Pearl DRX-1 Electronic Drums
Pearl's late entry into the electronic drum kit stakes looks like a winner - eight kits can be programmed into its memory.
Pearl DRX-1 Electronic drums
Price: £1000 (approx.)
The recent Frankfurt Trade Fair threw up two clear points of interest - the continued development of MIDI (of course); and the launch, by just about everyone, of some kind of electronic percussion. All of a sudden, Dave Simmons' hegemony is under threat - but seriously.
Even Pearl, respected purveyors of the kind of drums you don't have to plug in, have conceded to the inevitable, with the release of their 5-piece DRX-1 Programmable Electronic Drums. Those of you with long memories will recall that the company have already had some experience in this field, with the pioneering Syncussion drum synths (still in favour with many players, especially in the Reggae field).
The new kit, however, is light years ahead of its predecessor and much of its contemporary competition. With the capacity to store eight completely different 'drum kits' at once, the emphasis is placed firmly on the second half of that phrase 'electronic drums'.
With only two kits currently in the country - and both of them located in Pearl's shiny new premises at Marvellous Milton Keynes - a visit was clearly in order. Pearl's surprisingly young Promotions Manager, Andie Brooke-Mellor, showed me round one of them, stashed in a corner of the warehouse, and then left me to it while he finished his lunch.
No prizes for guessing where the styling originated. (Is it really true that Simmons' are thinking of suing anyone with a hexagonal pad design? If so, their legal department'll be very busy.) Pearl's variant on this classic design comes in the form of chamfered edges which give way to circular undersides.
The kit I looked at was finished in black, with Pearl's new hi-tech logo emblazoned on the front of the bass drum in white, though the usual range of finishes may be anticipated. The DRX-1 immediately scores over its inspiration in the hardware department. In contrast to Simmons' Pearl-copy stands, we have a pair of top-of-the-range double-braced T900 dual tom stands, with Memrilok fittings - very, very robust. (The kit featured at Frankfurt also incorporated sockets for cymbal booms on the tom stands, though whether this will be a feature on production models has yet to be determined.) All four tom pads are constructed in the now-familiar high-impact ABS (or equivalent), with an untensionable circular black rubber playing surface let into the centre of the hexagonal face. The pads themselves measure 28 x 6cm deep, and connect to the stands via a socket let into a steel side plate on one of the pads' six edge-panels. Securing of the pad's internal crescent-clamp onto the tom shaft is via a discreet wing-nut hidden away on the underside - don't worry though - it was plenty big enough to get a decent grip on, and once tightened, showed no inclination to move.
Next to the tom-holder socket is a conventional jack socket, for the trigger lead, whilst a small Pearl logo on the front edge panel rounds everything off. The large bass drum pad deviates from the basic design in sporting a more heavily chamfered profile, and by restricting playing-surface sensitivity to a small, chrome-rimmed 'target area' at the centre of the pad. The rest of the surface is running around the edges. A trigger socket sits at the bottom right of the pad. A rubber-faced steel shoe (complete with forward-facing spiked restraining screw) takes your bass-pedal, and the whole thing is firmly supported by a pair of heavy-duty struts that locate in the sides of the pad. Despite some pretty heavy use during the review, everything stayed gratifyingly in place, with the bass pad showing no inclination to walk.
Despite the (presumably) fairly standard construction of the pads - it was impossible to take them apart for a look-see - stick response is good, with none of the 'table top' response that still afflicts even the improved Simmons' pads. Not quite like hitting the real thing - but close enough. The playing surface mimics closely the sensitivity of a real head, with a beat sounding fullest at the centre, and getting 'tighter' towards the edges. Triggering can be as fast as you like, and the 'headroom' available from the pad (dependent on the Sense setting) is extensive, allowing playing to range freely from a patter to a crash. Maybe it's just psychological, but accented beats seemed to actually 'darken' the sound emanating frem a pad, as well as boosting its volume.
This brings us aptly to the question of the gadget's voices. About which I haven't much to say, firstly, because you can hear them on the tape - and secondly, because the guitar amp through which the system was being put was wholly inadequate to gauge the quality of the sound, with some bass settings threatening to turn the speaker cone inside out. What I could make out were punchy, realistic snares, cutting Simmons-ish toms - and farting bass drums, underlying the importance of adequate amplification for electronic percussion. Emphasis is on useable drum sounds, not space invader effects, through extreme settings can get that Reggae-ish 'Space Drum' Simmons, or thunderous, rolling snare blasts. So far, so standard. A great sound, great hardware - but the thing that really sets this kit up ahead of the rest is the way you access its programs.
