Just because an electronic drum kit is (very) cheap, doesn't mean to say it isn't worth hearing. So says Paul White, who's played with the best of them.
No matter how exciting current state-of-the-art electronic drum developments may be, there's still plenty going on further down the technological ladder. The new MultiKlone kit proves the point, and does so for less than £400.
Maybe this is a personal thing, but despite being available in one form or another for several years now, Klone electronic drums have never really warranted more than a few moments of my critical attention. I suspect this was partly due to the rather basic nature of the kits, both in terms of electronics and cosmetics. But all that may be consigned to the history books with the arrival of a new kit by the name of MultiKlone. An altogether more serious offering, it comprises a five-piece kit with a rather novel hardware set-up based round a single, heavy-duty stand. This should prove practical and quite durable in use, but has the sort of appearance you either love or hate. The control unit is also a vast improvement on its forerunners, and I succeeded in producing some quite excellent sounds during the system's short stay in these offices.
But I'm leaping ahead of myself.
Once you've handed over the readies, you're entreated to take receipt of a sturdy fibre case, about the same size and shape as one you'd keep the stands of an acoustic kit in. Easily carried in one hand, this case will quite happily hold the entire kit: stands, pads, sound module and leads. Everything, in fact, except for the bass drum pedal, which you have to buy separately.
Unfortunately, the review box didn't contain an instruction manual either, but as I'm an insufferably clever sod, I had it up and running in no time.
As I've said, the entire kit 'hangs' on a single stand (which has more arms than a Krishna god with fleas), and to this, the five pads and the bass pedal are firmly fixed. Available in a choice of black, white or red, the moulded hexagonal plastic pads are fitted with hard rubber playing surfaces, which are bonded directly to a plywood backboard. Being a curious sort of chap, I removed the four screws to see what was inside, and the answer turned out to be Not Very Much.
This isn't surprising, as the pads are used only as pickups and in no way contribute to the actual sound of the drums. Thus, all that's needed is a tiny piezoelectric transducer, which is exactly what these pads contain. It's bonded to the rear of the plywood back plate and protected from damage by a generous dollop of silicon rubber compound, which also strengthens the joint between the transducer and its cable, the latter terminating in a jack socket on the underside of the pad.
At the end of each of the arms on the stand is a swivel fixing (rather like the tilting attachment found on the top of conventional cymbal stands), and this screws directly into a metal threaded insert on the base of the drum pad. I must confess to being a little worried by this method of fixing at first, but the plastic surrounding the insert is reinforced and quite flexible. So as long as you don't play like a complete animal, it shouldn't pose any problems.
The bass drum pad is identical in construction to the other four, and is mounted about six inches above ground level, so that a typical beater will hit it somewhere near the centre - the pedal fixing is a simple flat plate. In addition to the arms that hold the pads, there's an extra arm in the centre which, on the old kits, was used to hold the sound module. The new module has no provision for such a fixing and so can't be fitted to this stand (which is a shame), but the extra arm could still be put to good use holding up your favourite 'Krut' cymbal.
On the face of it, the MultiKlone 'brain' is an unobtrusive and rather inauspicious unit, yet it houses the electronics for five channels of sound, with each drum channel possessing no fewer than nine controls. And that doesn't include the manual trigger buttons, which are invaluable for setting up sounds. There's also a Master Level control, an overall Noise Quality(!) control, and a Repeat button that works in conjunction with the Repeat control on each channel to produce automatic flam effects.
The rear panel is where the connecting leads to the pads are plugged in, and in addition to a main output that also doubles as a headphone socket, there's provision to connect a footswitch for remote control of the Repeat option. Of great use if you want to record the kit or equalise/treat each drum sound independently is the fact that each drum channel has its own audio output.
A small red LED on each channel tells you which drum you've hit, just in case you've had a few pints too many and don't know where your sticks are landing, and it also offers some visual indication of the playing dynamics which the MultiKlone shares with most other analogue drum synths.
All five channels are identical electronically, and each is capable of generating tom-tom, snare or bass drum sounds depending on how you set up the various parameters. The kit has no preset voices and no user-programmable memories, so the sounds set up on the front panel are the sounds you get. To create a sound, you obviously have to know what the various controls do, so let's proceed with an explanation of these.
Conventional knobs are used for the more frequently-used parameters - Level, Tune, Sweep and Decay - whilst presets are adopted for the more obscure ones: Noise Level, Bend, Q/Tone, Attack and Repeat. The reason for the mixture? Money, money, money.
"Sounds - The natural 'acoustic' voices are what sets this kit apart from so many electronic outfits and their Space Invader noises."
