BY JAKE WOOD | FROM DRUM! MAGAZINE’S MAY 2018 ISSUE
These days it’s inevitable that at some point almost every drummer will feel the push to add some element of electronics to their setup. It might take the form of an old-school 808-style kick, or maybe some handclaps on the backbeat. It might involve triggering some samples from the album. Accomplishing this used to involve a bevy of cables, computers, and monochrome LCD screens, but that is quickly changing with the introduction of specialized, simplified gear. Roland’s new SPD::ONE pads are a shining example of this new approach to electronic percussion add-ons.
These single-pad units include the WAV PAD, ELECTRO, PERCUSSION, and KICK. Roland’s four different instruments can greatly reduce setup times, lower gear costs, and inspire new musical creations from technologically hesitant drummers.
The basic premise behind the SPD::ONE series is that unlike their larger predecessors, these are small, simple, and require minimal setup. All four units are standalone instruments, so unlike typical drum pads, these li’l firecrackers don’t need to be plugged into a sound module, MIDI interface, or computer. Each has a simple, ¼” line output and headphone output. Drummers can import their own sounds via USB, and trigger them by stick, hand, foot, or any other blunt object (like, say, the lead singer’s forehead).
It’s incredibly easy to make music with each pad right out of the box. No programming is required and the effects sound great upon first tweaks. The reassuringly sturdy design of the effects knobs emulates standard guitar pedals for an in-the-moment layout.
The heft of each unit is also noteworthy. They’re deceptively dense, and that’s a good thing since they are designed to be played not only with sticks and hands, but also with feet. After playing the KICK with my foot for a few minutes it seemed miraculous that it hadn’t tried escaping across the carpet. It did sluggishly nudge about an inch after one song, but that’s nothing a little Velcro can’t fix.
Among the four units, the KICK, ELECTRO, and PERCUSSION are quite similar. Their main difference lies in the factory-loaded tones, which are unique to each model. The WAV PAD is the black sheep of the herd, but we’ll discuss that one later.
The ELECTRO definitely wins for the best collection of nostalgia-inducing retro drum sounds. It comes with a humble but powerful collection of classic drum machine samples from Roland’s 808 and 909 drum machines of yore. This colorful quiver beckons to any drummer looking to bring in some vintage vibes.
The samples in the PERCUSSION unit are a perfect complement to any minimalist setup. It includes typical rhythmic percussion like tambourines and cowbells, as well as a few extra credit sounds like gong, tympani, and wind chimes. Some of these sounds, like the hi-hat and triangle, include both the open and closed (muted) sounds. Drummers can play either open or closed based on dynamics, with open tones firing on the accented notes. With just a minor tweak of the sensitivity knob, it was a breeze calibrating for smooth and accurate firing to fit my playing style.
The KICK is clearly geared toward being played with the foot, with ten different bass drum sounds including multiple acoustic bass drums, a cajon bass, and one electronic bass drum. In addition to these, it also has some percussion sounds that are typically played with feet, including ankle jingles and a hi-hat chick. Although this may seem like a small library of samples, a whole tone-sculpting factory opens up when the effect knobs are brought into play.
The dedicated effects knobs are quite fun to mess around with, and could easily become a drummer’s go-to catalyst for creating unique sounds. Although there isn’t much available in the way of altering a sound other than by regulating its intensity, the built-in effects make up for such limitations by being ready for action. There are no patch cables, no menus to scroll through, no programming to bother with — just playing and knob twiddling.
With the PERCUSSION and the ELECTRO units, drummers can toggle between a smooth parking garage-style reverb and a delay pattern that shifts pitches. This built-in pitch shifting is a fabulous touch, and while it might not be right for every project, there’s no denying that it’s an enticing flavor.
The tuning knob, featured on all three units, is a powerful pitch shifter that’s a lot of fun to tweak. It can drastically alter the overall feeling of a sample, making it completely different than the original. For instance, there’s a fat snare sound on the ELECTRO that gets a complete makeover when the tuning knob is cranked up to the highest setting. It goes from a meaty, loose snare to a tight, spunky, jungle snare.
The KICK unit has both reverb and distortion effects. Users can toggle between the two, but can’t use both at once. Similar to the other units, the reverb is buttery smooth, and the distortion is a pleasing shape-shifter. It may leave some drummers wishing for more malleability, but having a distorted kick tone is the coolest thing ever if you’re into lo-fi, 8-bit chaos. The effect highlights the element of pitch, which, if placed in the right hands (or feet) could lead to — dare I say — a drummer playing in key.
The WAV PAD is quite a departure from the other three pads in that it’s more of a playback machine and less of a single-shot electronic drum. It offers up to 12 slots for user-imported playback tracks, each in stereo and paired with a click — sort of.
There’s no actual metronome in the unit, but Roland programmed the WAV PAD to play two different tracks simultaneously, with the click sent solely to the headphones and not the main out. This allows users to import any click track file. That alone gives you a machine that could cover backing tracks paired with clicks for up to 12 songs, though in theory you could render multiple song files into longer medley files to cover more material. Roland boasts that the unit has 360 stereo minutes of storage, with no limit to how long a sample can be.
That said, the unit can still be used as a typical electronic drum. It even has a layering functionality in which hitting a pad at three different velocities can trigger three different sounds. This is great for playing vocal snippets and sound effects.
It should be noted that, among the four different units, only the WAV PAD accepts multiple sample imports, while the other three accept a single user file.
Importing SamplesThe process for importing your own samples into these units is pretty basic, but can also be a little clunky for those expecting a step-by-step, guided process. Plug the unit into a computer via USB while holding down a special button on the top near the pad. The unit is recognized as an external drive on the computer, and samples can then be dragged into it to be stored for playback. The process only has a few steps and can be easily followed with the manual or helpful videos on Roland’s website or YouTube page.
The pads feel quite excellent under the stick, like a quality practice-pad worthy of a blistering double-stroke session. They also feel good on the hands, and are even mostly responsive to finger taps if you’re more of a doumbek or tabla player. As mentioned earlier, they also work well under the feet, though there may be minor slippage.
While every respectable drum pad has sensitivity and threshold parameters, they almost always require digging through manuals and navigating menus to get to them. These units, on the other hand, have dedicated knobs on the side for effortless adjustments on the fly. That’s pretty huge, especially for players who regularly alter their setups for different styles, suiting the needs of hand percussion, sticks, and foot playing.
Is the SPD::ONE the answer to your hybridization problems? Well, it won’t abate your lead-singer’s ego. But if you’re looking to add just a touch of samples or playback tracks to your rig, or looking to ditch the laptop in your live setup, this is certainly one of the most cost- and space-effective solutions out there.