Alesis has recently introduced the successor to its popular D4 and DM5 drum modules, the DM Pro. Surpassing its predecessors by leaps and bounds, the DM Pro is a thoroughly professional unit with features that read like a drummer's wish list.
The DM Pro houses 1,664 sounds, offers 64-note polyphony, and is 16-part multitimbral. It has a trigger-to-MIDI interface, six 1 1/4 4-inch TRS outputs, dual onboard effects with 24-bit DACs (based on the Alesis Q20 engine), and positional hi-hat control. Using Alesis's SoundBridge software (which comes bundled with the unit), you can create your own sounds and sequences on your computer and import them into the DM Pro.
WHAT'S UP FRONTThe front panel of the DM Pro resembles that of the DM5. Housed in a single-unit rack-mount case, the module has a large backlit LCD screen, a value wheel, a 1 1/4 4-inch headphone jack, a master volume knob, and buttons dedicated to various edit functions. These front-panel buttons are brightly backlit, making them easy to see on stage or in a darkened studio. The headphone amp is powerful, making it a blessing for drummers. Also located on the front panel is a PC Card expansion slot.
The DM Pro features a Preview button that allows you to audition sounds without using a MIDI controller or trigger pads. Unfortunately, the button is not Velocity sensitive (that is, it plays the sample at the maximum MIDI Volume of 127), so it doesn't let you audition the different Velocity levels of a given sound.
AROUND THE BACKThe back panel has six 1 1/4 4-inch TRS audio outputs (two mains, two stereo auxes, and two mono auxes) and MIDI In, Out, and Thru ports (see Fig. 1). The DM Pro provides ten trigger inputs, six of which are TRS jacks for dual-zone pads (snare/rim, cymbal, ride, and hi-hat). The kick and three tom inputs are monaural. Although the DM Pro defaults to a three-tom kit, you can assign more toms if you wish, and you can also split a TRS input into dual mono inputs.
Two auxiliary RCA inputs allow you to monitor an external audio signal through the headphone or main outputs. However, the DM Pro has no volume control for the RCA inputs, so the volume must be set at the audio device itself. The unit is powered by an uncommon 4-pin DIN wall wart.
ENVELOPES PLEASEThe DM Pro provides two distinct editing modes: Drumkit, in which you create kits and tweak a limited number of common parameters, and Drum Edit, which allows editing of higher complexity.
In Drumkit mode you choose which instruments you want in your kit, adjust their volume, tune them, pan them across seven positions, and select an output to send each instrument through. You can set two drums to sound simultaneously whenever a single pad is struck or a MIDI note message is received. Or you can assign one sound to cut off another, to achieve effects such as open/muted triangles or choked cymbals.
Detailed editing takes place in Drum Edit mode. Individual sounds are called Drums, whether they are actual drum samples or not. Each Drum is made up of four Sounds, each of which has Filter, Envelope, and Modulation settings. There are three Envelopes per Sound: Pitch, Filter, and Amplitude. Using the unit's Modulation Matrix, you can have any of these Envelopes control or modulate a number of other parameters. All told, 16 modulation sources control 21 destination parameters.
In addition, the DM Pro has four Trigger Parameters per Envelope that can drastically alter the Envelope's behavior. Some of the parameters give you synthesizer-like control over the sounds, while others offer more subtle musical control. For example, the Pitch Envelope is useful for changing the pitch of talking drums, tablas, and conventional toms.
BIG EFFECTSThe DM Pro has two effects buses-Reverb and Multi-Effects-that can be run in serial or in parallel. Reverb offers gated, plate, room, large, hall, and reverse reverbs; the multi-effects processor provides delay, overdrive, and pitch effects (chorus, flanger, and resonator). The output of the multi-effects processor can be sent through the reverb processor, although it doesn't work the other way around.
All of the effects in the DM Pro are 24-bit resolution, and they sound great. The reverb has ten editable parameters, including Density, Decay Time, and High-Frequency Decay (which darkens the reverb's timbre). The delays in the unit are monaural, so there are no ping-pong effects. Editable delay parameters include Output Level, Input Mix, Delay Time (adjustable in 1 microsecond increments), and Feedback. Finally, it has a 2-band boost-only shelving EQ that globally affects the entire Drumkit.
Each Drumkit has 64 MIDI notes assigned to it. Each of these MIDI notes has an effects-bus and effects-send level assignment. If you change a Drum assigned to a given MIDI note, the new sound will have the same effect parameters as the previous one.