Running through the control functions, Decay sets the duration of the beat, ie. how long the sound takes to die away. As with most analogue drum synths, the Klone uses a mixture of tone and filtered noise to create its sounds, and the next control, Sweep, effectively sweeps the noise filter at a rate set by the Decay control. This gives a wah-wah type of effect when listened to in isolation, but used constructively, it can be a pretty useful feature. Below this we have Tune, which sets the basic pitch of the sound, and this is followed by the Level control which is used to set individual channel volume.
Moving across to the preset-style controls, we find some rather less conventional functions. First of these is Repeat, which determines the timing between flam beats when the master Repeat button is activated. This can be varied from virtually nothing to a well-spaced double beat, and is particularly effective on snare and tom sounds.
The Attack control is used to emphasise the beginning of each beat in order to simulate the effect of a drum stick hitting the head. Now, this isn't a distinct 'click' as it is on some electronic kits. It's more a case of the level being raised for a brief instant at the beginning of the sound, a technique which, though unconventional, is nonetheless quite effective.
Moving down the panel we find the curiously named Q/Tone control, which works in conjunction with the noise filter Sweep control and determines the bandwidth of that filter. If that doesn't mean much to you, don't worry. In subjective terms it simply makes the effect of the filter become either sharper or softer: you just fiddle with it until it sounds right.
The Bend control can be set to make the pitch either rise or fall during the decay period, a falling pitch giving the classic electronic drum sound, and a rising pitch being useful for simulating Indian tabla sounds or creating special effects - definitely a worthwhile inclusion. The last control is for Noise level, and this determines how much noise is added to the final sound. Few seem aware of the fact, but even toms benefit from some added noise, and a little experimentation with the filter settings can give a convincing 'skin' sound to a drum.
In terms of master controls, Noise Quality affects all the channels and varies the setting of a filter, which treats the common noise source. This can then be used to change the character of the noise on all channels simultaneously, which has the advantage of keeping all the channels sounding as though they belong to the same drum kit.
So much, then, for the conducted tour and the theory. Does the thing actually make usable sounds?
If you've ever played about with an electronic kit, it doesn't usually take long to come up with the familiar 'goat being kicked in the stomach whilst sneezing' snare drum sound, or toms that sound like a sick owl being put out of its misery, or a bass drum with a pitch high enough to sound like the doors of a tube train shutting.
But this little unit is capable of far greater subtleties. By using the filtered noise and carefully tuning the Noise Quality, Sweep and Q/Tone controls, it's possible to obtain some quite natural 'acoustic' tom sounds. They may not be incredibly futuristic, but they're what sets this kit apart from so many other electronic outfits and their awful Space Invader noises. Likewise the bass drum sounds, which though unlikely to cause many SDS9 owners to fling themselves under a passing bus, do succeed in sounding pretty good. Excellent, in fact, when you consider the MultiKlone's price.
I was genuinely surprised at the wealth of good sounds available from this modest little kit. The Attack control seems somewhat superfluous, as I found myself setting it to full, on all channels, at all times. Still, I suppose it could be useful for creating softer, less percussive voices.
"Appearance - The MultiKlone 'brain' looks unobtrusive and inauspicious, yet houses the electronics forfive channels of sound."
The ingredient that has the greatest effect on the final sound is probably the filtered noise. This can be a mite fiddly to set up, especially if you're after a particular effect, but once you've got the sounds set up, it's quite easy to change the character of the whole kit just by using the Noise Quality control. Potentially, that makes setting up sounds from scratch a lot less time-consuming.
In the hardware department, the stand system works very well, even if it doesn't look as poseworthy as some of its competitors. You may also find you have to swap around some of the arms (or some of yours) before you settle on a comfortable playing position. But one big advantage of the single-stand system, and one that working drummers will appreciate, is that there's enough room to set up your cymbal stands without running out of floor space.
Play the kit from pads and you'll find the dynamic range is really quite good, but you do have to play fairly hard to get an even sound, and this is where my chief criticism lies. I can't help feeling some sort of sensitivity control is essential on a kit of this type (even a master control for all the voices would be a help), but I suppose this has to be weighed against cost. Because what we're dealing with here is an extremely competitively-priced kit.
It's when you consider that you could turn up to a gig with the Klone kit in one hand and a combo amp in the other that it all starts to make sense.
I like this kit a lot. It has no pretensions, yet features one or two quite bold design concepts which should make it well worth getting to know. It sounds good enough to give a number of other electro-kit manufacturers something to think about, especially when you consider that price.
And incidentally, the control unit itself is available separately, so if you want to use different pads with the kit, or even the controller on its own, your needs are catered for.
Manufactured in the wilds of Essex (near Southend), the complete kit will leave you change from four hundred quid, making it quite possibly the best value electro-kit currently available.
Review by Paul White
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