Electronic Percussion Buyer's Guide
If you can hit it or make it sound as if you have, you'll find it listed in E&MM's exclusive rundown of what's available in the world of drum machines and electronic kits.
Our unique buyer's guide returns to the subject of electronic percussion for the first time in four months. The listing covers both kinds of electro-drumming device - those you program using switches, and those you can hit - though the dividing line between the two is getting difficult to draw, what with Roland coming out with real-time programming/performance aids like the PAD8 Octapad. It's certain that more such MIDI-based machines will follow, enabling musicians to gain instant 'playable' access to the facilities they've previously had to push buttons to make use of, and giving our Checklist compiling team another headache in the process.
Actually, things have stayed fairly quiet on the electro-percussion front in the last few months. February's Frankfurt show played host to a noticeably small number of new programmable beat boxes, though those that did appear were pretty significant: Roland's TR505 takes the digital voices of the upmarket 707 and 727 to follow on from the company's massively successful budget Drumatix, while the Casio RZ1 becomes the world's cheapest sampling drum machine by a margin of some £2500 this month.
The electronic drum sector has been busier, with two UK companies - MPC and Ultimate Percussion - hitting the headlines for the worst possible reason: liquidation. MPC are now all but dead (though see this month's Newsdesk for info on how some of their technology is being made available again), while the immediate future of Ultimate Percussion was uncertain at press time.
Elsewhere, though, things are looking healthier. Two established acoustic drum manufacturers - Pearl and Premier - unveiled new electronic drum systems at Frankfurt. Pearl's is noteworthy for featuring some nifty new digital hi-hats and cymbals, while the Premier Power-pak is the company's first venture into electronic territory.
Inpulse One - £1595
Eight-voice digital drum machine. Eight pads for live performance, 99 programmable patterns, 15 songs, trigger inputs, individual voice outputs; 16-voice basic sound library includes bass drum, snare, handclaps, timpani, gunshot, conga, claves, hi-hat.
+ Build quality, ease of use, expanding library of additional voices;
- some sonic disappointments, has been difficult to get hold of - though machine is now in full production;
= a fine machine that combines editing facilities with real-time playability, sadly underrated. Reviewed March '84.
Dr Böhm - £669 (kit), £949 (built)
24-voice digital drum machine. 180 pre-programmed patterns, 36 programmable rhythms, 8 separate outputs; 2 bass drums, 3 snares, 2 rimshot snare rolls, 12 toms, 2 bongos, woodblock, 2 congas, 4 closed hi-hats, 2 open hi-hats, 4 cymbals, 2 tambourines, 2 maracas, claves, cowbell, handclap.
+ Vast range of built-in sounds, kit package gives the soldering-iron crowd a real bargain;
- bewildering control layout, lack of decent interfacing facilities, ready-built price-tag slightly high;
= a bit of an oddity these days, but pre-programmed patterns are useful building blocks for inexperienced programmers. Reviewed February '84.
Dr Rhythm Graphic DR110 - £125
Six-voice analogue drum machine. Built-in LCD, mono output; bass drum, snare drum, open & closed hi-hat, cymbal, handclap.
+ Superb display makes writing and editing patterns a doddle, unbeatable analogue clap sound;
- balance control offers only limited adjustment of voice levels;
= successor to the immortal DR55 and justifiably popular, proves analogue technology still rules the roost at bottom end of electro-drum market. Reviewed March '84.
RZ1 - £349
Sampling digital drum machine. 100 programmable patterns, 20 songs, cassette storage of programs, MIDI sync; bass drum, snare drum, rimshot, cowbell, 3 toms, handclap, open and closed hi-hat, crash and ride cymbals; four user sampled voices (max total sample time 0.8secs).
+ Plenty of knobs and switches for the money, easy to use, sampling is great fun;
- MIDI-only sync facilities, ROM sounds could be brighter, sample memories can't be extended into ROM space;
+ a real breakthrough, valuable for anybody easily bored with preset drum sounds and who fancies sampling some of their own, at a price that's ludicrously cheap. Reviewed April '86.
Emulator SP12 - £2850
24-voice (16 preset, 8 user-sampled) digital drum machine. 100 segments chainable into 100 songs (minimum capacity 5000 notes), MIDI (In, Out, Thru) and SMPTE equipped; bass, snare, electronic snare, rimshot, 4 toms, 4 electronic toms, hi-hat, crash & ride cymbals, claps, cowbell.
