TrapKAT 5KS: The Whole KAT And Caboodle

It’s hard to believe that if the trapKAT were a person, she’d be old enough to drive! Introduced back in 1995, this teenage percussion controller has seen both minor and major upgrades. The newest incarnation is vastly improved as just about everything has been reworked and remodeled from the original.

The TrapKAT Concept

The original idea of the trapKAT was pretty straightforward and groundbreaking at the same time. The idea of offering a number of different playing surfaces as a drum controller was nothing new. However, giving the player 24 surfaces was something special. In addition, while other companies were producing multipads with piezo transducers to read gestures and generate signal, the trapKAT has always incorporated force-sensing resistors to totally eliminate crosstalk, and allow for controlling the duration of a note by reading pressure rather than vibration.


The size and footprint of the instrument hasn’t changed, but the trapKAT 5 incorporates a new lighter frame that comes in at just about 14 lbs. That’s over a 60 percent reduction! The trapKAT still has ten large pads and fourteen smaller “rim” pads, but Alternate Mode has replaced the older rubber pads with something that its calls “nuBounce.” And, it’s covered the pads with power dot material designed by Aquarian Drumheads. Alternate Mode claims the new covering protects the pads and sensors while it adds additional sensitivity and responsiveness.

The 5KS software incorporates several new and expanded programming options, and contains a built-in sound engine designed by Kurzweil built around that company’s PC3 sound set. Included are more than 256 drum kits, plenty of orchestral and ethnic percussion, along with more than 1,000 other sounds. Kurzweil has long been known for outstanding sounds on its flagship synths, and the sound card in the trapKAT does not disappoint.

The Ins And Outs Of It All

The trapKAT has pretty much everything you need to connect it to the outside world. Most important are the inputs for the bass drum and the hi-hat controller. When you add those two devices, then the trapKAT offers up 26 playing surfaces.

Four footswitch inputs are used to program the device: kit select (for progressively or instantly switching between any of the 24 available kits that can be stored in memory at any one time), note edit (for selecting the sound assigned to each pad), kit edit (for controlling features that affect the entire kit), and global edit (for features that affect the entire machine).

Just because the trapKAT 5KS includes its own sound card doesn’t mean that it can’t communicate with other modules or your computer. Two MIDI-Out jacks and one MIDI-In jack gives you all the MIDI connections options you need. In terms of audio, there is a front-mounted headphone jack with push button volume, a main left and out audio output along with a main left and right audio input.

The New OS

The evolution of the trapKAT has always been one of keeping the operating system as simple as possible while offering more and more features. This new trapKAT is still not as powerful as Alternate Mode’s full-featured drumKAT, but it’s getting closer and closer.

Programming any of Alternate Mode’s controllers is not very intuitive at first. There are no knobs, faders, buttons, or switches to move with your fingers. Instead you program the machine by stepping on a footswitch and then hitting one of the pads with your sticks in order to select the parameter you want to edit. While you’ll have to read through the manual to figure out the process, it’s pretty logical. Play with the machine for about an hour, and you’ll soon have most of the frequently used commands right under your sticks.

In order to have a controller that truly controls, you need to have a device that is capable of both minor and major adjustments. In this arena, the trapKAT shines. You can make several large-scale adjustments and edits on both the kit level and the pad level. If you want to select a parameter for all the pads in a kit, or make some minor adjustments on a pad-to-pad basis, it’s not only possible, it’s very easy and fast. The parameters you’ll use most often include MIDI Channel, Minimum Velocity, Maximum Velocity, Velocity Curve (eight different styles), and Gate Time.

Hidden inside the velocity curve area are special features that expand the features of the TrapKAT to make the device act a little more like the company’s most sophisticated controller, the DrumKAT. These additional features allow you play a second sound based on the stroke velocity with four different variations. You can also program both notes to sound simultaneously or perform a velocity crossfade or a velocity switch.

If you want to expand your choices to three or even four notes, there are options for this as well. Like the early versions of the DrumKAT, four notes can be layered to sound all at once, or programmed to shift depending on playing velocities. In terms of alternating notes, this new machine will alternate from two to sixteen different notes. Special commands can call up “alternate reset,” “alternate freeze,” and “no” (leaving a rest in the middle of a alternate set).

