The times, they are a'changin'...
Drums are often the backbone of any kind of music, but drummers themselves are a limited breed on account of the inherent drawbacks of an acoustic kit, namely space constraints and volume issues. However, as music and other instruments evolved, so did the drums, with electronic kits finding favour from artists as formidable as Neil Peart of progressive rock band Rush.
However, e-drumkits did not find a place in many a drum-lover's home because of their daunting price tags, as well as the frequent complaint they did not sound "like acoustic drums".
Fortunately, as technology has progressed, price points have also dropped and we can now truly say we are in the era of the economical, yet effective e-drum, with quality not necessarily taking a backseat to price.
A changed ball game...
Alesis' DM10 Studio kit marks the beginning of the sub-$1,000 (in-store) drumkits that boasts top-of-the-line features. The DM10 Studio comes with the same sound module as Alesis' flagship DM10 Pro drumkit, which means that the same sounds and functionality of the higher priced model can be accessed with less strain on the household budget. The kit is specifically designed for the kind of quiet play that ensures Mom doesn't come running into the "studio" asking you to turn that racket down! Though none of us really wants to admit those were the best days of our lives...
In addition to the module, the kit comes with a 8" kickpad, one 10" snare trigger pad, four 8" tom trigger pads, one chokable 14" triple-zone ride, two 12" crashes of which one has a choke strip, a 12" hi-hat and hi-hat controller, besides a connection cable snake, moulded plastic components for assembly of a rack to hold the kit pieces and mounting hardware. All of the pads feature mylar drumheads of the type used on acoustic drums, which can be replaced with a drumhead of choice if worn out, but the volume is roughly a 10th of the sound made by an acoustic drumkit. All of these trigger pads are dual zone, which means one sound is programmable to the drum head and another to the rim. The cymbals are made of plastic with a rubberised trigger zone to keep volumes low.
Assembly is required and for a first-time user like myself, it initially took one-and-a-half hours to put the kit together, but on later attempts, the time reduced to as little as 15 minutes. The wonderful thing about the design of the rack and the mounting hardware is that there is no set position for any piece on the kit, module included, though the connection cable snake is designed for Alesis' stock configuration and as such, any radical kit piece placement would require the purchase of separate cables. However, as you can see in my review photo, this is not always necessary. After connection of all the kit pieces, there is pleasantly enough space for expansion of the kit... more on that later.
While the DM10 kickpad is large enough to accommodate a double bass pedal, what comes as a surprise is that Alesis has given users the option to connect a second double bass pedal to the kick input by using a y-cable. This second kick is completely customisable like the first which allows the option of having two different sounds on either kick.
On the surface, the DM10 module has a separate volume control for the main output and headphones. In addition, there is a volume control for all 10 kit pieces, the metronome and accompaniment sounds, which looks deceptively like an EQ. The sounds generated by the kit can be routed to two main outputs, two AUX outputs and a stereo headphones output. In addition, the module has a two phono-in jacks to enable the input of sound from an iPod or CD player. There are also buttons for turning on/off the metronome, adjusting trigger settings and editing kits.
The DM10 module boasts of 99 preset drumkits offering a variety of sounds, all of which can be changed if desired, as well as another 100 user-definable kits. However, once out of the box, the first thing that has to be done is to tweak the trigger settings to meet the requirement of the user, as well as reduce "cross-talk" between different trigger zones of the drums, i.e. ensuring that a shot on the head does not trigger the rim sound or the sound of a crash, etc. This process takes roughly 20 minutes the first time you use the kit, though I found myself tweaking a couple of times in later months to get the settings the way I liked them. In this way, one can adjust the kit to react dynamically to cater to how loud or soft one hits them. This only has to be done once, as the trigger settings are global for the module.
Each of the triggers also features a "velocity curve" that tells it how to respond to a shot. There are a total of 14 curve types. For example, I could program my snare to react in a linear fashion, so that when I play softly, the sound is soft and as I go louder, it responds in fashion. At the same time, I could program my kick drum with a flat velocity curve, which means no matter how hard or soft I hit it, it will always play at a constant volume -- a feature often used by double bass drummers playing at tempos above 200 bpm. Nice!
I won't delve in detail into the sounds offered by the module -- there are a total of 89 kick sounds, 83 snare sounds, 65 tom sounds, 27 hi-hat sounds, 37 crash sounds, 29 ride sounds and 16 China sounds, besides 26 electric kick sounds, 22 electric snare sounds, 25 electric tom sounds, 24 electric percussion sounds, 15 orchestral percussion sounds, 14 oriental percussion sounds, 84 Latin percussion sounds, 33 ethnic percussion sounds and 33 random sounds that can be assigned to the available trigger zones -- but to me, a large number of them were usable and of high quality and I often find myself wondering whether I, too, could do with a bit more cowbell in my songs from time to time!
