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ROLAND V-Pro TD-20S

April 1, 2005
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FIG. 1: The Roland V-Pro TD-20S is a complete electronic percussion system, combining six V-Drum triggers, three V-cymbal triggers, the V-Hi-Hat, and the TD-20 sound module.

For nearly 20 years, Roland has been an innovator in the field of electronic percussion, diligently designing MIDI controllers that give drummers useful sounds and a natural feel. The latest top-of-the-line kit is the V-Pro TD-20S ($6,495), which offers plenty of new features in a system that's ready to play right out of the box (see Fig. 1).

The V-Pro comes with the new TD-20 Percussion Sound Module, five dual-trigger V-Pad drum controllers, a V-Kick bass-drum and stand, three V-Cymbals (including the 3-way CY-15R Ride), the new V-Hi-Hat controller, and a rack and cables. All you need are hi-hat and snare stands and a bass-drum pedal.

The V-Pro is priced in the range of Roland's previous high-end kit: the V-Session ($6,295), which I covered in the article “In Control: Banging Out the Bits” in the May 2001 issue of EM (available online at www.emusician.com). That system helped introduce the V-Cymbal pads, which were a major BREAKthrough in terms of feel and control. That set, however, used the FD-7 hi-hat controller, which worked well but lacked realism. Because much of the new V-Pro system is similar to that which we reviewed in our February 1998 issue (available online at www.emusician.com), I'll focus here on the latest hardware innovations, the new sound module, and the overall playability of the system.

Outside the Box

If you're new to electronic percussion, it may seem overwhelming at first: what most publicity shots don't show you is the web of cabling that's required in an electronic kit. The 16 controller cables needed for the V-Pro are conveniently labeled at each end and inserted through the stand's tubes, appearing in convenient spots around the kit. For example, the two plugs that go into the three-zone, ride V-Cymbal come out of the tube close to where you're instructed to attach the pad. Having all the cables labeled and in the right place cuts the setup time significantly. (The default hardware setup is for right-handed players: southpaws will have to rearrange the cables if they plan to relocate the instruments and TD-20. Roland's Web site provides instructions on how to do that.) In addition, the V-Pro system comes with plenty of setup instructions, manuals, and a helpful TurboStart DVD, making kit configuration relatively painless.

Once again, the support rack has been redesigned, now with ergonomic improvements: the side rails slope down toward the player, and there are quick-release cams on the four legs to adjust the height to suit your needs. This feature also allows you to shorten the legs for easier transport or storage.

The set comes with three boom stands for the V-Cymbals. Two of them attach directly to the rack next to the upper toms, and are easily adjusted using quick-release cams. The third cymbal stand and four toms attach to the stand with large plastic clamps. The clamps, which can be hand tightened, require a drum key to lock them in and are strong enough to hold things steady, no matter how hard you play. Roland thoughtfully provides cable ties to keep the trigger cables out of harm's way, a sheet of extra labels for the cables, a plastic bass-drum beater, and a drum key.

Brains Before Brawn

The V-Pro is built around the sounds and capabilities of Roland's new TD-20 sound module. In addition to holding 560 sampled and modeled sounds, the module has a MIDI sequencer, a General MIDI sound set (although it doesn't have a GM mode), and support for Roland's V-Link protocol, among many other features. Nevertheless, the TD-20 is remarkably intuitive to use; you won't need the manual for most of the basic tasks, such as choosing and editing instruments or adding effects.

FIG. 2: Whether you''re getting the right mix, editing a sound, or recording a sequence, the TD-20 is easy to use: a button is dedicated to nearly every important feature.

Dedicated buttons for important functions, such as sequencer transport controls, effects editing, and kit and instrument selection (see Fig. 2), are located on the face of the module. The eight faders, which are assigned to specific instruments, let you set volume levels on the fly. The large increment, decrement, and Velocity-sensitive Preview buttons, as well as the Value wheel and cursor buttons, are easily accessible, and the generous LED display shows plenty of information without being cluttered.

The physically modeled sounds are primarily drums and cymbals, and Roland's Composite Object Sound Modeling (COSM) technology lets you tweak the instruments in a variety ways. For example, you can change the size of a V-Cymbal from 1 inch to 40 inches, determine how long it will sustain, select a chain or rivet type of sizzle, and pick one of five mic positions. Snare drum options include shell material and depth, head type, tuning, muffling, strainer tension, and mic position. You can even add sympathetic snare-buzz resonance to the toms and kick drum.

