Roland Digital Drum Set
Bob Henrit misses the Kinks to hit the kit
This Roland drum set has been the subject of a good deal of speculation over the last 12 months or so. We all knew about its existence, but were unable to see it. It was actually on show at the Frankfurt Music Fair in February, but was immediately taken away to be fine tuned. It re-emerged at our British Music Fair which is where I first played it. I had hoped to test the set at the show, but so did dozens of other erstwhile EDK (electronic drum kit) owners, many of whom were bigger than me and certainly more vociferous. However, I made the journey out to Rolands' factory, and here we have the long awaited review.
As it says at the top of the page, this is a digital drum set; it's not synthesized. Its sounds have been processed via a computer and blown into a series of chips which are held inside the 'brain'. So, every time a pad is struck, the sound selected will play ad infinitum. (Or at least 'till you change it for one of the other patch presets). DDR-30 has six actual voices: Bass drum, snare and four toms, but four different PCM sounds are provided for each. So, in the snare drum's case we have (say), an ordinary dry snare drum, a damped snare drum, an electronic snare drum and a drum with a very heavy 'gated' effect on it. The same sort of sound changes are available for each drum, although the bass drum tends to not be quite so drastic in its sound variables. We can also change these sounds via parameter controls and store them in the memory, or in the special cartridge available which has a port-hole set into the front of the brain. (What we're actually doing is modifying the sounds already in the DDR-30). Up to eight kinds of modified preset sounds per voice may be stored and you may edit the preset sounds over 16 parameters. Also DDR-30 will remember eight patch presets in four banks, while the memory cartridge will store another 64. (As you can hopefully see, many, many different sounds can be produced and remembered by Roland's EDK). We'll talk about this feature later.
Roland pads are triangular with their points chamfered off. Their bowls are made from an ABS-type plastic with a piece of wood inside which has riot-shield type plastic sitting on top to form a playing surface. (I understand that the original pads for the set had no 'give' in them and Roland were worried about jarring the players' arms. So, they now have some sort of suspension system for the playing surface.) They are extremely solid looking pads and their playing surface and bowl are kept together by a U shaped aluminium channel which is very substantial. (The chamfered ends have a very thick plastic covering piece which makes them look even more chunky). The sharp end of each smaller pad has an aluminium clamp which attaches it to its Tama/Premier/Ludwig holder. It's actually a hinged jaw and is very securely bolted to the bowl itself. (By the way, Roland do not include stands in that price, nor do they supply them. So you'll need to add a few more pounds to the price. The snare drum pad, by the way, is sensibly meant to sit on a normal basket type snare stand.) I wasn't able to take the PD-20 pad apart, but feel it's safe to assume that there's our old friend the Piezo transducer hiding in there somewhere. Its job, of course, is to take the vibrations from the pad to the brain.
The bass drum has a triangular shape too, although it is wedged (ie, thicker at the top than at the bottom). It stands on a point and has the usual 'L' shaped piece of steel fixed to it to retain the bass drum pedal. It has the tubular spurs with a sharp end which face uniquely forward. They don't appear to be the same ones pictured in my Roland catalogue, but are very effective. A piece of flat steel is attached to the face of the pad and sticks out for a couple of inches. It has a hole drilled into it which is a clearance for a wing bolt which locates into a thread fixed into the non-business end of the spur. It's a very sound mechanical way of supporting the pad and should last a long time. A pair of sprung, screw adjustable spurs are tapped into the 'L' plate which locates the bass pedal to further arrest any forward movement. All pads are fitted with jack and XLR connectors to give you the best of both worlds. The bass pad doesn't have the whole of its playing surface made from 'riot shield' plastic, only a six inch circle in the centre. It gives a little and seems to be a very realistic playing surface. (The small pads measure 12" and 2" thick. The bass is 18" and 4" thick at the top tapering to 1½" at the bottom). So far these pads are only available in silver.
Roland's controller is numbered DDR-30 and is meant to be rack mounted. It measures 19" x 12" and it's two units deep. The key to operating the brain is the large comprehensive display window. All data is shown here from parameter information to instrument in play information. Below the window are a series of buttons for Edit write, Patch write, Bank select, and then eight patch preset buttons. Next to these are rocker switches for Instrument Select (up and down) and Programme Select. To the right of these are the edit section buttons which control all the voice parameters. There are six of them arranged in two rows for Forward, Back, Voice, Gate, Pitch and eq. (The last four have tell-tale lights.) Next to these are four more to control Pad sensitivity (from 0 to 20), Cartridge for loading and dumping, Copy and of course MIDI. Next to these we have an incrementor which is a large rotary pot with a dimple in it to put one of your digits in. One simply turns this to change parameters. Finally we have our cartridge slot and a MIDI message light and a Power button.
It's pretty simple to change sounds and store them. If we wanted to change pitch, say, we'd press that button in the edit section then use the incrementor to adjust the note within a range which runs from -24 to +24. (Initially we would press Inst Select to choose which instrument we were going to work on and the display would show us. Eg, SD-1 and its patch number eg P42). To change eq, we depress that button and a number for treble will appear in the window from -6 to +6. This may be adjusted and so may bass which we select by pressing either of the Forward or Back buttons. Gate level can be altered in the same way (from 0 to 99) as can Voice for each instrument (natural, damped, clicky, etc) and Dynamic Sensitivity which runs from 0 to 99 too.
To expound further on the parameters, there are five for each voice: Voice number, Level, Decay, Attack Level and Attack Decay. There are four adjustments for pitch: Pitch, Bend depth, Bend decay and Dynamic sensitivity and five for gate: Level 1, Gate time, Release 1, Level 2 and release 2.
As you can see, there are an awful lot of adjustments you can make to a given sound. But, with all this numerical control via the window it isn't too difficult. It really is a big help to be able to see the numbers instead of relying on your ears. At the back of the brain are all the connectors for the six pads which are XLRs, while the outputs are all jack sockets. There are a pair of jacks for left and right mix out, two more for pedals to shift patches and banks. Finally there are three MIDI DIN sockets for In, Out and Thru.
That's about it. It really is a very hi-tech piece of equipment and beautifully made. To be honest I would have preferred a slightly softer feel to the pads but otherwise I've no real complaints.