MPC DSM32 Electronic Drum System
Electronic Drum Module and Super Pads
To complete their recent flurry of new products, the Cambridgeshire company have come up with a programmable drum synth module and a set of 'Super Pads' specially designed for it. Nigel Lord takes the system for a trial run.
As if they hadn't already done enough, MPC have now come up with a programmable analogue drum module and a set of 'professional' triggering pads.
You know, I can't help feeling some degree of sympathy for drum pad manufacturers. The laws of geometry insist on areas being bordered by a certain number of sides, and outside of the circle (which MPC and several others have already used), practically every other convenient shape has now been adopted by somebody somewhere. The tiniest glimpse of an out-of-focus black and white photo suggests that MPC's latest designs are rather reminiscent of Sss... you know who's, and although the company are at pains to point out that we're talking octagons here, not hexagons, the relationship is difficult to ignore.
Mind you, these new 'Super Pads' (as MPC have modestly named them) do give the appearance of depth and substance, and in the case of the black-finished kit that was the subject of this review, the pads had a definite feeling of quality about them.
They incorporate a floating head design which, though not unique, is by no means universal among electronic kits. And this feature, along with a rubberised playing surface, combines to provide an excellent stick response that should suit acoustic drummers down to the ground. Available angle adjustment is provided by a single wingnut on the underside of the pads, while 'spacing' and height are variable via wingnuts on the stands.
The bass pad incorporates a bracket by which the pedal is attached, and also sports a pair of the most enormous spurs I've ever seen on any bass drum, acoustic or electronic. If you're after a macho image, these are the spurs for you - they're practically offensive weapons.
The stands for the other pads seem sturdy and rigid, and should be capable of taking all the punishment you can dish out to them. They've got good, chunky rubber feet, too, which should halt any tendency to creep that might make itself apparent. Electrical connection to the pads is by means of locking XLR plugs and sockets, with all cables fed down the hollow stems of the stands to provide a neat, uncluttered appearance.
The new pads are currently available in black or white, though I understand the range of colours will be expanded in the near future. So overall, an electronic kit that's both aesthetically pleasing and rugged enough to take the strain of some serious gigging. It's the sort of set-up you'd feel and look good behind: what more could a drummer ask for?
The DSM32 is a development of MPC's original (and still available) drum synth modules, the DSM1 and 2. If you're already familiar with these, feel free to skip the next few paragraphs. For those new to this range of units, I'll run through the facilities they offer and which they share with the new DSM32.
Running from left to right along the front panel (all the units in the DSM range are housed in 1U-high 19" rack-mounting cases), we're provided first of all with an input sensitivity control, which in conjunction with optional pad or trigger inputs on the rear panel allows a wide range of input devices to be used. Obviously, MPC's own pads are designed specifically to 'fire' the DSM units, but there's no earthly reason why other makes of pads shouldn't work equally well - adjust the sensitivity control for best results. Similarly, the trigger input can be used with most sequencers and the like capable of providing a pulse output, as well as with MPC's own Music Percussion Computer or Programmer 8 (reviewed last month). I've also successfully triggered a DSM with a short duration audio signal via the pad input, so it could make a useful addition to most drum machines without anybody having to worry too much about matching pulse levels. Again though, keep a watchful eye on the input sensitivity if you're keen to get optimum results.
Next to the Sensitivity control is an LED which is rather confusingly labelled 'trigger'. Why confusing? Well, for the simple reason that it lights up to indicate a signal present at the pad input as well as the trigger input, and although it's nothing worth losing any sleep over, I feel it would have been better labelled as an indicator for both these functions.
After the LED we come to a Decay control that governs the duration of the entire generated sound, ie. the tone and noise components. Trouble with this was, I frequently found myself wishing I could control the duration of the noise and tone independently to achieve a more accurate simulation of drum sounds, and although I must confess to being ignorant as to how much more costly the addition of this facility would have made the unit, there's no doubt in my mind that it would have increased the DSM's versatility enormously.
Next in line is the Bend control, and as its name suggests, this applies a degree of pitch-bend to the tone generator in the DSM. Note that the bend available is descending only, though this omission is of little consequence in practice as I've yet to find anyone who's made good use of the facility for ascending pitch deviation found on some competing drum synths.
