Fancy a set of electronic drums that lets you create your own kits? Swedish company 2Box's debut offering could be just the thing...
The name 2Box is a new one in the world of electronic drums. In fact, 2Box is a new name in the world full stop, but the people behind the company certainly know a thing or two about electronic percussion. Based in Sweden, the 2Box development team have been behind Clavia's iconic Nord synthesizers and, more importantly for our purposes, the original Ddrum electronic drum products.
The DrumIt Five is the company's first release, and they're certainly looking to make an impact with its striking bright‑orange and black appearance. It slots into the mid‑price bracket for electronic kits, alongside offerings from industry big‑hitters Roland and Yamaha.
The kit ships with five drum pads, two cymbals and a hi‑hat. The three 10‑inch tom pads, cymbals and 14‑inch kick drum attach to a rack system, and the 12‑inch snare drum and 10‑inch hi‑hat pads are mounted on their own stands.
The 'brain' module that ships with the DrumIt Five kit is described as an 'open sound drum system' and, in conjunction with the 2Box Editor software, allows users to build and create their own unique drum sounds. That, along with the colour scheme, definitely sets this kit apart and makes it a particularly intriguing proposition...
Although it's described as "lightweight and easy to set up”, I did find the rack a little awkward to construct. The fact that the kit ships with a 15‑page manual on how to put it together is a thoughtful touch, but also does give you some indication that it might not be that simple! When loosened, the clamps holding the tubular frame together don't freely slide up and down the tubes, so they have to be almost completely removed if you need to reposition anything. This is particularly frustrating when fitting the bass drum to the rack, as the height of the tubular frame is important when fitting this drum. Having said that, once together, the rack is actually a lot more solid than it initially appears. As I understand it, the review system had the MkII rack, which benefits from some significant improvements to design and overall stability. It certainly supports the three toms perfectly, with a reasonable range of movement available from the ball and socket clamps that attach them to the rack. The cymbals mount using the same ball and socket system, with an angled rod supporting the cymbal pad itself. It's not the prettiest solution I've seen, and does look a little flimsy compared to some other kits, but it does the job perfectly well.
As I mentioned earlier, the snare pad sits on its own snare‑drum stand, which is something I very much like. It makes the whole kit feel more like a regular acoustic kit and allows for a lot of flexibility in positioning the drum. The hi‑hat pad also has its own stand, which clamps to the rack for stability. Having a true (if slightly modified) hi‑hat stand sets this kit apart from some similarly priced offerings, where a fixed pad is controlled from a wired footpedal, which can give an unnatural feel.
The DrumIt Five brain module also fits on the rack via ball and socket clamp, and can be located conveniently either on the left or right of the rack. The pads connect to the module via standard stereo jack cables, and Velcro ties are provided to keep things neat and tidy.
At first glance, the pads themselves have an almost toy‑like look, which is in part due to the bright‑orange finish and large 2Box logo. On closer inspection, however, their true colours are revealed! A solid metal base supports a foam ring, over which the drum head fits. Another large metal hoop fits over the head and is secured with six regular tuning lugs, allowing the head to be tightened or loosened to your own preference. The rim is covered with a black plastic coating to protect it when playing rimshots, and also to reduce noise. Each pad is dual‑zone, and features an independent rim trigger as well as a main head sensor.
The pads ship with a black mesh head which, if a little thin compared to the Roland V‑Drum heads, plays very nicely. In keeping with the open and flexible ethos of the kit, you can fit pretty much any head to the pads. As an alternative to the mesh head, 2Box will be producing their own rubber head, or you could use any regular drum head. I tried fitting a Remo pinstripe to one of the tom pads and found it worked perfectly well. The triggering remained accurate and consistent, but obviously the physical noise of a regular drum head is far greater than that of a mesh head, so it has its limitations. Having said that, possibly for live playing, or if you really can only play on 'real' drum heads, it's a useful option to have.
The 14‑inch cymbal pads are constructed from two aluminium sensor plates and covered with a silicon rubber compound. As you may now expect, they look a little different from anything I've used before. From the top, they look like regular black rubberised cymbals that you might find on any electronic kit, with a natural bow and a pronounced bell. Underneath the cymbal, however, the rubber coating ends to reveal the now familiar orange hue.
The cymbal pads offer three trigger zones — edge, bow and bell — and can be 'choked' by grabbing the edge, exactly as you would with its acoustic counterpart. The 10‑inch hi‑hat follows the same construction, with the cymbal mounted on the hi‑hat stand above a sensor that facilitates the open and closed action. It has edge and bow trigger zones and can also be 'splashed' by the hi‑hat pedal.
The kick drum is simply a larger version of the tom and snare pads. It mounts solidly on the rack system (although a little fiddly to fix!) and at no point did I feel it was going to move. The supplied kick‑drum pedal (along with its orange beater) is decent enough, although I did end up using my own pedal most of the time.