Drums sent through the main outputs can have effects assigned to them. Sounds sent through the stereo aux outputs are sent dry, while any effects assigned to them are sent through the main outputs. Sounds going through the mono aux outputs cannot have effects assigned to them. For this reason, many of the drums have been sampled with an ambience.
BEAT THE DRUMSAlthough the DM Pro's sounds are geared mainly toward dance and pop styles, Alesis has also supplied several excellent ethnic and orchestral samples. The sounds are organized into 13 categories called Drum Groups: Acoustic Kicks, Electric Kicks, Acoustic Snares, Electric Snares, Toms, Hi-Hats, Cymbals, Acoustic Percussion 1 and 2, Electronic Percussion, Special FX, Chromatic, and User. Each Drum Group contains 128 sounds.
The sounds in the Acoustic Snares group are generally good, although some of the samples are a little too "wet" for my taste. You can remedy this on some samples by lowering the reverb send; on others, though, the ambience is part of the sample and cannot be removed. The brush snares are nice, but no brush sweep is included. Many of the snare sounds have a filter that opens and brightens the sound at higher velocities, imitating the way real snare drums behave.
The Electric Snares group sounds good; it includes 808, 909, Simmons, Rap, Rave, and House snares, plus some sounds best described as zappy, ringy, metallic, gated, and explosive. The DM Pro's Acoustic Kicks and Electric Kick collections contain many useful bass drums-and then there are the subharmonic House and Rap sounds found in the User group.
Alesis combines electric and acoustic toms into one Drum Group, so although you get 128 sounds from each of the other sound categories, there are only 64 sounds of each type of tom, all lumped into one menu. This is unfortunate; I'd rather have one menu dedicated entirely to acoustic toms.
Only two of the tom sets sound realistic enough for general-purpose rock/pop studio work; the rest I would probably never use. For instance, the Jazz toms have more of a rock sound than I expected; the Brush toms have a synthetic attack; and the Pop, Floppy, Klasse, and Live toms all have two different pitches occurring simultaneously. There are two great Roto tom samples, but Alesis chose to include only small Rotos, which sound artificial when tuned low. The Electric toms include Simmons-style, 808, Synsonic, and a lot of weird sounds. The Blaster toms could easily work in a sci-fi soundtrack as phaser effects.
The cymbal sounds in the DM Pro are a huge improvement over those in previous Alesis drum modules. The Cymbals group includes a nice variety of timbres: cymbals with rivets, chinas, splashes, gongs, flanged cymbals, reversed cymbals, choked crashes, orchestral crashes, and mallet rolls. Unlike with the D4 and DM5 units, the DM Pro's cymbal decays are not too short, and the loops are generally imperceptible. And yes, the hi-hats respond realistically to hi-hat controllers such as Roland's FD-7.
The 256 Acoustic Percussion sounds are original and excellent. This group includes tablas, taiko, and udu drums; shakers; flexatone; finger cymbals; castanet rolls; wind chimes and bells; and all the Latin sounds you'll ever need. There's even a sample of two drumsticks being struck together for song count-offs.
Most of the percussion samples are Velocity sensitive. For example, the hand drums gain brightness and attack as you play harder; other instruments, including Back Beat and Ringer, have sharper attacks; and still others, such as VeloConga and Skinner, change pitch subtly. Certain samples are of acoustic timbres, but they are processed in such a way that they sound very electronic. The dedicated Electronic Percussion group contains a wide variety of sounds ranging from 808-style congas, claves, and hand claps to a metronome click and a submarine sonar blip.
Special FX includes everyday sounds such as door chimes, squeeze toys, and anvils, as well as some esoteric ones. Some of the samples are short performances using acoustic timbres; for example, Horsey is the sound of coconuts being banged together to simulate a horse's gallop. The Special FX group really shows off the power of the DM Pro's envelope filters: some sounds evolve slowly over time, while others sustain almost indefinitely.
Theater percussionists should note that the unit's pitched percussion sounds are very good. And unlike earlier Alesis drum modules, the DM Pro comes with a generous selection of orchestral instruments, including timpani, vibraphone, xylophone, and marimba. A collection of other pitched-instrument sounds, such as guitar, bass, and synth, is also included.
The organization of sounds within some groups could be better. Certain sounds are thoughtfully subgrouped together-including, for instance, all variations of the Chromatic menu (Timpani, Vibraphone, and so on). However, the sounds are usually not alphabetized. With more than 1,600 samples available, this makes finding an individual sound difficult.
