Electronic Percussion checklist
This month, E&MM’s unique equipment round-up turns its attention to the rhythmic world of drum machines and electronic drum kits.
The drumming side of modern music technology has had a fairly quiet last three months - thus we haven't had to make too many changes to this issue's CHECKLIST, the buyer's guide that pulls no punches. For once, the product details have remained as stable as the list's basic formula: a full rundown of all the relevant instruments currently available, with price and spec information, plus the comments of our reviewing team where possible.
If anything, this month's instalment shows a slight drop in the number of drum machines and electronic drum kits listed. We've said goodbye to, amongst others, the MXR 185 drum computer, the Simmons Clap Trap, the Roland TR909 and, sadly, the Anvil Percussion Synthesiser, a drum machine of phenomenal power that we previewed back in June '85, but which is now a victim of spiralling research and production costs.
On a brighter note, quite a few instruments have been subject to price drops. Most notable of these is the LinnDrum, which now looks much better value at its new price of £1395 + VAT. And we've maintained our policy of erring on the side of pessimism when it comes to typical retail prices; so don't be surprised if your nearest music shop offers you a piece of gear at a price significantly lower than that listed below.
The Spring of '86 looks like being a busy year for the programmable drum machine, even if manually played electronic drums aren't going to proliferate the way they have done over the last couple of years. We already have advance details of new machines from most of the big names: Yamaha have an RX21 with Latin Percussion voices, Roland are to introduce the TR505 as a direct (and long-overdue) replacement for the Drumatix, and Casio are to introduce their first-ever stand-alone drum box. It will cost about £350, and it will have a user-sampling facility onboard. We also have news of a new machine from French company RSF (remember the Kobol synths?), which features a huge range of preset voices and a flexible programming system at little more than RX15/TR707 money.
But perhaps most significant of all will be Roland's PAD8 Octapad, a pad-to-MIDI converter that lets you play just about any MIDI instrument from its own array of touch-sensitive pads. It could be in some shops before Christmas, and well be publishing an in-depth appraisal of it — plus further news on the other, less advanced, new products — as soon as time and excess Christmas food and drink will allow.
Inpulse One - £1095 Eight-voice digital drum machine. Eight pads for live performance, 99 programmable patterns, 15 songs, trigger inputs, individual voice outputs; 16-voice basic sound library includes bass drum, snare, handclaps, timpani, gunshot, conga, claves, hi-hat.
+ Build quality, ease of use, promise of expanding voice library;
- some sonic disappointments, difficult to get hold of;
= a fine machine that combines editing facilities with real-time playability, sadly underrated.
Dr Bohm - £669 (kit), £949 (built) 24-voice digital drum machine. 180 pre-programmed patterns, 36 programmable rhythms, 8 separate outputs; 2 bass drums, 3 snares, 2 rimshot snare rolls, 12 toms, 2 bongos, woodblock, 2 congas, 4 closed hi-hats, 2 open hi-hats, 4 cymbals, 2 tambourines, 2 maracas, claves, cowbell, handclap.
+ Vast range of built-in sounds, kit package gives the soldering-iron crowd a real bargain;
- bewildering control layout, lack of decent interfacing facilities, ready-built price-tag slightly high;
= a bit of an oddity these days, but pre-programmed patterns are useful building blocks for inexperienced programmers.
Dr Rhythm Graphic DR110 - £125 Six-voice analogue drum machine. Built-in LCD, mono output; bass drum, snare drum, open & closed hi-hat, cymbal, handclap.
+ Superb display makes writing and editing patterns a doddle, unbeatable analogue clap sound;
- balance control offers only limited adjustment of voice levels;
= successor to the immortal DR55 and justifiably popular, proves analogue technology still rules the roost at bottom end of electro-drum market.
Drumulator - £985 12-voice digital drum machine. 36 programmable patterns, 8 songs, cassette storage of programs, sync (24, 48, 96 ppqn); basic sounds include bass drum, snare, clave, cowbell, handclaps, rimshot, open & closed hi-hat, 3 toms, cymbal - alternative sound chips also available.
