Richard Fowler passes on a few hints and tips tor Alesis HR16 owners
The Alesis HR16 - a "versatile and convincing drum machine" writes Richard Fowler.
If you want to graduate from banging away at a few cereal boxes then this could be the drum machine for you. The Alesis HR16 is a relatively powerful and compact piece of equipment. For the layman who is not in tune with computer technology, it may not be the easiest drum box to program, but with a little care and attention to detail, the benefits of the good sound it can produce outweigh its small faults.
I must admit that most drum machines I have put my paws on in the past have come across as limited in drum sound quality. They especially let the side down when cymbals are programmed in. The decay time is never very good and usually unconvincing. The HR16, on the other hand, has superb drum samples and although the cymbals are still the weakest link, at a price of £3490, it is the most versatile and convincing drum machine I have so far tried.
The main problem with the Alesis is the small number of buttons that serve to do a multitude of different jobs. For instance, the select slide to the far right of the unit is probably more awkward to use than any other part of the machine. It controls voice, tune, mix, tempo and midi util buttons. The movement allowance from one position to the next is so slight, and critical, that it is not convenient to use, especially when in hurry. One slip and the HR16 is doing something else, totally different to what you intended and you can very easily lose a program.
Rubber buttons may be the "in thing" with manufacturers, but personally I hate them. They have a tendency to stick and you are never sure if what you have pushed is in operation.
There are so many variations and possibilities with the Alesis that perhaps a larger unit with more functions would have made more sense than having to use a single button or slide to do many jobs.
All pads can be made touch sensitive if need be. The button dynamics function is used to select the response you require from your drum pad. You will find that the +/- arrow buttons are used to select pad dynamic choices. These are: loud, medium and soft, and are touch sensitive. The others, 1 to 8, are fixed volumes and not touch sensitive.
This means that total realism can be achieved. Also, any drum or voice allocated to a drum pad can be tuned in the way you want, from -16 to +15, (obviously giving you a lot of scope). It is a good idea to play around with the drum sounds before you start programming, especially if you are a novice. Remember, you have 49 voices available, each one chosen can be allocated to any drum pad, so do not take the name written under each pad as gospel; they are just there as a guide. There is a great selection of bass drums, snares, toms and percussion to pick from, but a choice of only three types of cymbal which is not sufficient. They could have thrown in a splash or gong for good measure.
There are two outputs at the rear of the machine: L & R on output 1 and output 2, midi IN & OUT sockets, tape IN & OUT sockets and so on. You don't have to use all the outputs on 1 and 2, L or R will do. Just pan it to far L or far R and it will automatically centre. Toms, snares and percussion sounds can be panned left and right in three settings eg: left 3 2 1 and right 1 2 3, with 0 as the centre position. The volume of each voice is controlled by the "mix" button. So, for instance, the realism of a drum roll will sound all the more excellent with touch sensitivity on each pad, volume of each tom, tuning and finally, where you want them to be on a stereo basis.
I found "miking up" a real drum kit to be a nightmare, whereas with the Alesis, sound checks and volumes can be done with just one tiny box. Mind you, mixing the Alesis sound with the real thing is interesting and sometimes necessary. You can never get the sensitivity of accents on a snare with the HR16, as you would with a real drummer. Even if you had magic fingers, you would still hear the difference.
Most people buying a drum machine, have certain requirements that manufacturers have so far been unable to fulfil completely, (cheap, "sounds great", loads of outputs and a fabulous choice of drums and percussion). The Alesis is capable of producing complex chains of drum patterns: drum solos and tempo changes.
The basis os the machine is that drum patterns are programmed as if a real drum kit were being played. If a pattern has been recorded slightly out of time, the quantize button will bring everything back into sync, making the rank amateur sound like a genius.
The Alesis has a hundred separate memory boxes. Each one can have 682 beats programmed into it, and can be chained together in any order. The click time or metronome to the layman is set in metric values: ¼, 1/6, ⅛, 1/12, 1/16 etc, right up to 1/64 and "off" if you don't want it. Changing the speed of the metric value chosen is done by pushing the "tempo" button and altering the "select slide" lever on the far right. You can also change the sound of the click to any of the 49 voices available.
This is extremely useful, because some metronomes can be really irritating when you are stuck with one particular sound. The click can also be tuned and volume changed just like the rest of the kit.
When programming, the "quantize" button is the key control to getting everything tight. The metric values are the same as the click time (broken down into the same increments).
I have found that when the quantize button is set to 1/16, that should give you all the leeway you need for programming fast drum rolls and a slow steady beat. Anything less than that eg: 1/12 and you may not get what you put in. You will get all the information on playback, but not at the correct speed. The basic part of the drum beat is done on a real time basis. (You do it, not the machine). Don't panic. After it has recorded, if it sounds out of time, bring it back by knocking the quantize button to ¼ and you will be fine.
There is bound to be someone out there who won't understand the instruction manual. Personally, I feel the manual is not there to instruct, but to confuse. When recording, set the quantize button to 1/16, the number of beats you want, your click time value, tempo speed and push play and record together. Make sure that from the very start, all drum sounds and the like are stored, by pushing voice and record at the same time. (Voice parameters stored will be displayed).
You must do this for each drum pad, otherwise, if you mess up the recording, you will erase all the voices which go with it.
The fill-in button is an interesting device. It will allow repeated entries of drums, or any other voice, into a pattern, without having to repeatedly press the drum buttons. While "fill" is held down, pressing and holding any drum button causes that drum to repeat at the current quantize rate until released. You can put layers of different fill-in speeds on the same pad. So what you in effect get is a fast paradiddle on the high toms which slows down as you move around the kit on playback.
The swing button is used to give a "shuffle" feel, for jazz, blues or reggae. You also have an erase button, which is used to erase a single drum or the whole pattern. Very useful, if you have just spent two hours programming the best drum solo since God made the earth.
The HR16 can be easily hooked up to computers, sequencers, keyboards, 8 track recorders and a Simmons technoplastic Whizzo drum kit, giving it additional scope, with all the HR16 sounds going into it. Yes, it's very micro-chip and techno and ten to one 40% of the machine you may never use, especially if it's just to be used as a drummer substitute. But at least you know the functions are there to tap into when you need them. I have just touched on a few areas of the Alesis HR16. The other facilities I regard as subsidiary.
It really is a marvellous, versatile machine, so affordable, so comprehensive, so true to life.
Review by Richard Fowler
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