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FROM DRUM! MAGAZINE’S MARCH 2018 ISSUE | BY NICOLAS GRIZZLE

There are acoustic drum sets with electronic features, and electronic drum sets that can make acoustic sounds, but finding that elusive sweet spot between the two is a delicate balancing act. Alesis has made its best attempt thus far with the Strike Pro electronic drum kit. Its approach with this totally new kit is one that makes sense for both acoustic and electronic sets: Design an instrument that sounds good, feels good, and looks good that truly makes people want to sit down and play.

Alesis started from scratch with the Strike Pro, putting a lot of thought into the design of its new flagship drum kit. They recorded an exhaustive sound library and designed new software to edit those sounds and allow for recording even more samples — it sounds good. They made drums in standard acoustic sizes with mesh heads and raised rims to feel like a big, powerful drum set, and made a module that’s intuitive and easy to use — it feels good. And they did this with real wood shells and an eye-catching finish — it looks really good.

Hardware

Out of the box, this kit might be mistaken for an acoustic “traveler-style” kit, with its shallow wood shells in gorgeous, shattered glass-like red sparkle. The shiny chrome rack adds to the acoustic look — no plastic pipes here; this is heavy-duty stuff. It is only available in one color, but because the shells are made of wood they can be re-wrapped if desired.

Our Strike Pro kit came with a snare, bass drum, four toms, three crashes, a ride and hi-hats. Hardware included a four-post chrome rack; four boom arms, which mount in each of the rack posts; a double-braced snare stand; Velcro straps for the cables; and clamp-on mounts for each of the toms and another one for the module. While making for an impressive, “floating drum” appearance, the clamp-style mounts had one drawback: Even after tightening them onto the rack as hard as I could, the larger floor toms still dipped forward when riding on the front of the rim with a decent amount of force. This can be avoided by mounting the clamps with the rod behind the rack bar, but making adjustments to the positioning will be a bit cumbersome in this position as the wingnut for the clamp will be in a tight space between the drum and the mount.

You won’t need any tools aside from a drum key (provided) and a screwdriver (not provided, but only needed for one-time use to mount the module to its base plate). Be sure to allow a couple hours for the initial setup. Though there are convenient notches at the end of each chrome bar to aid in setup, the rack is heavy and takes time to get leveled and adjusted, and you’ll want to make sure the cables are strapped on just right to maximize visual appeal and minimize possible entanglements.

The kit does not come with a kick pedal or hi-hat stand, as most players using this kit will have their preferred models already picked out, and it is compatible with all hi-hat and kick pedals as well as most trigger pads. For this review, we used Axis kick pedals (single and double) and a Yamaha hi-hat stand. In case you’ve broken all your sticks and misplaced your drum key for the 174,000th time, the kit does come with drumsticks and a unique drum key, the latter of which actually came in handy for this review (I guess that would be my 174,001st time).

 

Playability

The first thing I noticed when playing this kit is how much it feels like an acoustic kit. The thin mesh heads bounce back like acoustic drums, raised rims on each drum are the same size and shape as acoustic drums, and tunable lugs allow for adjusting of the feel of each head. Prefer an extremely snappy snare bounce? Crank it up and feel the action. Do you bury your beater and need a looser head? Go lefty-loosey on those kick lugs, my friend. It also helps that the heads are familiar sizes, with a 14″ snare, 14″ kick, and 8″, 10″, 12″, and 14″ toms. The cymbals are familiar sizes as well, with 12″ hi-hats, 14″ crashes, and a 16″ ride. Once I had the placements dialed in, I could play with confidence knowing that when I reached out to hit a crash or get funky on the ride bell, it would be where I was expecting it.

Just like an acoustic kit takes time to tune and get just right, electronic kits have their own kind of tuning that needs to be done. Fortunately, Alesis has made this process fairly painless. For starters, the module, or brain, of the kit attaches in the most logical spot for easy access, right near the hi-hat. All the functions necessary for dialing in the playability of the kit have dedicated physical buttons on the multi-colored, 4.3″ LCD screen.

The “trigger” button brings up options related to the physical playing of each pad, which are easily selectable and tunable right on the module. It was interesting to see how much the sensitivity setting also affected the sound; a higher sensitivity allowed for more of the drums’ tone and resonance before reaching peak volume. Everyone’s settings will be different, of course, based on individual playing styles. Working through each pad was a breeze thanks to the “note chase” feature, again with a physical button to turn on or off, which brings up the screen to adjust any pad just by hitting the pad.

The trigger menu is the playability center, and its adjustments carry over between the predefined and user-created kits. Use your ears to find your sweet spot. For me, the ability to adjust the level of crosstalk was useful for switching between lighter and heavier playing, and I found that setting the threshold under 3 resulted in some auto-triggering for most pads.

