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Electronic Drums On the Rise

Published: Thu April 16, 2009  News Feed

A recent report from mi-pro.co.uk reveals that Electronic Drums market is truly booming, as more and more hobbyists take up the challenge of beating the crap out of synth and sample triggering drum pads. Let's take a look at this burgeoning bandwagon…

Electronic Drums on the up...

It’s probably fair to say that there has been nothing like the recent boom in electronic drum kits of the past five years since the explosion of electronic keyboards in the 1980s. The advance of sampling and synthesis technology, combined with increasingly sensitive and complex triggers has meant that – as with the keyboard’s successor, the digital piano – an instrument whose sound and playability depends upon the acoustic structures achieved through traditional manufacturing methods can now be imitated very closely by synthetic means.

The electronic development of musical instruments has led to three significant selling points: noise levels, size and price. Nowadays would-be players can buy a drum kit for well under £400 (the popular Alesis DM5 kit retails at under £300, and the Ion IED01 costs under £200) pop it in the corner of a bedroom without having to do more than clear a small space, plug in the headphones and start learning.

Those in the know will already be reaching for their ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ letter templates. Acoustic drum kits have long been as compact as electronic kits, of course, with practice pads readily available to silence a kit and entry-level kits have only recently been matched by electronic ones for price.

But ith prices now moving  even below £300, there are now signs that youngsters starting out on an electronic kit are beginning to come back to the stores looking for an acoustic kit. It is a recent development, but one that bodes well.

In other words - people are starting with electronic drums and then moving to "the real thing". In a way, not entirely dissimilar to kids playing Guitar Hero then deciding to get a proper guitar. But, of course, electronic drums are actual musical instruments.

E-drums have also brought the drumming fraternity (or rather aspirants) into the mom and pop stores. It wasn’t that long ago that a drum kit in a home was unusual. A few more years and it will be positively normal.

What follows, then, is, as ever, far from a comprehensive run through of electronic drums, but it should be enough to give those pondering the possibility of getting into e-drums a bit of inspiration as to where to go for advice and supplies…

The rise of Roland in the drum world over the past six or seven years has been nothing short of phenomenal and the Japanese hi tech developer has forged a path that has enabled an increasing number of minor manufacturers and suppliers to follow on with ease.

Roland’s latest offering came at the recent NAMM show: the Roland TD-4K kit, a mid-to-high price range kit with a new TD-4 sound module, which has upgraded drum and percussion sounds, as well as new ambience effects, optimised for drums. As well as the familiar rubber drum pads, cymbals and proprietary multi-layer, mesh snare head, it has a newly-designed four-legged drum stand that allows flexible and solid positioning of the pads and places the TD-4 module in the centre for easy access. The Rhythm Coach and Quick Record functions complete the package, offering excellent tuition capabilities.

The TD-4K, which clocks in at a sub-£1,000 price tag, is a typical example of Roland’s ongoing trickle down of technology from last year’s Roland TD-9K kit, which retails at around £1,300. The TD-9 introduced an upgraded triggering system and came in two versions, the familiar rubber pads (as with the TD-4) or with complete mesh heads throughout on the Roland TD-9KX model for an extra £300.

Roland tells us that an increasing number of acoustic drummers are incorporating triggering into their performance as a bridge between the conventional playing they know and love and the adjustable and stable output of a sound module.

Another route for the ‘established’ drummer unsure about the benefits of going the whole hog with an electronic kit is the drum pad unit. Roland’s SPD-S sampling pad is becoming a familiar sight amid professionals’ acoustic set-ups, enabling eight sounds using six rubber pads and three edge triggers. The beauty is in the simplicity: record a sound, assign it to a pad and go. Up to 12 minutes of sampling is provided in ‘Long’ mode, along with the editing features of Truncate and Trigger Mode. Roland is seeing considerable growth with this product, too – and at a roughly £400 retail price, it needn’t be the exclusive sphere of the
pro drummer.