Moving slowly but surely along, we come to the only feature on the synth side of the DSM32 that's absent on the original DSM1 and 2 - the Modulation control. This introduces frequency modulation of the drum synth's tone component, the modulation rate increasing as the control is advanced. The result of this modulation is an intriguing range of special effects. Even during the brief time I had with the unit, I succeeded in producing some realistic chime, gong and other metallic sounds, as well as some almost timpani-like effects on low Pitch settings. The switch to the right of the Mod control provides two ranges of frequency modulation, and together these controls offer a facet of sound synthesis unique among drum modules of this kind. Circumstances alter cases, but you may find this facility hard to do without once you've heard it.
The Pitch control itself dictates the frequency of the tone generator and is self-explanatory, as is the Mix control, which balances the tone and noise components within the overall sound picture.
The Noise control is in fact a highpass filter, and offers a wide range of noise effects that becomes even more usable when you bring the Filter switch into play. This innocuous-looking switch produces on the one setting the sort of noise required for simulating a convincing snare sound, while on the other the sort of sonic component needed to make a passable approximation of the sound resonating tom-tom or bass drum skin. And as I've already implied, judicious adjustment of the Noise component in conjunction with this facility can produce some truly excellent results.
Moving along again (I'm not boring you, am I?), we encounter the Click control, which adds a very short burst of noise to the beginning of the sound. Seeing as this too is dependent on the setting of the Noise control, it can be used to simulate the sound of a stick hitting the drum skin: use this effect in moderation and it can make all the difference in accurately synthesising drum sounds.
An Output Level control is provided on the far right of the unit, and two LEDs indicate power to the module, which may come either from a separate power supply made by MPC specifically for the DSM, or from a DSM1 module if you already have one. It's worth mentioning at this point that the five-pin DIN connecting leads used for the power supply also carry individual DSM output signals, and again, if you have the DSM1, this will sum these outputs to provide a Master Level control.
The way in which the DSM32 differs from its elder but cheaper brethren lies for the most part in the facilities offered on the left-hand side of the unit. What we have here is a memory section capable of storing some 128 sounds derived from individual settings of the parameters available on the DSM. The programming unit consists of four main memories, each with four banks of eight locations (4 x 4 x 8 = 128), into which each new sound may be stored. A pushbutton is provided for each of the memory, bank and location sections, and this advances the relevant row of LEDs so that they indicate the precise memory position.
Storing sounds in the memory really couldn't be simpler: as soon as the manual pushbutton and its associated LED are switched to 'on', you can adjust all the controls in the synth section in the sure and certain knowledge that once you've created a sound you're happy with, you simply have to select a suitable memory location, press 'Store' and that's it. The new sound has been entered into the memory, erasing any sound previously stored in that location.
Pressing the manual button once again (and extinguishing the LED) puts 'playback' of the DSM under the control of the memory section and disables the synth controls. All memory, bank and location positions may be quickly stepped through using the front panel buttons, or with momentary-make footswitches courtesy of the relevant rear panel sockets. And in the case of location, stepping may also be achieved by hitting one of the live pads - so you don't even have to leave your seat.
As an overall system, MPC's latest goodies work well. The sound-generating capability of the DSM32 really has to be heard to be believed, the onboard memory section is not only extremely useful but also a piece of cake to use, and the introduction of the new Super Pads ensures that a fine means of triggering those stored sounds is also available.
It would be nice to have the output level brought under the control of the memory section (some means of storing dynamics is a real help when you're playing with live pads), but apart from this omission and the single Decay control, I can't really fault the DSM32's design.
If you need any further proof that Britain still leads the world in the field of electronic percussion, this is it. I'd urge you to seek out your nearest MPC dealer as soon as possible and check this new system out for yourself, as there's a limit to how much musical information the printed page can convey. You won't regret it.
RRPs are £299 for a set of Super Pads with stand (£215 without), and £299.95 for the DSM32 module.
Both prices include VAT, and further information can be had from MPC Electronics, (Contact Details).
Gear in this article:
Review by Nigel Lord
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