However, the one sore point among the sounds offered by the DM10 is the operation of the hi-hat controller. While the open and close points of the hi-hat are completely definable, this reviewer found that it was difficult to extract certain sounds from the hi-hat using this controller. In particular, it was difficult to get that "cooking" sound, or sizzle, that some are looking for and this can be quite frustrating for some drummers and might be a deal-breaking point for some. I, on the other hand, play metal, hahaha... oh and Alesis has announced that an OS version 2.0 in the pipeline, in which the growing DMdrummer fanbase has been clamouring for certain improvements -- among them, aftertouch for the chokable cymbals, as presently, the volume is cut abruptly, and better cymbal swells -- some of which I don't even fathom and some of which are already in Pearl's RedBox (which was developed in collaboration with Alesis).
Each of the sounds can also be layered within the DM10. This means you could have two snare sounds trigger at the same time with one hit, which dramatically enhances sonic options while customising one's own kit. Furthermore, they can all be tuned to a specified key and users can tweak individual instrument/sound volumes separately for each of their kits. The amount of decay, a low/high pass filter and other parameters are tweakable for each kit-piece. In addition, FX like flanger, vibrato, chorus, delay and doubler, besides reverb and compression can be applied to entire kits, individually.
The module also features a programmable accompaniment section that has its own set of sounds (bass, synth bass, FX/other and hit groups like jazz, country guitars, 70s hard rock and slow metal). There are already a total of 74 preset accompaniments programmed into the DM10, which was an invaluable tool for someone like me learning to play the drums close to the age of 30! What is more, the tempo and time signature of all of these sequences can be changed, which increases their usability as a drummer's skills develop and the ability to delve into styles other than one's own leanings can expand your knowledge base dramatically. These sequences are all tied to a preset kit of a certain style to ensure that they sound good, though the kit can be changed. If one moves to a kit that an accompaniment was not programmed to, no problem! In fact, it often has interesting effects, as the tuning of the accompaniment changes to match the overall tuning of the kit. You can also record your own patterns over the sequences for posterity.
No e-kit would be compete without a metronome and the DM10 does not disappoint on that score, with a full feature metronome that goes up to 300 bpm and has a variety of time signatures. In addition, the level of clicks and sub-clicks as well as their sound can be defined.
An interesting feature of the Alesis DM10 module is the ability to swap the existing soundset with soundsets developed by other companies. At the time of launch of the DM10, Alesis had indicated that developers like FXPansion, which makes the BFD line of VST drums, would also be roped in. However, at the time of writing, only a single soundset, Bluejay Studios drum, has been developed, which I have not tried out. It should also be noted that swapping the soundset means the original library would be replaced, though users can swap that back in as required. However, I noted that Pearl Drums' RedBox e-drum module, which looks like a repackaged DM10 module, already has several soundsets available in the market and one hopes that as time progresses, Alesis will also rollout more soundsets. The potential from this kind of collaboration between VST makers and instrument makers seems limitless.
Staying alive in combat boots...
The hardware of the DM10 is top-notch and suited for genres as subtle as jazz and as heavy as death metal (or whatever the kids think is the most "hardcore" today). However, this should not be construed as saying one can smash the hell out of the thing and expect it to remain intact. Electronics are sensitive and delicate and one must approach the DM10 with the same love and care that one would any musical equipment. That said, this reviewer can confirm that using the Moeller method, one can cause an audible "crack" sound on hitting the pads, without destroying the pad, and the kickpad was able to withstand play with combat boots.
Room to grow...
The DM10 has the ability to process additional triggers using Alesis Trigger|IO device via a midi cable. This user was wondering whether using a midi merge device would enable more than one of these devices to be connected to the module and if so, how many kit components could be used in one kit. Seeing that a person can only hit four drum pads at any given point of time, it's an interesting proposition!
What's more, the Alesis DM10 is compatible with a plethora of VST drum softwares, including Superior Drummer 2.0, BFD2, Steven Slate Drums and Addictive Drums. This adds a new dimension to the product's usefulness in the recording studio, as capturing live drums is cost-prohibitive and time-consuming.
But the DM10's potential for expansion goes beyond factory devices, as has been proven by the DMdrummer community, who have made improvements to the trigger pads, some of them by switching around the internals of the trigger pads and putting mesh heads on top to make the devices super-quiet (which apparently gives the additional benefit of bounce closer to an acoustic drumhead) and others by putting in different types of triggers to ascertain whether they can improve sensitivity. What's more, one user has put together a free program (the man of the 2011, I tell you) to customise kits on the DM10 using a computer, so no more hunching over an LCD!
The Alesis DM10 Studio kit offers a convenient gateway into the world of drumming for musicians that have hitherto refrained from learning the instrument for want of space and fears of neighbours, at a price that won't break the bank. In addition, they can find uses in project studios looking for more than programmed drums and can be expanded, with full functionality with some of the best drum VSTs.