TED Digisound Revisited
We first looked at the Digisound in July, but now the Dutch sampled-sound percussion machine has some new features and a new distributor. Paul White checks out the new version.
Dynamics and some new voices have been added to this Dutch-built range of sampled-sound percussion machines. How do they rate now?
When I first looked at these units back in July 84, I felt they offered a fair degree of flexibility and sound quality for an admittedly modest asking price. Now they've been given some new features and have also undergone a change in UK distribution, which might help spread the Digisound word to a wider range of musicians.
Each TED module has a small, square, solidly-built metal case of unexceptional charm, but lurking within is a digitally-recorded drum sound whose triggering can be invoked in one of two ways: by sending a suitable trigger pulse to the unit or by pressing the Play button on the machine's upper surface.
So far, then, we have something that's not all that dissimilar from E&MM's own Syndrom project, the difference being that you don't have to do any of the construction yourself. Mind you, the Digisound costs a fair bit more than the aforementioned kit, so you'd expect to find everything nicely put together when you get a TED module out of its box.
There is no built-in power supply. Instead, an external unit capable of driving several Digisound modules can be connected up, thereby avoiding unnecessary component duplication. DIN cables are used to link things up power-wise, but all inputs and outputs are on standard jack sockets. There are three rotary controls on the upper surface that govern pitch, trigger sensitivity and output level, and these are all pretty self-explanatory, really.
As it turns out, TEDs are still flat, square and black, but now they have dynamics as well. Pressing the Dynamic Control button ensures that the module in question will respond to the amplitude of the incoming external trigger signal. This adds a useful degree of user programmable expression to the machine's output, and as a visual guide to just how high that incoming amplitude is, TED have fitted an LED to the Dynamic Control switch that glows with varying brightness in accordance with the dynamics.
It's worth noting, incidentally, that the Digisound's Manual Play button is inoperative when the dynamics are in use. This is no great loss, as hitting said button with varying degrees of brute force could result in its untimely demise at the hands of the ham-fisted - E&MM's Ad Department, for example.
TED do in fact produce contact mics that enable modules to be triggered simply by playing the ironing board or the cat (these are just examples, you understand), but for the purposes of this review, I connected a few modules to an Ultimate Percussion electronic drum kit to see how they would respond. One of the modules so connected was a dual-voice model with both snare and bass drum sounds burned into its EPROM, though sounding both together proved impossible. The other voices under scrutiny were ride and crash cymbals, and in the event, all four sounds were excellent, the only slight disappointment being that the crash sample was a little on the short side.
To be quite honest, I'm not entirely convinced of the virtues of sampled cymbal sounds. The reason? Well, every time a cymbal is struck, it produces a slightly different sound depending on where the stick hits it, how hard it is hit, and whether or not it was already vibrating before it was hit. It's these often subtle effects that give our ears clues to a sound's authenticity - and seeing as a digital sample can't possibly incorporate all of them, we soon know that what we're listening to isn't the real McCoy.
Obviously this goes for all cymbal samples, not just the TED ones, but it's a point well worth bearing in mind, nonetheless.
"TED now have a library of available sounds that, includes such weird and wonderful voices as timbales, cowbells and gongs, in addition to a full range of conventional kit sounds."
If you already have an electronic drum kit of some description, TED's Digisound modules are now an excellent source of effective alternative drum sounds. The fact that you only have to buy individual sounds as and when you need them is still a very real advantage, and as if in anticipation of the growing trend towards percussion exotica in modern music, TED now have a library of available sounds that includes such weird and wonderful voices as timbales, cowbells and gongs, in addition to a full range of conventional kit sounds and the odd Simmons drum sample.
If you're not a drummer but someone who nonetheless likes to have a hand in putting together percussion tracks, you can use a couple of Digisound modules to give your drum machine a sonic facelift - albeit without the luxury and versatility of dynamics - by connecting them to some appropriate trigger outputs. So if the bass drum on your analogue rhythm programmer sounds like a suitcase being slapped with a piece of partially thawed fish, a Digisound module could be the answer.
Mind you, I'm not altogether sure about the combined bass and snare module: surely, if you want to use both sounds, you're going to want them triggered on the same beat at some stage during their working life?
Finally, if you take the opportunity to purchase a few of the reasonably priced contact mics, you could even construct your own digital electronic drum kit in true Blue Peter fashion, using kitchen utensils and sundry other household items.
Just a thought.
Single-sound Digisound modules carry an RRP of £115, while dual-sound variants come in at £149, both prices including VAT.
Further information from TED's UK distributors, Capelle Music Industries, (Contact Details).
Review by Paul White
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