Electronic Drum Amplifier
Of the current crop of combo amps designed specifically for electronic percussion, this is one of the most promising. Nigel Lord puts it through its paces.
Peavey's latest offering is one of the largest currently available drum combos. Can it make room for itself in a market that's growing rapidly?
UP UNTIL A FEW years ago, the best clue you had to the lineup of an unknown band before they took the stage often came from the names next to the glowing mains lights on the backline equipment.
If you saw Marshall up there, you just knew there were going to be guitarists. If it was Roland, chances were there was a synth player. The presence of Trace Elliot would have pointed to a well-heeled bass player.
Of course, there were exceptions to the rule. A Yamaha logo, for instance, could have indicated the presence of a guitarist, a keyboard player, or maybe just the roadie's motor-bike. But the one thing you wouldn't have expected to find is the prestigious Peavey logo anywhere in the vicinity of the drummer. Until now, that is...
Now, there's nothing unfamiliar about Peavey gear - even, I suspect, to drummers. But the recent launch of two combos - the ED100 and ED300 - represents the first chance these musicians have had to take up van space with their very own heavy black boxes bearing the Peavey name. Nevertheless, we're still talking about a name which is much more closely associated with guitarists - the current range of amplifiers having gained a particularly favourable reception from the twangy-twang brigade over the last couple of years or so.
It's the larger of the two units - the ED300 - which is the subject of this review, and if appearances are anything to go by, it's quite a formidable beast. In fact physically, it's probably the largest drum combo currently on the market, clocking in at an impressive 33" X 24" X 14¼". I say physically, since despite its dimensions, it is only rated at 130 watts (RMS), which on paper certainly doesn't qualify as overkill, especially given its percussion applications. But as any audio engineer will tell you, a paper specification doesn't give you anything like the complete picture. Perceived volume can often be much higher than the simple measurement of output power would suggest. We shall see.
The speaker system - a Scorpion 15" low-frequency driver plus a CDH high-frequency horn - certainly looks well qualified to handle the requirements of electronic drums. Despite assurances from other manufacturers that the 12" units fitted inside their combos are perfectly capable of taking the strain, I for one always feel more comfortable in the presence of a 15" driver.
Externally, though a rather unimaginative rectangular shape, the cabinet looks and feels immensely strong and well-made - as any attempt to lift it single-handedly confirms. This can be a double-edged sword, though. If it's portability you're looking for (after delighting in the ease of carrying electronic pads around), this is probably not the system for you; the ED100 looks a much better bet if you go for a hit-and-run stage approach. On the other hand, one of the immutable laws of acoustic design holds that big cabinets mean big (ie. deep) sounds, and no amount of clever design can really make up for this. So if your requirements lie not in great portability but in quality of sound, the ED300 looks like the system for you.
But enough of this idle speculation. Let's look at what you get, and listen to what you get from it.
CURIOUSLY, FOR SUCH a large system, the entire amplification section is contained within the top two inches of cabinet space. This somewhat compact design is achieved by combining the eight EQ controls into four dual knobs (we'll come back to this later) and, more significantly, by limiting the number of input channels to two - Normal and Bright. Now, Peavey obviously have other ideas, but I don't think this is enough.
"You can't treat the sound of a bass drum the way you do the snare... Yet with only two inputs available, this is the limitation you have to work with."
The primary purpose of a combo such as the ED300 is to provide a small-scale but nonetheless complete amplification system for electronic percussion. And this really must include a minimum of three channels for the bass, snare and toms found on most kits. And optimum performance often demands the use of separate channels for every drum voice - not necessarily for balancing volume levels (as this can usually be done on the drum system's "brain" anyway), but for independent control of external effects (such as reverb) and individual adjustment of EQ levels for each instrument.
Whichever way you look at it, you can't treat the sound of a bass drum in anything like the way you do the snare, or even the toms. Yet with only two input channels available on the ED300, this is precisely the limitation you have to work with.
The range of other facilities on the amp is thankfully quite comprehensive, and in addition to the obligatory Input sockets and Gain controls, we find the (four-band) equalisation mentioned earlier, plus a combined effects send and return socket provided for each channel.