The brain of the system is contained in a standard 2U rack-mounting unit, finished in tasteful dark brown with white legending. The end-brackets are removable, and the unit has rubber feet for free-standing use, or can be mounted on a snare stand if required. Measuring 19" x 3½" x 12" it resembles one of the new slimline video machines, in fact.
Controls are accessed using the digital parameter method borrowed from the 'Incremental knob' employed on so many recent polysynths. Whilst such a method is generally acknowledged to be clumsy and time-consuming (though cheap) when applied to polys, on the DRX-1 it has to be simply the most immediate and user-friendly I have yet encountered in electronic percussion.
Reading from L to R, the front panel consists of: five small Sense pots (not programmable), for Snare, Tom 1, Bass, Tom 2 and Tom 3, immediately below the Pearl logo. Next to them, under the rather too-smoked plastic window that covers most of the display functions, the four associated red Trig Level LEDs light up to indicate the pad's peak sensitivity reading. Pad indicates, via an LED, which pad you are currently on when programming (Snare, Bass, Toms 1, 2 and 3). Protect indicates current memory status, which can be Off, allowing you to alter any of the eight drum kits in memory, 1-7, which leaves 8 free for experimentation, or Full, which prevents you from accidentally altering any sounds. The large Kit LED at the far right of the window gives a numerical indication of the currently selected kit (1-8).
The second row, Parameter, indicates via LED which aspect of a pad's sound is being modified at any one time. On offer are Pitch, Bend, Osc/Noise (which shifts the balance from pure tone to pure noise), Overtone, (more familiar to synthesists as 'Q' or Resonance - the level of harmonic ring behind the fundamental note), Attack, Filter, Decay and Level (Volume). All parameters can be shifted up or down in the range 0-19, and the current value is shown in a second large LED window at the bottom right of the main display. The simplified Filter and Envelope controls presented no problem, and a vast range of useable sounds were easily constructed.
Finally, there are the actual access controls themselves: large, sensitive tablet buttons (white on grey) for Kit Select (1-8 arranged in two banks of four), the horizontal Pad nudge buttons (< and >) and the vertical Value nudge buttons (up and down).
This offers (L to R): 0.5 Amp fuse, Mono/R and L/Line In Jack sockets (for running a drum machine or similar through the machine - it simply serves as a sub-mixer for whatever is put through it) and R/Mix and L/jack Outs. Below that is a three position selector switch for the Memory Protect (Full, 1-7 and Off), two small 5-pin sockets (not DINs) for Kit Select and External Trigger footswitches (soon to be available). Rounding things off on the socket front are two rows of five jack sockets, ranged one beneath the other, for Separate Voice Outs and Pad Trigger Ins. A tethered mains lead completes the picture.
This is simplicity itself. Take Memory Protect off your selected memory (8, for convenience), Select it, choose a Pad (< for left, > for right, press once to move a single step, hold down for auto-repeat, a feature also found on the Value and Parameter controls). Step through the parameters in similar manner. Since the unit continues to sound throughout, programming is instinctive - hit a pad whilst holding down Pitch for example, and you can hear the note change - the values loop, so don't worry if you miss it first time round and anyway releasing the button returns you to one-step-per-push mode, for greater precision.
When you've completed a whole kit you're satisfied with, simply dial up another. It's as simple as that, and trickle-feed internal power supply keeps the memory complete between gigs. On the far right, you've got 2 large pots, for Line In and phones level, a Power on/off pushbutton, and headphone socket. That's it.
There are a few things I would like to have seen: a Copy feature would have been nice, and a tape dump, but since drum settings consist of only 8 elements, writing them all down is not too arduous a chore. The lack of MIDI might be a big mistake, however, given the inevitable competition from Roland's similar, MIDI-equipped digital drum system, but at least the lack of it underlines Pearl's commitment to real drummers. I would also have liked to see standard sockets for the Kit Select and External Trigger selectors, but in the final analysis, I can find no real faults with any aspect of the system's design, which gives the impression of a fully professional unit, designed by a company who've spent a long time learning what drummers want from their gear. The bottom line will be how much the DRX-1 - and it's competition - will eventually sell for.
For more info, contact Pearl on (Contact Details).