+ Wonderful digital sound quality thanks to 12-bit resolution, user sampling equally impressive, easy to use, first US drum machine to offer genuine step-time programming;
- high demand means limited availability;
= probably the best drum machine available anywhere, completely without rival (at least for the time being) and easily upgradable through hard-ware/software updates. Machine reviewed September '85, updates reviewed May '86.
DPM48 - £499
23-voice (15 programmable) digital drum machine. Seven programmable patterns, MIDI (In, Out, Thru) equipped; 4 toms, 3 bass drums, 3 hi-hats, 3 snares, 3 cymbals, 2 cabasas, clap, 2 agogos, rimshot.
+ Sounds good despite home organ origins, MIDI retrofit makes interfacing facilities complete;
- lacks the informative display facilities of more recent models;
= recent £200 price drop makes Hammond's only pro instrument irresistible: if only they'd come up with more... Reviewed March '84.
DDM110 - £195
Nine-voice digital drum machine. 32 programmable patterns, LED display, real- and step-time programming, programmable trigger out, stereo output, sync (48ppqn); bass drum, snare, rimshot, 2 toms, open & closed hi-hat, cymbal, handclaps.
+ Cheapest digital drum machine on the UK market, links neatly to MIDI (and tape) with optional KMS30 interface;
- you don't get impeccable sound quality for this money, so some sounds bettered by analogue equivalents;
= another justifiably popular machine, even with (unavoidable) digital noise problems. Reviewed December '84.
DDM220 - £195
Latin Percussion version of DDM110, spec as above except for voicing; 2 congas, timbale, wood block, cowbell, agogos, cabasa, tambourine.
+ Marvellously realistic approximations of Latin drums that really do sound different;
- nothing at this price, except non-Roland standard sync;
= the first drum machine to offer more than the usual rock percussion setup, much imitated since its appearance 18 months ago. Reviewed October '84.
MR16 - £449
19-voice digital drum machine for connection to pre-existing MIDI software, individual and stereo outputs.
+ Voices identical to those of DDM110/220, hence pretty good;
- some dodgy ergonomics, not cheap when combined with essential SQD1 sequencer;
= a sound enough idea that now has an excellent sequencer (Korg's own SQD1) to go with it, though there's still no specific drum software to perform specific drum tasks. Reviewed May '85.
LinnDrum - £1600
23-voice digital drum machine. 42 preset and 56 programmable patterns, 49 songs, individual and stereo outputs, cassette storage of programs, alternative sound chips available; 2 bass drums, 3 snares, sidestick, 3 hi-hats, 3 toms, 3 cymbals, 2 cabasas, 2 tambourines, 2 congas, cowbell, handclap.
+ The original still sounds excellent, open-ended voice structure, healthy service back-up the world over thanks to instrument's popularity;
- compared with digital machines from Japan, still a bit on the pricey side;
= recent price decrease means it remains an attractive proposition, even when set against newer rivals. Reviewed February '83.
Linn 9000 - £5745
18-voice digital drum machine and MIDI sequencer. Individual and stereo outputs, 2 programmable trigger outs, MIDI (In, Out, Thru), tape sync facility, 32-track polyphonic keyboard sequencer, disk and cassette storage of programs; bass drum, snare, hi-hat, 4 toms, 2 congas, 4 cymbals, cowbell, handclaps, cabasa, side-stick, tambourine.
+ Superlative drum sounds, elegant all-in-one-box design concept;
- horrendous price-tag, lack of steptime input and other crucial recording facilities, no sampling yet;
= without its promised hardware and software updates (step-time input, editing, sampling), an expensive dinosaur. To be replaced by MIDIstudio, if and when company can summon the necessary wherewithal. Reviewed April '85.
512 - £299
Nine-voice digital drum machine. Eight song, 64 programmable patterns, trigger in, trigger out, individual (DIN) and stereo outputs; bass drum, snare, 3 toms, handclaps, cymbal, open & closed hi-hat.
+Wonderful sounds for the money, light and compact;
- terrible ergonomics, thus difficult to use;
= Germany's little digital gem, though made in small quantities so you don't see many about. Reviewed June '84.
DX - £1575
18-voice digital drum machine. 100 programmable patterns, 50 songs, LED display, individual, stereo and mono outputs, real- and step-time programming, instrument sync (96ppqn) and sync to and from tape facilities, alternative sound chips available; 3 bass drums, 3 snares, 3 hi-hats, 3 toms, 3 cymbals, 2 shakers, handclap.
