|Sound Module Comparison: Alesis DM5, Roland TD4, TD9, TD20 and Yamaha DTXIII|
|Saturday, 29 October 2011 19:18|
This article could very well be one of the most important things you’ll ever read when it comes to your career or lack thereof as a drummer. I say that because we are in an ever changing era, an era in the midst of a technological evolution between physical media such as CDs and the ones and zeros we call MP3s. Since most of us are perfectly willing to steal each other’s music, the labels are losing profits and finding it harder and harder to recoup the costs of making records let alone turn profits in order to develop new artists. That means the money from labels is going to get tighter, budgets are going to get smaller and less and less new bands will be signed. Bottom line is you need to be smart, play smart and you need to know about hardware-based drum modules.
Sound modules are electronic instruments without a human-playable interface. Try to imagine a keyboard that doesn’t have any keys on it. That is essentially what a sound module is. The module, not having to be in the shape of a keyboard can now be placed in a much smaller case. Drum modules are a specific type of sound module which specialize in percussion sounds. The sounds within the drum module can be accessed by plugging in external triggers or via MIDI. For more information on triggers, please see the "Playing Smart" article in the lessons/advice section of our website.
By triggering your kit and using a drum module you can take the power into your own hands. You can trigger your bass drums live, for instance and set them up so that there is very little volume fluctuation and a tone of a strong attack remains no matter how hard you are actually striking the drums. If you are going to record an album you can trigger your acoustic kit and record your performance on a sequencer. No audio will be recorded at all in this scenario. The only thing that is being recorded is performance data. That data would be things like what drum you hit, when you hit it and how hard you hit it. Then you can go through and edit the performance data and straighten out stutters and so forth and send the data back to the module with a MIDI cable, and one by one drop the audio from your drum module down to your recording device. This will allow you to be able to do things like hear the entire mix of the album and choose what kind of snare drum works best for it afterwards. I’m telling you, with a good drum module, a decent computer and some basic software you can match the quality of drum production of any of the so called top producers and engineers. In future editions of Playing Smart we will discuss sequencers and MIDI amongst other things you have read in this article, so don’t be intimidated.
Drum modules are like most things in life; you get what you pay for. The options, ease of use, sound quality and control you’ll have will be determined by the module you can afford. The thing you need to keep focused on is what you are hoping to accomplish with the use of triggering and a drum module. I put five modules to the test over a month’s time and below you can see what I found.
The Alesis DM5 is the least expensive of the drum modules I tested. I tested this module on the Alesis DM5 Pro Kit as well as on my own drum set. I think the DM5 serves as a nice module for practicing in your house or apartment by yourself. It would also do a fine job for triggering your bass drums as well. You’ll want to work on getting a decent bass drum sound that you like for yourself and then the rest of it can be dialed in on the mixer you plug the DM5 into. This module would also be good for capturing a drum performance on a sequencer but I’d suggest staying away from it for any really serious recordings. I’d fear that this module might sound a little “cheap” if you were using it to record extreme Metal.
The Roland TD4 is a decent module and falls much in line with the capabilities of the Alesis DM5 although for my money I’d go with the DM5. It appears Roland agrees with me that this isn’t suited for any recording outside of live demo work as they didn’t even bother putting a MIDI “in” plug on it. That being said the DM5 doesn’t have a audio input on it like this module has which lets you pipe in music with the drum sound for rehearsal’s sake. I believe you can get a decent enough bass drum sound out of this to use for triggering your bass drums and it is a fun little module for rehearsing as well.
The Roland TD9 was a fun unit to review. It is definitely up to par for a practice kit. You can definitely get sounds together with this module to be able to trigger your bass drums live as well. I think that this is the module where you’ll be able to begin to consider using it for recording purposes. Don’t get me wrong, you’re going to have to work for it here. I think that there are some good usable sounds here and if you are smart and do things right, you can achieve some good results. My biggest problem with the TD9 is that they use the DB25 connector to plug in your triggers. If you aren’t familiar with this cable, it looks like a computer-type cable on one end and then it goes out to several different ¼ TRS cables on the other end that are all at various lengths. I guess that is my problem, it is kind of set up for their kit but if you have a custom kit or an acoustic kit, it’s likely that you’re going to have to use some extensions to reach some of your drums.
The Roland TD20 is a power house. This module is extremely easy to use and it is layed out very nicely. There are tons of options in it as well. Such as you have eighty bass drums and from there you can tell it what kind of mic you want on the bass drum and how the mic is positioned. You can tell the module how big the room is that the drums are in and what the walls of the room are made out of. You have your choice of tuning, what type of head is on the drum and on and on the options go. You can definitely use this module to practice, or to trigger your bass drums live and further more you can record drums on the level of today’s biggest producers/engineers. The TD20 is one of top two modules in existence today and I think that it definitely wins for being the most user-friendly of all of the modules.
The Yamaha DTXIII is a power house of a drum module as well. This module has all of the potential and capabilities as the Roland TD20 but it has some of its own unique magic as well. The stand out features of the DTXIII in my mind, are trigger sensitivity settings, stacking capabilities and the onboard sampler. The sheer amount of control you have over how the module reacts to your playing is staggering. I really found the stacking feature to be unbelievably cool as well. What stacking allows, for example, is for you to blend two different snares in order to make one very unique snare or for you to be playing one snare on the soft hits and then to blend up to another completely different snare when you are playing harder. You’ve got absolute complete control over setting all of this up as well. Lastly let me touch on the onboard sampling capabilities. The DTXIII will allow you to load your own wave files via USB flashcard onto its onboard Ram memory (not included). This will allow you to trigger any prerecorded sound, be it you punching your singer in the head or say the drum production from your last record.
If all you want to do is trigger your bass drums for rehearsals or live gigs any of these modules will work. If you want to get something decent for playing live and maybe do some recording but you need to be mindful of your budget, go with the TD9. If you want to play ball with the big boys and you’re willing to get your hands dirty, you are not going to go wrong with either the TD20 or the DTXIII. If you’ve got the money for it the hardest part is simply going to be deciding which one to buy. I’ve personally solved that problem, I own them both! I told you this at the beginning of the article and I’m going to repeat myself now. With today’s economy and the ongoing transition the music industry is going through, it is in your best interest, financially and audibly to put matters into your own hands. With the right gear you can deliver results that are on par or better than today’s finest productions and it will only cost you that initial investment.
As always, your questions, suggestions, accolades, and hate mail can be sent to: