Kit vs Klone
Could the thumper be making a comeback? After the rush of rhythm machines that do the playing for you, there seems to be a return to "hittable" drums but employing chip technology and at reasonable prices.
Two popular examples are The Kit — a bass drum, snare and two tom tom set-up that sits in your lap — and the Klone constructed around a full-size practice pad system.
The Kit, built in Britain and distributed by Atlantex, is only the first in a series. It produces imitation cymbal and drum sounds by hitting small plastic pads for the drums and metal discs for the cymbals. Shortly after its release, extra units were added to deal out timpani, handclaps and synth sounds. And of course the Kit Mark II is now in the perfection stage offering twice as many noises and computer backup.
But for the time being it's the original that inhabits the shops. It's self-contained, running from a single PP3 battery with an operational life of about 50 hours. All the sounds have individual outputs but there's a general outlet and mixer control to balance it.
The only automatic section of The Kit is the hi-hat, which can tap along to itself in 4/4 or 3/4 time at four or eight beats to the bar, and employing half a dozen patterns. These are essentially different arrangements of open and closed hi-hat beats to add some variety and it's the "disco" setting that has the classiest rhythms.
Soundwise, the hi-hat is the weakest section. The upper of the two discs produces a woosh of white noise for as long as you hold it down, the lower disc belts out one, brief chunk. By jumping between them with two fingers you can get a convincing imitation of hi-hat activity, though the basic sound remains raspy. Always a difficult one, this. The crash cymbal on the far side fares better as there's a electronic induced metallic ring superimposed over the noise.
On the underside are a series of small holes leading to screw pots. A special trimming screwdriver is included in the deal, and with this at your command you can vary the decay on all the drums (separately, of course), the sensitivity of each of their pads, the amount of noise in the snare plus the pitch and decay of the crash cymbal.
The touch responsive pads are layers of black foam to absorb the impact, covered with imitation creamy calf skin to act as the drumming surface. The makers recommend fingers, not sticks which are too heavy for the Kit's circuits. They're built to respond to a lighter touch, but you could get away with pencils or ballpoint pens.
The bass drum and snare are great. The first can span anything from a dry click to a long, low boom, though it functioned best with a slight decay to provide the oomph. The second gives a rattle of the wires if you hit it lightly, then the crack of the skin when you step up the pressure.
The toms are both boxy in comparison though more vibrant than the plinks and plonks often found on rhythm machines. Also the decay times were daft. At maximum the sustain went on and on, eventually howling into feedback, yet, irritatingly, the crash cymbal only had a lifetime of two seconds where more would have been useful. Some way of altering the tom tom pitch would also help.
Non-drummers introduced to the Kit plump for putting a left hand on the snare and a right hand on the bass drum, so early rhythmical efforts usually alternate between the two with the occasional roll thrown in for luck.
Cross play is trickier to achieve than on a full-sized drum kit, mainly because there's less room for your hands, but the manufacturers have come up with an addon unit in the form of a floor-resting bass drum pad and that frees your fingers for other work.
If you're a keyboard player you could hold down chords with one hand and use the other to tap out part of a drum track or reinforce bass lines with the bass drum.
It's possible to play rolls with two fingers of one hand and even guitarists can get in on the act. Providing you are not the proud owner of size 13 boots, you can put the Kit on the floor and rap out a basic rhythm with the tootsies.
Even as you read these words it may now be possible to go out and buy a Kit Mark II. The prototype was shown at the Frankfurt trade fair and reported on in the last issue of One Two. Atlantex hope to have it in the shops by the end of May.
It has eight pads in two rows offering bass drum, snare, open and closed hi-hat and four toms (or two toms and crash and ride cymbals). This time there's a chance to programme rhythms, either via the onboard processor with its 12-function keypad, or by using a Sinclair ZX81 microcomputer.
With the right cassette-loaded composition programme and, of course, the ever-present TV screen you could display all your patterns and drums on the readout; punch in the rhythms then load that information into the Kit II at a later date for a gig's worth of drumming.
A set of full-sized drum pads are on the way which will be extra (as will the Sinclair), but the Kit II itself should retail for around £699.
The success of the Klone has a lot to do with the desirability (but comparative expense) of Simmons drums and the availability of the Remo RPS 10 practice kit. The former provides the urge — lots of us would like to play an electronic-sounding kit, but not for £1,500 — and the latter provides the method.
Each of the Remo pads has been fitted with transducer bugs that trigger an exterior control unit containing analogue voice electronics for a bass drum, snare, high mid and low tom toms.
The Remo kit is an angular affair balanced on one central black strut with a base that presents a gripping surface for the bass drum pedal (not supplied). Four horizontal bars fan out from the top of this strut and are held in place by one knurled knob. Each of the pads screws into a slim chromed stand which fit into the ends of the bars and can be adjusted for height and angle.
The snare and floor tom also have an extra tubular insert which telescopes out to rest on the floor and boost the stability. In practice the Klone is sturdy enough for home or studio work, but might start wandering during a gig. It's light and nothing actually locks into place — it's all finger tightened pressure.
Colour-coded Cannons plug into the underside of the pads and feed into the control module which offers variations on the pitch, volume and decay of each drum with one extra knob that alters the amount of "wires" within the snare.
The sounds are a reasonable compromise between real drums and electronically generated percussion. The bass drum has a sturdy thump, the snare is cutting but the toms are soft. It's essential to have wide-ranging amplification and at least a 15in speaker to get the best of the Klone. EQ plus reverb can do a lot to improve the realism.
Alternatively you can feed them through all manner of external effects to enhance the synthiness. It certainly doesn't boast the versatility or sophistication of the Simmons, but the Remo pads do mean you have a real touch-responsive drum feel rather than a hard plastic surface on which to play. The six and eight inch pads have proper skins stretched over foam rubber discs.
And for under £300 you're getting a synth drum set-up and a practice kit rolled into one.
A few hundred pounds further up the scale from the Klone is the M and A kit with eight purpose-built triangular pads and a resilient plastic construction more like the Simmons.
The hi-hat and bass drum are on separate units. The snare, three toms and two cymbals are arranged in two lots of three, and they all lead off to a 19in rack mountable control box.
The M and A allows far greater control over the sounds than does the Klone. For example the toms have attack and decay times, tune and response which bleeds in some of the white noise from the cymbals.
The same goes for the bass drum, and they all have individual levels and a pan control since the M and A has a mixed stereo output as well as outs for each sound.
The cymbals are based on yellow noise — a new one on me — which is white noise fed through a bandpass filter to give it a mid frequency boost.
All the pads are touch responsive to allow for dynamics and the hardware comprises Premier stands, making the set more stable than the Klone. It's distributed through Seabright Supplies in Chelmsford and retails at £658 for a kit including the bass drum pad, or £598 if you use a footpad instead.
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