The Roland HD-1 is a compact, easy-to-set-up electronic drum kit priced for the personal studio.
Roland's V-Drums have consistently set the standard for playability in electronic drum controllers. Recently the company hit a sweet spot in the market with the HD-1 V-Drums Lite, the first V-Drum kit to have a retail price of less than a grand.
The HD-1 successfully targets two disparate groups: first-time and/or hobbyist drummers who want the convenience that an electronic set provides, and project studio owners who want a MIDI-capable kit that doesn't take up a lot of space. To achieve the low price, Roland reduced the contents of the sound module to ten kits, removed the editing features, and included only one of the patented mesh-head drum pads (the snare pad). But although you get less of what the V-Drums are famous for, this kit has other charms. Its ultracompact frame is less than 3 feet wide and 4 feet high when fully assembled, making it ready to tuck away in a corner.
Setting up the HD-1 is a breeze, because the kit comes partially assembled with three tom pads already attached to the stand and arm pipes. In addition, the snare, three cymbals, the kick and hi-hat pedals, and the sound module attach easily, so you can start rocking in less than half an hour. For beginners, I would recommend getting the HD-1PAK ($1,295 [MSRP]), which includes the matching PM-01 Personal Drum Monitor, a drum throne, sticks, a minijack cable, and earbuds.
The sound module is fairly simple to use. It has a MIDI Out port, a stereo ⅛-inch line-level output, an ⅛-inch stereo headphone jack, and a stereo ⅛-inch Mix In jack so that you can practice along with any audio source — a great touch. Five numbered buttons activate kits, and the Variation button activates the second kit for each number. Pressing and holding a numbered button triggers example patterns. You can also adjust the global pad sensitivity by holding down the Variation button until it blinks and then choosing 1 through 5 for low to high sensitivity.
The metronome on/off button starts a click sound (selectable from Click, Cowbell, or Maraca), and the Tempo knob varies the speed from 40 to 220 bpm. The Volume knob adjusts both the kit and the metronome volume, but fortunately you can choose three overall metronome levels through a series of button pushes.
The HD-1 manages to cover a lot of bases with its ten kits, including rock, jazz, metal, hip-hop, dance, ethnic, and special-effects sounds. They all deliver the expected Roland fidelity and are multisampled so that each pad triggers two or three separate samples according to Velocity, rather than merely a single sample played at varying volumes. For instance, hitting the ride hard triggers a bell, and hitting the snare softly produces a nice ghost note. A few of the kits, such as World, Voices, and Droid, played entirely different sounds according to Velocity, and I enjoyed the odd rhythms that came from adjusting my dynamics. I also appreciated the Double Bass kit, an open hi-hat/double kick kit suitable for your heaviest rock 'n' roll daydreams.
At first I thought that the HD-1's compact playing area and small pad surfaces handicapped my drumming. But after a couple of hours of woodshedding, I came to enjoy the instrument. Naturally, the mesh snare was my favorite pad on the kit. Its bouncy response measures up to that of the heads of high-end V-Drum kits, making everything from languid paradiddles to tight rolls feel good. The cymbals are not the deluxe chokeable numbers from the more expensive kits, and the rubberized toms aren't nearly as exciting as mesh. What's important, however, is their excellent responsiveness. The exception is that I had to hit the cymbal pads harder than the drum pads to extract the high-Velocity sounds.
The beaterless pedals — a new concept for V-Drums — cut down on some of the noise of traditional pedals and are well suited to both heel-down and heel-up playing. If anything, I thought they were a little less forgiving of lax technique than an acoustic kit, so they're good for working on foot chops.
In general, the HD-1 has limited adjustability, but some pad rotation and vertical adjustment is possible. Experienced drummers may not like the fact that the position of the pedals cannot be changed, for example. I tested the kit on a thin carpet with padding underneath, and it swayed back and forth a bit when I played hard, though it never threatened to actually fall or collapse. The ideal floor would be hardwood or concrete covered with a thin, firm rug.
Play What You Want
The HD-1's ace in the hole for project studios is that it's a low-cost and compact way to have a full kit for recording MIDI parts into a DAW or triggering sounds from an external MIDI module. While its onboard kits are fine, they'll probably be little more than practice fodder for computer-based musicians. I would much rather play the sounds from a software instrument or record MIDI parts and substitute the sounds I want later.
As you would expect, the HD-1 transmits standardized drum-kit MIDI Note Numbers for its pads on channel 10 through the module's MIDI Out. (Although it may have increased the price slightly, a USB connection for transmitting MIDI would have been an ideal feature for Roland to have included.) The Number and Variation buttons also transmit Program Change numbers 1 to 10.
I hooked the HD-1 to the M-Audio iControl, a $100 control surface with a MIDI input. From there, all I needed to do was create a software drum track, and it mirrored the HD-1 sounds perfectly without any adjustment required. This made it fast and easy to record MIDI drum parts with a full kit, which is more satisfying for a drummer than playing a keyboard or MPC-style pads. It was also no problem to play standalone instruments or plug-ins, such as FXpansion BFD.
It's a Hit
Whether for a beginning drummer or a project studio owner or both, the HD-1 V-Drums Lite makes good on Roland's promise to deliver the essential highlights of the V-Drum series in a compact, inexpensive package. Personally, I'm hooked on it as a combination practice kit and MIDI drum controller.
Markkus Rovito is Remix magazine's technology editor by day and a drummer, computer musician, and DJ by night.
electronic drum kit $999 (MSRP)
PROS: V-Drum sounds, feel, and response at an affordable price. Painless setup. Easy MIDI triggering.
CONS: Limited pad position adjustment. Only ten drum kits. No kit customization. Wobbles a little on carpet.
FEATURES 1 2 3 4 5 EASE OF USE 1 2 3 4 5 QUALITY OF SOUNDS 1 2 3 4 5 VALUE 1 2 3 4 5