+ Digital voices still sound good next to Japanese competition, excellent range of additional ROM-based voices;
- falling behind in both price and composing facilities;
= low High Street prices make this a decent bet despite its age, though it's now overshadowed by Emulator SP12.
Emulator SP12 - £2999 24-voice (16 preset, 8 user-sampled) digital drum machine. 100 segments chainable into 100 songs (minimum capacity 5000 notes), MIDI (In, Out, Thru) and SMPTE equipped; bass, snare, electronic snare, rimshot, 4 toms, 4 electronic toms, hi-hat, crash & ride cymbals, claps, cowbell,
+ Wonderful digital sound quality thanks to 12-bit resolution, user-sampling equally impressive, easy to use, first US drum machine to offer genuine step-time programming;
- high demand means limited availability;
= probably the best drum machine available anywhere, completely without rival (at least for the time being) and easily upgradable through hardware/software updates.
DPM48 - £499 23-voice (15 programmable) digital drum machine. Seven programmable patterns, MIDI (In, Out,Thru) equipped; 4 toms, 3 bass drums, 3 hi-hats, 3 snares, 3 cymbals, 2 cabasas, clap, 2 agogos, rimshot.
+ Sounds good despite home organ origins, MIDI retrofit makes interfacing facilities complete;
- lacks the informative display facilities of more recent models;
= recent £200 price drop makes Hammond's only pro instrument irresistible: if only they'd come up with more...
DDM110 - £225 Nine-voice digital drum machine. 32 programmable patterns, LED display, real- and step-time programming, programmable trigger out, stereo output, sync (48ppqn); bass drum, snare, rimshot, 2 toms, open & closed hi-hat, cymbal, handclaps,
+ Cheapest digital drum machine on the UK market, links neatly to MIDI (and tape) with optional KMS30 interface;
- you don't get impeccable sound quality for this money, so some sounds bettered by analogue equivalents;
= another justifiably popular machine, even with (unavoidable) digital noise problems.
DDM220 - £225 Latin Percussion version of DDM110, spec as above except for voicing; 2 congas, timbale, wood block, cowbell, agogos, cabasa, tambourine,
+ Marvellously realistic approximations of Latin drums that really do sound different;
- nothing at this price, except non-Roland standard sync;
= the first drum machine to offer more than the usual rock percussion set-up, and they're not charging the earth for it.
MR16 - £449 19-voice digital drum machine for connection to pre-existing MIDI software, individual and stereo outputs,
+ Voices identical to those of DDM110/220, hence pretty good;
- some dodgy ergonomics, not cheap when combined with essential SQD1 sequencer;
= a sound enough idea that now has an excellent sequencer (Korg's own SQD1) to go with it, though there's still no specifically drum software to perform specifically drum tasks.
LinnDrum - £1600 23-voice digital drum machine. 42 preset and 56 programmable patterns, 49 songs, individual and stereo outputs, cassette storage of programs, alternative sound chips available; 2 bass drums, 3 snares, sidestick, 3 hi-hats, 3 toms, 3 cymbals, 2 cabasas, 2 tambourines, 2 congas, cowbell, handclap.
+ The original still sounds excellent, open-ended voice structure, healthy service back-up the world over thanks to instrument's popularity;
- compared with digital machines from Japan, a bit on the pricey side,
= recent price decrease means it remains an attractive proposition, even when set against newer rivals.
Linn 9000 - £5745 18-voice digital drum machine and MIDI sequencer. Individual and stereo outputs, 2 programmable trigger outs, MIDI (In, Out, Thru), tape sync facility, 32-track polyphonic keyboard sequencer, disk and cassette storage of programs; bass drum, snare, hi-hat, 4 toms, 2 congas, 4 cymbals, cowbell, handclaps, cabasa, sidestick, tambourine.
+ Superlative drum sounds, elegant all-in-one-box design concept;
- horrendous price-tag, lack of step-time input and other crucial recording facilities, no sampling yet;
= without its promised hardware and software updates (step-time input, editing, sampling), an expensive dinosaur.
