Review: Alesis SamplePad Pro

Affordable drum controller with built-in sound module
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When it comes to laying down MIDI drum tracks, a set of pads that can be played with either sticks or fingers is handy to have around. SamplePad Pro from Alesis is just such a controller, but one with onboard sounds and the ability to add your own samples and integrate additional controllers.

The playing surface has six 4.5"x3.5" pads and two horizontal strips that also serve as triggers, all with the right balance of firmness and bounce. The pads display their parameters in the LCD when struck. The front offers a slot for an optional SD or SDHC card, a main volume knob, and a separate volume control for the headphone output. Overall, the playing surface benefits from a solid build, though the knobs feel flimsy. While that isn’t a deal breaker, I’d advise handling it with caution if the unit travels outside your studio.

With only an LCD and four buttons, the user interface is Spartan yet intuitive to use. The left and right cursors are used for changing values or moving to a submenu. Global parameter pages such as velocity curves, metronome setup, MIDI parameters, and sample import require you to press multiple buttons simultaneously, as do file saving operations.

In addition to standard MIDI I/O and USB connectivity that handles MIDI and sample import, the rear panel hosts two unbalanced 1/4" analog outputs; a 3.5mm stereo input with level control, for use with an external audio device when practicing or gigging; and four external trigger inputs: kick (which accepts a switch or trigger), hi-hat (switch or continuous pedal), and two pads (one of which handles single- and dual-zone controllers). An additional footswitch jack accepts dual or single switches and can be used to control kit selection and tempo, among other things. Although it would be nice to have additional analog outputs that could be assigned to individual kit pieces from the internal sound bank, at this price, providing only stereo output is an understandable compromise.

SamplePad Pro includes a nice-sounding library of kits and samples, though the internal kit pieces are limited to two separate velocity layers, with no round-robin sample rotation. To save and load additional files, or to upgrade the firmware, you will need to purchase an SD or SDHC card. Capacities up to 32GB are supported. While that would hold a lot of kits and samples, the size limit of a complete kit is 48MB, and a maximum of 512 files can be stored on a card.

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Inevitably, you will want to connect SamplePad Pro to the outside world, and you can, thanks to its USB and MIDI ports. Using USB, I fed SamplePad Pro’s triggers to a variety of software drum programs—FXpansion BFD 3 and Tremor, Vir2 Instruments Studio Kit Builder, Heavyocity DM-307, XLN Audio Addictive Drums, Toontrack EZDrummer, and Native Instruments Kontakt hosting Studio Drummer. This allowed me to enjoy the expanded palette, dynamic expression, and other features afforded by more sophisticated drum software while using this convenient controller.

SamplePad Pro’s easy programmability, responsive pads, and well-stocked expansion options make it a great tool for the home studio or for live performance. And with a street price below $300, it is an exceptional value.

Robust, responsive Pads. Expandable library via SD/SDHC card. Menu is easy to navigate. Additional trigger options.

Flimsy plastic knobs. No individual analog outputs for internal sounds. Kit size limited to 48 MB.

$299 street

Marty Cutler is not a professional drummer, but he plays one in his home studio.