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Boss Dr Pads

Mark Jenkins reviews this handy set of power-packed sampled percussion pads.

Mark Jenkins gives the latest Boss percussion line a fair beating...

The Dr. Pad is the latest in a long line of percussion accessories marketed by Roland's Boss division, best known for their compact effects pedals. It's not just the guitarist, however, who has benefitted over the years from the good value generally offered by Boss designs, for many will remember with some affection the original DR55 Dr Rhythm - the first affordable programmable drum machine.

The Boss percussion pad first saw the light of day under the 'Amdek' label, an ill-fated attempt to attract the impecunious punter with a range of self-assembly effects. The Amdek drum synth and clap generator were the first units to take the form we now see on the new Dr. Pad. These were both based on analogue synthesizer circuits, but the Boss Dr. Pad for the first time fits PCM sampled sounds into a compact unit. Sample pads have been offered in the past by Sweden's D-Drum and a few other companies, but the Boss approach is by far the most economical, with the range of three Dr. Pads each offering a choice of six varied sounds.


Since the three units are physically identical let's get the basic description out of the way first.

A Dr. Pad is about six inches square and two deep, with a rubber striking surface taking up most of the top panel and six control knobs sited just above it. These cover Sweep Time and Range, Decay, Pitch Sensitivity, Pitch and Sound. On the rear edge are jack sockets for Audio Output (which doubles as a power on switch), Trigger In, Mix In, plus small knurled controls governing Output Level and Minimum Sensitivity, along with 9 volt DC In and Out sockets for use with a Boss PSA adaptor. You can use a single mains transformer to power several units, and can also chain their audio outputs together using Mix In.

Sounds can be triggered from the rubber pad area or from Trigger In using the metronome, trigger or audio outputs of drum machines or synthesizers, with short or gated sound sources obviously being preferable if you're using audio signals as triggers. A piezo pickup, or C-ducer contact strip, attached to a conventional drum will also trigger the Dr. Pad, and power can be supplied externally or from the internal battery compartment.


The right hand Sound control is a six-way rotary switch which selects the sound you hear, and the effect of the other controls depends very much upon which sound you're using. The options available are as follows:

Dr. Pad DRP-I Dr. Pad DRP-II Dr. Pad DRP-III
1 Snare Drum 1 1 Bass Drum 1 1 Smashing Glass
2 Snare Drum 2 2 Bass Drum 2 2 Cowbell
3 Tambourine 3 E.Tom 3 Timbale
4 Handclap 4 Steel Drum 4 Scratch
5 Cymbal 5 Gong-S 5 Quijada
6 Timpani 6 Star Chime 6 Gong-L

Most of these sounds will be familiar to users of the Roland TR707 and TR727 Latin drum machines, although the variable parameter controls available on the Dr. Pads can take them way beyond anything available on these machines.

On the DRP-I, 'Snare 1' is a tight, all purpose sound which becomes very 'jazzy' when you increase Pitch. Adding a little Sweep Down (this control has a centre detent for 'no sweep') gives the impression of a harmoniser being used to bend each strike downwards, while another alternative is to use the Pitch Sensitivity control to make each strike a slightly different pitch. This allows you to emphasise some strikes both in terms of loudness (the Dr. Pads are permanently velocity-sensitive) and pitch.

'Snare 2' is a modern gated reverb sound which is very powerful at low Pitch settings, while 'Tambourine' is rather nondescript and best at flat settings. The 'Clap' sounds less like half-a-dozen people clapping their hands together than anything I've ever heard, and isn't a patch on the popular TR808 synthetic clap sound. However, it's a useful enough percussive effect which benefits from a fast, deep downward Sweep setting and a healthy dash of additional reverb.

'Cymbal' is a standard crash sample and is looped so that the high and low-pitched versions are almost the same duration; the looping is fairly audible, particularly at high pitches, but lower down it sounds like a gong swinging slowly towards and away from the microphone. Quite a bright sound though, similar in many ways to the 'Timpani' sample which is also looped and which is quite impressive when used with some Sweep Up and maximum Decay; it's virtually impossible, however, to play tuned patterns on the timpani using the Pitch Sensitivity function.

DRP-II's 'Bass Drum 1' sound is a rather long, gated reverb bass which lacks power, but the shorter 'Bass Drum 2' produces a more powerful effect. 'E-Tom' is just what you'd expect - a synthetic tom-tom sound with just a touch of white noise and a bend factor which can be added to by the Sweep controls. 'Steel Drum' is quite lifelike, and 'Gong-S' is a short, impressive effect which again suffers from obvious looping points at some Pitch settings. 'Star Chime' is taken from the TR727 and at half maximum Decay provides a very pleasant upward bell chime at various pitches, but after that point takes on a back-and-forth loop effect, which may or may not be desirable according to your needs.

On the DRP-III, the 'Broken Glass' sample could have done with a loop to lengthen it, but is still realistic, although you could hardly getaway with using it more than once or twice in a live set. The 'Cowbell' is fine with Decay set short at various Pitch settings, while the same comments apply to the 'Timbale' which becomes a sort of laser blast on long Decay settings with a fast Sweep Up or Down. Incidentally, the Sweep Up function won't generally take sounds much higher if Pitch is already set to maximum.

The 'Scratch' is very lifelike and is one sound which can be usefully varied using the Pitch Sensitivity control - it's good at all pitches, as is the 'Quijada' (wooden flexatone) which can double for a clave sound at short Decay settings. 'Gong-L' is simply a lower, less bright version of 'Gong-S' on the DRP-II.


The sounds available on the Dr. Pads are a pretty mixed bag, and the sad fact of the matter is that most users would probably prefer to mix and match sounds from one or more units. Since the sounds are PCM rather than EPROM-based, this isn't possible, and it's also unlikely that alternative sounds will become available.

The other problem is that having paid £149 for six new sounds, you'll probably want to play more than one of them at a time, which you can't do with the present design. The ideal compromise would be to provide additional inputs for cheap, passive pads which override the sound selector switch and allow you to access all six DRP sounds from different pads simultaneously; a good engineer may be able to do this conversion, but I wouldn't count on it, and such a modification would certainly invalidate your warranty.

Still, the Boss Dr. Pads are quite versatile units, having obvious applications in the studio (for replacing or thickening weak drum sounds) and on stage (for beefing up or adding to an acoustic drum kit). Before you dash out and buy one, all you have to do is answer two questions - do I want to spend £149 on just six new sounds? And what if I want those six to include a Snare Drum, a Quijada and an Electric Tom?

Each Dr. Pad costs £149 inc VAT.

More information from Roland UK, (Contact Details)

Also featuring gear in this article

Boss Dr Pads
(EMM Oct 86)

Browse category: Drums (Electronic) > Boss

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The Shape of Things To Come

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Behind The Synthesizer Experience

Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.


Sound On Sound - Mar 1987

Gear in this article:

Drums (Electronic) > Boss > Dr. Pad

Review by Mark Jenkins

Previous article in this issue:

> The Shape of Things To Come

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> Behind The Synthesizer Exper...

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