The single most critical element that distinguishes the SPD-SX from all other pad instruments is its ability to sample. Loading customized samples has never been easier thanks to the unit, and now with the new multipad sampling function, making samples is actually fun. That’s right. Fun. Stream an mp3 player into the SPD-SX, activate the multipad sampling mode, and begin hitting pads like they’re individual record buttons, chopping up samples to each pad instantly. Within seconds a single mp3 can be deconstructed into snippets and loops, with each sample assigned to a different pad. No finger tinkering necessary; this is all done with the sticks. It’s fast, fun, and ripe for creativity.
If, however, samples are already primped and sitting on a computer, there are two other ways to load them on to the SPD-SX. They can be transferred via a USB thumb drive, or they can be loaded via a USB cable connected to a computer while using the included sample managing software. Unfortunately, at the time of publication, Roland had yet to update its software and drivers to be compatible with OS X 10.7 (it is however, compatible with 10.6), so up-to-date Mac users will want to wait until Roland gets its drivers updated, as it can’t even be used as a MIDI controller with 10.7.
This time around Roland piled on the extra features like they were toppings from the world’s greatest salad bar, and frankly, it’s quite filling. It started by installing two dual-zone external trigger inputs, which can be harnessed into four single-zone triggers or pads, then it added a pair of sub-outs, which is particularly excellent for routing a click to everywhere but the mains, and then installed a 2GB hard drive that allows up to 360 minutes of audio, a far cry from the outdated SPD-S and its six measly minutes of magic.
On a more creative note, the unit features two dedicated effects knobs for instant tweaking. These factory effects include a short looper, an EQ filter, and a delay. They are intended to be manipulated in real-time, on stage, as a performance element, thus bringing out the inner DJ in all of us and effectively blurring the line between drummers and DJs in a very exciting way. It’s about time we start taking our jobs back from the DJs.
If, however, all you want to do is trigger your übermetal kick drum sounds, then most of the new features will seem more extraneous than creatively inviting, as little has changed in the triggering department. Of course, using the SPD-SX just for triggering kicks would be like buying a grand piano just for the C# — while that note sounds great, what about all the other keys?
Roland has done a great job giving drummers almost everything we could ask for. That said, drummers always want more, more, more. And while there’s very little missing from the SPD-SX, there are a few things that could make it ever more appetizing. To start, an XLR input for instant microphone sampling (mike sampling is still possible with a 1/4" adapter) would be swell, as would a mount that ships with the unit, and a much overdue software update for Mac users.
The SPD-SX is just plain fun. Lots of fun. Even determining how to incorporate it into the live show is a creative mixture of technical and musical strategy. Chances are it will probably inspire new drumming ideas and performance styles, and that is invaluable in the progression of the arts. The sampling drummer is the new working drummer and there isn’t a better sampling instrument to have on stage than the SPD-SX.
List Price $799
Multipad sampling mode is a super fun and instant method for sampling a tune over various pads; USB connectivity to transfer samples via computer or have it act as a MIDI controller; two dedicated effects knobs bring out your inner DJ; expandable with four more pads/triggers — more is better, right?