Sequential TOM drum machine
Dynamic, tuneable drum machine successor to the DrumTraks
Since Sequential Circuits have had the best value-for-money digital drum machine — the Drumtraks —for around a year now, it seems only fair to let the opposition have their turn. Sequential, however, have not the slightest intention of doing this, and so have introduced TOM, a machine on which everything except the colour of the paint on the casing is totally programmable.
The external power supply helps in the lightness stakes, and TOM has a full complement of eight basic sounds — Bass, Snare, Tom 1 and 2, Open and Closed Hi-Hat, Crash and Claps. There's no Ride cymbal, and more importantly there are no individual outputs for separate effects and EQ — just a pair of stereo outputs, with each sound pannable to any position between the two. Maybe (as on the Six-Trax) it's possible to add individual outputs — ask the engineer at your local SCI dealer.
One thing that is possible though — adding new sounds, which is done via a front panel cartridge slot. There's already a great Latin percussion set with timbales, congas and guiros (all set for that Miami Vice soundtrack?) and sounds from cartridges can be mixed with on-board sounds in any pattern. Every drum in each pattern can have its tuning, pan position and volume individually programmed; some of these features were available on the Drumtraks, but the Tom allows you to control them from a MIDI keyboard while programming. It works like this...
While the bottom octave of keys on the synth select the sound played on the TOM when connection is made by MIDI, the top octaves play all the available pitches, so you can program in an amazing tom roll by running your finger down the top couple of octaves. There's also a key to duplicate the action of the "Reverse" button on the TOM; this allows you to program in backwards sounds, and the amazing part is that you can play the forwards and backwards versions of any sound simultaneously.
In fact you can make any sound play up to four times simultaneously (overlapping) in Stack Mode, and if you place an instrument on the same beat more than once, Stack Mode produces a flanging effect, the depth of which varies according to whether you've put two, three or four sounds on the beat. So throw away that old effects unit.
TOM can record 99 songs chained from 99 patterns and has full auto-correction facilities up to 96th beats for tidying up the (strictly realtime) programming system.
On to the rear panel, which has a socket for a Trigger output programmable on any beat, and one for a programmable footswitch which can control Start/Stop, Pattern Number, cartridge select, Song Number, Tempo Increase or Decrease and more. Also round the back, you'll find sockets for left/phones and right/mono outs, MIDI Out and In, Clock out (selectable at 0.5, 1, 1.5, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 12 and default, 24 ppqn) Tape Out, and Clock/Tape in (24, 48, 96 ppqn; yes, this means TOM can sync himself to tape). On/Off rocker switch and Power In wraps it up. TOM has a 2300-beat memory, but this can be expanded to 5000, 7700 or 10,400 by any service centre, and the LED display will tell you the memory capacity if you select Memory Status, press INC twice and interpret 8 (K memory) as 2,300, 16 (K memory) as 5,000 and so on. Also on the rear panel is a Clock Out, a Tape Sync Out and full MIDI.
The thing about TOM is that he's more intelligent than most other drum machines. If you program a few patterns in Improv (improvisation) mode, the patterns are dropped in at random times during playback if the Improv feature is switched on. The percentage of occurence is, of course, programmable, and it's only thanks to a very comprehensive handbook that all these features are made clear through the very hard-worked LED display.
Other goodies? Sounds can Auto-repeat at a rate set by the Error Correct speed, and there's a full complement of dump-to-tape facilities, editing facilities and front-panel indications of Percentage Memory Free, Software Revision and soon.
For a taste of some of the sounds you'll have to listen to the tape, but on the whole the bass drum is a little flat, the snare is better than that of the Drumtraks and the toms and hi-hat are very good. The Crash cymbal is outstanding, although it does fade quickly when it eventually dies; the Clap is again better than the Drumtraks, and the Latin sounds as we mentioned are quite wonderful. One problem is that you can't program your own cartridges as you could blow EPROM's for the Drumtraks, so you're reliant on what selections Sequential bring out.
Most of the TOM's controls are a little on the cheap side, coming from the squashy SCI Max side of town, but overall the construction should prove reliable if you look after the power supply. Other than multiple outputs, the TOM offers everything you could possibly want on a drum machine of this price, and it's (almost) safe to assume that if you need it, TOM can be programmed to do it.
TOM deserves to be a success.
Many thanks to Rod Argent's Keyboards, (Contact Details) for the loan of a Tom for review. Enquiries: SCI, (Contact Details)
Review by Tony Mills