Ian Waugh hits on an interesting idea from Yamaha: a sub-£100 set of drum-pads-in-a-box which can be used to play any MIDI instrument.
At a time when drum programming fashions are favouring "the human touch", pads are a necessity - if you can afford them. Yamaha's DD5 takes the expense out of playing a drum machine.
NOTHING RELIEVES THE pent-up stresses and frustrations of a hectic day at the office/studio/job centre as much as bashing the living daylights out of something. Is this why people become drummers, I wonder. And on the subject of drummers, who in their right mind would want to cart all those boxes and suitcases from gig to gig every night and how do they bear the brunt of their fellow musicians' scathing remarks? (See me later for the full repertoire of drummer jokes.)
Having said that, I have a theory that most keyboard players have a hankering to play the drums. I've never met one yet who could resist a quick roll around the skins when the hall or auditorium is empty. But drum kits are so expensive and noisy, and where do you put them anyway?
Well, if you've ever had a hankering to bash something other than a traffic warden, you may be interested in Yamaha's DD5. Essentially it's a preset rhythm unit but it also contains four small drum pads on which you can give vent to both your anger and your imagination. It comes complete with a couple of very lightweight drum sticks which the manual calls percussion sticks. It tells you not to hit the pads with anything other than these so you HM freaks may as well bow out now - try not to break anything on your way.
When reading this review I'll ask you to bear in mind the price of the unit. Even though the RRP is a penny short of the ton, you will probably be able to pick one up for less than 80 quid. Now that's cheap by anyone's drum pad standard.
LET'S LOOK AT the preset rhythms first. There are 30 of them and they are all two bars long. I think it's probably true to say that they aren't going to blow anyone's socks off and I did find them, on the whole, pretty unimaginative. But they are, for all that, useable patterns.
Between the 8 and 16 Beats, Disco, Rock 'n' Roll and Pop patterns you should be able to find a rhythm which will fit most rock and pop songs. Hard Rock is all ride cymbal - you know the drill. Heavy Metal has a familiar bass and snare pattern with an open-and-quickly-closed hihat playing fours over the top.
There are shuffle patterns in the form of Swing, Ballad and Shuffle. The Reggae and Salsa patterns are interesting, but not what I would call typical of the genre. Latin/Afro/Cuban patterns are represented by the Bossa Nova, Cha-Cha-Cha, Rhumba, Samba, Afro, Tango and Ondo (solid African).
Those of us of more plebeian taste can wallow in the 2/4 military strains of Country, Dixie and the March/Polka. There's a 6/8 March to add some variation, which is almost Max Wall but the roll is not crisp enough.
A Walt and Jazz Waltz bring up the rear, ideal for those late night last-chance-to-score dances when you've been lumbered with a grab-a-granny gig.
The patterns are arranged in a five by six grid; pressing the button at the bottom of a column cycles through the five patterns in that column but there is no visual indication of the current pattern.
Rhythms are started and stopped with a Start/Stop button. There is also an Intro/Fill button and if you hold this down and switch on you get an auto two-bar demo of all the rhythms - should make an interesting drum track for those inquisitive to try it.
"The DD5's preset rhythms aren't going to blow anyone's socks off but they are, for all that, useable patterns."
The tempo can be varied from 32bpm to 280bpm using two up/down buttons but again, there is no visual indication of the tempo, although a small LED flashes to indicate the first beat of the bar. Pressing both tempo buttons resets the tempo to 12Obpm. There's also a four-stage volume control - a luxury missing from most drum kits.
The patterns are constructed from 13 PCM drum sounds: Bass Drum, Snare, Toms 1 to 3, Ride Cymbal, Open and Closed Hi-Hats, Rim Shot, Cowbell, Hand Claps, Hi Conga and Lo Conga. Although all sounds are PCM they're really not going to win any prizes. The Bass Drum is a little dull and the Toms could do with a bit more depth. The Ride Cymbal rings reassuringly but the sample length isn't great enough not to cut the sound off before it dies away naturally.
Lest I appear too critical, let me hastily add that I am judging the sounds from an uncompromising viewpoint. When you take the price of the DD5 into consideration as you must - they are certainly on a par with the sounds you will find in the rhythm sections of single keyboards those all-singing, all-dancing instruments which you can play with one finger and still sound as good as Richard Clayderface - costing two to three times as much. However, all the sounds are very dry and if you can run them through reverb or echo unit you'll hear a marked improvement.
