BY JAKE WOOD | FROM THE SUMMER 2019 ISSUE OF DRUM!
Roland’s TM-1 is an elegant, no-frills, workhorse trigger module designed for those looking to create a hybrid acoustic-electronic drum set. It features two mono inputs, one stereo output, a 1/4″ headphone jack, and USB connectivity. The TM-1 works with pads and triggers, and it sets up in no time—just plug the inputs into the module and plug the module into the PA or computer, and the TM-1 is ready for work.
The module comes with a USB cable, manual, and a battery. Drummers must supply their own triggers, pads, and cables. Here’s what happened when we turned on the module and plugged in some triggers.
Unlike more complex drum modules, the straightforward TM-1 has a bit of a guitar pedal aesthetic with stompbox-like buttons. These switches, which can easily be controlled by foot or by hand, allow drummers to navigate through the kits loaded into the module.
The TM-1 ships with 15 factory-installed kits, which also happens to be the maximum amount of kits the unit holds (a somewhat limiting amount for those longer set lists). These kits have samples that are plenty of fun to tinker around with. They’re primarily all kick and snare samples, and I’d say they fall into the category of sounding punchy, though altering their pitch and decay attributes lends them to entirely new characteristics. My favorites were Roland’s 808 kick and snare samples—those tones are timeless! A downloadable app also has 150 total samples to swap into the unit via USB connection.
Although the TM-1 doesn’t offer much in terms of sample manipulation, the basic tools it does offer are quite sufficient for crafting a professional triggering scenario. Along with volume, each trigger has dedicated knobs for sensitivity, pitch, and decay. (Tweaking the pitch knob while playing an 808-style kick was incredibly fun.) With controls like this, the drum set starts becoming a new kind of instrument, allowing for options like virtually simulating a bass line by adding some semblance of melody to the kick pattern. Altering the decay parameter can also greatly make over a sample, so much so that it no longer resembles its original form.
Roland built the TM-1 to be a sturdy brick of equipment. A safety bar just below the knobs prevents your stomping foot from crushing the more delicate dials. This bar, however vital, somewhat restricts drummers from using the knobs in a more musical in-the-moment way. Sure, it’s easy to set the knobs where you want them, but if you’re interested in tweaking sounds in real-time, like a DJ, the bar’s placement is not ergonomically ideal.
The TM-1 is battery powered, which comes in handy at gigs—finding electricity near a drum set sometimes means throwing an extension cable all the way across the stage. Expected battery life is around three hours of continuous use. Though it does accept external power, it would be nice if the unit shipped with an adapter. But if you’ve “loaned” all of your 9-volts to your forgetful guitar player, fear not—the TM-1 is also USB powered.
If you’re the type that immediately looks at the rear end of electronics to determine its capabilities, hold that judgment: The single 1/4″ output is actually a TRS stereo out with options for one mono summed signal or splitting the inputs between left and right channels.
When working with triggers, sensitivity is quite possibly the most important and delicate parameter to adjust. Easy access is paramount, and that means not getting lost in a maze of menu pages. The TM-1 has dedicated sensitivity knobs front and center, and the actual sensitivity of the module is fantastic. With sensitivity opened all the way, the module captured the quietest of ghost notes beautifully. When playing louder, this setting caused a few trigger misfires (common in any uncalibrated trigger setup), but rolling off the sensitivity knob immediately solved the issue.
Velocity, another critical parameter in the electronic drumming realm, was not as easy to adjust. The lack of a dedicated knob, however, didn’t stop Roland from including four useful velocity settings—“Linear” (most natural), “Loud1,” “Loud2,” and “Max” (full volume, with zero dynamics)—all adjustable via Roland’s downloadable software. Selecting these settings involves holding down the “mode/select” button and then scrolling through the four options with the footswitches. It’s not difficult, but in the heat of the moment it could be a little inconvenient. Adjusting velocity with Roland’s app is much more straightforward. Not that we’re looking for an easy, bumper-bowling set of features, but for those times when you need to sound like a machine, having quick access to a dynamic brick would really help.
Roland’s downloadable software for this unit makes for an elegant sample manager. After calibrating it to communicate with the TM-1, uploading user samples and making tweaks to each kit was a breeze. The interface takes a second to understand, but it becomes straightforward after a brief overview.
The TM-1, practical as it is small and portable, is quick to set up and easy to use. It will work well both for professionals recreating studio sounds onstage and creative tinkerers exploring trippy samples at home. If you’re a diehard luddite looking for a straightforward way to begin experimenting with adding electronic samples to your acoustic kit, this is it.