Roland's HD1 system incorporates their V-Drum technology into a drum kit that's more compact, less noisy and much more affordable.
Photo: Mark EwingRoland really put electronic drum kits back on the map with their V-Drum systems, not least because their modelling process allows electronic drums to respond more like their acoustic counterparts. Furthermore, the development of adjustable-tension mesh heads has made it possible to build drum pads that have a physical feel very similar to that of a real acoustic drum. However, all this technology comes at a price, which is all very well if you're a gigging drummer, studio owner or session player, but what choices do you have if you need something cost-effective for practice or just to do the odd spot at the pub? Some of the kits at the lower end of the V-Drum range are quite affordable, but the HD1 comes in at an even lower price, it takes up less storage space, and it has integrated kick and hi-hat pedals designed to reduce noise transmitted through the floor.
Much of the HD1's hardware is derived from concepts used in the V-Drum range, but there's no modelling with this kit — all the sounds are sample-based. The whole physical structure has been designed to minimise noise nuisance when rehearsing at home, not only with the integrated pedals but also with the newly designed cushioned tom and snare pads. The styling is also a radical departure from the larger V-Drum kits, with everything hanging off a couple of closely spaced central support pillars rather than a U-shaped frame. The whole thing can be folded up without having to unplug any of the pads, and most of the wiring is hidden within slots in the frame to keep the appearance tidy. There's also an optional PM01 monitor (see the 'PM01 Drum Monitor' box), which, although it doesn't have the bass response of the larger drum monitors, does manage to produce a credible sound for practice. The whole kit can be folded up and stashed in a corner in just a couple of minutes, which is a big attraction for both home use and educational establishments, not to mention the convenience of being able to pop it into your hatchback and take it up to the pub for a bit of a knockabout with your mates.
The kit is pretty standard in its layout, comprising pads or pedals for kick, snare, three toms, hi-hat, crash cymbal and ride cymbal. As the snare is the most important drum in the kit, it is fitted with an eight-inch mesh head, while the remaining drum pads are six inches in diameter and rubber coated. These pads are all supported on arms that clamp to one of the two uprights, secured using a large wing-nut so they are freely adjustable for angle and height.
All three cymbal pads are cymbal shaped and designed to pivot, unless you tighten the securing nuts to make them more rigid, by compressing the felt supporting washers. These pads feature a split playing surface offering both hard and soft areas, though they trigger the same sound wherever you hit them, albeit with a different tonality if you hit them harder in some cases, depending on which kit is active.
The two pedals, which also comprise part of the base of the stand, can be detached for transport, and these are secured by means of four large cap-head bolts. Personally I'd have preferred a simpler method of fixing that didn't require tools, as Allen keys have a habit of disappearing when you need them, but the fixing is both solid and straightforward. Two jack cables plug into the pedals once fitted, and you're ready to power up and play.
Power for the kit comes from the expected external power adaptor, though the optional PM01 monitor powers directly from the mains using a detachable mains cable. This uses a hi-fi-style mains 'shaver' connection rather than the more common IEC 'kettle' lead, so you may come unstuck if you lose it.
The brain of the kit is both small and basic and is fixed at the top of the two uprights. To connect the trigger cables, there's a single DB25-type connector, which can normally be left plugged in. A slide-switch at the side of the brain powers it up and the phones and line outputs both come out on mini-jacks, which, again, are more familiar in the hi-fi and consumer audio world than they are in normal musician circles. The optional monitor also uses a mini-jack for its input, so you need to keep a mini-jack to mini-jack lead in your bag — yet another non-standard item for most musicians.
In addition to the MP3/CD input I'll come to in a moment, which is also on a mini-jack, there's a MIDI output (5-pin DIN) from the kit, so you could use the HD1 in the studio to trigger samples or other drum machines. You can't change the MIDI assignments, which follow the GM protocol, but most DAW software has facilities for remapping MIDI if you need to use something non-standard. All the pads are velocity sensitive, so you can get reasonable playing dynamics using external sounds.
Internally there are 10 drum kits accessed by five kit buttons, plus a Variation button to switch to the alternative pad sounds for that kit (staying within a similar genre). All of the buttons illuminate when active and they're large enough to prod with the end of a drum stick. In all, the control surface is very simple, with just five kit buttons, the Variation button, a Metronome button and two knobs controlling tempo and volume. There's nothing to edit and no patches to save. Just select a kit and play.
