Clavia Ddrum 2
Digital Drum Kit
First there were Ddrums... Nicholas "animal" Howland returns to his skin-bashing roots to test a Swedish electronic kit that aims to replace its acoustic relative.
The latest Ddrum kit claims to be the best electronic imitation of an acoustic drum kit the world has yet seen. Does double D really work wonders?
ANY INPUT CHANNEL can have any voice assigned to it, chosen from either of the two internal banks or from any or all of the six cartridges plugged into the slots on the left hand side of the brain's front panel. These voices can then be edited and the results stored as kits in any one of 64 memory locations. Should you need more than this, RAM cartridges or "Kit Pacs" are available, which plug into the cartridge slots too.
ENTERING EDIT MODE is a simple matter of hitting the Edit button situated in the programming area of the front panel, selecting a channel, selecting the appropriate parameter and dialling up a value on the large two-character LED display using the control knob. Like every other aspect of this instrument, the editing system has been extremely well thought out with lots of small LEDs to light your programming path.
Decay, Pitch, Amount and Time of Pitchbend, Bass, Treble, Pan and Level are the eight basic parameters. Note that these are programmable for each channel rather than each sound. In other words, whichever sound you assign to a channel, those values will apply. There are no default values associated with each sound. Also every value can be stored as part of each kit combination.
"Sensitivity is much in evidence when Ddrums are used as a Trigger-to-MIDI converter, making it the ideal in MIDI sequencing setups."
Sounds are given two-digit reference numbers. The first number tells you whether the sound is internal or cartridge, (numbers 7 and 8 are internal, while 1-6 refer to each of the cartridge slots). The second (either a number or a letter, depending on how many sounds are stored on the cartridge) represents the sound itself. The Ddrum 2 can automatically tell how many cartridges are plugged in and how many sounds each has and so will only display the numbers of sounds actually available, which makes things easier. However, it's not quite clever enough to tell one cartridge from another, so if the cartridges are swapped round, the programmed reference number might end up recalling a completely different sound or no sound at all. What should have been a mega Chinese gong and churchbell kit, could actually turn out to be two agogos and half a maraca. Just so you don't get mixed up, there's a little box on each Sound Pac so you can write slot numbers down.
Decay can be programmed in steps from 0-31, while pitch is adjustable in steps from 0-96. In the latter case each step represents an eighth of a semitone. (The original recorded pitch of any sound is quoted as "somewhere around 64".) Hence you have a whole octave to play with, which is generally fine if you want to keep the timbre within "realistic" limits. However, if, like me, you enjoy creating more outrageous effects by horribly distorting samples, then you might be a little disappointed.
In the same way, the available pitch-bend settings keep things within the bounds of credulity. Samples can be bent up or down by up to seven "steps", which in this case seems to work out at two-and-a-half tones. In either case, the sound will start out at the higher or lower pitch and then drop or rise to the pitch value as set by the Pitch parameter. Importantly, you're not allowed to go above or below the one octave limit, so samples tuned very high or low can't always have pitch-bend applied.
Pitch-bend is affected by dynamics. In layman's terms: the harder you hit it, the more bent it becomes - this also applies when a channel is triggered over MIDI. One of the Pitchbend Time settings allows you to expand on this further by making the overall pitch of the drum rise or fall according to dynamics. Again, this can be accessed over MIDI, though as before, the amount is still subject to the one octave limit set by the Pitch parameter.
Sounds can be considerably modified by the "tone controls", very active bass and treble filters. Turning up the treble proves particularly useful on bass drum and low tom sounds to simulate the click of the beater or stick against the head.
The Pan function allows each channel to be placed in the stereo field - seven "steps" to either side - and is used in conjunction with the Left and Right outputs on the rear panel. Even if you're using the eight individual outs, this facility proves useful for setting up a separate stereo monitor mix, or even two slightly different mono mixes. Incidentally there's also a Line In socket on the back panel, which could prove useful for adding a click track or a sequencer pattern to the drummer's own studio or stage monitor setup.
THE DDRUM 2 has MIDI In and Out, but no Thru. Each channel can receive and send on a separate MIDI channel, and this is programmable for the unit as a whole. However, the MIDI note number for each channel is programmable for each kit, as are program change numbers sent or recognised. Also programmable for each channel in every kit is the Local On/Off function, which when using the Ddrum 2 as a Trigger-to-MIDI converter allows you to select which of its own sounds are to be used in conjunction. When using the module in this way, you can program the Gate Time of each channel to precisely match the sound source you're triggering.
As you've probably gathered by now, the Ddrum responds in much the same way over MIDI as it does when triggered from pads. That sensitivity is also much in evidence when the Ddrums are used as a Trigger-to-MIDI converter, thereby making it the ideal quasi-drum machine in MIDI sequencing setups.
Its application in a recording environment is further extended by a function called Trigger Threshold, which allows you to match the inputs to triggers other than pads, the most obvious use here being to trigger from tape and thereby replace old sounds with new. Even here, the Ddrum 2 manages to retain all the dynamics. I even tried triggering it with a recording of an acoustic snare roll and got an extremely passable result.
THERE'S NO DOUBT that the Ddrum 2 is a first-rate piece of kit which lives up to all the claims made for it. It sounds good, it plays like an acoustic drum kit, it's easy to use and it's as versatile as it needs to be within its self-imposed brief. I'm sure many drummers will love it. I'm sure many others will see it as a complete waste of time and money. How it fits into your setup depends on your approach to music making and your sympathy for drummers (or, if you're like me, past experience of being one).
Personally, I don't like the idea of paying a fortune for a closed-ended system. Only eight channels? No pitch-bend over MIDI? No tuned percussion as yet available? No possibility of user-sampling those favourite James Brown riffs?
Clavia are the only electronic drum manufacturers who seem to have tapped in to the true mentality of drummers (nay, musicians). The majority don't want an intense relationship with their data entry slider, they just want an instrument which will make them sound good.
If this is your aim (and you're filthy rich) then the Ddrum 2 is for you. As I say, designed by the intelligent to be driven by drummies.
Prices Ddrum 2 5-piece kit £3215; Ddrum 2 brain £2295: Snare pad £235; Tom pad £180; Kick pad £280; 1Mbit Sound Pac £79; Remote Kit Selector £319.
Review by Nicholas Rowland
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