View Roland Electronic Drums

Like Roland, Alesis began life with synthesizers and keyboards and as such had access to a lot of technology ideal for the manufacture of electronic drums. The addition of Akai and its sampling technology to the Numark family, however, opened up even more doors, but still the company hung back from the plunge, while Roland and Yamaha stole the show. When the company did finally come into the market, it was with something of a splash – literally.

The Alesis USB Pro drum kit is the world's first drum set designed for use with a Mac or PC as the sound module. The logic is that a computer has more processing power than any hardware drum module and combined with the touch of tunable, mylar drum heads and the natural feel of brass-alloy Surge cymbals (by Sabian), creates an acoustic-feeling, great-sounding drumming experience. The heart of the Alesis USB Pro is the Trigger/IO interface and the FXpansion BFD Lite software, which opens up the world of DAWs and plugins, such as BFD, Toontrack and Reason to drummers and producers looking for realistic drum performances.

The drum pads are built around eight-inch mylar drumheads and acoustic-dampening foam. The snare and tom pads are dual-zone, enabling rimshot or rim-click sounds on the snare and additional sounds such as wind chimes, cymbals, gongs, and cowbells on the tom rims. When they wear out, the drumheads can be replaced with any model you choose from any manufacturer.

The Surge cymbals on the USB Pro are 12-inch hi-hats, 13-inch crash and 16-inch ride – the crash and ride both having a choke function, while the ride has a dual zone for bell sounds.

View Alesis Electronic Drums

Yamaha has done as much as anyone to establish e-drums as a viable alternative to ‘the real thing’, as well as helping to open up the hobbyist and home market. As with digital pianos, the MI giant has had its own top quality products in the acoustic arena to examine, sample and emulate, which means the ‘learning curve’ of gradual sound quality improvement has proved an easier nut to crack.

Whether in the studio or live, the Yamaha DTXtreme models top the DTX range and gives the drummer everything he (or she) needs thanks to the powerful Motif synth engine. The kit also has value for the student and helps teach any style, as well as allowing the users to track the accuracy of their playing. There are also a lot of uploaded songs on the kit for the player to get to grips with.

As ever, the technology trickle down has allowed Yamaha to introduce much of these features in the mid-priced Yamaha DTXpress and the Yamaha DTXplorer beginner kit.

View Yamaha Electronic Drum Kits

Other Manufacturers

Besides these three giants, there are other manufacturers who are doing an amazing job, too!

First up, is ION, who manufactures the IED01 Electronic kit. It includes the iDM01 Drum Set which features a great selection of 233 realistic, natural drum sounds, offered both in dry form and sampled with our incomparable digital reverbs. The exclusive Dynamic Articulation feature enables a drum sound to change its tonal content as it's played harder for truly realistic performances.

Traps E450 drum kit

The Traps E450 kit, arriving soon...

Traps is another manufacturer you may not be familiar with, but their E450 electronic drum kit is the first portable electronic kit to feel like a regular drum kit. Unlike other electronic drums you get a standard sized set of drums 12"(305mm) snare, 10"(254mm) tom, 12"(305MM) tom, 14"(356mm) tom and 20"(508mm) kick drum. These are fitted with mesh heads and Traps triggers for near silent performance.  Arriving soon at DOlphin, so check it out!

Last but not least, is the 2Box DrumIt 5 Electronic Drum Kit, a new and groundbreaking kit that has been turning heads in all its orange glory, since it was previewed in the first edition of our Music Planet magazine. DrumIt Five is an open sound drum system giving the user the freedom to choose which sounds to play and which heads to use. The system is built around a high strength, low weight pad/cymbal and stand system.

Add to this an extremely powerful percussion module with a large on-board Flash memory, and you have the foundation for a truly ground breaking, new sensation in electronic drums.

To learn more, please visit the 2Box DrumIt 5 Electronic Drum Kit product page

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