E-DRUMMING GOES PRO
“What do you feed it?”
“You got a permit to drive that thing?”
“Did I see that on Iron Chef last week?”
These queries and many more are the typical initial reactions to Roland’s revamped electronic drum kit, the TD-20SX, but don’t be fooled by the colorful confusion of the n00b (sic), because all skepticism is quickly swept away when the bellwether of electronic drum kits is in action, both from the drummer and listener’s perspective.
IF LOOKS COULD KILL
The fine folks at Roland started their redesign with the visual presentation of their sleek new jungle gym, turning what is typically anemic-looking joke fodder for guitarists into an intimidating hot mess of metal and rubber (sans zipper mask). The real eye catchers, however, are the slick brushed-metal shell wraps (which also come in blue and red to match every drummer’s shoe wear), and they can be changed out as easily as swapping a drumhead.
An additional visual upgrade is the size of the kick pad. At 14" in diameter and 20" tall, the KD-140’s size serves two purposes: it’s visually menacing and it’s an anchor. Of course, visual presentation means little when compared to playability, and this kick plays great. The pad moves so little (unlike smaller kick triggers you have to endlessly chase across the stage) it deserves its own mailing address. Its sheer mass is what keeps it planted, and it’s mass that affects the rebound to a point where the feel is strikingly similar to an acoustic kick.
EVERY INCH COUNTS
Taking the “bigger is better” cue from the V-kick, the whole set comes outfitted with refreshingly large pads. The PD-125XS snare is 12" in diameter (designed to sit in a snare basket for maximum maneuverability), as are the two PD-125X floor toms. These extra inches go a long way in the percussion world, as the larger diameters eliminate the stress for drummers of calibrating crosshairs for tiny targets. Another benefit to the dilation is that it puts the rim closer to the hand for more authentic-feeling rimshots.
The most exciting aspect of the snare pad, however, is its geographic sensitivity: Hit the center and it sounds louder and more controlled. Hit it off to the side and it sings with harmonic resonance. The silent mesh heads that have shouldered much of the V-drum’s success have the same “tenability” attributes as real drumheads in that to change the tension, simply tighten or loosen the tension rods. This changes the feel only. Actual pitch tuning is done via the brain.
Now shipping with a shiny “impress your friends” silver finish that reflects stage lights, the V-cymbal series offers a complete range of expressions. The CY-15R-SV ride, for instance, has a triggering triumvirate that employs the edge, bow, and bell tones of a standard ride cymbal. While it’s really a treat getting to play a V-cymbal that has the three basic tones (the 15" diameter is also a nice touch), the bell could stand to be a tad more pronounced, as it’s a little on the shallow side.
Almost identical to the ride except for being slightly smaller, the CY-14C-SV V-crashes do everything a drummer could ever want in a virtual cymbal: they trigger tones flawlessly, they’re almost entirely silent, and they have the sort of give that beckons for more punishing in the “thank you, sir, may I have another” kind of way. The VH-12-SV hi-hat, which sits on any typical hi-hat stand (not supplied), has the awesome little bonus of hi-hat splashing with the foot, which is particularly great for jazz and solos. Its only drawback is the difficulty of programming just the right balance of pedal sensitivity.
V-drums are heavy, and they need a sturdy foundation. Roland’s solution is the new MDS-25 rack, a cage that UFC has been courting since its inception. This rack is the linebacker every quarterback wishes they had, and its mounting system follows the basic principle every drummer relishes: sturdy yet flexible. It’s a professional upgrade from the previous flimsier rack, and its hidden cable management system makes for both a better visual statement and a highly expedited setup procedure. As unaccommodating as racks can sometimes be, with a little extra negotiating this rack has enough maneuverability to position things just right, without compromise, to please any feng shui flamadiddle fanatic.
BRAINS OF THE OPERATION
Along with being an excellent source of drum tones (complete with 100 kits and 920 tones that range from resonant bebop kicks to skull-crushing rock toms to lo-fi hip-hop snares), the TD-20X drum module is also a full drum-production suite. It comes complete with a mixer (individual faders for each drum), cheesy but fun play-along sequences (jazz to prog metal), and effects processors to boot (reverb, delay, flanger, phaser, chorus, pitch shift, distortion, lo-fi, ring mod, and a master compressor). It’s essentially the older TD-20 with the once-optional TDW-20 expansion board upgrade (50 additional kits) installed at the factory.
With the plethora of sounds and the various tweaking abilities, one would think a drummer would be fully satisfied. Almost. A rather disappointing limitation is the inability to download or sample new tones. While there is the ability to expand the library of kits with flash cards from third-party manufacturers, they only create new kits by changing parameters of the original tones. That said, there’s definitely more than enough variety within the factory kits, tones, and manipulations to satisfy any quest for the holy kit. Another limiting frustration is the absence of a USB jack, which would eliminate the need for an audio interface when using drumming soft-synths like BFD2.
Limitations aside, the module is an excellent source of sounds with a smart, easy-to-navigate interface and editing sensitivity parameters such as velocity, retrigger, and crosstalk. It takes very little effort because it’s so intuitive. For drummers looking to use hybrid electro-acoustic kits, the unit also has additional preset settings for acoustic triggers. However, this is an area that requires a lot of crosstalk and retrigger fine-tuning. Perhaps the most powerful and professional aspect of the unit is its output configuration. Unlike 95 percent of all other drum modules, the TD-20X has eight individual direct-channel outputs (not including the stereo outs), thus establishing its given right to be in the recording studio. So instead of being married to a stereo drum track during mixing, these drums can be tracked separately (with the exception of the toms and cymbals, which each have their own stereo channels), and thus treated independently.
The bottom line is that this kit is a lot of fun to play. Not only does it feel rewarding when sinking heavy rimshots, it also produces sounds that inspire. And a source of inspiration is priceless (yours truly let the tape roll and on a whim tracked 15 different kernels of new compositions for Super Adventure Club’s next album). The kit, however, is pricey, not priceless: Weighing in at $6,999.99 list, it is the most expensive electronic kit on the market. That said, it’s debatable as to whether or not electronic kits can actually be improved on anymore. For now, anyway, this is as good as it gets.DETAILS
12" PD-125SX snare pad, two 10" PD-105X tom pads, two 12" PD-125X floor tom pads, one 14" KD-140SV kick pad, two CY-14C-SV cymbal pads, one CY-15R-SV ride cymbal pad, and a VH-12-SV two-piece hi-hat pad
Integrated feature set based on TD-20 and TDW-20; new silver-colored V-cymbals and V-hi-hat; custom covering system with attractive brushed-metal look (interchangeable shell-wraps for V-kick and V-pads); newly designed hardware and sturdy MDS-25 stand; TD-20X module features 100 kits and 262 backing instruments, 15 dual-trigger input, 10 audio and digital outputs, 8 group faders, and a built-in sequencer