+ Usual Stateside virtues of good sounds and easy chip replacement for voicing variety;
- usual Stateside vice of relatively high cost;
= an underrated machine with price-tag that's ensured a low profile in UK, but updated version with MIDI as standard available soon, £TBA. Reviewed September '83.
DX Stretch - £TBA
Hardware add-on for DX giving additional voices and MIDI facility. To be reviewed.
DMX - £2975
20-voice digital drum machine. 200 programmable patterns, 100 songs, real- and step-time programming, individual, stereo and mono outputs, sync (96ppqn), cassette storage of programs; 3 bass drums, 3 snares, hi-hat, gunshot, 2 toms, noise, conga, timbale, tambourine, rimshot, shaker, handclaps, cowbells, clave, 2 cymbals, punch.
+ As for DX, plus usefully large range of onboard voices;
- again, mainly the price;
= the original Linn-beater, but like its rival, feeling the pinch from more cost-effective competition. Reviewed January '84.
TOM - £495
Eight-voice digital drum machine. 99 programmable patterns, programmable tuning and volume, reverse play of sounds, real- and step-time programming, MIDI-equipped.
+ Basic sounds are pretty good, more sounds available on cartridge, unique sample reversal is a great gimmick;
- lacks separate voice outputs, not as well-built as Drumtraks;
= confirmation of Sequential's electro-drum prowess, now very cheap indeed, though lack of individual outputs should ensure continued success of Drumtraks as well. Reviewed July '85.
Drumtraks - £895
13-voice digital drum machine. 99 programmable patterns, LED display, programmable pitch and volume, individual and mono output, MIDI (In, Out), sync (24 or 48 out, 24ppqn in) equipped, cassette storage of programs, alternative sound chips available; bass drum, snare, rimshot, 2 toms, 2 cymbals, open & closed hi-hat, claps, tambourine, cowbell, cabasa.
+ Superb sounds, tuning and editing facilities unrivalled at this price, sound chips interchangeable with Linn's;
- not as well laid-out as later TOM, though it's not that tricky to use anyway;
= in terms of programming and tuning flexibility, still very hard to beat. Reviewed March '84.
DP50 - £595
25-voice (15 programmable) digital drum machine. Stereo outputs, MIDI (In, Out, Thru), 7 programmable patterns, 4 preset patterns per programmable voice; programmable sounds: bass drum, snare, 4 toms, 2 congas, tambourine, handclaps.
+ Well built, some excellent (but non-programmable) exotic percussion sounds;
- complicated to use, no proper song storage or output facilities, preset patterns take up vital memory space, programmable sounds lack definition;
= too flawed for professionals to take it seriously - unless they work in a cocktail bar. Reviewed May '85.
ddrum - £295
Single-pad digital unit using ROM cartridges. Different duration sample chips available, battery powered, pitch control, trigger in.
+ Magnificent sound quality thanks to sample recording care on factory's part, vast (and expanding) range of sounds both conventional and unconventional;
- almost absurdly expensive, digital noise intrudes on some samples, not everybody likes the idea of hitting a small, square pad;
= the Rolls-Royce of digital drum units and similarly pricey, now distributed by the Nomis complex. Reviewed October '84.
ddrum Rack System - £2025
Five-channel, rack-mounted digital electronic drum kit comprising ddrum electronics and set of Remo heads, expandable to eight channels, individual outputs. To be reviewed.
Percuter S - £550
Eight-channel digital electronic drum kit. Interchangeable digital modules, individual and stereo outputs.
+ Excellent sounds, flexibility of interchangeable voice ROMs, well constructed pads;
- voices can't be edited, pads soon to be replaced by new, more stylish set, a little bit pricey;
= fine system from company that represents the one European threat to Simmons. Reviewed March '86.
Big Brain - £795
16-channel drum sequencer. 50 programmable songs, 100 user-programmable patterns (50 optional preset or programmable), cassette storage of programs, MIDI (In, Out, Thru), Sync In & Out. To be reviewed.
Boomer - £725
Digital percussion sound-sampler. Trigger in from pad or sequencer, editing facilities. To be reviewed.
ADD-One - £TBA
New programmable electronic percussion 'brain', currently at prototype stage. To be reviewed.
MultiKlone - £399, individual modules - £195
Five-channel analogue drum kit. 5 identical sound channels, 5 Trigger Ins, 5 Audio Outs, auto flam facility.
+ Flexible budget electronic drum kit, useful as either an add-on to an acoustic kit or in its own right;
- only one preset and one user-programmed sound simultaneously available for each channel;
= remarkably good sounds for very little money, deserves to rule the budget roost for quite a while. Reviewed September '85.
