Boss Dr Pads
Put six PCM drum sounds in a small black box, add a velocity-sensitive pad and a sprinkling of controls, and you have some pretty neat add-on percussion modules. Dan Goldstein hits and listens.
They're square. You hit them. They make noises. They're the simplest, but by no means the least useful, of all the Doctors to emerge from the Boss division of Roland Corporation in Japan.
In some ways, these new Dr Pads resemble the Swedish ddrum digital percussion controllers. The difference is that the Boss units use PCM voices (similar to those found in Roland digital drum machines), which are cheaper to fit than digital samples. Thus each Dr Pad comes with no fewer than six percussion sounds built in - though there's no apparent means of swapping sounds with fresh ones when you get bored with your first half-dozen.
All you can do, if you do get bored, is to buy another Dr Pad. There are three in the range: the DRP1, with two snares, tambourine, handclap and timpani; the DRP2, with a pair of bass drums, an electronic tom, a steel drum, a small gong and the 'star chime' off the Roland TR727; and the DRP3, with a more off-the-wall range of sounds comprising smashing glass, cowbell, timbale, scratch, quijada (also from the 727), and large gong.
The Dr Pads present a very modern outlook on drum sounds. The snares are crisp, bright, and forceful, the bass drums heavy, decidedly non-acoustic, and very hip hop.
Overall sound quality is extremely high - there isn't one voice of the 18 available that really fails to deliver the goods - and my only regret is that those TR727 percussion sounds have already been heard before on commercially released records, and have lost much of their novelty as a result.
Voices are selected one at a time with an awkward rotary switch better suited to adjusting continuously variable parameters. In fact, there are five such parameters on the Dr Pads: Pitch, Pitch Sensitivity, Decay, Sweep Range and Sweep Time.
Pitch and Decay are fairly self-explanatory - though it's worth noting that both offer a wider range of adjustment than many musicians will be expecting. As a result, you can obtain some pretty wild sounds - long-envelope record scratches, silly high-pitched gongs - using these two controls alone.
Things get more interesting, though, when you come on to Pitch Sensitivity. Not surprisingly, the rubber pads on each DRP are touch-sensitive: the harder you hit them, the louder they sound. But the touch-sensing circuitry is also routed internally to pitch, so that hard hitting produces a higher output pitch than subtle stroking. Using the Pitch Sensitivity control, you can adjust the difference in pitch caused by varying dynamics.
Obviously, this makes for a more realistic live effect; many acoustic percussion instruments alter in pitch depending on how hard you hit them. But it can also, with clever tweaking, result in some less likely effects - like two timpani tuned apart in fifths, and the sound of massed clapping.
And so to Sweep, an analogue parameter that's an unlikely - but very welcome - feature on what are essentially digital instruments. To begin with, any sound can be filter-swept either upward or downward - depending on whether you set the Sweep Range control clockwise or counter-clockwise. Extreme settings in either direction deepen the sweeping effect.
Shifting the Sweep Time control clockwise increases the amount of time the sweep takes to do its work, though in the context of sounds that don't naturally have much decay (kick drums, claps and so on), long sweeps don't work too well. More striking are long, dramatically swept gongs, and rapid-decay snare drums that sweep for a moment and then die - almost as if they were going through gated reverb.
The Dr Pads have well-equipped back panels, with rotary controls for pad sensitivity and output level, and three jack connectors for the main output, mix input (for connecting more than one unit together in series), and trigger input for connection to any drum machine that has a trigger out. If your beat box has three such outputs, you could connect each one to a separate Dr Pad, and have a choice of 18 new sounds to add to your rhythm patterns.
So the Dr Pads sound good, offer an intriguing range of sound-adjustment for all their voices, and would go equally well alongside an acoustic or electronic drum kit, or as part of a drum machine setup.
The sounds you create by varying the Dr Pads' parameters aren't storable in any way, so switching between voices isn't just a matter of turning a knob - you have to turn several. But that aside, they're highly usable and surprisingly versatile instruments, and should find a lot of friends.
Price RRP £149 each, including VAT
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Review by Dan Goldstein
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