The remaining sounds are samples with limited editing capabilities — primarily pitch and decay time. Overall, the sound set is great and covers an enormous range, from acoustic and electronic drums to world percussion and sound effects. The 50 factory kits provide a great way to explore the sound library.

When you're done customizing your instruments and arranging them into kits, you can determine the room they're in (starting with the size and material of the walls) and add effects (compression, EQ, and reverb). If you're into tweaking the playability of the instruments, you can adjust the Velocity curves, the rim-shot response, the cross-stick threshold, and the length of time that a double-trigger is masked, among other parameters. The amount of editing options is staggering, so be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to actually play the drums.

The TD-20 can hold 50 kits at a time, and your customized kits can be saved and loaded from a CompactFlash card. The sound module automatically saves any changes that you make to the instruments and kits, which has its good and bad points: it's good that you'll never have to remember to press Save as you work, but it's bad if you want to backtrack to something you did earlier. If you need to restore the factory presets, it's simple to retrieve them one at a time or en masse: just make sure you back up the work you want to keep to your CompactFlash card or via MIDI.

Although you cannot augment the TD-20's sound set by importing samples, the module will accept an expansion board (although nothing was available while I was reviewing this product). Unlike the previous V-Pro module, the TD-10, you don't need the expansion board to use the three-way ride trigger.

If you want to step through your kits in a particular order, the TD-20 lets you organize up to 32 kits in a row as a chain. You can store 16 chains.

The TD-20's sequencer can be used to record your own playing (with or without quantization or a metronome) or create instrumental accompaniments using MIDI. You can assign any trigger zone to start and stop a sequence, or you can use the trigger to step through a pattern of notes. The module comes with 100 preset patterns and has space for another 100 user patterns. The sequencer offers quantization capabilities and will record positional sensing and cymbal chokes. Be sure to quantize as you record if you need it, because you cannot change the quantization afterward. Step-time sequencing is not supported.

FIG. 3: Besides the master outputs, the TD-20''s rear panel has eight direct outputs. Four aux trigger inputs are available if you want to add controllers to the V-Pro TD-20S.

The module accepts 14 controllers, including four aux dual-trigger inputs for additional pads or percussion controllers (see Fig. 3). The rear panel also sports two ¼-inch master outputs, eight ¼-inch direct outputs, S/PDIF digital output, a ¼-inch footswitch input, a ¼-inch TRS input for playing along with external audio sources, and MIDI In and Out. The edge of the front panel has a ¼-inch headphone jack and a slot for the CompactFlash card.

That's Mr. Hi-Hat, to You

The most exciting part of the V-Pro is its new VH-12 V-Hi-Hat controller (see Fig. 4). Say good-bye to the rubber block and remote-pedal hi-hat system: the VH-12 comes with a pair of special V-Cymbals — a 12-inch top cymbal and an 11-inch bottom cymbal — that attach to a traditional hi-hat stand for a realistic playing experience. The hi-hats are electronically linked with a short cable between the cymbals, and two cables run from the bottom cymbal to the TD-20. Before you begin playing the hi-hats, you'll need to adjust the VH Offset — a simple two-step procedure. From there, you're ready to rock.

The resulting physical feedback is very satisfying — much more so than other hi-hat controllers. The VH-12 can sense edge and bow strikes and foot closure. In addition, the closed-tone on some of the hi-hat sounds changes as you apply foot pressure while striking the cymbals.

The manual cautions you against striking the underside of either of the cymbals: if you're a jazz player who taps the bottom cymbal while playing a ride pattern on top (à la Max Roach's “Mr. Hi-Hat”), you're out of luck. But for regular jazz and rock playing, the chubby rubber V-Hi-Hats are exceptional.

New Pads on the Block

The V-Pro has five redesigned mesh-head pads with black shells. The 12-inch PD-125 and 10-inch PD-105 have an improved triggering mechanism, which Roland says offers greater evenness in triggering, as well as head and rim sensors. The dual-trigger toms are a welcome addition that allow you to create unusual kits to fit nearly any application. I wanted to build a kit to inspire new Latin grooves, so I placed a shaker sound on the head of the high tom, a high timbale on the tom's rim, and long and short guiro scrapes on a low tom's head and rim, respectively. The short guiro conveniently gates the long guiro in a realistic fashion when triggered.