Dual Percussion Synthesiser - £195
Two-channel analogue electronic drum add-on. Basic spec as Kit 2.
+ Again, it looks good and it sounds OK, plenty of scope for weird sound effects in addition to conventional percussion voices;
- drum sounds lack bottom, feel;
= useful addition to either a MultiKlone or (better) an acoustic set-up. Reviewed April '84.
Drum X - £TBA
New electronic drum system with redesigned pads and voicing circuitry, replaces DRX1 previously listed. Now updated to include electronic hi-hat and cymbals. To be reviewed.
Powerpak - £TBA
New analogue electronic drum system. To be reviewed.
PAD8 - £395
Eight-pad MIDI drum controller, features user-assignable channel numbers and touch-sensitive pads. Reviewed February '86.
DDR30 - £999
Digital electronic drum kit. Six-voice rack-mounted sound module, eight memories per voice, 32 kit memories, MIDI In and Out, individual and stereo outputs, links with standard PD10 (£85) and PD20 bass (£175) drum pads.
+ Looks fantastic, high sound quality, typical Roland dependability and sturdy construction, easy to use;
- not as versatile as some of its competition, all-digital voicing means old-fashioned analogue electronic sounds are out;
= at its reduced price, a serious and worthwhile Simmons alternative you can buy bit by bit if the wallet is looking thin. Reviewed December '85.
SDS1 - £170
Single pad digital module/pad. Derives sound from EPROM, battery power, external trigger. Reviewed March '85.
SDS7 - £2155
Five-channel analogue/digital hybrid electronic drum kit. Expandable to 12 channels, each channel has individually-controllable analogue, digital and noise sound sources, 100 different 'kit' programs.
+ Unrivalled sonic flexibility thanks to variety of sound sources, handy 'pad' program selector, impeccable pad design;
- if you can afford it, nothing;
= rapidly becoming to the electronic drum world what the Emulator SP12 is to the drum machine market, and deservedly so. Reviewed April '84.
SDS9 - £1199
Five-channel analogue/digital hybrid electronic drum kit. Interchangeable PROM sounds, 20 user-programmable kits, 20 factory-programmed kits, auto-trigger facility, tape storage of sounds, individual outputs, MIDI-equipped. Software-generated bass drum, sampled snare, cross-stick and rimshot, 3 analogue toms.
+ Jam-packed full of features, all of them useful, well packaged and above all, extremely good-sounding;
- not particularly cheap, doesn't make the tea;
= has just about everything a modern drummer, studio owner, or session programmer could want from an electronic drum kit. Reviewed August '85.
SDS200 - £315
Twin-channel analogue electronic tom synth. Individual, stereo and mix outputs. To be reviewed.
SDS400 - £550
Four-channel analogue electronic tom synth. Individual, stereo and mix outputs, run generator feature. To be reviewed.
SDS800 - £550
Four-channel analogue electronic drum kit. Bass drum, snare, two tom channels, individual, stereo and mix outputs, built-in run generator. To be reviewed.
SDS EPB - £395
EPROM blower to be triggered by SDS7 and SDS1. Blows 8K and 16K EPROMs from onboard RAM, variable sample speed,
+ Quick, easy way of making your electronic drum kit sound like no-one else's, fits in neatly with Simmons scheme of things;
- no avoiding the fact that sampling quality could be better;
= pioneer product that serves its purpose while leaving room for subsequent improvement. Reviewed January '85.
SDS1000 - £650
Programmable five-pad, five-channel analogue/digital hybrid electronic drum kit. Digitally sampled snare, software generated bass drum and analogue toms, five preset kit programs and five user-programmer memories. To be reviewed.
Digisound - £125 (single-sound), £150 (dual)
Sampled-sound percussion machine triggered by built-in switch or external source. Sounds stored on EPROM.
+ High sound quality, ever-growing factory library of EPROM voices, now dynamic as well;
- a teeny bit expensive, dual bass-and-snare model a bit silly as sounds can't be triggered together;
= a neat electro-percussion add-on for non-drummers fed up with their drum-machine sounds. Reviewed July '84.
Digimemory - £140
Universal EPROM version of Digisound. To be reviewed.
The Winner - £TBA
Microprocessor-controlled EPROM blower/programmer, built-in MIDI and serial computer interfacing. To be reviewed.
CX5 - £TBA
Electronic drum system comprising digitally-sampled drum sounds, five triggering pads, drum sequencer with 27 drum sounds, 64 pre-programmed rhythm patterns and one user-programmable song. To be reviewed.
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