly for those who don't wish to get too heavily involved in the sound synthesis side of electronic percussion. I know of no better set of pads, and Dynacord's habit of using metal where others use plastic is certainly to be applauded, especially on instruments that could well have to endure a hard life on the road.
As I write this, Dynacord are beavering away adding to their range of electro percussion products, preparing to unveil both the Rhythm Stick (a MIDI-based remote drum controller that you sling round your neck like a guitar) and the ADD-one advanced digital drum system at Frankfurt.
If they're as well built as the Percuter S, the Germans will have a mighty professional percussion system on their hands.
Price Percuter S and pads, approx £1000, stands extra; cartridges £TBA
More from Washburn UK, (Contact Details)
Review by Nigel Lord
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!