Boss DR-110 Dr. Rhythm Graphic
Treading hard on the heels of the successful TR606 Drumatix comes the DR-110. The circuitry has been streamlined into a neat silver plastic case about the size of a small box of chocolates (the sort that you ski down mountains with) and sports an up-to-date liquid crystal display which indicates the program status in a very comprehensive manner. The pushbuttons are made of pale blue rubber and are reminiscent of the Sinclair Spectrum home computer keys.
Although based on essentially the same technology as the TR606, there are several important differences. Gone are the bland-sounding tom-toms and gone is some of the programming flexibility. On the bonus side, a very realistic handclap sound has been added and the programming facilities are much more user-friendly than on the TR606. Another important feature is the ability to play all the voices in realtime by means of the push buttons. These can be played on their own or over the top of a pattern which is already running.
The memory contains space for 32 rhythm patterns, 16 pre-set and 16 user-programmable. The pre-sets are all modern and useful.
Two arrangements or 'songs' can be programmed of up to 128 measures each, and memory is preserved when the unit is turned off by means of the four type-AA batteries which provide power. A mains unit is available but a good set of batteries must be left in or the memory will be lost when the power is turned off.
The front panel has only four rotary controls, Tempo, Balance, Accent and Volume. Rather than provide a volume control for each voice, Boss have opted for a single control which adjusts the balance between drum and cymbal voices whilst leaving the hand-clap sound unaffected.
In order to impart some feel to the rhythm, an accent can be added which gives an extra degree of punch to whichever voice or voices fall on the accent beat. The degree of accentuation is set using the rotary accent control.
The tempo control operates over a sensible range without being too sensitive and the volume control affects both line-out and headphone levels.
There are two rows of push buttons, the top one handling control and programming functions and the lower one the voicings and accent.
Most of the keys are dual function, the second function being printed above the key and accessed by means of the shift key. It would be pointless to go into too much detail concerning the actual programming as the user's manual is very comprehensive, but I'll point out the important features.
Rhythm patterns are arranged in four banks of eight and are labelled A, B, C and D, these being selected by means of the appropriate push-button. The bank currently selected is indicated on the LCD display, banks C and D containing the pre-set rhythms. Patterns one to eight are played by pressing the correspondingly numbered key and then the Start button. Using the shift key and the 'step' or 'tap' buttons, the pattern can be programmed in step-time or in real-time by tapping the voice buttons.
Patterns may contain 16 or 12 beats for bass-drum, snare-drum and open and closed hi-hats, with handclaps cymbal and accent sharing a line. Programming a 'song' is simple with the current measure being displayed in its own window on the LCD display. Editing mistakes is not difficult and is much less frustrating than performing the same feat on the TR606. A trigger pulse is provided for use with sequencers or synthesiser gate inputs and occurs wherever an accent is programmed.
The pulse is 6 volts positive going and has a width of 10ms. This is compatible with all Roland synths and many other types, but makes such as Korg and some Moogs will require a special trigger pulse adaptor. (See elsewhere this issue for details of how to build such a kit yourself).
The bass- and snare-drums are reasonably convincing but benefit greatly from a bit of EQ to beef them up. The hi-hats are also good providing that they are kept low in the mix. It is always a great temptation with drum machines to set the hi-hats far too loud.
The cymbal has a definite metallic sound, produced, I suspect, by several intermodulating oscillators. Although it does sound like a cymbal, it is definitely a cymbal that I would not like to own!
On the other hand, the claps are great, though to my mind, not quite loud enough compared to the rest of the mix. All in all, then, a useful little box combining the best features of its predecessor with some innovative new ideas at a much lower cost.
Review by Paul White
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