A new feature allows the player to send continuous controller data on a pad along with up to three additional notes – all from a single stroke. Once you define your continuous controller number, the CC’s value is determined by the strength of your stroke. So … if you wanted to, you could fire a three-note chord while you control the filter cutoff frequency or pan position through velocity. That’s pretty cool.


Alternate Mode has put more thought into the hi-hat than just about any other manufacturer. The hi-hat parameters on the trapKAT 5KS include setting the open, closed, chick, and splash note numbers. Continuous controller numbers determine the position of the hi-hat pedal. You can also select which pads on the trapKAT will serve as hi-hat pads (up to four). Additional hi-hat commands include the “HATNOTE” which offers an eight-note feature for distinguishing various degrees of hi-hat pedal position. Hi-hat overlap is another feature that allows the trapKAT to sound more realistic, as sounds will overlap rather than instantly cutting each other off.

When selecting a gate time (the length of a particular note-on event), there are three additional options: Roll Mode, which helps to eliminate the machine-gun, stuttering effect that sometimes happens when triggering longer sounds like cymbals or conga tones. Using this feature, the note-off message is delayed until after six seconds has passed since the last time the pad was struck. In “infinite mode,” no note-off message is sent from the pad, and in “latch mode,” a pad will toggle between note-on and note-off messages on subsequent strikes. Interested in doing some DJ-style gigs? Latch mode is perfect for starting and stopping loops during live performance.

The Sounds

The 5KS includes a wide range of built-in sounds. And the sounds are really good. The decays on the drum sounds are very natural and even cymbals have a long enough sample time to please the most discerning ear. There are plenty of different drum and percussion banks to choose from, and the trapKAT OS will let you pick and apply any sound to any pad, from up to four different kits at one time.

The sound card inside the KS is the same one that Alternate Mode uses for its malletKAT. That means there are also great-sounding marimbas, vibes, chimes, steel drums, tympani, and other standard (and not-so-standard) percussion sounds. Have a need for bass, keyboards, brass, strings, synth leads, and more? You can do that too.

It’s impossible to describe sounds in words, and harder still to make a determination if a particular sound set is going to fill your needs and give you happy ears. If you want to have a listen to some of the sounds that are available on the 5KS, jump to the Alternate Mode website or search YouTube. There are some nice demos that will give you a good feel for the quality and usefulness of the sound set.

The Pedals

eKIC – The supplied eKIC pedal worked like a champ. It’s a reverse beater—style device that attaches to a standard bass drum pedal. It was easy to set up, and the supplied pedal itself felt just fine. With a chain-drive mechanism, it’s smooth, silent, and adjustable. I plugged it into the trapKAT, gave myself a little more “throw” length, and forgot about it.

eHAT – Alternate Mode’s eHAT pedal device can be attached to just about any bass drum pedal with a base plate. I tested the unit with the bass drum pedal that was provided (the same pedal as the eKIC). There are three jacks on the eHAT: one for the continuous-controller data that most machines expect to see on a hi-hat input, one to use as a velocity-controlled trigger output (a single trigger), and one stereo output designed for a new Alternate Mode device called the “DITI” that should be available soon.

Bottom Line

The thought of walking into a gig with a nice amp on wheels, and a 14-lb. controller slung over my shoulder is a pretty nice picture. There’s no question that with 24 surfaces (26 with hi-hat and kick pedals), you’ll have all the variety you’ll need under your hands in a small and simple package. I could easily do all my programming at home and take 24 killer-sounding kits to the venue that should cover all my needs – a cover band, an original group, and even a Broadway show or experimental ensemble. To me, the pads felt just fine and tracked my playing style without requiring any adjustment at all. The pads are plenty large and easy to reach.


I feel that the trapKAT 5KS is a nice blend between simplicity and flexibility. If you’re looking for a machine that will offer a lot of great drum sounds without a lot of fuss and muss, this machine deserves your attention. Furthermore, if you’re looking for something designed for musical experimentation and exploration, the 5KS could serve that purpose too.


Model & List Price

trapKAT 5KS (includes 24 pads, bass trigger input, hi-hat input) $2,217
trapKAT Stand (aluminum rack-style stand with two mounting brackets) $152
eKIC Bass Drum Trigger
w/out bass drum pedal $79
w/ bass drum pedal $145
eHAT Hi-hat Pedal
w/out bass drum pedal $155
w/ bass drum pedal $219
Complete Bundle $2,599

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