512 - £299 Nine-voice digital drum machine. Eight song, 64 programmable patterns, trigger in, trigger out, individual (DIN) and stereo outputs; bass drum, snare, 3 toms, handclaps, cymbal, open & closed hi-hat.
+ Wonderful sounds for the money, light and compact;
- terrible ergonomics, thus difficult to use;
= Germany's little digital gem, though made in small quantities so you don't see many about.
Music Percussion Computer - £299 Nine-voice analogue/digital hybrid drum machine. 26 programmable bars, 25 programmable sequences, eight pads for live playing, real- and step-time programming, individual and mix outputs, tape sync facility, ZX81 interface; bass drum, snare, open and closed hi-hat, 4 toms, handclap, cymbal.
+ A marvellous idea (like a cheap Inpulse One, though the MPC came first) backed up with some presentable sounds;
- no MIDI, Sinclair software not very friendly;
= a pioneer coming to the end of its useful commercial life, though it's still a worthwhile machine, and new MPC pricing policy makes it something of a bargain (it's reduced by a further £100 over Christmas only).
DX - £1575 18-voice digital drum machine. 100 programmable patterns, 50 songs, LED display, individual, stereo and mono outputs, real- and step-time programming, instrument sync (96ppqn) and sync to and from tape facilities, alternative sound chips available; 3 bass drums, 3 snares, 3 hi-hats, 3 toms, 3 cymbals, 2 shakers, handclap.
+ Usual Stateside virtues of good sounds and easy chip replacement for voicing variety;
- usual Stateside vice of relatively high cost;
= an underrated machine with price-tag that's ensured a low profile in UK, but updated version with MIDI as standard available soon, price TBA.
DX Stretch - £TBA Hardware add-on for DX giving additional voices and MIDI facility. To be reviewed.
DMX - £2975 20-voice digital drum machine. 200 programmable patterns, 100 songs, real-and step-time programming, individual, stereo and mono outputs, sync (96ppqn) equipped, cassette storage of programs; 3 bass drums, 3 snares, hi-hat, gunshot, 2 toms, noise, conga, timbale, tambourine, rimshot, shaker, handclaps, cowbells, clave, 2 cymbals, punch.
+ As for DX, plus usefully large range of onboard voices,
- again, mainly the price;
= the original Linn-beater, but like its rival, feeling the pinch from more cost-effective competition.
TR707 - £550 12-voice digital drum machine. 64 programmable patterns, liquid crystal display, real- and step-time programming, individual and stereo audio outputs, MIDI (In, Out) and Sync 24 equipped, cartridge and cassette storage of programs; 2 bass drums, 2 snares, 3 toms, rimshot, cowbell, handclap, tambourine, open & closed hi-hat, 2 cymbals.
+ Marvellous sounds, DR110-like display makes programming a piece of cake once you're suitably acclimatised, cartridge storage is great relief after tape, useful set of separate outputs;
- not nearly as well-built as Roland's old TR808 analogue flagship, idiosyncratic programming technique, no individual voice tuning;
= despite its limitations, the best middle-market drum box available - if you like Roland's programming system, being augmented by smaller TR505 in 1986.
TR727 - £550 15-voice percussion version of TR707: facilities as above except for voicing. 2 bongos, 3 congas, 2 timbales, 2 agogos, 2 whistles, quijada, cabasa, maracas, star chimes,
+ All the 707's attributes, with an equally marvellous selection of sounds;
- 707 and 727 together cost too much: if only Roland believed in replacement voice chips;
= like a big-budget Korg DDM220 and every bit as useful - if you like Latin sounds.
TOM - £495 Eight-voice digital drum machine. 99 progammable patterns, programmable tuning and volume, reverse play of sounds, real- and step-time programming, MIDI-equipped,
+ Basic sounds are pretty good, more sounds available on cartridge, unique sample reversal is a great gimmick;
- lacks separate voice outputs, not as well-built as Drumtraks;
= confirmation of Sequential's electro-drum prowess, now very cheap indeed, though lack of individual outputs should ensure continued success of Drumtraks as well.
