Boss Dr Pad Drum Pads
Giving a whole new meaning to the phrase 'beat box'... Tony Reed tries Roland's sound six-pack
For the acoustic drummer who wants to add some unusual sounds to a kit, for the owner of a cheap drum machine looking to beef up its sounds, and for the percussionist or poseur who feels the need to belt something while on stage, stand alone electronic drum pads have a lot going for them. This being the 1980s, it's sampled sounds that everyone wants, and consequently, it's sampled sounds that everyone gets. Simmons did it with their SDS-1; ddrums did it with, yes, their ddrums, and now Roland are doing it with their Dr Pad. Or rather Dr Pads. Although operationally identical there are currently three battery-powered Dr Pads available, issued under the auspices of the down-market Boss range, with each sporting six switchable sampled sounds.
In appearance the Dr Pads resemble double sized effect pedals — each sporting a sturdy grey-steel finish, a wedge shaped profile, the whole thing measuring a compact 152 x 168 x 60 mm (WDH) and weighing a hefty (for a unit of this size) 1100 grams. The 'end cheeks' of the Dr Pads are protected from knocks by smart black rubberstrips — a sensible precaution since they can be mounted in pairs for attachment to conventional drum stands.
More black rubber on the top surface too — the bit you hit takes the form of a sensibly sized solid rubber rectangle in turn mounted on a more resilient rubber foam base. The result is a playing surface which looks like it could corner well on a bad day at Brands hatch, coupled with a playing feel not too dissimilar from the 'real thing'.
A cut away strip along the top of the pad accommodates the unit's six main control pots, the recessing providing them with a degree of protection from wilder swipes.
Reading from left to right we have Sweep Time and center-detented Range. These allow a sound to have its pitch swept up or down from its natural (centre-detented) position over a specified time and to a specified degree. In plain English, you can put a bit of instant skin bend on a tom, or send an effect sound on a slow ascent into high frequency heaven. Next up there's the self explanatory decay (which actually truncates a sample, rather than providing true decay) which can be used to radically alter the use you might make of a voice. Smashing Glass on the DRP-III, for example, makes a great cutting snare/clap sound with the decay set almost to nothing. Pitch sensitivity allows you to make dramatic use of the Dr Pad's dynamics, if your playing style is up to it. The more the pot setting approaches max, the more a sample will respond to the force of a hit, sounding at low pitch in response to a light tap, getting progressively higher in pitch the harder you hit. Used in conjunction with the Sweep function and the relevant sample a variety of effects may be obtained, from 'realistic' toms to wild Tympani.
Pitch simply sets the home position for a sample, and again can be used to good effect to thicken up a snare sound or to brighten a gong. (Of course, the higher you set the pitch, the faster the sample is read out, and hence the shorter the maximum duration of the sample.)
Finally, and most importantly, there is a six-position click stop switch for actually selecting the samples. Each position is identified by a number — a chart at the front of the unit cross-references these numbers with the sounds actually installed in it.
Round the back you'll find a standard 9V DC power input; if you prefer mains to battery power, an output jack socket, which doubles as power on (an LED on the top panel lights to indicate when the unit is 'live'), a Trig In socket for triggering from drum machines and the like, (the socket accepts dynamic information, and doesn't cut out the top surface pad, so you can play along with a triggered pattern if you like), Mix In socket, two small pots for setting the unit's output level and minimum sensitivity, and finally a 9V DC out.
As the presence of this and the mix socket indicate, both audio and power connections may be chained together. This allows several units to be run from a single power supply, and those same units to output their voices from the final unit of the chain. This is achieved by connecting each out to the Mix In on the next unit along. This is where output level comes in handy, effectively allowing you to mix the overall sounds of your pad set up.
The selection of sounds available on the three pads seem to be drawn largely from Roland's existing repertoire of samples as featured on their 707, 727 and 505 drum machines grouped into fairly predictable sets. I tried out all three. The DRP-I, features two snares, a tambourine, a hand clap, a cymbal, and (somewhat obscurely but nonetheless welcome for that) a tympani. With the possible exception of the tymp, which sounds terrific when you exploit the pitch sensitivity, then, all 'high' sounds. No prizes for guessing that the DRP-II, has two bass drums (1 is a dirty DX bass note, rather than a straight drum — very good, whilst 2 is a more standard gated electro sound) an 'electric' (Simmons style) tom (absolutely superb), and a steel drum, plus two 'effect' sounds, a short gong (obviously looped, but useable) and a StarChime, a beautiful shimmering sound you may have heard already on Roland's 727 Latin percussion machine. DRP-III has the greatest percentage of 'effect' sounds, featuring Smashing Glass, Scratch (as in Hip Hop records scratching), a Quijada (vibraslap), cowbell (recorded with ambience), Roland's excellent 505 timbale, and a long Gong — very J.Arthur Rank.
The sound quality of the samples is generally high, though one or two of the sounds — the Timbale for example — hiss a bit. The pads respond very well to dynamically sensitive pitch shifting. (That's hitting 'em harder or lighter, folks).
Sample quality, useability and responsiveness of playing surface is good, as is the overall quality of construction and ease of operation. However, I can't help but feel that the DRPs fall down on two specific points. In the first instance, it seems a shame that Roland didn't follow the pattern set by Simmons et al and provide some means of substituting new sounds for those already on board, be that drop-in ROM, cartridge or data casette. Of course, such features all add to the cost, and can be overlooked on a 'budget' unit. However, and this is my more serious reservation — at £145 per unit, the DRPs are not, in fact, particularly cheap. Buy two and you could have a 16-voice MIDI drum machine and change to boot. Bearing this in mind, I doubt that one large slice of the potential market for the DRPs — owners of cheap analogue drum machines looking to beef up their back beat — will be rushing out to buy them.
Still, if the price doesn't put you off, and you like the sounds featured on these units, you might yet want to arrange an appointment with the doctor.
Boss Dr Pad Sampled Drum Pads - RRP: £145
Review by Tony Reed
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