MPC DSM8 AutoTom
Or how to get perfectly-timed, programmable fill-ins from a single electronic drum pad. Paul White and another clever piece of design by MPC.
Britain is still ahead on points when it comes to the manufacture of electronic drums: MPC's new AutoTom shows how a little digital ingenuity can be applied effectively to analogue percussion.
MPC are now well-known for their innovative designs in the field of live electronic percussion. Their first product, The Kit, was a revolutionary machine when it first appeared, and the company now offer a complete range of electronic percussion modules.
In simple terms, the new DSM8 (DSM stands for 'Drum Synthesiser Module') allows the drummer to simulate a roll round the toms from one pad. Housed in a 1U rack box, the unit houses both the voicing circuitry and the necessary sequencing electronics, though it doesn't contain a power supply: you have to plug into an outboard DSM power unit.
The front panel contains no less than 12 rotary controls and the back panel one accent control, the power input and five jack sockets. These allow the unit to be triggered from either a pad or a sequencer, and there is provision to connect two footswitches for holding or resetting the pitch sequencer.
The recipe for producing analogue drum sounds is now fairly standard, and this MPC unit gives control over all the necessary parameters. To produce the final sound, a pitch is mixed with filtered noise and a percussive click to simulate the stick sound: by regulating the pitch and decay, a wide range of modern drum sounds can be generated. A further switch labelled Tom/Bass alters the noise filter characteristics so that tom, snare and bass sounds may all be generated by the same module. A neat cost-saving device, that.
So far then, we have a voicing section identical to that on MPC's other DSM units, but what really sets the 8 apart is its built-in sequencer section.
Whenever the drum pad is hit, a counter within the DSM is incremented, and it's this that controls the sequencing. A Pitch Step control lets you pre-set the pitch change between the different sections that make up a drum fill, while the other three rotary switches determine how the sequence will behave.
The first control (labelled Beats/Step) is used to select how many beats elapse before the pitch changes, and may be set at every one to four beats inclusive. Next, the 'No of Steps' control determines how many times the pitch increases (or decreases, for that matter) before it changes direction and returns to its original state.
The Mode switch actually shows how the pitch rise and fall works. In its first position (there are four in all), the pitch rises until the preset number of steps is reached, at which point it returns instantly to its original value, allowing the entire cycle to start again. The second position gives an equal number of rising and falling steps, while position three gives the same thing inverted, so that the pitch starts high, falls, and then rises again. Lastly, setting four gives the inverse of setting one, so that the pitch falls and then, after the appropriate number of steps, returns to its starting value.
"With a bit of forethought, the AutoTom facility can be extremely effective when the unit is driven from a sequencer, as the number of steps and beats can be optimised in advance."
Wonderful isn't it? All this science. But hang on a minute, what happens if you miss a beat? Does it mean that all your future fills will be out of sync? In a word, no. MPC have thought of that, too, for there is a switch labelled Auto Reset which, when active, resets the sequencer if the drum isn't hit for a period of longer than three seconds. You can of course reset the sequencer using one of the footswitch options, or you can hold any pitch indefinitely by using the Hold foot-switch facility, in which case, all drum beats will be at the same pitch until the pedal is released.
Just like the man said, huge multi-tom drum fills (up to 16 of them, in fact) without the effort or expense of lots of pads. Even if you hit the drum fairly softly, the sequencer steps through correctly, though the manual does warn against turning the sensitivity right up and playing like a butcher. If you do this, the sequencer is liable to trigger more than once on each beat.
The Auto Reset is potentially a very useful feature, and with a bit of forethought, the Auto Tom facility can be extremely effective when the unit is driven from a sequencer, as the number of steps and beats can be optimised in advance. Definitely useful for all you home recording buffs out there.
Technically, the DSM8 is hardly revolutionary, but at least MPC have gone ahead and put it into production, which is more than can be said for some other people I could mention. It's a simple idea that works and works well.
There's no doubt that the DSM's sonic ingredients are going to make it sound somewhat like Sss... you know who. But then again, that's just what you want, isn't it?
Despite the outward simplicity of the unit, there's plenty of evidence that a fair degree of thought has gone into its design: the footswitch connections should be a boon in live applications, and the maximum of 16 pitch steps means you can go right over the top if you want to.
If your drumming technique leaves a little to be desired, you go through frequent attacks of laziness, or you suffer from the common complaint we technical journalists call Lack Of Money, this clever box of tricks offers a great deal for a relatively modest outlay.
RRP of the DSM8 is £199 inclusive of VAT. Further information from MPC Electronics, (Contact Details).
Review by Paul White
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