Dynacord ADD-One Advanced Digital Drum System
As it stands, the ADD-One is a new 8-channel sampled sound expander designed to be triggered from Dynacord's own drum pads. But user-sampling and disk storage promise to extend its range of applications in the near future. Chris Everard reports.
Chris Everard took such a shine to Dynacord's ADD-One Advanced Digital Drum system unveiled at last month's British Music Fair, that he asked if he could review one. We said yes, so here are the results...
The phenomenon of pad bashing has been around for quite a number of years, starting with the now historic introduction to drummers of the Simmons SDS4. But over the last two years electronic kits have been quite stationary in their development with most manufacturers offering models which have had the price and not the performance as the main design criterion.
Things are once again on the move, however, and electro kits are now really beginning to feel the full benefit of recent microchip and MIDI developments. Dynacord in Germany, Europe's largest musical equipment manufacturer, have recently developed in conjunction with an American design company, Fast Forward (they of the excellent Oberheim Xpander), a unit which can only be described as the state of the art electronic drum 'brain'. They call it the ADD-One (Advanced Digital Drums), and those dedicated enough to line up outside this summer's BMF in torrential rain and get soaked to the skin would have had the opportunity to visit the Dynacord stand and see the first production models being put through their paces in some breathtaking and ear-splitting demos. So what's all the fuss about?
The ADD-One is an eight channel digital drum module which works on the basis of holding sampled sounds in its memory and then giving the user the opportunity to manipulate and process these sounds using a whole multitude of synthesizer-like parameters.
It has eight individual jack audio outputs as well as master L/R and monitor outputs and a built-in headphone amplifier. Trigger inputs used to activate the samples can be entered via MIDI (it has In, Out and Thru with extremely versatile MIDI software), or via drum pads from eight individual jack inputs or from one of Dynacord's multi-pin input/output connectors. The ADD-One is capable of reading out different pitches of the same sample simultaneously across all eight pads, which enables you to create many different sounds from a single sample. All of the differently pitched samples can also have completely different tone colours as the parameter memory is extremely flexible, and all channels and all samples are programmed and memorised independently. The pitch of samples can also be dynamically determined by how hard or soft you hit the pads, and any trigger input can activate any one or all of the eight available samples in a typical 'kit', which occupies one of the 128 memory locations.
Technically speaking, the ADD-One offers the user a complement of pre-blown EPSC chips which are sound collections held on EPROMs.
Each EPSC set is made up of four 256k chips each containing a whole mass of different sounds ranging from electronic and acoustic percussion to synth brass stabs, toilets flushing, doors slamming, dog barks and plenty of other adaptable sounds. Sounds can also be loaded from normal audio cassette via the sensible phono plug connectors on the back panel. As you might expect, you will be able to sample your own sounds into the ADD-One and save them on Dynacord's own floppy disc drive unit - however, these facilities are to be released in about three months time. For now, present owners have to make do with the sound libraries available, which truly should keep anyone happy for over a year or more!
A total onboard memory capacity of 8 Mbits (1 Mbyte) is possible by adding up to six of the EPSC PCBs which represent 1 Mbit each. Plain RAM extension boards are also available for those people wishing to have just blank memory rather than pre-blown factory sounds to work with.
The lowest sampling rate is 12kHz, giving you an audio bandwidth of about 6kHz, whilst the highest sampling rate is 50kHz. This results in the replay of extremely good quality, transparent sounding samples having an audio bandwidth of about 25kHz, which is roughly 6kHz above where the ear stops hearing. Thus the ADD-One is capable of reproducing in perfect timbre any type of high frequency sound - its cymbal samples are something else! In plain English, the ADD-One can store roughly 40 one second samples each with an audio bandwidth of 12.5kHz.
Because the sampling rate is variable, it is possible to obtain excellent cymbals and cabassas etc - which need that high frequency sheen - and save memory and therefore lose top-end fidelity on sounds which don't really warrant it, such as typical electro kit sounds and special effects. If you're not too worried about audio bandwidth and are happy with sounds that reach only the dizzy heights of 6kHz (which is still approximately 2kHz better than Medium Wave radio), then you could pack a fully loaded ADD-One to the brim with over 80 different sounds.
From all of these onboard sounds you can then create/arrange up to 128 eight-voice 'kits', each kit filling one memory position. But before, during and after assembling these kits, it is possible to process and change any or all of the samples using the multitude of synthesizer-like parameters at your disposal. Quite simply, the ADD-One offers more possibilities and more complex processing parameters than any machine of its kind. If you are familiar with the monstrous capabilities of the Oberheim Xpander synth, which was designed by the same company who thought up the ADD-One, then you'll know how flexible and extensive the sound manipulation potential is on this machine.
As a brief addendum, let me inform you that each sample is held within one of the eight completely independent sound channels, each of which offers control over the following: volume, pan position, pitch, pitch bend, decay, filter frequency, attack, duration, trigger dynamic character, trigger delay time (very weird facility), trigger repetition (extremely useful), trigger repetition decay time, filter resonance and filter resonance bend. On top of all that there's a software-generated envelope generator with attack, EG duration, decay, EG pitch modulation, EG filter frequency modulation and EG filter resonance modulation parameters, plus a software-generated LFO with control over pitch modulation and frequency. Each of the eight independent voltage-controlled filters have an edge steepness of 24dB/octave, by the way.
