In Triplet Time
Prolonging the percussive theme, a look at three very interesting products from Korg: Their value-for-money digital Super Percussion and Super Drums rhythm machines, plus the KMS-30 MIDI Synchronizer.
...with three new products from Korg — budget digital drums and percussion, plus a new MIDI-sync box for non-MIDI gear. Tony Reed gets synced.
Korg are a company who have been keeping a low profile of late, leaving Japan's other two musical giants, Roland and Yamaha, to slog it out. That is all set to change, however, with the arrival of their three latest products: The Super Drums and Super Percussion rhythm machines, and the KMS 30 MIDI Synchronizer.
The two drum machines mark yet another tumble in the cost of digital technology, offering the PCM-encoded 'real' sounds of a full drum kit (The DDM-110) and a range of Latin Percussion (DDM-220), for a welcome r.r.p. of £240.45p. Some compromises have had to be made: no (direct) MIDI, stereo instead of separate outs, a less than elephantine memory; but they are hard to beat for the price.
Both machines are in fact identical in every respect with the exception of finish (the 110 comes in sombre brown ABS, the 220 in a spacey silver.) and, of course, voices.
The Super Drums offers you Bass, Snare, Rimshot, High and Low Toms (independently available), closed and open Hi-Hat, Cymbal, and Claps. Virtually all the sounds are excellent, as you can hear on the tape — bass is short and punchy, snare very acoustic (almost unfashionably so — most manufacturers seem to be opting for a cutting, modern sound these days), Toms deep and damped. Hi-hat and cymbal, often the Achilles' Heel of cheap drum machines, are both adequate, with the decay on the cymbal falling not far short of that found on Roland's new upmarket model, the TR 707. The only real disappointment is the clap sound... strangely enough, synthesised claps, such as that found on Korg's own KPR 77, often sound more convincing than the real thing! Still, clap also serves as trigger out, so a use can be found for it.
Now, maybe it's just the novelty value of Latin Percussion after listening to a million drum machines, but I was absolutely KNOCKED OUT by the quality of sounds on the Super Percussion. High and Low Conga give you a real sense of the 'slap' sound, and can be particularly impressive on fast fills... These voices alone will launch a thousand Frankies...
The other standout sound is Timbale, a very hard, attacking bonk, the shortness of its sample length actually enhancing it's metal bite. Woodblock sounds like a woodblock, but the Cowbell is pitched a little too high for my personal taste... It lacks the weight to pin down a triplet rock beat. Hi and Lo Agogo are dangerously addictive, Cabasa an understated chiff of sound, and Tambourine, limited to one sound, works better in the mix. (Again, it's the trigger out, so earns its keep).
On both machines, some sharing of sounds prevents simultaneous operation of certain voices; hi and lo agogo or timbale and woodblock on the DDM 220 is not a problem, but it is a shame that snare and rimshot cannot sound together on the DDM 110 — it would have sharpened up the snare's attack for that 'modern' sound.
It's a tribute to the simplicity of these machines that I was able, over the course of a weekend, to learn how to write in real and step time, create and play patterns and songs, and generally have a fun time... without a manual.
The combination of LED display and panel indicators tell you exactly what you are doing at all times. The procedures for setting bar length and resolutions (you can have 2/4, 3/4, or 4/4 at resolutions of 16th note, 16th note triplet, or 32nd note.), entering patterns (16 of 16 steps, 16 of 32) and arranging songs (up to six, with a maximum bar count of 390) are all straightforward, as are the various edit functions — insert, delete, repeat and so on. A useful 'memory available' function lets you know how you are doing, and memory can be dumped to tape.
Each machine can of course be operated separately, but they really come into their own when Synced to another machine. Super Drums and Super Percussion is the obvious choice, of course, but the Five-pin Din Sync facility, will allow connection to any gear featuring the Roland-style sync. sockets with each machine acting either as master or slave (Tres kinky!). I can see a great future for both machines, but particularly for the Super Percussion, since it offers Drumatrix, KPR 77 owners and so on the chance to upgrade their existing equipment, rather than going to the additional expense of purchasing a completely new drum set-up.
The soon-to-be-released KMS-30 MIDI Synchronizer will not only greatly extend the usefulness of the DDM 110 and 220, but will offer a new lease of life to all that suddenly-obsolete pre-MIDI gear you've got knocking about.
In some ways a development from M.P.C.'s little marvel the Sync Track, the KMS 30 offers One Sync (Roland-Type) socket in, and two out; One MIDI in, and Two out, and a Tape in and out. With the unit, you will be able to synchronize MIDI gear with non-MIDI sequencers, drum machines, and via the tape sync facility, multitrack. Clock frequency can be set to either 48 or 24 ppqn, ensuring compatibility with a wide range of equipment, and an on-off switch lets you leave the unit 'in line' for unsynced operation of the attached gear. Prices have yet to be finalised, but it should sell for "Under £150" — which is a lot cheaper than throwing away half your studio!
So — three potential low-price winners from Korg. With the top end of the digital drum market being squeezed by Roland, the scene is set for a bit of price-war with the older established firms. Watch for the fireworks.
Gear in this article:
Review by Tony Reed