Drumtraks - £895 13-voice digital drum machine. 99 programmable patterns, LED display, programmable pitch and volume, individual and mono output, MIDI (In, Out), sync (24 or 48 out, 24ppqn in) equipped, cassette storage of programs, alternative sound chips available; bass drum, snare, rimshot, 2 toms, 2 cymbals, open & closed hi-hat, claps, tambourine, cowbell, cabasa.
+ Superb sounds, tuning and editing facilities unrivalled at this price, sound chips interchangeable with Linn's;
- not as well laid-out as later TOM, though it's not that tricky to use anyway;
= in terms of programming and tuning flexibility, still very hard to beat.
DP50 - £595 25-voice (15 programmable) digital drum machine. Stereo outputs, MIDI (In, Out, Thru), 7 programmable patterns, 4 preset patterns per programmable voice; programmable sounds: bass drum, snare, 4 toms, 2 congas, tambourine, handclaps,
+ Well built, some excellent (but non-programmable) exotic percussion sounds;
- complicated to use, no proper song storage or output facilities, preset patterns take up vital memory space, programmable sounds lack definition;
= too flawed for professionals to take it seriously - unless they work in a cocktail bar.
RX21 - £249 Nine-voice version of RX11 and RX15. 56 programmable and 44 preset patterns, real- and step-time programming, built-in LCD, stereo outputs, MIDI (In, Out), cassette storage of programs; bass drum, snare, 3 toms, open & closed hi-hat, crash cymbal, handclaps.
+ same strong sounds as its more expensive RX brethren, disarmingly cheap;
- same programming difficulties as RX15/11, stereo outputs are restricting, suspect build quality in places;
= excellent value for money if stereo outputs aren't an insurmountable problem, spells big trouble for the rest of the big drum machine guns, new RX21L (with Latin sounds) arriving shortly.
RX15 - £499 15-voice version of RX11; spec as below except: stereo only outputs, cassette only storage; bass drum, 2 snares, rimshot, 3 hi-hats, 3 toms, 2 cymbals, handclaps, cowbell, shaker.
+ Fine sounds, good range of editing facilities, informative (if limited) LCD;
- not the easiest machine to use, lacks individual voice tuning;
= Yamaha's first venture into programmable drum machines is a real success, especially in the context of an X-series MIDI system.
RX11 - £799 29-voice digital drum machine. 99 programmable patterns, real- and step-time programming, liquid crystal display, individual and stereo outputs, MIDI (In, Out) and selectable sync outputs, cartridge and cassette storage of programs; 3 bass drums, 8 snares, 2 rimshots, 5 hi-hats, 4 toms, 2 cymbals, 2 handclaps, 2 cowbells, shaker.
+ As RX15 only more so, separate outputs make it a studio user's dream;
- more complicated than RX15, hence even trickier to use, range of sounds lacks imagination;
= serious competitor for Roland TR707, once you've overcome its user-unfriendliness.
ddrum - £295 Single-pad digital unit using ROM cartridges. Different duration sample chips available, battery powered, pitch control, trigger in.
+ Magnificent sound quality thanks to sample recording care on factory's part, vast (and expanding) range of sounds both conventional and unconventional;
- almost absurdly expensive, digital noise intrudes on some samples, not everybody likes the idea of hitting a small, square pad;
= the Rolls-Royce of digital drum units and similarly pricey, now distributed by the Nomis complex.
ddrum Rack System - £2025 Five-channel, rack-mounted digital electronic drum kit comprising ddrum electronics and set of Remo heads, expandable to eight channels, individual outputs, now being handled in the UK by Nomis Complex. To be reviewed.
Percuter - £550 Eight-channel digital electronic drum kit. Interchangeable digital modules, individual and stereo outputs.
Big Brain - £795 16-channel drum sequencer. 50 programmable songs, 100 user-programmable patterns (50 optional preset or programmable), cassette storage of programs, MIDI (In, Out, Thru), Sync In & Out.