The inclusion of four bands of EQ per channel is certainly welcome, though it's difficult to understand why these controls had to be doubled up to four pairs of inner and outer knobs (inner control 1 for low, outer control 1 for low middle, inner control 2 for high middle and outer control 2 for high). With an overall cabinet size approaching some three feet, it seems incredible that a little more space couldn't have been found on the front panel to permit the use of individual controls for each frequency.
Don't get me wrong over this. The system as it stands works perfectly well, but it's all too easy to get momentarily confused with the control layout, and end up turning the wrong one; even more so, I'd imagine, in a live situation with bad lighting. Obviously, slider controls would have been better suited to this sort of "mini-graphic" application, but even two rows of four rotary controls would have made life much easier. All musicians (and none more so than a drummer sat behind a set of drums) need to be able to check the control settings of an amplifier at a glance. Surely the additional expense to make this possible on the Peavey's EQ section would have been worth it.
One area which has been given considerable thought is that of monitoring, and next to the Input Gain controls on each channel, we find a further Level control which governs the amount of pre-EQ signal sent to one of two Monitor Out sockets on the rear panel. Additionally, there's a Summed Monitor Out socket (also on the rear panel) which provides a combined signal from both channels.
The purpose of these connectors is to allow you to take either common or individual feeds from the two channels of the amplifier (before the sound has been altered by the EQ controls) to a mixing desk where it can be "acted upon" by your trusted sound engineer, and then passed into the main PA system. Through this, the equalisation settings chosen to suit your needs on stage are not necessarily inflicted on your audience, for whom the sound requirements may be totally different.
"At low frequencies it remains smooth and uncluttered, while the clarity of the high-frequency horn lifts every type of drum sound you feed into it."
Now, if you're the type of player who insists on determining your own balance and EQ levels (leaving whoever's on the desk to make of it what they will), you're also catered for in the form of a Line/Recording output socket (again situated on the rear panel), which provides a post-EQ feed for the mixing desk for recording purposes.
Additional features on the ED300 include a Master level control, Slave In and Out sockets and an LED Compression indicator. Compression indicator? Yes, it seems that Peavey decided the system required some sort of protection from any "harsh and harmful clipping distortion" which may occur, and so have designed a circuit which automatically compresses the sound slightly at anything approaching the onset of distortion. Given the wide variation of drum systems which could end up being used with the ED300 (and the attendant possibility of overload), this is a very worthy addition indeed, and certainly one that works well in practice.
Speaking of which, isn't it about time we switched on?
WHATEVER MY RESERVATIONS about some of the design aspects of the ED300 system, they certainly don't tie in with the sound it produces. It's simply magnificent. At low frequencies it remains smooth and uncluttered - rapid bass-drum rolls fail to cause any irritation - while the definition and clarity maintained by the high-frequency horn really lifts every type of drum voice you feed into it. Also to be applauded is the range of control provided by the EQ sections, which prove very effective indeed, offering some predictably but usefully extreme effects at full cut or boost settings.
But perhaps most important, as with all good amplification systems, is the fact that whatever the ED300 does, it does effortlessly. At no time do you get the least impression things are working towards the edge of their tolerance. This is probably the effect of the cleverly designed compression circuitry, though I'd have thought it was also a result of using carefully matched components - particularly in the speaker system.
As I suspected, the quoted output power of 130W RMS is rather misleading - the ED300 in full flight is one hell of a loud piece of hardware. Just how loud is not something easily conveyed on the printed page. Suffice it to say, you'll have volume to spare at all but the largest gigs.
SO, AS FAR as it goes, the ED300 is a superb drum amplification system. It amply demonstrates how a company like Peavey, with long years of experience behind them, is able to develop probably the highest-quality equipment currently on the market in its category. Yet to an extent, it also demonstrates how specialised a manufacturer's expertise can be. Peavey obviously had no expertise in producing amplification equipment for electronic percussion, and this inexperience has shown itself in the design failings noted above. And it's those failings that make the ED300 a good percussion amplification debut, rather than an excellent one.
But where there's a good debut, there should be one hell of a follow-up.
Price £499 including VAT
More from Peavey Electronics, (Contact Details)
Review by Nigel Lord
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