BY JAKE WOOD | FROM THE SPRING 2019 ISSUE OF DRUM!
Forget everything you thought you knew about drum triggers. The old paradigm is on its way out; it’s time to take the red pill, try Sensory Percussion by Sunhouse, and experience triggering in an entirely new fashion.
This completely new beast pairs hypersensitive sensors, which attach to your drums like triggers, with sophisticated software. The sensors detect which part of the drum is being struck, and the software responds by spitting out a sound for each zone. The software identifies up to ten different types of hits or zones on a drum, and multiple samples can be assigned to each zone. The software is smart enough to recognize and differentiate between centered hits, off-center hits, side-sticks, rim shots, rim clicks, shell taps, and stick shots.
For this review, Sunhouse sent us four identical Sensory Percussion sensors, along with download codes for the software. The sensors come in a sturdy black casing that easily attaches to a hoop with a hand-tightened knob. Users are required to provide their own audio interface (with phantom power), XLR cables, and computer.
This supercharged triggering experience is stocked with some rather exquisite sample packs. The included kits run the gamut from traditional acoustic drums and tweaked drum machines to far-out samples from an alternate universe. A drummer could easily get lost in this library for hours.
Sunhouse went a step further and bestowed the software with the ability to interpret and react to how a drummer plays, thereby allowing drummers to control effects parameters with their grooves in real time (more on that later). At this rate, they might as well have given the software sentience.
The software accepts up to four sensors at once. That might sound limiting to those looking to trigger a larger kit, but these sensors are powerful enough to keep even the most experimental drummers busy for a long time.
SETUP AND TRAINING
In my experience, triggers take a while to set up and get firing just right. With this system, which is all the more involved, you train the software to interpret your playing style. In order for the software to recognize your playing effectively, you must be as meticulous as possible. Thanks to an online manual and an extensive, 23-minute video, getting the system up and running is easy. It might take a few times to get it just right, but
the results are worth it.
The best way to approach this product is with an “anything goes” appetite for sonic exploration, as well as a dash of patience; learning how to work with these sensors isn’t that far from learning a new instrument. Making the leap from standard drum triggers to Sensory Percussion is a bit like surfing a tiny shortboard after years of riding a nine-foot longboard—you’re still surfing, but what was once an easy cruise is now a squirrely fast ride that comes with a learning curve and a whole new world of possibilities.
HOW IT WORKS
This may sound like a technological fairy tale, but it’s not. It’s a combination of machine learning, human interaction, and tons of R&D. The precision of the software’s performance depends primarily on how well the user trains it. After five rounds of training—it’s a learning experience for both drummer and computer—I found the triggers to be about 98 percent accurate, with the only issue being the rare misfire of adjacent zones. With further training, this might get even closer to 100 percent, but it doesn’t hurt to approach certain aspects of this software with an appreciation for chaos.
The sensors are housed in a robust casing that quickly and easily attaches to the hoop of any drum, bass drum included. Unlike standard triggers, which usually use small, piezoelectric transducers, these sensors work more like the pickup of an electric guitar. The sensors magnetically sense vibrations through
a metal circle the size of a pencil eraser, which is adhered to the drumhead just underneath the sensor (several of these are provided with each trigger). This also means that unlike typical triggers, the sensor doesn’t make contact with the head, and therefore it doesn’t alter the drum’s acoustic tone.
With some hoop types, it can be difficult getting the sensor to sit parallel with the head. Sunhouse offers a couple of tips to alleviate this issue; depending on your setup, a makeshift shim between the sensor and hoop might work too.
This whole rig is capable of quite a lot, but aside from its myriad sounds, the software’s effects really take things to the next level. Not only does the software come bundled with basic effects like compression, reverb, EQ, and delay, but it also allows drummers to control the effects just by playing. I repeat: You can control an effect parameter in real time based on how you play. Let that sink in.
Sunhouse has made it possible to control effects via three playing methods: location, dynamics, and speed. This means the software can be programmed to change based on where, how hard, and how fast you play. Ever want to play a roll that rises in pitch as it gets faster? Only want reverb on super loud rimshots? Done and done. The tinkering, mad scientist drummer will have a field day—or perhaps a field season—finding uses for such fantastic power.
There was very little variation in performance between quiet mesh and traditional heads. Using in-ear monitors with mesh heads, however, made it easier to step away from the sonic confines of an acoustic set and fully embrace some of the more far-out samples.
Sensory Percussion eliminates the balancing act of constantly adjusting trigger sensitivity to avoid misfiring due to the vibrations of neighboring drums or other instruments. Along with its groundbreaking ability to recognize different strikes on a drum, the software can be taught to identify and ignore crosstalk (unwanted vibrations from neighboring drums and other instruments). In the same way that the software learns and assigns values for different types of hits, it’s easy to train the software to recognize and eliminate crosstalk. Simply enable the “void” button and play any unwanted or offending sounds, and the software will remember and ignore sounds that would otherwise interfere with the sensors.
There was the tiniest hint of latency through the software while playing on an acoustic set, though it wasn’t obvious and was not significant enough to affect performance. We tested the system with a Macbook Pro (2.7 GHz, Intel Core i7) and an Apollo 8 interface, using the smallest available audio buffer size of 32 samples.
Sensory Percussion’s futuristic hardware and software combination may be the key to remedying frustrating trigger experiences of the past. Is this a good system for pop drummers wanting to replicate an album live? Yes. Would metal drummers find it useful for double-pedal triggering? Definitely. That said, using such a powerful tool like this to simply add a few samples to a show would be a little bit like driving the Batmobile to pick up the kids from school. But ultimately, drummers who want a finely-tuned technical approach to triggering samples as accurately as possible will be just as pleased with Sensory Percussion as the drummers looking to explore soundscapes, rhythmic enigmas, and psychedelic odysseys.