It seems like almost every day technological breakthroughs are changing the playing field for musicians. One day it’s a hi-hat defibrillator, the next it’ll be a pair of 150,000-volt 5A light sabers. While that’s all good and fancy, it’s when an invention changes the way musicians express themselves that we have something truly special. Back in 2003, Roland ignored numerous requests for a kick drum Slurpee machine, and instead released the first-ever SPD-S sampling pad. Suddenly, tech savvy drummers had an efficient means of triggering samples, loops, and playback tracks.
Nine years later and still leading the charge on the imminent sampling-drummer-dominated future, Roland releases the SPD-SX, an instrument in a league of its own. Having listened greatly to user’s requests, Roland imbued its new sampling pad with almost everything a high-tech drummer needs, making gracious strides in the malnourished field of acoustic-electric hybrid drumming.
Rather than just spit out another typical lunch tray of drum pads, this unit is a powerful sampling machine, a juggernaut of simplicity and execution, and a tool for more than just drummers. With a versatility that has yet to be fully exploited, the SPD-SX is a double agent by design, effortlessly elbowing its way between a drummer’s floor toms or a DJ’s turntables.
Within minutes of unwrapping, most any tech savvy musician will be sampling snippets from his or her favorite mp3s, uploading the most extreme metal kick tones, and playing along to factory-installed dubstep wobble-bass loops. Although the manual is necessary for fine-tuning elements, overall its plug ’n’ play design will make that first date a breeze with minimal awkward silences.
Its uses are vast and versatile and simply deciding what manner to employ it can take some time and experimentation. It can be played as a stand-alone kit, a percussion accessory, a sampler that triggers supplemental tones and loops, or a MIDI controller that activates play-along tracks from a computer. Because it’s so much more than just a drum pad, DJs are starting to incorporate them as well.
Visually, the SPD-SX has come a long way from its predecessor. Featuring nine pads total (three of which are edge pads), it dons a sleek all-black finish with red lights that illuminate in relation to amplitude and duration of samples, which is particularly useful for dark stages. Don’t be alarmed if it calls you “Michael” either, as it may have been modeled after the Night Rider KITT dashboard.
Aside from just being a pretty face, those red lights are also incredibly handy on a stage with a lousy monitor situation, by notifying drummers when a sample has been activated, even when they might not be able to hear it.
Other pretty lights include a crystal blue backlit LCD menu with illumination and contrast controls. It is illustrated with icons of 8-bit beauty (focus groups showed that drummers respond better to pictures than words) and it’s incredibly easy to navigate thanks to four-way maneuverability and fairly intuitive categorization.
Right out of the box, the sampler comes with a surprisingly small amount of factory-loaded drum kits; only 16 preprogrammed kits, with the ability to store 100 more. More surprising is that the first six of the preloaded kits aren’t even drum samples, but rather bass-guitar loops, piano montunos, and vocal clips. While the absence of a gigantic drum library isn’t necessarily a bad thing (the mostly blank canvas only pushes users to create their own sample banks), it’s still a little unnerving for the traditional electronic drummer. Also included with the unit is a CD of extra samples featuring 20 additional kicks, 25 snares, and plenty more exciting non–drum set loops.