All of the above parameter values are input via incrementor knobs located under each channel on the front panel. Most parameters are more or less self-explanatory, but one extremely useful pair control the trigger repetition function. As per the Simmons MTM, this provides the simulated effect of having a simple, extremely good quality, delay unit on each sample. Weird and wonderful pitch modulations can be integrated with this trigger repetition function so that a sound will waver in pitch on each repeat. I wouldn't say that these features obviate the use of a digital delay line when performing with the ADD-One, but for straightforward Stewart Copeland 'Regatta de Blanc' style hi-hat routines, all of it can be produced from inside the memory. One of the highlights of the BMF Dynacord demonstrations was the session guy hired in from the States who played Motorhead and Iron Maiden drum solos - complete with double bass drums, snare rolls, different cymbal crashes, toms etc - from just two pads!
The above implementation also involves the ADD-One's uncannily flexible dynamics control software which enables different samples to be accessed from the same drum pad depending on how hard or soft it is struck. A whole kit of eight voices can be 'rotated' by playing patterns on just one pad - this is ideal for programming drum machines or Dynacord's own 'Big Brain' MIDI sequencer, and is one of those features which is going to open up the world of acoustically synthesized, non-technical percussion to more and more non-drummers.
All of the listed parameters are accessed by a group of function buttons situated to the right of the large English-speaking illuminated 80-character LCD display. The display makes programming of the ADD-One a piece of cake because it constantly offers useful suggestions, general prompts and questions. Another facility which makes the ADD-One stand shoulder to shoulder with Synclaviers and Fairlights is the internal 'Help' software, which will get you out of any jam by communicating to you in a faultless stream of English text. I have no hesitation in telling you that I reviewed the ADD-One with no manual at all - at least, not one printed on paper. All the information you need to operate the unit is stored inside the machine and is accessed as you scroll through the different screen displays and functions.
In addition to the connections I've already mentioned, on the back panel you'll find the input for Dynacord's 'Remote Pad'. This is a small drum pad with two touch surfaces which step memory locations backward or forward when struck. It also gives you a red three digit LED display to tell you the current memory number in use.
Inside the ADD-One there is dedicated software which interacts specifically with the trigger inputs. When one of Dynacord's own pads is struck toward the edge of the 'skin', the sound is different from that produced by hitting the pad centrally - just like a real drum the sound varies accordingly. In addition to this, Dynacord have developed 'Duo' pads which have two completely different sets of trigger electronics - one set linked to the rim and the other to the skin - to facilitate the proper emulation of rim shots. But I must point out that the ADD-One is so complex and allows such versatile routing arrangements that this facility on the Duo pads isn't very necessary and should be looked upon as extremely clever icing on an already technologically advanced cake.
For my liking I've gone on already too long in this review without mentioning and expressing my feelings about the August 1986 factory sounds that the first ADD-One units will have when they start arriving in this country toward the end of October. Quite simply, they are the most staggering and colossal sounds I've heard from any digital drum unit! The jazz and rock acoustic kits are so transparent and so clean, they are truly indistinguishable from the real thing. A lion's share of the memory is taken up with some earth-shaking electro/techno drum sounds and their level of dynamics programming can only have been executed by a 'thinking' drummer.
DX7-type ringing noises are also in the sound library along with bass drums which have been tuned up so high that they sound like finger cymbals! An eight second sample of a Bavarian toilet flushing and various renditions from our canine pals are the stars of the special effects library and, basically, there appears to be something for everyone. Overall, the ADD-One's opening factory sample library is a magic mix of classic Linn, Oberheim, Yamaha, Simmons, and acoustic sounds. Superb!
Unlike some writers I place emphasis on the price usually only in the confines of a summary when pointing out how good I consider the price/performance ratio of a particular piece of equipment to be. The Dynacord ADD-One will cost roughly £3000 when purchased with a full complement of drum pads; the sampling disk drive unit, as yet, remains unpriced, as too do the add-on memory cards. But, having spent considerable time with the machine in the confines of the Clink rehearsal complex near London Bridge, I must say that the ease of operation and versatility offered - especially in the processing of sounds - is exceptional, and makes the initial £3000 investment worth considering. Incidentally, that figure is not too dissimilar from prices being asked for a Linn 9000 and other such units.
Once the sampling and diskdrive facility has been introduced and the unit is available on the market as a complete package, I can see a lot of new software updates being released that will put the ADD-One into more professional studio's outboard racks than in the back of the rich drummer's flightcase. The appearance of the ADD-One, and the fact that they are willing to finance, develop and market novel concepts in music technology such as their Rhythm Stick, goes to show that Dynacord, more and more, are becoming a company to watch.
Review by Chris Everard
Previous article in this issue:
Next article in this issue: