Dynacord digital drums
Deutsche elektronische drummen
Backbone of Dynacord's new digital drum system is an 8-channel drum computer... or 'Percuter' if you prefer. At present there's a library of 50 plugin sampled sound modules and the system can be triggered by pads, mikes on acoustic kits, or the 16-channel 'Big Brain' sequencer. You can also give the Percuter your own sounds via the Boomer digital sound programmer which squeezes your sounds onto chips the computer can use. Finally there's the Digital Hit unit which produces one stored sound from a pad or a mike, or both at once.
I didn't get to see the whole system but I did have a good bash on the pads, which came with a Percuter and a selection of modules. Not having seen it before I didn't know what to expect as I ripped open the packing boxes to reveal eight gleaming white pads. First impression — favourable.
Many new pads I've seen over the last year have left a lot to be desired being hastily thrown together plastic affairs. Contrary to popular myth, drummers are an endearingly aesthetic lot given to hours of drooling over painstakingly-crafted hardwood finishes and polished chrome-plate. More to the point, they know you can't kick **** out of Tupperware lunch-boxes masquerading as advanced technology and expect them to survive the encore. Suffice to say the German-made Dynacords appear solid enough.
The pads are 13in across (the bass drum is 20in), and are fiveagonal (pentagonal to you classicists). These are big enough and near enough to circular to make the drummer feel reasonably safe.
This is a prototype set, but looks good with the stylish Dynacord black logo on the brilliant white shells — mindful of a modern dental lab, but smart. (I believe other colours will eventually be obtainable.)
The playing surfaces are hard-ish rubber similar to the new Simmons. The edges are secured by aluminium bands, Philip-screwed on — a bit cheap, though strong.
So, are Dynacord to be among the successful electronic drum manufacturers? In the electronic kit field Simmons is clearly out in front with MPC, Cactus and a few others not yet offering particularly serious opposition. The Simmons concept was to provide an alternative to the conventional kit; a drum synthesiser producing sounds inspired by the real thing. But in so doing new sounds were defined which fulfilled the function of the acoustic kit while simultaneously adding a new dimension, taking the drummer into the '80s with sounds appropriate to the new generation of keyboards.
The logical next step has now been taken with the SDS7 where these Simmons noises are available to mix with real digital drum sounds in unlimited combinations. The Dynacord is the first pad-set I've seen which sets about doing it the other way around, ie starts with the digital sounds. And it poses the question, if you're going on stage to play in real-time something which produces the sound of a real kit, why not use a real kit?
Bearing this lip-biting query in mind it's time for a closer look at the merchandise. Come September about 20 dealers will be stocked up ready to take your order. A basic five-pad system with your own choice of five sound modules, plus the Percuter will be just under £1000. Eight pads plus eight sounds, £1400. Not cheap and this doesn't include stands.
The pads can be mounted on the usual tom-tom brackets with tubular inserts and are secured by a T-screw. The bass pad does have its own pretty massive spurs. The pads are connected via jack-leads to the inputs of the Percuter. The jack sockets on the pads are locking so that clumsy guitarists can't easily disconnect you as they pogo about the stage. The rubberised surfaces, while good quality, are still rather hard, and the bass is particularly 'bonky'. It can be an advantage getting a good clean bounce from all the surfaces, but at the moment drummers generally prefer something more flexible. It remains to be seen whether the new Tama idea of using conventional heads will set the pace over the next few years.
The Percuter itself is a well laid out, shallow metal unit approx 18in x 10in x 2in deep. It has eight channels each with separate input and output. In addition it has stereo and mono outputs and a headphone socket. You can balance each channel via separate volume controls and then set a master volume for your headphones or amp quite easily. Each channel also has a sensitivity screw control so you can adjust the dynamics of each pad to suit your playing and the nature of the particular sound triggered by that pad.
There's a fair dynamic range, nothing like that of a real kit, but good enough to be going on with, and it is possible to do something approaching a press roll and crescendo. Moving on there is a multi-trigger input for use with the Big Brain sequencer. And finally two pitch controls (one for use with a remote pedal).
The pitch control, is a rotary potentiometer which adjusts the pitch of all the channels over a range of one half octave. The problem here is that if you want to change the pitch of, say, your snare drum, the pitch of everything else will vary proportionately. You might question the validity of altering the pitch of a digital 'real' sound anyway (if you don't like it then change the chip), but I suspect the lack of separate channel controls has to do with keeping costs down.
So to the sounds. The present library of fifty comprises 19 acoustic "natural" drum sounds; three each of bass drums and snare drums; 8 in to 16 in double-headed and 6 in to 16 in single-headed toms; eight cymbal sounds; seven "electrified" drum sounds and 16 percussion voices, including congas, bongoes, cowbells, etc.
I had a selection of 13 to try, plus a cassette tape recording of all fifty. As we have come to expect from digital units, the sounds are impressive, and the plug-in modules are easy and quick to interchange. The bass drums I found good if clicky, while the toms were tuneful but not too gutsy. This, however, is down to personal taste. And if you really don't like some of the sounds then this is where the "Boomer" (I wonder if something has been lost in the translation from German?) comes in.
The scheme is for your dealer to have a Boomer in the shop so that you can take your fave gear in and have it immortalised on blank chips, individual chip modules (your own, or from the library) should be around £25, which is rather cheaper than most. If you want to buy your own Boomer it will cost something over £300.
The "electrified" drum sounds are not a million miles from a certain Simmons sound you'll now all know. So if you are prepared to fork out you've got the potential for both digital and Simmons sounds. By the time you've done this and bought your sequencer, however, you are close to the price of the SDS7, so some careful comparisons would be wise.
The cymbal sounds offer the biggest problems as usual. All the sample times are one second which just isn't enough for cymbals. I'm told that two second chips will be available at only £8 extra and this should help the crashes. But at the moment the crash cymbals sound like overhit "paper-thin" crashes, that is, they choke with a disconcerting speed. And playing a pattern on the ride sounds a bit like tapping an anvil. The closed hi-hat's fine, but the "closing" hi-hat is dodgy. Since it's a fixed closing speed it can't allow for variations in tempo. The Simmons hi-hat pedal is a much better idea.
The other familiar problem is with drum rolls sounding like machine gun fire — it suits the "electrified" drums, but the "natural" drums need handling with care. To finish on a plus, the percussion I liked. The timbales sound true and, of course, quite suit the machine gun effect while the tambourine and cabasa thrive on it (purist percussionists may disagree!).
In conclusion I think Dynacord have made a pretty impressive start in a partially new area. The company has a good reputation in electronics and the problems will be more by way of translating their expertise into the most useful system for drummers. To answer the earlier poser, this kit must be aimed primarily at drummers who want to be sure of getting a consistent sound in the shortest possible time, but who still want to play. But by using the system to the full, the whole range of possibilities is apparent, eg, using the sequencer the Percuter can be programmed to do a Linn-type job with all the usual auto-correct facilities etc. or, by contrast, an acoustic kit can be used to trigger the Percuter. The possibilities for the drummer continue to increase...
DYNACORD digital drums: £1000
Review by Geoff Nicholls
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