Going a step further, I put three unusual sounds on the ride cymbal: a hip-hop style bass drum on the bell, an electronic sound on the bow, and a synth guiro on the edge. As a result, I had to adjust the crosstalk levels for the cymbal to minimize false triggerings between the three playing areas. But the resulting kit was, indeed, inspirational to play (see Web Clip 1).

Many of the V-instruments in the TD-20 support positional sensing on the V-Drums and V-Cymbals for added sonic realism. The positional sensing capabilities are most noticeable when playing rim shots on the snare: as you strike from the edge to the center, the timbre changes. The snare pad also senses brush strokes (nylon brushes are recommended) and cross sticking.

The mesh heads can be tightened and loosened like acoustic drum heads, allowing you to set a tension that matches your playing style. The manual warns not to play with the heads that are too loose, or you'll damage the triggering basket beneath it. The mesh heads have a springier feel than do acoustic drum heads, which takes a moment to get used to. But unlike many percussion controllers on the market, they're easy on the wrists when playing for long periods of time.

What's Not to Like?

Even though the new V-pads offer a richer playing experience than before, a few details need to be ironed out in the next hardware revision. The first thing I'd like to see is a larger ride-cymbal bell. The current one is not very big, and its sweet spot seems to be on top, next to the wing nut. Even after tweaking the pad sensitivity and crosstalk settings, which increased the sweet spot, getting it to trigger on its own while playing a complex groove can be tricky.

The TD-20 does not have multitimbral capabilities, so you can't layer drum sounds on a pad. It would be nice to have an Undo function for recording drum sequences and editing. If you make a mistake when recording drum sequences, you have go through several button presses to erase what you recorded and begin again. In addition, I'd like to be able to erase a pass of an entire instrument while in Loop Record mode, so I don't have to scrap an entire session because I hit the wrong pad.

And nothing gives away the fact that you're playing a virtual kit more quickly than the sound of the rolls. Some of the V-instruments — snares and cymbals, in particular — have a feature called interval control, which, in essence, lengthens the attack of the notes when you play a succession of quick hits. These instruments roll remarkably better than the standard ones, which still have a machine-gun sound during rolls. But even with interval control, buzz rolls can sometimes sound unnatural. I'd like to see a feature, found in some software drum machines, that alternates two sounds — simulating a drummer's right and left hands — for a more realistic roll.

V Is for Victory

The bottom line is that the V-Pro TD-20S is a pro-level kit that sounds great and is a blast to play. The drums are equally at home onstage, in the classroom or practice studio, and in the recording studio for tracking or sequencing realistic drum parts. There are plenty of instruments to choose from, and you can easily mold them to fit your music. The factory kits provide a nice jumping-off point for creating custom setups, so don't get discouraged if, for example, the Metal kit isn't your kind of metal sound. Once you start mixing and matching the wide array of COSM drums and cymbals and tweaking the effects, you'll find the sound that you're looking for in no time.

And if you're still uncertain about the possibilities that electronic drums offer, spend a little time behind a V-Pro kit at your local music store. The sound and feel will knock your socks off.


Gino Robair's first electronic drums were the Star Instruments Synare 3, attached to the nonquantizable Synare sequencer.


TD-20 SPECIFICATIONS
Sound Generator Physical modeling and sample playback
Instruments 560 drums/percussion, 262
Maximum Polyphony 64 notes
Drum Kits 50
Drum Kit Chains 16 (32 steps per chain)
Effects compression, EQ, reverb, chorus, delay, flanger, phaser, pitch shifter, enhancer, overdrive, distortion, ring mod, lo-fi
Tempo Range 20-260 bpm
Trigger Inputs 15 dual-trigger
Analog Outputs (2) master, (8) direct, (1) headphone (all unbalanced ¼-inch)
Analog Input (1) TRS ¼-inch stereo
Digital Output (1) coaxial S/PDIF
Expansion Slots (1) memory card, (1) expansion board
Dimensions 12 ⅛" (W) × 4 3/16" (H) × 10 ⅛" (D)
Weight 6 lbs., 7 oz.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

ROLAND
V-Pro TD-20S

electronic drum set$6,495

OVERALL RATING [1 THROUGH 5]: 4

PROS: Great sounds. COSM-modeled drums and cymbals. Realistic cymbal and hi-hat controllers. Mesh heads. Easy to set up. Intuitive to use.

CONS: Can't sample or add your own sounds. Can't layer sounds on the pads. No Undo. Expensive.

MANUFACTURER

Roland Corporation U.S.
www.rolandus.com

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