CoffeeAndKlon #23: Drums For The Home Studio

This conversation was originally published on my Twitter feed.

For today’s #CoffeeAndKlon, I’ve switched instruments entirely. These are my first impressions of the Roland SPD-SX sampling pad, KT-10 kick trigger, and the PDS-10 stand.

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I know it’s cool to hate on things like Toontrack’s Superior Drummer. And yeah, it does take something away when you hear the exact same drums on every track from every band.

I don’t really have any choice in the matter though.

I’ve gone with the Roland SPD-SX because it’s the only thing I’ve got the physical space for. I can’t fit an electronic drum kit in here, never mind a real drum kit. And a physical kit would be too loud for a home studio setup.

The Roland SPD-SX Doesn’t Trigger Reliably

In person, the SPD-SX is a little larger than you might think. That makes the pads pretty easy to hit accurately, even for a hack like me. There are six main percussion pads & three trigger pads on the top row.

The percussion pads are nice to play. They fire reliably, and the 3×2 layout is nice and flexible. The velocity sensitivity feels stiff. Some of that will be my playing.

The trigger pads … are a problem. They all take a lot more force to trigger than the six percussion pads, even after tweaking in the menus. And they don’t seem to fire reliably at all.

(For testing, I’ve got the MIDI monitor open in Mainstage 3. This allows me to reliably count how many times each pad triggers. Each test run is 20 strikes from a sitting position. The SPD-SX is hip-high, and tilted at about a 30 degree angle.)

If I strike them with the tip of my sticks, they fire less than 30% of the time. One pad is noticeably worse than the others, managing around 10% trigger rate. With the same velocity strike, 100% trigger rate on the six main pads.

If I strike them about a third down my sticks, things improve. I can get up to a 70% trigger rate. That’s not enough to be usable.

So far, the only way to get 100% strike rate is to hit the trigger pads about 50% down the stick. And to hit them quite a bit harder than the percussion pads. I’m finding that difficult to do atm.

The transition between percussion pads and trigger pads requires a noticeable shoulder extension (to go from stick tip to 50% down the stick) and a grip change (a tighter grip needed to get the extra velocity). Maybe it’ll come with time?

It Needs A Lot Of Setup To Use

Out of the box, the Roland SPD-SX isn’t setup to be a MIDI controller. Nor is it setup to be a drum kit once you get it into MIDI mode. It took about 3 hours of reading & watching third-party YouTube tutorials to sort that out.

It Gets Beaten-Up Very Quickly

Dry flaky skin (like mine) sticks instantly to the rubber strike pads. Same with any dirt or dust on your sticks. If you were in the room with me, you’d think I’d had this for a year or more. It looks that worn that quickly.

The PDS-10 Stand Is A Necessary Evil

The stand is essential. Mixed feelings about it – because it’s expensive. It’s solid and sturdy, but I was annoyed by the head design. It’s single-axis, with no way to correct for an uneven floor surface. I feel the angle difference more than I see it. Wish I could adjust it.

Roland’s own website says that this stand is both cheaper and has an improved head over the previous model.

The KT-10 Kick Drum Trigger Is Very Nice

I do like the kick drum. The acoustic noise is low, the reverse throw is great for a part-time drummer like myself, and both the sensitivity and velocity detection straight-out-the-box felt spot on.

Why Am I Doing This To Myself?

This whole adventure is because I hate, loathe and detest programming MIDI drums. I’m just crap at it. I want the feel that comes from a real person striking the drums. I played drums in the early 90s. I’m looking forward to playing again.

We’ll see how it goes. Right now, I’ve got to knock the rust off, and get used to playing the SPD-SX. The layout’s very different to a real kit.

I think I’m going to end up with a hybrid approach. Tracking individual loops and fills instead of a full performance. And then using a MIDI editor to fix velocity values and missed pad triggers.

Am I going to get better drums out of it? Probably not. I’m not a very good drummer. And did I mention the rust? I should be happier with the feel, and some of the off-beat timings should be easier to capture. I’ll happily settle for that.

I hope you enjoyed this different #CoffeeAndKlon. Let me know what you do about drums for your home recordings. I’d love to hear how you’ve gone about it, any why.