Simmons EPROM Blower
the drumiest sampler, etc, etc?
THIS HAS been the big year for Simmons, I feel. The electronic kit is on the verge of being truly established, and to mark Simmons' ascendency we've had the launch of the budget-line SDS8 and the mind-boggling SDS7. Now to complete the onslaught we have the SDS EPB digital sampler and Eprom blower, plus the SDS1 digital drum.
The SDS7 already has a vast range of sounds. With the addition of the EPB you can sample your own sounds (whether of your precious acoustic kit or 'owt else) and substitute these for the factory-installed digital sounds in your SDS7. The result in theory: the electronic kit of your dreams.
The dream machine which will get you there is actually the workmanlike 12½in x 8in metal box smiling at you from elsewhere on this page.
The way it works is that a sound source (via microphone, tape deck etc) is plugged into the audio input; the signal is then converted to digital and put into RAM (ramdom access memory) storage. It can then be played back to check for fidelity and the controls twiddled until an optimum sample is obtained. This sample is then "saved" by blowing into an EPROM. EPROM stands for "erasable programmable read-only memory" — the EPROM can only output the stored data, but this data can be erased and the chip reprogrammed. To do this Simmons market an erasing unit (£41) which exposes the chip to UV light. (You can't do this too often without serious loss of quality: 20 times would be extremely optimistic.)
In case you're daunted by the actual operation, it seems simple enough. Having adjusted the gain control to get maximum level before distortion, the art is to match the length of the sample with the length of the original sound so that at maximum amplitude you're using the fastest sampling rate possible — in other words using as much of the available PROM store as you can. This is a matter of playing with the sample speed control and keeping an eye on the "start" light which goes out once the sample period is over. You can go on juggling with this and listening to the digital playback, comparing it with the original sound until your ears tell you that you've got the best sound in RAM. The EPROM is now inserted in the zero-insertion force socket ("Zifs") and blown. As the data is retained in RAM you can blow several chips with the same data if you require.
The EPB is capable of utilising 8K or 16K EPROMS, recording sounds of from 0.4 to three seconds duration. Six-packs of EPROMS (3 x 8K, 3 x 16K) will be available at £159. EPROMS of 16K are dearer than 8K so it's as well to use shorter ones where possible. As the system's geared for use with the SDS7 it's important to remember that the SDS7 uses 8K for snares and basses and 16K for toms. If you wanted, say, to include an ambient snare you'd have to use 16K and replace a tom-prom(!). The SDS7 uses 32K for cymbals (very sensible too) but there's no provision for blowing 32K PROMS with the EPB... Replacing the EPROMS in the SDS7 requires some care but takes only a few minutes. It's not, however, simply a matter of slotting in a module and carrying on playing.
Although the primary application of the EPB is for modifying the SDS7 sounds, Simmons list several other possibilities for the EPB in its own right. For example, by using the external trigger, drums can be overdubbed or reinforced; and, likewise, vocal or instrumental harmonies can be built up. By utilising the loop facility, parts of rhythms can be isolated and played back as continuous patterns. Finally, there is a 16-way edge connector on the back of the EPB which enables interfacing with computers for uploading data and manipulation of samples (eg reversing sounds, and so on)
The SDS1 is a self-contained battery-powered digital drum. It's totally dynamic and features control over pitch, pitchbend, sensitivity and volume; and it can be triggered externally. Because it has the 'Zifs' socket, EPROMS can be easily and quickly interchanged for unlimited sounds. Its most unusual feature, though, is the run-generator by which multi tom-tom fills can be mimicked as the pitch varies over a maximum four second run. A nice addition to the range, this — perhaps for those who can't afford or don't want a totally electronic kit, or as an effects unit.
With these two additions, particularly the EPB, the St. Albans boffins will surely want to sit back and wait to hear what drummers come up with. The idea of personalising Simmons and Linns is not new — people have gone to great lengths to do this and will continue to do so. But now anyone who can afford an SDS7 will contemplate going the whole way by using an EPB.
I feel there's a great potential in the system which has only been glimpsed so far: I'm sure that out there somewhere there's a Joe Zawinul of the Simmons kit, someone who sees him/herself as a "Simmons" player rather than an "acoustic kit" player, and who could soon open up a whole new rhythmic approach and style, after which drumming may never be quite the same again.
SDS EPB sampler and prom-blower: £392
SDS1 digital pad: £250
Review by Geoff Nicholls
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