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Korg DDD1 Drum Machine


Article from International Musician & Recording World, October 1986

The drum machine you can hit, and get something more than an ex-drum machine. Reed administers the blows.

Plenty of ROM inside for more sounds

Drum machines are getting softer all the time — and by that I don't mean they're doubling up as duvets. No, what I'm talking about is the increasing role of software in the design of the things. The machines generate the stuff themselves of course, to store patterns and even sampled sounds.

Increasingly too, software plays a role in the internal operation of the machine, allowing 'soft', non-specific function keys to perform a variety of tasks depending on what mode the machine is in. Happily, as this kind of sophistication becomes more widespread, prices fall. Enter Exhibit A, the DDD-1 Dynamic Digital Drums. At £799 it isn't quite the 'bargain' machine some people had been expecting. Nor is its eagerly-anticipated sampling capacity a direct challenge to Casio's RZ-1; to get sampling, you have to lay out an additional sum of about £150-£200 (UK prices not finalised) for an internal upgrade giving a maximum 3.2 seconds user sampling.

It is, however, one hell of a machine for the money, largely because of its implementation of drum 'dynamics' — that is to say, all 18 on-board sampled voices sound louder the harder you hit the buttons. It makes for very realistic, 'drummerly' programming of a kind previously only possible on a super-machine like the Linn 9000.

In addition to Tape and MIDI, the Korg can dump its entire memory to something literally the size of a credit card: the RAM card. It can also add new drum voices to its 18 on-board sounds in the same way, via a ROM card. Each of these carries a minimum of two long sounds, and a maximum of eight. Up to four ROM cards can be inserted into the machine at once, and the voices on them used simultaneously with the internal voices. A library of seven kits, six sets of percussion, four sets of sound effects, and three of cymbals already exist, with more on the way.

Front Panel

The wedge-shaped unit, weighing a fairly hefty 3.2 kg, is sturdily constructed from pressed steel and plastic, and measures 411 x 263 x 65mm (W x D x H).

The sloping top panel immediately above the ROM card slots is given over to a double row of large tablet-style voice buttons, a Flam (Nine degrees of offset up to the almost-two-beats of 90 milliseconds) and a Roll button. Pressing this in conjunction with any voice button results in an automatic 'roll' on that voice of up to 32nd triplets, independent of the resolution of the current bar. Handy. To the right of these are the Start, Stop/Reset, Rec/Enter, and Tap Tempo buttons. Tap Tempo is precisely what it says — with a pattern or song running, tap this button (or its footswitch alternative) at least twice at the tempo you want, and the machine will adjust accordingly.

Above these buttons is a calculator style keypad for entering Pattern, Bar and Song numbers in standard drum machine style, 'Yes'ing or 'No'ing Edit choices, and for moving around the LCD display — a blue, backlit 32-character example of its type. This, in conjunction with the Function buttons, is your way into the machine. Every function you call up results in something appropriate appearing in this window, and it's a tribute to the clarity of its operation that I found my way round the review model without the benefit of a manual in about an hour or so.

The remainder of the top surface is dominated by the clearly legended function grid, with eight of the aforementioned function buttons along its left side, and a further six along the bottom. By cross-referencing a button along the bottom with one down the side any of the 38 main functions can be immediately accessed. To keep track of what you are doing, the jobs are grouped into six logical categories: Pattern Play/Record and Edit; Song Play/Edit, Instrument Setting, System Setting, and Data Transfer, each vertical column marked by an LED next to the relevant function button. Finally, along the left edge of the unit are a data slider for rapid Parameter editing (doubles as metronome volume), an output volume slider, and an audio input slider with associated Trigger and Peak level LEDs for the as-yet unavailable sampling option.

Rear Panel

L to R: Power On/Off switch and tethered mains lead. MIDI In and Out, Jack Ins for Start/Stop and Tap Tempo footswitches, Audio In (for samples, or for audio triggering of a selected onboard voice), assignable Trig Out. Any voice can be used as a trigger using the notoriously fiddly DIP micro-switches at the back of the unit — polarity can be flipped to suit either Roland or Korg style trigger ins. The DIP switches also turn memory protection or off, and alter the input and output levels for tape dump.

In place of separate outs for each voice, there are six 'multi outs'. Any voice or combination of voices, internal, ROM or sample, can be routed to any one of these jacks for individual eq'ing, or to either of the L:R/Mono mix outputs. If you opt to output a voice from the L/R jacks, you can assign it to any of seven positions in the stereo field. Finally, there's a headphone out.