The drum pads have two independent zones, one being the mesh head and the other being the rim. Each drum also has a physical sensitivity knob right by the ¼” output that focuses dynamics either toward the middle of the head or the outer edge. When turning each knob, you’ll feel a convenient notch in the middle allowing for easy, no-look adjustments on the fly between songs.

The cymbals are also dual-zone with bow and edge zones, and the ride adds the bell to make three independent zones. All the cymbal pads can be choked as well, though the response is a bit delayed compared to grabbing a bronze crash.

I had trouble dialing in the hi-hat pedal fully to my liking for delicate jazz playing, but this issue remains one of the bugaboos of all electronic kits I’ve played. The Strike Pro’s hats were perfectly fine for most styles, however, and I liked being able to adjust the splashiness of the cymbals. The hi-hat responsiveness was improved with the November 2017 firmware (v1.3) update, which was included with our review kit, and may well be further improved with future updates from Alesis.

The Module

The Strike Pro has a beautiful body, but the most attractive thing about this kit is its brain. With clearly labeled physical buttons for the most-used features, and an arrow pad and big scroll wheel for navigating the menus, I found the module intuitive and easy to use. It was helpful to watch Alesis’ tutorial videos on its website beforehand, as it gives a sense of the ecosystem and possibilities in the module and accompanying software. The only thing that threw me for a loop was the metronome, which by default is programmed to output only to the main L/R outs, and not the headphones. It only took a couple of seconds to change once I figured out what was going on.

Our kit had 117 different original kits loaded into the module, made up of over 1,760 multi-layered instruments and 14,000 individual samples. Most of the samples are of high-end and vintage drums and cymbals recorded at very nice studios. Though they may be  mysteriously labeled, some are easier to figure out than others. For example, there’s a Bonham-inspired kit called “Lavey Breaks,” as well as a sample-heavy kit called “Running Jewels,” inspired by the hip-hop duo Run The Jewels. Both sound great and are tons of fun to play. The two new kits added with the November 2017 update are especially nice. I found myself going back to those over and over again.

Representatives from Alesis confirmed that the company will release more samples in future updates for the Strike Pro kit.

Switching between kits is as simple as turning the scroll wheel. Each kit is playable about one second after selecting it, with priority going to the pads you hit first, but the detail and full velocity range of the samples takes between four and 30 seconds to fully load. If you’ll be switching instruments on the kit during a live gig — say, swapping out a snare or some cymbals for a given song in the middle of a set — you may want to do some pre-production to make user-defined kits that share many of the same samples, which will cut down on load time. Even with the minor delay, it’s still quicker than removing a cymbal on an acoustic kit and putting another in its place.

There’s also a physical mixer right on the module with faders for every trigger and the auxiliary input or internal play-along sample. The mixer affects volume settings for headphone and stereo main outputs. I sort of wish there was a fader for the metronome volume, but it’s easy enough to change in the menu settings.

Recording

The Strike Pro has two ¼” stereo outputs as well as eight direct outs for recording or live use. The eight pre-fader outputs give individual control for the snare, kick, hi-hats, and ride, and group all the cymbals and toms into two stereo pairs. It also has MIDI In and Out, and the USB output can be used as a MIDI output on some DAWs. I recorded MIDI, stereo, and direct outs using a Digi002 and Reaper on a Mac laptop with no problems, and it sounded like I had spent all week getting the drum sounds just right in my multi-million dollar recording studio.

A huge part of what makes this kit special is the ability to edit samples and add effects to make unique instruments. A mad scientist could spend hours combining samples of different drums to create that perfect Frankenstein snare, and then take two more minutes to record and load a sample of someone shouting “It’s alive!” onto the rim of the snare pad.

The possibilities are endless. And with so many different instruments at your disposal, you can finally make that perfect-sounding “jellybean” kit of different vintage drums, but with a completely uniform look.

The brain connects to a computer via USB, and my Mac automatically loaded the module’s external SD card on the desktop (it comes with an 8GB SD card preloaded with Alesis’ samples, and can take an SD card up to 32 GB). I found the Strike Pro Sample Editor software to be intuitive, if not a little overwhelming at first, with the vast array of samples, effects and editing possibilities at my disposal. Drummers who are passionate about the art of sound design can easily get lost for hours, or days, or weeks, or — wait, what month is it now?

It’s very easy to record your own samples as well through the ⅛” input on the module. To

record samples from a smartphone, for example, connect an ⅛” cable from the headphone output of the phone to the Strike Pro module. The physical buttons on the module make it easy to “punch in” and record your sample into the brain, and the intuitive editing screen makes it easy to trim to start and stop points, or make it into the perfect loop for play-along.

Verdict

The Alesis Strike Pro kit looks great, sounds great, feels natural to play, and offers tons of sound editing options. It’s a good value, and would be a be a good fit for anyone looking to record tracks in their home studio, drummers looking for an inspiring kit to practice on, and live settings as a versatile and attractive backline drum set.

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