Yamaha DTX-Multi 12 Review

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FIG. 1: The DTX-Multi 12 offers 12 percussion pads and an array of sounds, I/O, and functionality.

Yamaha''s new DTX-Multi 12 is an extremely versatile piece of hardware. Though its primary function is as a drum-and-percussion pad with built-in sounds, it also acts as a MIDI controller, a Cubase transport control, and a multitimbral sound module. The unit has plenty of uses, including as an expansion to an acoustic drum kit for live playing and as a drum programmer/controller pad in the studio. If you get the optional hi-hat and kick-drum trigger pedals, you could also use the DTX-Multi 12 as a standalone electronic kit.

This review is centered mainly around the DTX''s studio uses. I am not a drummer, but I have long searched for a good way to play drum and percussion parts with more precision than can be done from a keyboard. The DTX-Multi 12 makes that possible.

Before getting too much into functionality, I''ll start with the unit''s physical features and ports (see Fig. 1). It measures 13.6x 12.6 x 3.8 inches (WxHxD), and is visually dominated by the 12 rubber pads on its top panel. Of these, six are large and roughly square (4 x 4.25 inches) and six are thin and long (1 x 4.25 inches). The former are meant for being hit with the stick tip (or the hands or fingers) and the latter, which have a lot less give, with the shank of the stick.

The pads can be adjusted to respond to sticks (with several dynamic range presets) hands or fingers. Because I don''t play drums, I asked a drummer I know to try out the pads using sticks. He liked the feel, especially with the dynamic range set to narrow. On the wider dynamic range settings, you really have to whack the pads to get a significant sound. The sensitivity settings can be customized beyond the factory presets and saved.

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FIG. 2: Rear panel I/O includes MIDI In/Out, five inputs for control pedals and external pads, a ¼-inch aux input, a pair of ¼-inch outs and a headphone output.

As a non-drummer, I found the finger and hand settings, especially the former, to be incredibly useful because they allowed me to play with more realism and subtlety than I ever could from a keyboard or from the small trigger pads you get on some keyboard controllers or on dedicated pad units. The DTX''s smaller pads are not too easy to play with using hands or fingers. They''re fine for triggering crashes or effects, but they don''t feel as good for drum sounds like toms or snares.

The DTX-Multi 12''s angled front panel is where you do all of your adjustments and editing. It has a volume knob, a small 2-by-16-character LCD (about 2.5 x 0.5 inches), pad status lights, and a configuration of 16 light-up buttons of various shapes and sizes.

The rear panel I/O (see Fig. 2) includes an array of ¼-inch jacks including L&R audio outputs, a stereo headphone out (with its own volume control), an Aux In jack, foot switch and hi-hat control inputs, and inputs for connecting up to five external triggers, including one of Yamaha''s three-zone trigger pads. There''s also a gain knob for the Aux In, MIDI In and Out jacks, a 12V power input, and an on/off switch.

On the left-hand side, if you''re facing the unit, you''ll find USB-to-Host and USB-to-Device ports. The former is for connecting to a computer for MIDI and the latter for connecting USB memory devices like flash drives to import audio into the unit for triggering and to export data.

Maybe it''s because I''ve been using mostly software instruments lately, but I found the DTX-Multi 12''s user interface to be rather cumbersome. It is menu-based, and due in part to the small size of the LCD, it requires that you often must scroll through numerous layers to get to what you want. Accessing menus is not just a matter of scrolling through a list, either. For some functions, there are two-key sequences that you must press before you start scrolling.

To be fair, this is a very deep unit, and there''s a lot of territory to cover in terms of parameters and preferences, and despite its multiple layers, the navigation system is consistent once you get the hang of it. Still, I expect it''s going to take some time to become a power user. The paper manual (which is also available as a PDF) is decent, though not comprehensive. Until you memorize the function keys and the overall navigation scheme, you''ll need to keep it handy.

Like the DTXtreme electronic drum kit from which it''s derived, the DTX-Multi 12 has 50 preset sampled kits in it, many of which are specialty and world-percussion kits. The sounds range from decent to quite good, and include Indian, Brazilian, Cuban, and Japanese kits; a selection of electronic kits (not as contemporary as I would have liked); a marching band kit; and an excellent tympani kit, to name just a few. Overall, you get a nice percussion toolbox and you can customize the kits to mix and match sounds.

I would have liked Yamaha to have included more acoustic drum kits. There are only three, plus sampled kits of Yamaha''s Cocktail and Hipgig portable drum kits. (I''m not sure why these were included as they''re both undersized travel kits that compromise tone for portability.) There are some additional individual acoustic drum sounds that can be accessed through the Voice section, but there isn''t enough variety. That being said, you can import samples from a USB memory device so you can expand the sound set. Each pad can house up to four layers of velocity-switched samples.

In addition to the drum, percussion, and pitched percussion sounds, there''s also a complete multitimbral, GM sound set in the unit. It''s not very clear from the manual that it''s even included, and it''s a little tricky to access it if you don''t know how. You get to it through one of the submenus controlled by the Voice button. I discovered it when I was sending MIDI to the unit and all of a sudden I heard a piano sound.

Included are a collection of looping patterns, some of which are set up to be triggered from specific pads in the preset kit collection. For getting ideas and inspiration, these loops are quite useful. You can also record your own patterns or import standard MIDI files. The onboard sequencer''s feature set includes a user-adjustable countoff, a metronome, the ability to set how many measures to record and whether your recording will be looped or not, and adjustable quantization.

Included with the DTX-Multi 12 is a copy of Steinberg Cubase AI 5, which gives you a lot of Cubase''s functionality minus some of the high-ticket features like Groove Agent, Loop Mash, Vari-Audio, and pitch correction. Still, it''s a pretty solid DAW, and the sound engine is the same as on the flagship version.

One of the cooler features on the DTX-Multi 12 is that you can use it to control Cubase AI 5 or Cubase 5.1 or later. This remote-control feature gives you a host of control functions including stop, start, rewind and fast-forward, punch-in and -out, click-on and -off, and more. I found that it worked flawlessly.

I used the DTX-Multi 12 in a number of different ways. First, I connected its audio outputs directly into my audio interface and recorded drum parts using the unit''s internal sounds. This was straightforward and easy. Because I like to start my drum parts with kick and snare, I panned each one to a separate output and recorded them to their own tracks in my DAW. I then went back and recorded the cymbals to a stereo track (see Web Clip 1).

I also found the DTX-Multi 12 really useful for programming MIDI drums. Paired with FXpansion''s superb-sounding BFD2, I was able to program some great-sounding parts (see Web Clip 2). I also activated the Local Off switch on the DTX-Multi 12 and played MIDI parts into my DAW while triggering the DTX''s sounds.

Despite a user interface that''s not particularly intuitive, the DTX-Multi 12 offers a great deal of functionality. Drummers looking for a portable electronic-percussion source will find it extremely useful, and non-drummers like myself who just want a way to produce more authentic-sounding drum and percussion parts in their studio will appreciate its features, especially the pads. Overall, it''s a solid product with a lot to offer.

Mike Levine is EM''s editor and senior media producer.

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Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Yamaha DTX-Multi 12 product page.