Cactus Desert Drums
Electronic Drum Kit
Previewed at last August's British Music Fair, the Cactus Desert Drums are now in full production, though the delay in getting this electronic kit on to the market has unfortunately meant that several competitors now have rival devices on the stocks, or at least on the threshold of them.
The kit is the brainchild of former E&MM technical writer Pete Kershaw, who has spent not inconsiderable amounts of time and capital developing a digital sampling system that would give his drum-pads a subjective 'edge' on sound quality over its rivals. Judging from the impressive - and impromptu — demonstrations members of the public were giving on the Cactus stand at the recent Frankfurt Musik Messe, I'd say he's by and large succeeded.
The basic Cactus kit comprises the bass drum pad and four identical circular pads for snare, hi-hat, and two toms. These have a diameter of 30cm and are injection-moulded from ABS plastic, which makes them both light and extremely resistant to inadvertent damage. The bass drum is (not surprisingly) rather bigger at just over 50cm diameter, and is constructed from a slightly less rigid composite material. It's supported by two spiked spurs with push-on rubber feet, but though this sounds like sufficient 'scaffolding' in theory, in practice the bass drum can slip quite alarmingly away from the user if the kit is played with a little enthusiasm and the floor surface is less than leech-like. As with most other electronic drum-kits, the bass drum's steel bracket is compatible with most makes of standard kick-pedal.
Unusually, cymbals and hi-hats are on pads identical to those for the smaller drums, which means that it's now possible for a drummer to play a kit where each percussion voice has a direct output. The hi-hat in particular is an impressive piece of work, since a standard-type pedal 'opens' and 'closes' the sound in exactly the same manner as a traditional one, which means that any drummer can sit behind the Cactus kit and be almost totally at home with all the drums and the actions needed to trigger them.
All the pads are linked to the synthesiser module via XLR connectors, and each chassis can accomodate up to ten voice modules. Should you desire more than that figure, you'll have to buy a further chassis. All the sounds have variable sensitivity, decay (complete with peak-reading LED), and, of course, pitch, in addition to input gain and a pan control for the chassis' stereo outputs.
The hi-hat and snare modules have mixable white noise to add to the digitally-sampled sound, while filter frequency and resonance are also adjustable on the snare; resonance, frequency and sweep on the hi-hat. The only non-digitally-sampled sound available as an option is the synth module which relies on good old analogue tone generation and offers variable click in addition to those facilities already listed for the hi-hat. Unfortunately, the basic tone of the synth module is of the 'pew-pew' variety, so I doubt very much whether it will find a place in the kits of many fashionable percussionists.
What might prove rather more popular however is the range of additional drum samples that are being made available as I write this. These include a whole host of Latin percussion voices, handclaps, claves, cabasas and tambourines, plus what Pete Kershaw describes as 'the world's most expensive cowbell' and a gong sample with a maximum decay time of up to 10 seconds. No mean feat.
Each module has an individual output, while a 15-way 'D' socket facilitates connection of the entire chassis to an external computer or sequencer. It is hoped that interfaces for this purpose will be made available for a variety of different outboard units in the not-too-distant future.
An eleventh module at the extreme left of the chassis front panel houses the master output circuitry, and controls here are limited to a main stereo output level pot, a headphone socket with individual level control and pot for the level of the built-in metronome, as yet still a prototype option. It's this that will provide the sync track for the external control devices mentioned above.
The chassis is neatly designed and finished, and the intending purchaser has a choice of solid mahogany end-cheeks or 19" rack-mounting brackets either side of the control modules, which is certainly a point in the Cactus' favour if you envisage it being used in a studio environment.
All the samples use 64K RAM and the average sampling-rate is somewhere in the region of 45kHz. This is pretty good going for a unit in this price category, and goes a long way to explaining the overall high standard of sound generated by the Cactus' modules.
In general, the sound samples on the Cactus are of a very high quality indeed. The bass drum and hi-hat cymbals are worthy of special mention, I feel, particularly in the latter case since this is where some rival manufacturers have failed time and again to produce a sound that is both metallic and warm enough to be realistic. The bass drum seems to be at its most effective with a fairly short decay time, and a realistically low pitch.
The only mildly disappointing sound on the basic kit (aside from the synth modules, of course) is the snare, though it's only really below-par in the context of the rest of the set-up; on many competing kits it would be perfectly satisfactory. What it does lack however is a bit of 'beef' at the lower end, something which no amount of pitch/white-noise adjustment can cure.
While there's little doubting the fact that the market in which the Desert Drums compete has suddenly become a very competitive one, there's also no doubting the versatility of the Cactus system and the thoroughness with which that system has been put into production. The majority of the sounds are excellent, and the prospect of additional samples becoming available on a frequent and regular basis over the coming months from a local manufacturer is certainly an exciting one.
Quite simply, if you're in the market for an electronic drum-kit between £500 and £1000, you can't afford not to give the Cactus a trial.
Review by Dan Goldstein
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