If you’ve seen enough YouTube videos of music producers playing drum pads with their fingers at alarming speeds and with jaw-dropping dexterity, it may seem like the drummers’ days were numbered. However, if drum machines didn’t kill us off, neither will DJ BizzyFingas.
In fact, you can watch just as many YouTube videos of kids playing “covers” of dub-step and death metal to convince yourself that drumming may even be… cool again? Hey, if ripped jeans can come back, anything’s possible.
Actually, if commerce follows the trends, the amount of action in the electronic drum space suggests that there’s never been a better time to be handy with a pair of sticks and two tapping feet. E-drums are becoming more like acoustic drums in all the best ways, while acoustic drum kits are growing electronic appendages like some kind of transhumanist fantasy where the organic merges with the machine.
That trend of “hybrid” drummers—those who blend acoustic with electronic percussion—draws strength from technological progress that makes mesh-head drum pads cheaper and sensor technology more sophisticated, and shrinks an acoustic trigger and a sound module into one battery powered device.
Electronic drum “brains” used to be anything but brainy, but these days they have touchscreens, solid-state drives, audio/MIDI interfaces, and Bluetooth connectivity. It’s beginning to feel like drummers have been invited to the electronic music party, and that electronic musicians have more reasons than ever to play—rather than program—beats.
This roundup chooses the highlights from the last year of electronic percussion. All the prices are common street prices.
E-DRUMS & E-DRUM KITS
This year Alesis stepped up its affordable line of e-drum kits with two all-mesh-head models: the Surge Mesh Kit ($499) and the Command Mesh Kit ($699). Both models have a virtually identical 8-trigger set of drums and cymbal pads. The 10-inch snare and three 8-inch toms are all dual-zone for playing two sounds from each, and you can adjust the rebound and sensitivity of the mesh heads to your own taste. The crash and ride cymbals both have chokeability, and the kits include the hi-hat pedal, kick pedal, and all other necessary hardware.
The Surge Drum Module and Command Drum Module establish the difference between the two kits. They both have USB for connecting to DAW software, dozens of play-along practice tracks, performance recording, and an Aux input for playing along to external music. The Surge module supplies fewer sounds—385 sounds in 24 drum kits compared to 629 sounds in 50 drum kits in the Command module. And crucially, the Command module also has a USB thumb drive port for importing your own WAV samples or MP3 play-along tracks, as well as for performance recording memory.
What would an ’80s synth-pop video be without a well-coiffed drummer playing badly out of sync with the audio on a hexagonal Simmons drum pad? I don’t even want to think about it. Simmons’ iconic hexagon pads defined the look of electronic drums while the technology was still in its Stone Age.
Today, it’s a completely different era of advanced e-drums, yet when Dave Simmons himself rejoined the Simmons team recently, it seems fitting that the resulting flagship SD2000 ($999) mesh-head e-drum kit also brought back a new take on the old hexagonal Simmons-drum look. They called it the SimHex mesh pad with variable attack and response. The 8-trigger SD2000 kit features a triple-zone snare (1 center and 2 rim zones), triple-zone ride cymbal, dual-zone crash, three dual-zone toms, and the anodized aluminum Hexx Rack mounting hardware. A $299 expansion pack adds an extra cymbal and tom pad.
Inside the USB-enabled SD2000 sound module, you’ll find all the recognizable vintage sounds of the Simmons Signature Sound Library, as well as contemporary acoustic kits, electronic kits, and world percussion. The module’s full-color display and 5-fader performance mixer give you quick hands-on access to the level, tuning, filter, shape, EQ, and other characteristics of each kit sound. For an even greater level of editing and control, the Simmons Advanced iOS app lets you edit drum kits, control effects, record, edit, and play samples among other features.
It seems that within today’s e-drum scene, for every push toward making a modest, yet high-quality kit as affordable as possible, there’s an equal and opposite push to concoct the most aesthetically lavish and functionally advanced kit that the state of the art will allow. With respect to the latter half of that equation, Drum Workshop (DW) has partnered with Germany’s GEWA to create the Pro 6 and EX 6 ($TBA) e-drum kits combining DW’s DWe trigger shells, hardware, and rack systems with the deluxe GEWA Drum Workstation G9 module.
The all-wood DWe trigger shells use Remo True Rebound mesh heads, modular Trigger Zone surfaces, and come in high-gloss Exotic Walnut Burst (EX 6) or Carbon Ply (Pro 6) finishes.
Each kit configuration comes with six DWe shells—an 18-inch bass drum, 14-inch snare, and 10-inch, 12-inch (x2), and 14-inch toms—and all the requisite hardware, including a full hi-hat stand with spin-free clutch.
Besides a column of hardware controls on its left-hand side, the G9 workstation module’s sleek top surface gives itself over to a 10-inch color touchscreen, which commands its deep feature set including the drum-kit brain, recording, mixing, effects with onboard DSP, a patchbay, MP3 player, and even a PDF reader. The G9 also works as a digital USB interface to a computer.
