As with acoustic drums, the electronic drum market has a number of products that take aim at specific target audiences. A full-featured, tricked-out kit — acoustic or electric — with a $5,000-plus price tag just isn’t intended for the teenaged, beginning drummer. This is why several companies have recently released new “entry-level” electronic kits with fewer bells and whistles, easier-to-use interfaces, and limited sound sets. The Roland HD-1 is one of these kits.
Roland’s new kit may have raised the bar for the player just starting out, or for the more experienced drummer who wants to keep a simple practice kit in his bedroom or office. The HD-1 is a basic 5-piece kit with crash, ride, and hi-hat pads. It includes both the bass drum pedal and hi-hat pedal, with everything mounted on a custom, lightweight frame that doesn’t take up much floor space. In fact, if you can’t find a place to put this kit, it might be time to move out of that closet you’re living in.
For starters, the HD-1 includes an 8" mesh-headed snare drum pad and three newly designed rubber-headed tom pads at about 7.5" in diameter. All three of the cymbals are Roland’s CY-5 pads, which have been around for a while. Oh yeah, all of these pads are strictly monophonic. The bass drum and hi-hat pedals are built right into the frame, which Roland says helps to keep the kit quiet. Along with the hi-hat pad, you can perform fully closed, half-open, and fully open sounds, as well as a foot splash.
It was a good decision for Roland to include a mesh-style pad for the snare drum. The mesh responds well to all dynamic levels, letting you play everything from sensitive ghost notes to full-tilt backbeats. Much to my surprise, the tom pads felt pretty good too, but of course they weren’t as sensitive as the snare.
The foot pedals felt okay, but they didn’t blow me away. It also took me a bit to get used to the “throw” of the hi-hat pedal, but once I did, it operated as I expected. To keep things simple, there are no pedal adjustments of any kind. Overall I’d say Roland’s aim was true on the extraneous noise front, as the kit is definitely a bit quieter than other electronic kits.
The HD-1 brain is about the size of a paperback book, making it one of the smallest on the market, and it’s designed to mount right in the middle of the frame. The left edge of the brain contains all of the inputs and outputs. There’s a MIDI-out jack, a minijack mix input, a minijack audio output, and a minijack headphone output. The right edge of the unit, which contains only the DC input and the power on/off switch, is dedicated to power control.
The face of the brain is pretty simple: Two small knobs control the tempo and the volume (main output and headphones use the same knob), and then there are seven buttons. The buttons numbered 1—5 are used to call up the different kits. Two other dedicated buttons call up the drum kit variations, as well as turn the metronome on and off. Talk about simple.
According to the manual provided with the kit, the metronome’s speed ranges between 40—220 bpm. Since there’s no display on the HD-1 brain, you won’t be able to specify any exact tempo. As an added bonus, the metronome is capable of playing one of three different sounds: click, cowbell, or maraca, at one of three different volume levels: soft, medium, or loud.
The MIDI settings on the HD-1 are also extremely simple. There’s a good chance that buyers of the HD-1 won’t have much use for the MIDI-out connection provided. Each of the instruments transmits on channel 10 as a fixed setting. Also fixed are the MIDI note numbers that each surface will send. For example, if you want your bass drum to fire a particular sound, you’ll need to program your module to have that sound sitting under note number 36. There are separate MIDI note numbers for the open and closed hi-hats (46 and 42), as well as the foot chick sound (44). Position data from the hi-hat pedal is transmitted as control change number 4. While these MIDI controls are extremely basic, they should suit the needs of a beginning player just fine.
The HD-1 has ten drum kits stored in its memory. These are labeled Acoustic, Jazz, Power, Double Bass, Drums & Percussion, World, Electronic, Dance, Voices, and Droid. Some of the kits have velocity switches hiding under the hood. For example, the Acoustic kit’s ride cymbal changes from the bow to a bell sound once your dynamic reaches a high enough level. The Voices kit has three sounds assigned to each tom pad, allowing the player to experience some melodic drumming. Even though the snare drum is monophonic, stronger dynamics fire off a rimshot sample. More often than not, playing a rimshot results in a strong enough dynamic to get the desired sound. The velocity shifts help to make the drumming experience more lifelike and less monotonous.
As you might expect, these kits are in ROM and can’t be edited, adjusted, or modified in any way. To be fair, the kits that Roland selected for the HD-1 sound surprisingly good. For my tastes, the Power kit was pretty useless as it was totally awash in reverb (I no longer have fantasies of playing in a domed stadium with my heavy metal group). After a short time I became bored with the special effects kits and kept returning to the Acoustic and Jazz kits.
With the HD-1, you won’t be able to individually adjust the pads to better fit your playing style, but you can make global sensitivity changes. By holding down the “variation” button until it blinks, you can select one of five different sensitivity selections. There are no controls for dealing with crosstalk, double triggering, or false triggering. If you’re having problems with any of these triggering issues, you’ll have to find another way to solve them. That being said, for most players, the machine is going to work great straight out of the box. In order to get the HD-1 to exhibit any crosstalk problems, I had to play much harder than I ever would at a gig.
As a bonus feature, the HD-1 contains one demo pattern for each kit that the brain will play all by itself. For the player just starting up, hearing these patterns might be helpful. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to play along with them, as all the pads become inactive once the pattern begins to play. More useful is the mix-in jack so that you can play along with your favorite tunes.