Yamaha DTXtreme III Review

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With the DTXtreme III, Yamaha raises the bar by offering a range of new features and refinements over its previous electronic drum kits. It boasts more than 1,000 new sounds, including some meticulously sampled Yamaha acoustic drum sets, as well as sequencing, recording, improved effects, a brand-new rack, a versatile click track, and sampling capabilities.

The kit comes in two versions: Standard and Special. I reviewed the Special version, which includes four tom pads, three cymbal pads, and a complete set of hardware mounted on Yamaha's new Hex Rack (see Fig. 1). (The Standard kit has three tom pads, two cymbal pads, and a lighter rack; it costs $3,199.) This rack, with its hexagonal-shaped bars and versatile new clamps, was designed for acoustic drums, so it's very sturdy and, as a result, heavier than offerings from the competition. But unlike other racks, it can be used with your regular kit, too.

Into the Zone

The DTXtreme III's drum pads have a rubber surface rather than a mesh head like those used in the high-end Roland kits. Mesh heads are popular because they add a high, trampoline-like bounce to your sticks that makes you feel like your technique has magically improved. However, I prefer the rubber surface because it has a more realistic rebound.

The snare and tom pads offer three triggering zones: one on the head and two on the rim. The latter allows for natural-feeling rim shots (when a drummer strikes the rim and head simultaneously) and rim clicks. The rim area from about 12 to 3 o'clock is the rim-click zone and the remaining area is the rim-shot zone. Yamaha could improve these trigger pads by designating the top half of the pad for one trigger zone (rim clicks) and the bottom half for the other because left-handed drummers are forced to rotate their snare pad to play a rim click in the area lefties use (from 9 to 12 o'clock).

Even though I'm right-handed, I ran into difficulty playing Steve Gadd's sampled kit — the NY '70s preset — and emulating his groove from Paul Simon's “Late in the Evening.” For this groove Gadd struck the rim of his floor tom, and the narrow area that Yamaha designated for a rim sound forced me to twist my hand awkwardly to play the pattern (see Web Clip 1). However, you can edit the kit and put the rim sample in a more convenient place.

One nice feature of these drum pads is the red Pad Control knob that enables you to quickly adjust the pitch of a tom or the tightness of the snare wires (see Web Clip 2). That means you don't need to enter an edit menu to tweak your kit.

At 12.5 inches, the bass drum pad is relatively large for an electronic kit, but the size allows it to easily accommodate a double bass-drum pedal. The kick has a rubber surface that feels similar to a bass drum head. Unfortunately, it lacks that handy Pad Control knob, which would be useful to adjust the drum's pitch or decay time.

Yamaha includes updated cymbal and hi-hat pads with the DTXtreme III. The cymbals are 15 and 13 inches in diameter and mount from the center, so they balance and move like normal cymbals. The cymbal pads have three trigger zones — edge, bow, and bell — and you can assign a different sound to each. The cymbals also support choking as well as muting sounds if you strike the cymbal while holding it. I like the new cymbal pads because they feel substantial under my sticks and respond with a good measure of realism.

Yamaha's hi-hat pad mounts on the included stand. The hi-hat gives you open, closed, edge, bow, and splashing sounds that occur when you briefly strike and release the hi-hat cymbals. Playing these hi-hats while closed and varying your foot pressure changes the pitch just like with real hi-hats.

Having acoustically quiet pads on your set is important for apartment dwellers who like to practice. The DTXtreme's pads are relatively quiet compared with harder, rubber pads, producing a similar amount of sound as Roland's mesh pads when compared side by side.

Import Duties

The DTXtreme III's sound module allows you to sample your own sounds at a variety of rates up to 16-bit, 44.1 kHz using the auxiliary input. In addition, you can import WAV or AIFF files via the USB ports. This is great for pro drummers who want to use their own sounds for live and studio work without dealing with the hassles of a separate sampler and the resulting MIDI delay that is noticeable when playing percussive sounds.

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FIG. 2: The sound module includes dedicated function buttons and volume faders, as well as a good-size LCD.

The sound module is intuitive to use, with numerous volume faders, dedicated function buttons, and a large LCD (see Fig. 2). Unfortunately, the DTXtreme III has a USB 1.1 port instead of the faster USB 2.0, which is puzzling (see the sidebar “Xtreme Connections”). Professional users will gladly pay for the features they need, such as the faster file-transfer capabilities. And in order to load your own sounds or use the sampling feature, you must purchase and install DIMM chips in the bottom of the unit. There are slots for two DIMMs, and up to 1 GB of memory is supported (see Fig. 3).

You can load up to 100 sounds per pad zone and designate sequential strikes to produce alternate sounds (such as left- and right-hand samples). This offers greater realism and reduces the machine-gun effect that rapid playing with electronic percussion often produces. The result is that the 3-zone snare pad can have up to 300 sounds assigned to it. However, you are limited to 500 voices per kit.

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These individual outputs are assignable, allowing you to process individual instruments externally. The stereo analog input is on a single -inch TRS jack. One USB 1.1 port connects to a computer and one connects to a memory stick or hard drive. The hi-hat control input can be used to transmit MIDI messages using the hi-hat controller. The DTXtreme III''s sound module has a nice complement of I/O, including stereo main outputs, a digital S/PDIF output, MIDI ports, and other features.

There are 50 factory kits and 50 user kits onboard, but this can be expanded with a USB flash drive, allowing you to create hundreds more kits. The factory kits include Rock, Jazz, Latin, R&B, Orchestral, World, Brush, and Electronic categories, as well as samples of Yamaha's Maple Custom, Oak Custom, Birch Custom, and Beech Custom drum kits (see Web Clips 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7). These latter kits use multiple samples per drum rather than just one tom sample that has been detuned to simulate smaller or larger toms. These were some of my favorite kits in the DTXtreme III because they offer a great deal of realism.

The DTXtreme III includes a variety of songs to play along with, and you can vary their tempo or mute the drum, bass, or accompaniment parts. The sound module provides elaborate click-track features with tap tempo and various click sounds. It also has some modes that help you improve your playing, such as Groove Check and Rhythm Gate, which allows your notes to sound only when they are close to the click.

It's a Hit

For any drum module to be considered truly professional these days, it must be able to sample or load user sounds. The DTXtreme III's does that, as well as offering tons of great sounds.

The improved pads, heavy-duty rack, and many innovative features make the DTXtreme III as good as any electronic drum set I've played. This is the finest electronic kit yet from Yamaha.

Brad Schlueter is a professional drummer, music teacher, and freelance writer. He is also a recovering Scottish snare drummer taking it one day at a time.

Xtreme Connections

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FIG. 3: To load your own sounds or use the sampling capabilities of the DTXtreme III, you''ll need to purchase and install memory chips in the sound module. In this photo, you can see where the DIMM slots are located.

You can see that the Yamaha DTXtreme III is designed for professional drummers and studios by looking at the connectivity provided on the sound module. Besides the stereo output pair, six assignable ¼-inch outputs are included, as well as a S/PDIF digital stereo output on a coaxial jack. Aux In/Sampling In allows you to feed a stereo analog signal into the unit with a TRS cable. Along with MIDI I/O ports, there are two USB 1.1 ports, one each for a host (connecting to a computer) and a device (a memory stick or hard drive).

The module offers trigger inputs for a basic 6-piece kit (snare, kick, and four toms), with three cymbal inputs, a hi-hat input, and four additional trigger inputs that can handle 2- and 3-zone triggers. The hi-hat control input on the left can be used to transmit Control Change and other MIDI messages using the hi-hat controller.

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