Boomer - £725 Digital percussion sound-sampler. Trigger in from pad or sequencer, editing facilities. All Dynacord electronic percussion machines to be reviewed.
CDX9 - £TBA Eight-voice, seven-pad, digitally-sampled electronic drum kit. 2U rack-mounted voice unit, overall tuning facility, individual and stereo outputs.
CDX11 - £TBA As above, but with five voices and rimshot.
CLX1 - £TBA LFO unit for CLX2.
CLX2 - £TBA Individual drum voice module. Pad/MIDI triggering.
CQX3 - £TBA Real-time drum sequencer. MIDI (In, Out, Thru), external input from pads. All Hohner electronic percussion machines to be reviewed.
MultiKlone - £399, individual modules - £195 Five-channel analogue drum kit. 5 identical sound channels, 5 Trigger Ins, 5 Audio Outs, auto flam facility.
+ Flexible budget electronic drum kit, useful as either an add-on to an acoustic kit or in its own right;
- only one preset and one user-programmed sound simultaneously available for each channel;
= remarkably good sounds for very little money, deserves to rule the budget roost for quite a while.
Dual Percussion Synthesiser - £195 Two-channel analogue electronic drum add-on. Basic spec as Kit 2.
+ Again, it looks good and it sounds OK, plenty of scope for 'weird' sound effects in addition to conventional percussion voices;
- drum sounds lack bottom, feel;
= useful addition to either a MultiKlone or (better) an acoustic set-up.
DSM1 - £80 Non-programmable electronic drum module. Sensitivity, decay, pitchbend, pitch, noise and dick controls. Can be triggered by MPC Standard or Super Pads.
DSM2 - £90 Spec as for two DSM1 modules in one unit but without onboard power supply.
DSM8 - £130 Auto-tom unit producing tom roll from single pad strike or sequencer trigger, incorporates voicing circuitry and sequencing electronics.
+ Certainly very clever, and pretty cheap for what you get;
- has to be powered from MPC drum module, built-in tom sounds are hardly revolutionary;
= decent budget sequencing machine for the lazy and/or incompetent.
DSM32 - £200 128-memory analogue electronic drum module. Spec as for DSM1 plus modulation control.
+ Excellent analogue sounds, mod control widens sonic vocabulary to include FM-like synth timbres, programmability well worth having;
- dynamics not programmable, single decay control;
= a very neat analogue kit, especially when triggered by same company's Super Pads (£299 for five with stands).
Programmer 8 - £150 Eight-channel drum sequencing software for ZX81, Spectrum or Commodore 64 computers.
+ Superb graphics display similar to Roland TR707/Yamaha RX software, hardware can be triggered by just about any electronic percussion device;
- Sinclair models lack sync facility, have software stored on tape;
= well-considered package that makes drum programming a cinch and is capable of remembering an entire set's worth of rhythm patterns. All MPC products susceptible to price reductions following company's decision to deal with customers direct on mail order basis.
Drum X - £TBA New electronic drum system with redesigned pads and voicing circuitry, replaces DRX1 previously listed. To be reviewed.
PAD8 - £TBA Eight-pad MIDI drum controller, features user-assignable channel numbers and touch-sensitive pads. To be reviewed.
DDR30 - £999 Digital electronic drum kit. Six-voice rack-mounted sound module, eight memories per voice, 32 kit memories, MIDI In and Out, individual and stereo outputs, links with standard PD10 (£85) and PD20 bass (£175) drum pads.
+ Looks fantastic, high sound quality, typical Roland dependability and sturdy construction, easy to use;
- not as versatile as some of its competition, all-digital voicing means old-fashioned analogue electronic sounds are out;
= at its reduced price, a serious and worthwhile Simmons alternative you can buy bit by bit if the wallet is looking thin.
SDS1 - £170 Single pad digital module/pad. Derives sound from EPROM, battery power, external trigger.
SDS6 - £1435 Eight-channel programmable drum sequencer. Programmable dynamics, 250 patterns per sequence, MIDI-equipped.
