Premier take the plunge with their first electronic kit. Bob Henrit goes in at the deep end
I think it's fair to say that Premier's PowerPak electronic kit was the big surprise of this year's Frankfurt trade show. It wasn't a totally unexpected thing for them to do, but I don't believe many people thought they'd dare. After all, if they got it wrong, there's no doubt at all that it would reflect badly on their other equipment.
PowerPak is a thoughtful product which Premier have obviously been toying with for some time. As you'd expect, being a drum company they have put a lot of work into getting the hardware right. It's quite unique and very solid. It utilises a pair of inverted 'U' frames which are constructed from substantial mild steel tubing.
These frames are roughly 28" wide by 30" high and stand on 21" long tubes which stabilise them. A pair of screw spurs are tapped directly into these 'feet' to eradicate forward movement, and a wing-bolt locks frame and stabiliser together. All these tubes are powder-coated black, a permeable, electrostatically fused finish used on bicycle frames. These frames are free standing, but the bass drum pad joins them together, thus allowing the frames to extend to left and right of the player. This provides the support framework for pads and cymbals and to these are joined what can best be described as scaffolding clamps which secure the pads and locate them in the required position. They are in two pieces, a 'U' shaped rod with threaded ends, and what appears to be a piece of 'Speedframe' (square-section steel tube) with an arc cut into it corresponding to the diameter of the tube. The 'U' shaped rod fits around the tube on one side with the shaped block on the other. The threaded ends locate into holes in the hollow block and a pair of wing nuts run down them to lock solidly around the tubes.
A pair of open ended clamps fit between block and nut and it's these which grip the 'L' shaped arms which the pads are mounted on. The bass pad fits to the vertical tubes via a beam which stretches across them and is locked in position by four wing bolts. These screw into hank bushes in the bass pad proper.
The bass pad itself is made from wood and very heavy. It measures approximately 20" square by 2¼" deep with a six-inch sprung rubber playing surface. A rubber-sheathed right-angled piece of metal on its bottom edge holds the bass pedal. The other pads are made from moulded plastic and are also 22" deep with an 11", square playing surface, mounted on a foam packed bowl containing a piece of wood with the Piezo transducer attached to it. Premier's version of this familiar design has foam around the sides too, and a piece of their practise pad rubber stuck to the top of the wood to form a resilient playing surface. There's a ring bolt inside to locate and grip the aforementioned 'L' shaped arms. At first sight one would think that with this arrangement it wouldn't be possible to get all the playing angles. But, with patience you can position the pad anywhere you desire.
All pads have jack sockets set into them and the bass has a cable clip too which is there to keep the lead out of the way of the beater. Cymbals can be mounted on the rack simply by using the boom part of a cymbal stand. I wouldn't be surprised if you could mount toms too.
PowerPak's brain is encased in a rack-mountable box; special brackets to do the job are supplied. The box is 10½" deep and just over a couple thick, and contains five voices, arranged in different sections: Bass, Snare and three Toms. The sections are all identical in their control functions even though they don't actually need to be. All feature pots for Pad Sensitivity; Pitch, which changes the note; Filter Frequency which adds noise; Tone Bend which puts a 'wobble' in the sound; Filter Bend which tends to harden it; Noise/Tone which mixes noise and tone; Attack level, which increases impact click; and Decay, which at six seconds gives the longest drum sound I've heard. The last control is for Harmonic Level which works rather like a ring modulator and adds associated notes to the fundamental.
Otherwise there's a volume pot, a selection button which toggles between the factory preset sound for each channel and you own sonic masterpiece, and a thoughtful innovation: Premier fit a rubber block to each module which you may tap when working on your sounds to trigger them. These blocks are called finger pads and besides saving you the effort of clouting the pads at the same time as setting up your sound, I feel they'd be useful for control-room overdubs. They have exactly the same dynamics as the pads too.
The brain features a further couple of pots over on its right which control two interesting function. The snare has a Gate which may be used to elongate its sound, and the rest of the drums have Harmonic Tune which is I suppose akin to making them 'double headed'. It rounds out the sound.
In addition to the preset selection button for each channel (allowing you to set up any combination of preset and user sounds) there's also a master preset which allows you to switch to all factory if you so desire.
Several other up-market features are incorporated into PowerPak's brain: viz a variable-tempo 'click track' to rehearse with (via the headphone socket) and a pair of sockets at the back which allow you to link in your hifi. This of course allows you to play along with your own records without driving the rest of the family crazy! A big plus. Round the back we have all the usual jack sockets for pad input and output, two stereo mix outs and one for mono (volumes for each are independently, variable). Otherwise there's a multi connector socket, presumably to link up with sequencers and the like.
As far as the actual sounds are concerned it will indeed be possible to make up your own sounds with ease and with a great deal of flexibility and control. My only beef is with the snare drum which I found to be too real; it simply wasn't aggressive enough. Mind you, in my inimitable fashion I badgered Premier to send me a pre-production proto-type. Perhaps things have changed in the interim. Otherwise though, the factory pre-sets are very acceptable.
I look upon PowerPak as being simply an addition to Premier's range of drums and percussion. (In the same way that they make sticks, heads, cymbals and cases – they now make an analogue electronic set.) I don't believe it has been developed to supercede their acoustic drums, nor as a serious contender to the very expensive electronic sets in existence at the moment. To me it seems that Premier Percussion are simply moving with the times and offering a modern alternative within their range. I think it's rather brave of them since in a way they're on a hiding to nothing from their detractors. I'm sure that many of their old-guard customers would be against this product on principle. However, since more and more of the competition are falling by the wayside because they don't have other products to sustain them, Premier should have a good shot at selling PowerPak.
Looks-wise, it seems you either like PowerPak or you hate it. Either way, this particular product is only the beginning of a new era for the company, with other developments already in the pipeline. Personally I'm pleased to see them keeping up with the times!
Review by Bob Henrit
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