The Roland V-Drums are neither the oldest nor the newest kids on the block. They just own the block. Until further notice, the V-Drums serve as the basis of comparison for all other e-drums, and Roland continues to innovate.
The company has beat DW to market with its full-size electronic bass drums, the 22-inch KD-220 (maple shell) and the KD-180 (birch shell). These full-size kicks give drummers the familiar feel of an acoustic bass drum, plenty of space for a double-kick pedal, and a beautiful and commanding stage presence that never goes out of style. The KD-180 comes with the 5-drum/4-cymbal TD- 25KVX V-Drums kit ($3,999), while the KD-220 heads up the top-of-the-line TD-50KVX ($7,699), whose TD-50 module employs Roland’s Prismatic Sound Modeling technology for the most realistic level of nuanced sound and expressiveness that V-Drums have to offer.
While e-drums make apartment life bearable for many urban-dwelling drummers, hyper-sensitive neighbors can still make practicing a problem. Roland’s new Noise Eater drum hardware helps put a damper on the situation. The RDH-100 ($149) single kick-drum pedal, RDH-102 ($299) double-kick pedal, and RDH-120 ($159) high-hat stand have Noise Eater technology built directly into them. Each one has multiple dome-shaped, air-filled rubber cup dampers on the base of the pedals, which drastically decreases the noise and vibration transfer from your busy feet to the floor, which results in a quieter experience for you, your roommates, and anyone living on the floor below.
Roland has also refreshed its mid-priced V-Drum range with the new TD-17 series of 5-drum kits. The TD-17KL ($999) offers a single mesh head for the snare, three cymbal pads, and the new noise-reducing KD-10 kick pad ($199 if bought separately). The TD-17KV ($1,199) take a big step up for a modest increase price. It has all mesh-head drum triggers, including the new PDX-12, which has a variable-tension dual-mesh head and an acoustic-style snare hoop that makes playing rim shots uncannily similar to a traditional snare. On top of all that, the TD-17KVX ($1,599) includes larger and more realistic cymbal pads. It has four cymbals instead of three, including a 13-inch, three-zone ride and the new VGH-10 V-Hi-Hat, which mounts on any acoustic hi-hat stand (sold separately) for more realistic continuous open/close and bow/edge sounds and natural hi-hat techniques.
All the TD-17 kits run off the included TD-17 Drum Sound Module (also available separately for $599). This new module integrates the same Prismatic Sound Modeling from the high-end TD- 50 module. You can expand on its 50 preset kits and 310 sounds with WAV files imported from SD card, record to SD card, and use the TD-17’s internal processing and editing to create up to 50 user kits. Convenient Bluetooth integration works for both audio and MIDI, so you can wirelessly connect to tablets or computers for MIDI control (or use the USB port), as well as stream Bluetooth audio from a device for playing along.
TD-17 kits also come pre-mapped for Melodics, the game-ified music lesson software that focuses on different modern electronic and popular dance styles, with 50 free lessons to get you started.
While on the subject of drum modules, there are some notable standalone units to mention that occupy opposite ends of the spectrum, from the ultra-high-tech center of an extravagant e-drum rig, to specialized components of a hybrid acoustic/electronic drum kit.
Pearl/Steven Slate Drums
How could a drum module powered by Slate Digital include anything other than impeccable sounds, smooth software, and a touchscreen? For its Mimic Pro 1.0.7 ($2,199), Pearl partnered with Steven Slate to create a thoroughly modern drum module from the ground up. The new Steven Slate Drums 5 software and sample library is baked right into the module, and a 7-inch multitouch display with a single scroll wheel is all you need to navigate your options quickly.
The preloaded 24-bit samples are focused on acoustic, rather than electronic, drum sounds, and they come from meticulous recordings in high-end studio using the finest outboard gear. Each sample starts dry, but then you can blend in overhead and room mic variations, as well as effects, to your taste. The 120 GB of internal storage is a solid-state drive, ensuring natural, instant response times. Should you want to add some electronic flavor, or any other sounds, simply import them via SD card or USB.
The included sounds and name of the Mimic Pro itself tells you that it is directed at drummers who want to record acoustic-sounding drum tracks from whatever e-drum kit is at their disposal. Consequently, the module has a whopping 16 inputs and outputs compatible with nearly every e-drum trigger available, so you can build your own rig or take it from studio to studio and use whatever’s available. The Mimic Pro works with dual- and triple-zone triggers, as well as chokeable cymbals, and supports the fine tuning of velocity and trigger sensitivity.
For the growing wave of hybrid drummers who piece together acoustic drums and percussion with supplementary electronic components, Roland presents the TM-6 Pro ($799), a drum-trigger module with 500 samples, 100 kits, SD card input, and six trigger inputs (with support for a maximum of 12 pads using optional Y cables).