As well as the built-in metronome (covering a 40-220bpm tempo range and offering three sounds and three preset volume levels), the HD1 is equipped with a stereo mini-jack external input for connecting CD players or MP3 players that you can play along to. The output from the media player is mixed with the internally-generated drum sounds, to be fed to either a monitor speaker or to headphones.
With its silver plastic housing and very light weight, it owes more to desktop multimedia speakers than it does to mainstream musical equipment, but by utilising a port in the back of the casing it manages to create some impression of bass. It still doesn't deliver any real depth, but at least the kick drum comes over sounding more like a floor tom than a cardboard box. This monitor has a volume control and a rotary power switch on the front, while the angled top directs the sound up towards the player. As a comparison I tried a pair of M-Audio in-ear phones and they actually delivered a much better sound with all the bottom end intact, so for private playing that's the option I'd choose.
Kit 1 is a straight-ahead drum kit with ride and crash cymbals, offering two sounds depending on playing intensity. A slightly different-sounding kit is the alternative, where one of the tom pads triggers a woodblock sound, there's a little room ambience added, and the crash cymbals gets splashier if you hit it hard, while hitting the ride hard switches to a bell sound. Kit 2 has very heavy reverb and is probably what would be referred to as a stadium kit — big, brash and very rock — again with a useful variation. Kit 3 brings in a few Latin and World elements, while Kit 4 covers the electronic kit genres. Finally, Kit 5 delivers a selection of gimmicky sounds such as vocal drum hits. The sounds cover a lot of ground, but for 'normal drumming' I think the first two kits and their variations are the most useful.
Incidentally, the drumkit behaves 'correctly', in that the hi-hat sound switches from open to closed when you depress the leftmost pedal (though left-handed players can simply swap the pedal jack-plugs over), and pressing the pedal also triggers a closing hi-hat sound, with loudness proportional to how hard (how fast, really) you press the pedal.
As none of the sounds have more than two velocity levels, and many have only one, don't expect the sound of the kit to compete with modern sample-based instruments, many of which offer a dozen or more layers of sound that respond to playing velocity. Here the sounds get softer or louder depending on how hard you hit the drums or cymbals, but if the sound does change with playing intensity, there's a maximum of two sounds per pad. Most of the sounds seem to have come from the library Roland have built up during the development of their various drum machines, so they're very usable but not hugely authentic by today's standards. They're fine for rehearsal or pub gigs, but for recording parts designed to replace acoustic drums I'd probably use the HD1 to trigger BFD, EZ Drummer or a similar software package.
Turning to playing feel, the snare drum is, of course, superb, as it has a mesh head you can tension to match your own playing style. It doesn't offer rim shots or positional sensing, as the heavy hitters in the V-Drum range do, but it still feels very natural. The rubber-coated tom pads are also surprisingly comfortable, with a decent amount of bounce, while the spring pedals take a little getting used to, as there's no physical beater and the hi-hat pedal feels exactly the same as the kick pedal. Nevertheless, you do get used to them very quickly, and they certainly put much less of a thump through the floor than other V-Drum kits I've used.
To set the Metronome level, you use the Metronome button together with number buttons 1-3, while to change the sound you use it in conjunction with buttons 4 and 5 and the Variation button. There are also 10 preset drum patterns you can play along to, accessed using the Metronome key in conjunction with one of the number keys, and the Variation key switches to an alternative rhythm. There's no way to adjust the separate drum-sound levels, and the amount of reverb is fixed. As far as operational complexity goes, that's pretty much it, so if it still seems too complicated I suggest you buy yourself one of those shaky egg things instead!
Given its cost and compact nature, the HD1 feels very solid and serious. Its ease of setup and operation will appeal to drummers who are put off by the apparently 'techie' nature of the more serious V-Drum kits, and though the sounds are pretty basic they're still very usable in a live music context, with plenty of weird and wacky alternatives to regular kits if you need them. The HD1 is also very practical in the studio, as it takes up little room, the pads have a good tactile feel, and you can use it to trigger any MIDI drum sounds you like. I was less keen on the PM01 monitor, although it's OK for playing at home when you don't want to disturb anyone. If you'd really like to pack a punch without breaking the bank or your back, the existing Roland PM10V monitor is vastly superior-sounding and is also more than adequately loud for monitoring at gigs.
Clearly, the HD1 is a sensible addition to the already extensive range of Roland electronic drum kits. I would say its most useful attributes are its compact nature, its ease of use and its tactile playing surfaces. Though it is by no means the cheapest electronic drum kit out there, it is still attractively priced for something so well thought-out and practical. .