MIDI TO THE MAXThe DM Pro has extensive MIDI features that are flexible enough for any project. They are divided into two areas: Drumkit MIDI functions and Global MIDI functions.
The Drumkit MIDI functions include Drum Channel Override, MIDI Input Enable, and MIDI Output Enable parameters. In the default setting, a Drumkit responds to a single MIDI channel. However, by using Drum Channel Override, the DM Pro can transmit or receive data on 16 MIDI channels at once, allowing you to send specific MIDI controller commands to specific instruments. For example, you can send pitch bend information to the toms only, change the panning of the shakers, or alter an instrument's volume from a sequencer or a continuous controller. You can enable or disable instruments' receiving and transmitting of MIDI data within a Drumkit, as well.
The DM Pro's Global MIDI menu offers 11 editable parameters. Filter Program Transmit controls whether Program Change messages are sent from the MIDI output. Similarly, MIDI Start On/Off toggles the unit's ability to send sequence start commands from the triggers. Hat Pedal Controller Assign allows an external controller's Modulation Wheel to control the hi-hat pedal, while Controller A-D Assign lets you assign four separate Continuous Controllers to alter parameters within the DM Pro's Modulation Matrix.
WHOA, TRIGGERThe DM Pro has 12 parameters that affect triggering. This is a fairly flexible arrangement; for instance, you can assign independent triggers to start and stop an external sequencer, or assign a single trigger to handle both tasks. (Doing the latter frees up a trigger input.)
In addition, there are Noise Suppression and Crosstalk parameters in the unit's Trigger menu. Noise Suppression prevents false triggering caused by vibrations. This feature cleverly defines the noise floor threshold of the environment so that the DM Pro will trigger only when a signal exceeds that threshold. Crosstalk automatically adjusts the triggering threshold in a kit, keeping unintended triggers from firing when another is struck. Only one of these features is available at a time, but both work well. I put a trigger on an acoustic tom to see if I could detect any triggering anomalies; it was right on the money and didn't need tweaking. Triggering was fast, and I could detect no delay between striking and sound reproduction.
Triggering from tape is a great way to "fix it in the mix." Thirteen velocity curves allow you to customize the unit's response to best suit the track material and the drummer's playing style. By adjusting the DM Pro's sensitivity, you can also remove unintentional ghost notes from a taped performance just as a noise gate would. In addition, the DM Pro offers a flat, maximum velocity curve for dance tracks that don't need dynamics.
Alesis has included positional hi-hat control in the DM Pro. When used with a continuous controller pedal, the unit can accurately emulate an acoustic hi-hat, with open-to-close, foot closure, and splashed hi-hat variations.
My favorite triggering feature is Trigger Setup Select, which enables you to save up to four custom trigger setups. If you use your DM Pro with different pad combinations, it can store each of these unique trigger profiles. And kudos to Alesis for designing the DM Pro so that you don't lose user-defined banks of Drumkits, Drums, or custom trigger setups when you reinitialize the unit.
BUNDLES OF JOYThe DM Pro comes with a CD-ROM of samples, sequences, and cross-platform applications. One of them is SoundBridge, which allows you to transfer samples and sequences from your computer to the drum module. Using MIDI SysEx data, files are sent to the DM Pro and saved to the PC Card. Because the DM Pro has no sequencing or sampling abilities of its own, this application is especially useful. (For a Macintosh, SoundBridge requires a 68030 processor running Mac OS 7.1 or higher; on the PC side, you need Windows 95, 98, or NT4. At least 3 MB of RAM is recommended.)
The PC Card can hold up to 8 MB of MIDI Song Files, as well as AIFF, WAV, and other sound files (depending on the size of the card). Triggers can be assigned to start or stop a sequence stored on a PC Card; however, MIDI data does not transmit when sequences are played from the card.
CLEARLY A PROAlesis clearly has a winner with the DM Pro. It is a powerful unit for the money-at twice the price of the DM5, you get three times the number of sounds (which, except for a few clinkers, are excellent). You also get killer effects and a host of innovative features. The user manual is very thorough and contains a helpful index. The inclusion of SoundBridge greatly increases the power of the unit; if you like the nitty-gritty of sound design, you'll find enough editing potential to keep your sounds fresh for years to come. The DM Pro is a wise choice for any number of professional applications.
When Brad Schlueter isn't gigging or teaching, he wears a kilt and practices the difficult art of Scottish snare drumming.