You get 18 for your money — two Basses (one a bit dull, the other very nice and clicky); two Snares, both excellent — one is a straight, dry, crisp sound, the other a 'dirtier' Rock sound recorded with ambience; three full-sounding Toms; a dry, woody Rimshot; two each of closed and Open hi-hats; a generous and bright Crash cymbal, a Ride which still sounds natural during repeated retriggering — the dynamics really earn their keep here; Claps, which on my review model sounded distorted and unpleasantly dirty — hope that can be seen to; a resonant Cowbell, no complaints; a good chunky Tambourine which is great doubled up on Snares to give 'em additional guts; and a fine itchy Cabasa. Best of all, every voice, including those on ROM cards and user samples, can be tuned over a range 0-127, taking a tom from stomach-churning to ping, and giving even the poorest voice here additional potential, if only as an effect. Overall then, the voices here are good; not as consistent as those found on the TR505, say, but a long way ahead of those found on the RZ-1.

In Operation

Suffice to say that as far as the bread 'n' butter of recording on the DDM goes, you'll find here everything that you'd expect in the way of facilities — virtually any time signature can be created, different tempo settings can be remembered for each section of a song, bars can be chained together for recording or playback, you can Copy from one location to another, Append one bar to another, Swing the beat (offset range: 1-9), Delete single instruments, patterns, or whole Songs at a time, and so on. The DDD-1 can remember 10 Songs, composed of any arrangement of 100 Patterns. Step-time programming is a bit rudimentary — no neat displays a lá Roland, just the step number with beats sounding as you come to them via the < > buttons.

Now the things most other drum machines can't do. You can mix resolutions in the same pattern, low for a solid snare and bass, high for a 'feel' hi hat. Great. In addition, not only can every single stroke of every voice (up to 96 per bar in high resolution) have an independent tuning, but also a Decay time and a Dynamic level too. I hope you got that. Quite simply, this is a staggering amount of control to have over a rhythm. Tune claps down to Gorilla wallops, turn Toms into Congas, Cowbells into Agogos — and do the whole thing in the space of a bar. Alter the decay of each stroke to gradually 'open up' a snare roll, shorten it and create a gated effect. Use the dynamics to give bounce to a hi hat track. Use all three together to create entirely new sounds — a fast roll on a high tuned cowbell turns into an electric buzzer, a rapid glissando on a rimshot's pitch sounds like a twanging ruler on a desk.

To make programming of tumbling pitch toms or earthquake snares easier, the Instrument Assign key can spread any or all of the available instruments across any of the voice buttons. You could have 14 differently pitched and decayed toms spread across all the buttons, all the on-board snares, basses and hi hats simultaneously, or more simply, two differently-tuned versions of the same cowbell side by side for an agogo effect.

But the absolute hands-down, no-contest winner is the innocuous function called Sequence Parameter. With this, Pitch, Decay and Dynamics of any selected voice may be altered in realtime by the Data slider and the increment buttons while the pattern is running. 'Load' a 1/16 bar with open and closed hi hat, maybe using the Roll button set to 1/8. Then, with the pattern still running, make it breathe by adjusting the dynamics with the slider. It's simple, instinctive, and it works, taking a matter of seconds to program a 'live' hi hat that'd take hours if it was possible at all on almost any other machine.

Talking of MIDI, the DDD-1 has a very full spec, including both ways handling of Mono mode, straightforward Poly mode on any channel, and Exclusive Mode which allows mutually exclusive use of the same MIDI channel by different sounds — open and closed hi hats are the obvious example, but you could equally put two differently tuned snares on the same channel for recording onto a MIDI sequencer...

In the absence of a manual I'm not certain, but it is believed that the DDD-1 understands MIDI song pointer information for 'smart' syncing, and in addition to the MIDI clock it can generate and read back its own click track. Last but not least the clever little beast has five performance memories hiding under the guise of Setting Select which remember everything — all tunings, decay times, output MIDI assignments and the rest.

Summing Up

My complaints about the DDD-1 are few — the flimsy ROM card cover, the fiddly DIP switches, the non-adjustable LCD (unless you're viewing from just the right position, it's illegible) and the so-so step time facility. It's also not as cheap as you might think.

Yet my Praises are legion. The combination of strong sounds, tunability, dynamic sensitivity, and terrific program aids (especially the sequence parameter function) leave everything this side of an SP12 standing. If you want a drum machine which doesn't sound like one, this is it.

Korg DDD-1 - RRP: £799

Also featuring gear in this article

Featuring related gear

Korg DDD5
(MM Aug 87)

Browse category: Drum Machine > Korg

Previous Article in this issue

Stepp DG1 Guitar Synth

Next article in this issue

Steinberg Pro 24

Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

The current copyright owner/s of this content may differ from the originally published copyright notice.
More details on copyright ownership...


International Musician - Oct 1986

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Gear in this article:

Drum Machine > Korg > DDD1

Gear Tags:

Digital Drums
12-Bit Sampler

Review by Tony Reed

Previous article in this issue:

> Stepp DG1 Guitar Synth

Next article in this issue:

> Steinberg Pro 24

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