Prelude Percussion Module
The cheapest—and ugliest—way to add sampled sounds you your acoustic drums or drum machine. Tony Reed reports
Up till now the small Lancashire firm of Prelude were probably best known for their Chord Computers – handy, calculator-style aids which can display the fingering of virtually any piano or guitar chord in a small LCD window. With the release of their Prelude Percussion Module, however, the company have taken a brave step into the turbulent waters of electronic percussion – and come up with a unit which offers the cheapest current entry into one-shot digital percussion sounds.
Precedents for this kind of stand-alone sample player already exist of course, in the extensive d-drums range, and in the Simmons SDS1. Like these, the PPM voices are individually stored on chips (the current library stands at 35 sounds, with more on the way (any one of which may be installed in the PPM at a time. Unlike either of the above, though, the PPM has no playing surface of its own – instead, a single trigger input accepts (highly) velocity-sensitive information from electronic drum pads (Simmons, Roland, et al), drum machines,or from the piezo pickup supplied with the PPM.
The basic PPM comes complete with one sound chip of your choice and the cheap looking red plastic piezo trigger, and, it has to said, does not present an initially appealing appearance. The squat grey funnel-shaped module, flashlight-sized, and complete with crenellated sides, betrays its origins as a co-production with a medical instrument company, who use the injection-moulded box for wholly different applications!
The 'nozzle' end of the PPM houses both the mini-jack in for the trigger (so a lot of standard-to-mini-jack conversions will be needed if you want to use the PPM with standard drum-pads) and the standard-jack audio out. The top surface of the PPM is headed up by the socket for the sound chip. A further £11.59 gets you a Zif socket – recommended if you are likely to swap the sound chips around – the legs are delicate, and could snap off if clumsily handled when inserting into the standard socket. It's a pity Zifs aren't fitted as standard, but it's all part of Prelude's cost cutting...
Beneath the chip socket are three black pots, unlabelled on my demo unit, for Pitch, Decay (sample length, rather than true decay) and Trigger sensitivity.
All the chips are a standard 16K configuration, so to accommodate long sounds such as cymbals, lower sampling rates have been used. On very short sounds, such as cowbells, the surplus memory has been filled up with an effect, reverb, or room ambience. Judicious use of the Decay control thus allows you to control the amount of pre-recorded effect on the sound.
Sad to say, the quality of samples currently on offer is – variable. In the absence of a standard sampling rate, it is impossible to draw any general conclusions about the voices but some cymbals gate off far too quickly while some drag on into unacceptable noise. Many of the drum voices seem happy only at very specific pitch and decay settings, perhaps those they were originally recorded at.
None of the four available bass drums were particularly impressive; on the other hand, Prelude's FX Snare, an industrial/gated style effect, was great; their Bright Crash was just that, and their Ride cymbal pingy and solid. Both orchestral stabs were disappointing, sounding almost as if they were sampled from a poor original source; but the Rock Tom, a powerful, live sound, is easily the equal of, say, Dynacord's lauded Rock Kit samples. Out of an initial release of 35 sounds, the company have seen fit to include a distressingly large number of 'gimmick' sounds – Rooster, Laughter and three vocal phrases, delivered in a heavy Northern accent ('Just potatoes James' is perhaps the most obscure), as well as some instrument sounds which can have little application in their projected areas of operation – 'Rim' and 'Hi-Hat' (closed) for example, don't strike me as the kind of sounds you would want to trigger from a real kit. Further sounds are on the way, but at the moment, Prelude have no plans to introduce a user-sampling or a custom Eprom-blowing service so you're restricted to their releases, though this may change if demand is high enough. Biggest blow of all, however, is the fact that the unit cannot be used to trigger chips from existing sample libraries (Simmons, Linn etcetera), since, in a further effort to keep costs down, all the clever stuff involved in producing a sound is actually contained on each chip along with the sample – there is no operating system in the module itself. A great idea in theory, but it means only the custom Prelude chips will work in the Prelude unit. What a missed opportunity.
The PPM is a good value-for-money product let down by some silly omissions – a lack of quality control in the sample department, and the lack of mounting options for the module. (Gaffer tape it to a mike stand?) Interestingly enough, the company have a neat, five-voice module 'kit' featuring standard jack connections and trigger buttons for each channel – for demo purposes only. Now, if that went into production, with some decent samples....
For the moment, though, the PPM's are the cheapest way of beefing up your acoustic kit with sampled sounds, or adding some punch to a weedy drum machine. If the company can aim for a little more consistency in their sound library, they might be in with a chance yet. My advice? Try before you buy – but don't write off the PPM on first impressions.
If you live in London, you can check out the PPM's now, at Kentish Town's Professional Percussion, currently the sole London dealers for the product. If not, contact Prelude direct on (Contact Details) for information on availability in your area.
Review by Tony Reed
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