+ Marvellous (and much-copied) LED pattern display, new-found MIDI compatibility;
- a little bit expensive, all things considered;
= a custom sequencer that makes an awful lot of sense for existing Simmons owners, but now sadly out of production.
SDS7 - £2155 Five-channel analogue/digital hybrid electronic drum kit. Expandable to 12 channels, each channel has individually-controllable analogue, digital and noise sound sources, 100 different 'kit' programs.
+ Unrivalled sonic flexibility thanks to variety of sound sources, handy 'pad' program selector, impeccable pad design;
- if you can afford it, nothing;
= rapidly becoming to the electronic drum world what the LinnDrum is to the drum machine market, and deservedly so: MIDI coming soon.
SDS9 - £1199 Five-channel analogue/digital hybrid electronic drum kit. Interchangeable PROM sounds, 20 user-programmable kits, 20 factory-programmed kits, auto-trigger facility, tape storage of sounds, individual outputs, MIDI-equipped. Software-generated bass drum, sampled snare, cross-stick and rimshot, 3 analogue toms.
+ Packed jam full of features, all of them useful, well packaged and above all, extremely good-sounding;
- not particularly cheap, doesn't make the tea;
= has just about everything a modern drummer, studio owner, or session programmer could want from an electronic drum kit.
SDS200 - £315 Twin-channel analogue electronic tom synth. Individual, stereo and mix outputs. To be reviewed.
SDS400 - £550 Four-channel analogue electronic tom synth. Individual, stereo and mix outputs, run generator feature. To be reviewed.
SDS800 - £550 Four-channel analogue electronic drum kit. Bass drum, snare, two tom channels, individual, stereo and mix outputs, built-in run generator. To be reviewed.
SDS EPB - £395 EPROM blower to be triggered by SDS7 and SDS1. Blows 8K and 16K EPROMs from onboard RAM, variable sample speed.
+ Quick, easy way of making your electronic drum kit sound like no-one else's, fits in neatly with Simmons scheme of things;
- no avoiding the fact that sampling quality could be better;
= pioneer product that serves its purpose while leaving room for subsequent improvement.
Techstar TS500 - £1174 Five-pad, six-channel analogue electronic drum kit. One preset and one user-programmable voice per channel, trigger inputs, individual and stereo outputs.
+ Generally good (if derivative) sounds, excellent pads, neat rimshot facility;
- like so many imitators, it lacks character;
= serviceable Simmons alternative from the first acoustic company to go hi-tech - with more products on the way in the near future.
Techstar TS600 - £1061 Six-channel analogue percussion synth. Four toms, synth and handclaps, details as TS500.
Digisound - £125 (single-sound), £150 (dual) Sampled-sound percussion machine triggered by built-in switch or external source. Sounds stored on EPROM.
+ High sound quality, ever-growing factory library of EPROM voices, now dynamic as well;
- a teeny bit expensive, dual bass-and-snare model a bit silly as sounds can't be triggered together;
= a neat electro-percussion add-on for non-drummers fed up with their drum-machine sounds.
Digimemory - £140 Universal EPROM version of Digisound. To be reviewed.
The Winner - £TBA Microprocessor-controlled EPROM blower/programmer, built-in MIDI and serial computer interfacing. To be reviewed.
1 UP — £125 Single analogue electronic drum module. To be reviewed.
UP5 - £499 Five-pad analogue electronic drum kit. Eight preset kit voicings, individual and stereo outputs.
+ Fine analogue sounds, follows Simmons philosophy of deliberately restricting range of sounds available;
- nothing, though these days, you may not want an all-analogue kit;
= so long as you don't want access to a wide variety of drum sounds, the best way of getting into electronic drums, even more sensible now that £50 has been lopped off the price.
K2X - £855 Analogue electronic drum kit. To be reviewed.
CX5 - £TBA Electronic drum system comprising digitally-sampled drum sounds, five triggering pads, drum sequencer with 27 drum sounds, 64 pre-programmed rhythm patterns and one user-programmable song. To be reviewed.
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