Using the TM-6 Pro with optional acoustic drum mounted triggers, you can combine your acoustic drums with digital sounds from the module or from an SD card, with the option to layer and trigger sounds according to stick velocity. Special functionality also makes it easy to play WAV or MP3 backing and/or click tracks from the SD card, with those tracks routed to any of the outputs (headphones, master, or four direct outputs).
The TM-6 Pro is also a fully functional USB audio/MIDI interface with a 5-pin MIDI Out port, so you can record to a DAW, route MIDI to and from a DAW, or play backing tracks, a click track, or other audio from a computer to any of the TM-6 Pro’s outputs.
With the EAD10 ($499) electronic/acoustic drums microphone system and drum module, Yamaha has cooked up something special for drummers who play an acoustic or hybrid kit. It comes with a unique two-in-one kick drum sensor/stereo microphone that mounts to the top of your kick-drum hoop. That microphone captures your entire drum kit with an adjustable pick-up zone and sends that audio to the EAD10. The audio then runs through one of 50 preset Scenes, which are combinations of processing and effects that transform the drum sounds either subtly or drastically—for example, like an arena rock kit or a classic ’80s Phil Collins track.
This gives you an easy way to mike up your kit, either dry or with all kinds of interesting processing—and have an extra kick-drum sound coming from the kick sensor—then record it straight to the internal hard drive or to a laptop over USB. Plenty of editing options let you alter the Scenes and save them to any of the 200 user memory slots. You can also add an optional trigger to the snare drum and add another two trigger inputs to your setup.
As a bonus, the EAD10 comes with the Rec’n’Share iOS app, which records a video of you playing that is synced to the module’s audio recording. After recording, the app automatically stitches the EAD10 audio to the video and can post it straight to YouTube or elsewhere.
That’s not the only innovation happening with acoustic drum triggers. Now drummers don’t even need a separate sound module to blend their acoustic drums with digital samples.
The battery-powered RT-MicS ($259) hybrid drum mic and trigger mounts to a snare or tom and can output either the mic signal, one of eight onboard samples, or a blend of both from the two 1/4" outputs. The RT-MicS includes eight snare, clap, and percussion sounds, but you can upload your own sounds to the eight memory slots from a computer over USB. A single button on top cycles through the sounds.
The boutique shop TrigMic also has a few compact drum trigger/sound module options: TrigMic Gen2 Kick PA, TrigMic Gen2 Snare PA, and TrigMic Gen2 Tom PA ($187 each). All of them are battery powered and mount to the rim of a snare/tom or the hoop of a kick drum. Rather than record and mix the acoustic sound with a triggered sample, they have several preloaded drum sounds and a single XLR output that connect directly to a mixing console.
Sample volume varies by the force of the stroke. Samples can be layered, and you can upload your own sounds from a smartphone or laptop. Each of these triggers has Bluetooth connectivity for adjusting things such as gain and the variable force response.
Much like the Simmons Drums of the ’80s, Alternate Mode’s MalletKat MIDI mallet controllers create a memorable visual impression that stretches back more than 30 years. The MalletKat originated in 1984, but the latest version, the MalletKat 8 controller, has decades of development behind it resulting in a player-friendly feel, a dynamic range that recognizes the softest of hits, and “self-adjusting” technology that can prevent missed notes from sensor bleed or an overlapped hit.
The MalletKats are made for durability without being too heavy. Their casing is heavy gauge aluminum, and the playing pads can take very hard hits without damaging the sensors. The units are even water-resistant.
The MalletKat 8 can control two sounds at once, either split or layered together. It comes with a footswitch, sustain pedal, and both a standard MIDI and MIDI-to-USB cable, which makes it compatible with Mac and Windows, as well as iOS and Android devices (with the proper adapters). Base units have 128 user presets but no onboard sounds unless you choose the optional Kurzweil internal synthesizer card, which adds $499 to the base price of the 2-octave MalletKat 8 Express ($1,099), 3-octave MalletKat 8 Pro ($1,599), and 4-octave MalletKat 8 Grand ($2,249).
Pearl/Keith McMillen Instruments
Pearl added another collaborative feather to its e-percussion cap this year when it teamed up with Keith McMillen Instruments (KMI) on the EM1 MalletStation ($999). The 3-octave, USB-bus powered mallet controller has KMI’s familiar all-weather soft silicone pads with Smart Fabric sensors underneath, which offer velocity sensitivity, aftertouch, and a mallet dampening effect. Meanwhile, the chassis is aluminum and steel, with a total weight of 16.25 lbs.
You can transpose the keyboard and adjust the low note to whatever you want—six removable “gap caps” signify the black keys of a keyboard. There are MIDI-assignable buttons and faders, as well as three assignable inputs for pedals (sold separately).
The EM1 MalletStation can mount to a pair of concert stands (not included) or sit on a table or keyboard stand. It has no internal sounds, but is plug-and-play compliant for Mac/Windows/iOS/Android.