LET'S GET DOWN to the interesting bit - hitting the pads. When you switch on, the four pads are programmed to play Closed Hi-Hat, Ride Cymbal, Bass Drum and Snare Drum sounds. You can cycle through all the drum sounds (except Lo Conga) by pressing the Pad Assign button and hitting the pad. When you release the button the pad will play the last drum sound. The cycling order is shown just above the pads, which is helpful.
The pads are velocity sensitive and you have to give them a reasonable tap to trigger them. This is easy with the sticks but it would be a bit hard on the fingers. The pads are quite sensitive in their centre and considerably less so near their edges. This doesn't make life particularly easy if you try to play rolls with two sticks. The pads don't bounce like a drum skin either - but before you say anything, remember the price.
The bottom line is this: the DD5 is great fun to play. At last - a drum kit of my own! So let's see what else this can do.
Well of course, you can play the pads while one of the auto rhythms is playing. You can also remove up to four drum sounds from a pattern and play them manually on the pads - this is especially effective with fill in instruments like the Conga and Toms.
You can stop a rhythm and make it start again by hitting a pad and you can assign the Intro/Fill function to a pad. How hard you hit the pad determines the volume at which the pattern or fill sounds. There's also a Free Pad option which cycles through the drum sounds each time you hit a pad.
Although these options aren't dificult to invoke you do need to hold down a button while hitting a pad or when switching on. The multiple button pushing syndrome has even caught up with the gentle art drumming.
THE DD5 HAS no MIDI In socket, just a MIDI Out which means you can't use it as a source of drum sounds. This a great shame. In fact, the only messages output by the DD5 are hits from the drum pads. This does seem a little odd for what is, after all, a drum machine.
"The DD5 offers an enjoyable alternative and the opportunity to get away from the robotic rhythmic precision of drum machines."
There are two velocity ranges - both in steps of 15 - which the manual (un)helpfully lists in hex. The default velocity scale runs up to 127 (7F in hex) while the second range only runs up to 88 (58 in hex). Even if you don't understand hex, you'll still get the idea, although those numbers and figures can be intimidating. You select the second range by holding the down Volume button while switching on.
The MIDI transmission channel defaults to channel 1 but you can change this by holding the Pad Assign button and pressing the tempo controls. Again, there is no visual indication of the current MIDI channel number.
Finally, you can alter the MIDI note number transmitted by each pad. The manual rather confusingly refers to this as the Universal Note Mode (did something get lost in the translation?). Perhaps I'm slow but I had to read this part twice - and slowly.
What you must do is press and hold the Pad Assign button then each time you hit a pad the note number will increase by one. Holding Pad Assign and pressing the up or down Volume button will raise or lower it in steps often.
Finally, the DD5 has its own built-in speaker and a jack output socket (which disconnects the internal speaker). It will run from batteries or a mains adapter but all MIDI and pad assignments are lost upon switching off.
ITS COMMON PRACTICE now for musicians to record drum patterns directly into a sequencer in real time using the pads on a drum machine or by playing a master keyboard. With this in mind, the DD5 offers an enjoyable alternative and the opportunity to get away from the robotic rhythmic precision of drum machines.
The DD5 must also be the cheapest set of drum pads ever to appear on the market - and you get a few drum sounds and auto rhythms thrown in for good measure. In fact I've got to say that for the price, if you're looking for some drum pads to hit, the DD5 will take some beating.
However, as you can't access the drum sounds from MIDI, if you want to use the DD5 with a sequencer you will also need another source of sounds. OK, I know it's cheap, but add a MIDI In socket and a few more "O"s in the MIC (MIDI Implementation Chart) and the DD5 owner could have had a complete DIY drum kit. Perhaps Yamaha are hoping you'll also buy a RX5.
So who will buy the DD5? Well, although the DD5 is a product of Yamaha's Portable Keyboard division (and not their hi-tech department) it's currently being used by some pro musicians - see MT's interview with Coldcut (November '88). If you currently enter drum patterns from a master keyboard you're a likely candidate, too. Even if you don't, pop into your local music shop and give the DD5 a bash. You may enjoy it and we haven't even started to discuss its therapeutic value...
Price £99.99 including VAT
Review by Ian Waugh
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