Roland Digital Doctors
Boss DR220A and 220E Drum Machines
Here come the two new digital Dr Rhythms, the DR-220A (for Acoustic sounds) and DR-220E (the Electronic sounds), zooming in at the bottom end of the digital drum machine market.
The original Dr Rhythm DR-110 was the first cheap programmable drum machine, and powered many a beginner's first demo. It's a measure of how rapidly technology has progressed since then that Roland's new low-budget machines can offer high quality 12-bit sampled digital sounds, at times comparable to the 505.
Both machines are easy to use in the modern Roland style. The 32 preset patterns are useful on their own, and the accompanying booklet shows the subtleties of the programming - a helpful guide for the first-time user. Patterns are easy to copy and edit as the LCD display contains a 16 step 'ladder' which can illustrate the location of any instrument's beats in the bar. And it'll do 3/4.
Songwriting is dead easy. Just tap in each bar number and enter. A song can be made to repeat, or two adjacent songs can be chained together, giving a combined length of 256 bars.
So what do they sound like? The acoustic kit first: cracky, aggressive bass drum, high tuned snare, realistic rimshot, Roland's usual resonant high, mid and low toms, each recorded with ambience. The handclap is a bit synthetic sounding, but the ride and crash cymbals, and open and closed hi-hats are all bright and clear, with plenty of sustain. The overall quality of the sounds is very high.
The electronic noises in the 220E are a new field for Roland (and most other budget drum machine manufacturers). We probably shouldn't say Simmons, but the bass drum goes 'buh', the snare goeth 'doof', and three toms go 'boo boo boom'. The hi-hat is real, though different from the 220A (good move), and the cowbell might be; the China Cymbal sounds like one ('crash'), though it could be synthesised. The Cup is a very clanky ride cymbal bell noise, and the Slap is a delightfully hideous electronic 'crack'.
Individually each is a fine machine. But put them together, using the Trigger in/out (the signal is generated by either cowbell or rimshot), and hey presto — instant modern drum kit. Clever programming means you can use the 220E in the same way many drummers uses electronic pads (part of a hybrid kit).
The 5V spike trigger means that you can drive either of the 220s from a TR707, but you'll need a sync box to translate the 505's MIDI out into trigger pulses.
Mucho credit to Roland for these two very fine, simple, strong-sounding drum machines, and an extra tick in the margin for doing something different with the 220E. My only misgiving is that £165 rrp leaves the beginner's range for which the Dr Rhythms were best suited.
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Review by Jon Lewin
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