Eight pads, one reviewer. Bob Henrit puts one over the eight
Should you have a desire to play your drum machine or synthesizer without having to have recourse to the buttons or keys then Roland have the solution for you. It's called 'Octapad', and whilst we've commented upon it before, none of us have ever tried it out.
As its name suggests, it's a series of eight pads which are set into what could be described as a rectangular plastic (ABS) table. The pads have softish tops rather like those on Roland's Electronic Drum Kit; the tops are made from a substance called Luminor, and beneath them are a layer of rubber and grainless particle board, as well as some form of transducer. (Roland have been very thoughtful with their transducers on Octapad; to put a stop to crosstalk between the pads should you accidentally hit the table itself, they've fitted another transducer to it, but out of phase with the others. This effectively stops all the sounds you've linked 'going off' at the same time.) Now, the idea is that since Octapad doesn't have any sounds of its own, you link it, via its MIDI output, to your drum machine, Emulator, etc. In short, anything which has a MIDI socket on it.
Each pad can be assigned to trigger any sound on a drum machine via MIDI and for this we utilise the channels 60 to 74. Thus we put our bass drum on pad 60 with (say) our snare on 61 and so on up to 74. We have forward or backwards buttons to select these numbers; so far so good. Now these assignments may be stored in one of four memory banks. So, in one bank we can have the kit sounds from a 707 together with the percussion (or rather some of it) from a 727. This feat is accomplished by way of those clever MIDI channels, but by using the memory banks and a selector footpedal we can switch instantaneously between the selections — eg, one drum machine on bank 'a', another on bank 'b', some of each on bank 'c' and so on. You can also use those DSD samplers with Octapad, loaded with your own sounds.
Of course, you can interface your own keyboard too. This example has the obvious limitations of pad availability, but you could always join more than one of the Octapads in your set up. This would put 16 sounds at your fingertips, or rather stick tips at a blow. Mind you, with judicious use of the footpedal we could gain access to 32 different sounds (using all the memory banks), providing of course that we were fleet of foot and not too drunk to remember where we put all those keyboard notes and sounds.
This, though, is not what Octapad is for; you could just as easily play the keyboard with all 10 digits. No, what it's for is to enable you to extricate sounds from electronic boxes via pads and sticks and enable you to play them in a realistic, touch-sensitive way. The patterns you create can, as you'd expect, be recorded digitally onto a MIDI recorder.
Besides the eight pads, which are set in two horizontal rows on top of the Octapad, we have a display window to inform us what exactly we're up to, as well as five LEDs to let us know about changes in programme, MIDI channel, Note number, Sensitivity and Curve. There are three programmable parameters: Curve, Minimum Velocity and Gate Time. Curve is to do with sensitivity which changes depending on how hard you hit the pad. Roland incorporate five curves which range from a gentle up to hard. Minimum Velocity is to allow other drum machines (non-Rolands) to react properly to a soft hit.
Also in the top of the Octapad itself are a bunch of switches to select MIDI channel, Note Number, Sensitivity, Curve as well as those buttons for Advancing or Retarding the numbers or Parameters. Below these are Patch Presets (memory banks) lettered a, b, c and d.
On the back edge area bunch of jack inputs so you can have pads going into the unit as well as via the MIDI sockets. These sockets, by the way, are the usual Din ones — one for input and one for output. There are also another pair of jack sockets at the back to accept foot pedals to affect Patch Shift, and Programme Change. The only other things at the back are an Edit switch and a Power switch. That's it.
You can, if you have a mind to, join up lots of different MIDI equipped units so that you can retake sounds from any source, but for me, Octapad's main raison d'etre is to enable the player to use his drum machine in a 'real play' situation.