A Drummer's Eye View
Electronic drums for tomorrow?
For those of you who have been away on Mars for the past few months, "The Kit" is an A4 sized, battery powered electronic drum kit that you play with your fingers. The basic "Kit" consists of pads for snare, high tom, low tom and bass drum together with smaller brass pads for open and closed hi-hat and "cymbal". The four drum pads are adjustable underneath the case for sensitivity and decay ("ring") by turning small pots with a special tool supplied.
The main controls are grouped along the top of the case and consist of a volume control for each sound (total of six), a "tone" control for the cymbal and finally tempo and rhythm select controls for the pre-programmed hi-hat (six rhythms are available). In addition to these controls (all by rotary pots are three rocker switches for the preprogrammed high hat. These switches cover the pattern of beat (16 per bar, 8 per bar or "disco"), the time signature (4/4 or 3/4) and stop/start. An LED also gives a visual impression of the beat.
Output consists of ¼" jacks for individual sounds (6 in all) and a pre-mixed output should a mixer be unavailable (inserting jack here switches the unit on). There are also two 3.5mm jack trigger outputs, one activated by the high tom and the other by the low tom, which can be used to trigger some of the extra effects available (see later in this review!).
Inputs consist of a ¼" stereo jack for the external bass drum and hi-hat stop/start footswitch and a 3.5mm jack for external 9 volt d.c. supply.
Well, enough of the technical stuff and on to the sound and playability of this little piece of British (yes!) wizardry. Firstly, I must say that sitting down initially with "The Kit" is almost like the first time you sit behind a regular drum kit — remember it, feeling very awkward and unco-ordinated? Well that soon wears off and before long you really can let your fingers do the drumming as The Kit's distributors, Atlantex, say, and you begin to realise a few of the possibilities of this little package.
The snare drum sound is certainly excellent, being sharp and very crisp, quite reminiscent of the sound on Bowie's Ziggy Stardust album in fact. The two tom-toms can be made to sound from fairly open to completely dead (they are also pre-tuned) and the bass drum from solid and fairly dead to almost completely rigor mortis! In fact if used in a serious studio situation I would think that some external effects would almost certainly be necessary. However, I'm sure that the designers had this in mind when providing individual outputs.
"TOM TOMS CAN BE MADE TO SOUND FROM FAIRLY OPEN TO 'DEAD'."
The high-hat unit is quite acceptable, producing a fairly typical electronic hi-hat sound. The beat patterns vary from basic closed hi-hat to various additions of open hi-hat sounds and off-beats. Furthermore the manual hi-hat pads can still be used whilst a programmed rhythm is playing, leading to mind-boggling hi-hat patterns if your fingers can handle it all!
The cymbal tone control is supposed to provide a spread between crash and ride, but overall I found it rather unconvincing. However when you consider the state-of-the-art in producing synthesised cymbal sounds and the very low price of The Kit it would be unfair to push this point too hard. What it amounts to is that cymbal sounds other than hi-hat would really need to be overdubbed. Furthermore, with the cymbal volume turned up the output becomes really quite noisy.
And so on to the extras. Firstly the bass drum and hi-hat stop/start foot-switch. This item I found very useful, mainly from the point of view of being able to let my foot do its "normal" job of keeping the main bass beat, leaving both hands free to get on with pounding the other pads and add the odd note on bass drum too. The hi-hat stop/start I can't get too excited about, and in fact I would have thought that a touch plate on the main unit would remove the need for this feature anyway.
"THE SNARE DRUM SOUND IS CERTAINLY EXCELLENT, BEING SHARP AND CRISP, QUITE REMINISCENT OF OF THE SOUND ON 'ZIGGY STARDUST'."
The Clap as its name might suggest is a synthesised handclap. The controls are for volume, decay time, mix (the amount of white noise added to the clapping sound) and spread. The spread control did not appear to have much effect to my ears, the main feature being to add a little more "oomph" to the attack of clap (no laughs please!).
The casing and controls are all designed to match the main Kit and the touch pad is the same as the main Kit's tomtom pads. In common with the other extra units, this unit is switched on by inserting the output lead into the ¼" jack output socket. There are also 3.5mm jack sockets for trigger in and external 9v power supply.
Played on its own "The Clap" produces quite a reasonable sound (especially if bass EQ is added), but when used in conjunction with the snare from the Kit the combinations can sound good. I managed to get quite an authentic Gary Glitter type sound fairly quickly, but the main drawback was not being able to trigger the unit from the snare, thus requiring both pads to be hit at once — not particularly difficult, but the possibility of having triggered outputs makes you lazy I suppose!
"MY OVERALL IMPRESSIONS OF THE COMPLETE KIT SYSTEM UNDERLINE WHAT STAGGERING VALUE IT IS..."
The casing and control layout are exactly as The Clap, but in this case the controls are for volume, pitch, decay time and sweep. The sweep control varies the amount that the pitch falls during decay.
This effect produces a perfect Ring My Bell syndrum copy, but fortunately it can do quite a bit more as well. Playing around with the three main controls produces a wide variety of interesting and usable sounds which are especially good when triggered from the toms of the main Kit. In fact a pair of Synkits hooked into the main Kit would have great possibilities. My only gripe is that the decay control does not work all that smoothly, the main change in decay time all coming in between 11 and 1 o'clock on the control.
This effect could to some extent be described as a very low pitched syndrum, but its operation is a little different. Controls are similar to the Synkit except that "Sweep" is replaced by a "mix" control and the pitch control is reversed (i.e. 10 = low pitch and 0 = high pitch). The mix control varies the sound from pure noise at -5 to a pure tone at +5. The sound put out by this latest unit to be offered by the Kit's makers is a little hard to describe as it's not really like tympani, and also the various combinations of control settings give rise to a host of different sounds. My overall impressions are that it's something more suited to use as a special effect rather than a permanently hooked-in unit. In fact with mix on pure noise it is almost a wind machine! Anyway, try it and see what you think.
This unit had a far less sensitive touch pad than all the others but, unlike the main unit, there is no provision for external adjustment of sensitivity which is a pity as our sample needed re-adjustment. The other add-on units also have no sensitivity control, but were set O.K.
My overall impressions of the complete Kit system underline what STAGGERING value for money the basic unit is. True, some corners have been cut but they don't detract from the unit's appeal. Add The Clap and a couple of Synkits and you have a cheap Simmons, although the add-on units are, in my opinion, not as good value-for-money as the main "Kit". Drummers be prepared to throw some of that hard won technique out of the window to get the most from this unit and expect a lot of non-drummers hard on your heels!
Review by Rick Palmer
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