Ultimate Percussion UP5
Electronic Drum Kit
A British-built electronic drum kit for under £500. Sounds good, affirms reviewer Paul White.
Further refinements and a significant price reduction have given Ultimate Percussion a head start in the race to make the most popular electronic drum kit. The UP5's performance belies its price-tag, too.
With so much of today's recorded music being extensively 'produced' and a host of sophisticated electronic sound processors being used to create the end product, it seems the general public will no longer take the sound of an un-miked, untreated drum kit seriously. It's often been argued that electronic percussion modules don't sound like 'real' drums, but if your idea of real is what you hear on record, then neither do acoustic drums.
It's possible that, for much of their brief history, the complexity of electronic kits may have intimidated some drummers, especially as many that I've met can't tune their acoustic drums properly, but this new kit from Ultimate Percussion (formerly known as M&A, of course) should change all that.
What you get for your money (and just for a change, not much of this is required) is a visually attractive five-drum kit that's built like a tank, is easy to operate and responds in a very similar way to a conventional kit.
Instead of being faced with rows upon rows of knobs, the drummer has only a level control for each individual drum sound, a master volume and three pushbuttons which, as any student of binary arithmetic will tell you, gives eight possible combinations. All these controls are to be found on the control module (sounds logical to me - Ed), which houses the sound-generating electronics and comes in a neat metal case with a two-tone green front panel. Not exactly Habitat, but pleasant enough all the same.
The volume controls are fairly self-explanatory but the three pushbuttons warrant a few words of explanation.
The first of these is labelled Decay and offers a choice between a fairly well-damped sound and a longer, more 'electronic' effect. Next comes the Noise button which adds a certain amount of noise to the tom-tom and bass drum voices, though the snare drum contains noise anyway, quite regardless of this setting. Lastly, the Pitch button gives the option of a slightly slacker drum sound with a little extra pitch-bend, which can be quite effective. Of course, any combination of these three buttons may be used, giving a range of eight pre-set drum kit voicings.
The back panel contains jack inputs for all five pads and an output which may be either mono or stereo. In stereo mode, the drum sounds are panned across the stereo field in a manner similar to that of an acoustic kit, if you know what I mean.
Ultimate Percussion's drum pads have been restyled slightly since we last looked at their produce in E&MM May, but are still built on a steel sub-chassis in the interests of strength and rigidity. An especially tough rubber is used for the playing surface, and this is mounted on a sheet of equally tough plastic which, in turn, is supported by foam to give a comfortable, resilient playing surface.
It's obvious that a lot of thought has gone into the design of these pads, and the transducers in particular, providing further evidence that the manufacturers would like to see these kits still in use in 20 years' time. Always assuming, of course, that technology doesn't make them entirely redundant.
The bass drum is built along similar lines, but is of course larger and solidly supported by its base plate and spurs. Premier stands are used for the four smaller pads, but the kit can be supplied without stands, should you wish to choose your own.
The pads connect to the sound-generating module by means of locking XLR-to-jack leads, and the whole kit succeeds in looking both stylish and reassuringly solid.
The first thing that sets these drums apart from the competition is their response. The playing surfaces are extremely comfortable and respond naturally to both light stick work and animal thrashing, having a useful dynamic range of around 60dB.
Taking the snare drum first, this sounds bright and explosive, and at short decay times sounds rather like a studio-treated snare drum. At the longer decay setting, the sound becomes recognisably electronic and therefore more contemporary, but still with bags of attack - most impressive.
The toms can also be varied from the well-nigh acoustic (compressed, gated, close miked) to the more fashionably hi-tech, while the bass drum is meatier and better defined than most if not all of the competition.
All the UP5's voicings are analogue and consist of the standard ingredients of noise, tone and stick click simulation, but the way in which these have been implemented gives the user a choice of eight very powerful and useful kit sounds.
By simplifying the necessary control circuitry, Ultimate Percussion have managed to produce an electronic kit that represents a viable, cost-effective alternative to acoustic drums. Additionally, by reducing the number of controls, they've effectively prevented the drummer from setting up duff sounds through lack of experience (or encroaching deafness).
The feel and responsiveness of the pads mean that most drummers shouldn't have to modify their technique unduly, and the UP5 could well be used for cabaret as well as pop or rock music. When the club secretary staggers over smelling of beer and says 'Tone it down a bit lads!', you can do just that, simply by turning a knob.
Personally, I like this kit very much. It looks the part, it sounds great, and it's built to last. Glancing at the UP5's paper specification for the first time, it occurred to me that the preset system would be a limiting factor, but in reality all my favourite noises were in there somewhere. The snare in particular is second to none, so if you're looking for an electronic drum kit, stick the Ultimate Percussion drums next to the competition, play them all, and see which one comes out on top. I have a feeling it may be the UP5.
RRP of the UP5 is £555 including VAT. Further information from Ultimate Percussion, (Contact Details).
Review by Paul White
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