The DrumIt Five module is a neat little box, again resplendent in black and orange. Its rear panel accommodates the input sockets for the five pads and two cymbals that ship with the standard kit, plus an extra Tom and Cymbal input for future expansion. Next to the inputs are the six output jacks, with outputs one and two doubling as the main stereo out. All the voices on each kit are assigned to outputs one and two, but the toms also appear on outputs three and four, and the cymbals on five and six as default. The last two jacks are the headphone output and line input. The former is independent and can be configured as an additional pair of line-level outputs if required, and the latter (used to bring in a source from an MP3 player or instruments to play along to) can be configured as mono or stereo. MIDI In and Out sockets and a USB connection complete the rear panel, along with the external PSU socket and on/off switch. Interestingly, not all kits at this price point include a MIDI In socket, so this is a big plus point for me, and obviously is vital if you want to use the module with a MIDI sequencer.
As the module is fairly small, there are a lot of sockets on the rear panel that are a bit close together. The black rings around the jack sockets do cover up the labelling on the unit a little, which can make it hard to work out what goes where without referring to the legending on top of the unit instead.
The front panel of the module is clean and uncluttered, featuring relatively few knobs and buttons. On the left are 10 drum‑channel buttons which correspond to the trigger inputs on the rear of the unit and fire off the appropriate sounds when pressed. To the right is a small LCD display split into two sections. The larger section displays the parameters in two rows of three, whilst the narrow left‑hand section is used to show the current 'page'. With a small LCD it's not always possible to fit in all the information in an easy‑to‑read way, so some things can appear a little cryptic at first, but once you get used to the way the module works, it's reasonably simple to get around.
Above the display are three parameter buttons, and below it three parameter dials with push‑button functionality. These correspond to the currently displayed parameters. The Unit and Kit buttons to the left of the display access the global parameters or the individual kit parameters respectively, and the page up and down buttons, well, scroll up and down through the various pages in each mode! Last but not least, there's a level button that controls the headphone output volume and, optionally, line outputs one and two.
A hundred user‑configurable kits are stored in the brain module's 4GB of flash memory, along with a selection of WAV files that can be used to play along to. Each kit is made up of 24‑bit, 44.1khz multi‑layer samples, covering everything from acoustic kits through to ethnic percussion and electronic drum machines.
The sound engine uses a proprietary lossless compression format, and I understand that a future update will include 3x lossless compression, so that even more samples can be stored.
Of the two possible modes — Unit and Kit — the DrumIt Five module initially boots into Kit mode. Then the first parameter dial, located under the large kit number in the display, lets you quickly scroll through the 100 preset kits, with the right‑hand section of the display showing that you're on the Program page.
Across the top of this screen is the Save button, plus Start and Stop controls. Although the DrumIt five module doesn't include a sequencer, it does allow a wav file to be associated with any of the kits. A selection of song files are provided in the module, but you can just as easily import any wav file you want, which is a great improvement on the usual cheesy play‑along demo songs.
The page up and down buttons move you through the editable parameters of each kit, with the first page being the Drum page. This is where you can assign different sounds to the currently selected pad. Pushing the left parameter dial once allows you to scroll through the folders, and a second push switches to the voices within the folder, making selecting a specific sample very quick and easy. The remaining two parameter dials adjust the tuning and volume of each sample.
The following 'Env', or envelope, page allows for slightly deeper editing of the drum sample, in the form of attack, hold and decay parameters. The buttons across the top of the screen switch between polyphonic and monophonic triggering, and also quite a complicated layer mode that relates to how the sample will play at different trigger levels. All in all, this gives a very good level of control over drum sounds.
The majority of mid‑range electronic drum kits on the market come with a selection of effects, ranging from reverb through to chorus and distortion(!), but moving on to the brain module's 'FX' page reveals that the DrumIt Five currently only offers a tap delay. It's an interesting first choice for an effect, and not something I found terribly useful in practice. Reverb would have been the obvious choice but, again, I understand that this is on the cards for a forthcoming software update.
The global parameters of the module can be adjusted via the Unit button and its associated pages. It's here that you can balance the individual elements of the kit, using the Mix page. On the larger modules that come with some more expensive electronic kits, each drum has its own dedicated physical fader, but here, with only three dials and a relatively small LCD display, there's a bit of button‑pressing involved. However, once you get the idea, it's very quick and easy to achieve a good kit balance.
The remaining pages in Unit mode enable editing of parameters such as trigger type and output configuration. The MIDI implementation, which can also be edited here, is very comprehensive. Each drum has its own assignable MIDI note and MIDI channel, so when used with a sequencer, each drum can be given its own track.
It would be fair to say that the DrumIt Five focuses primarily on 'real' sounds rather than electronic, heavily processed or non‑drum samples such as bass guitars, synth pads and so on, which I was quite pleased about. While the 'wacky' stuff is fun and can be quite inspirational to play at times, that kind of thing is catered for very well by drum machines and keyboards. If it's a drum kit, I'd like to hear drums!
The first preset kit, 'DrumIt Live Kit', showcases the kit extremely well. Playing this kit for the first time, I was genuinely gobsmacked by how good it sounds! The snare drum is incredibly responsive and dynamic, the toms have a small amount of natural ambience, and the level of expression achievable from the multisampled voices is very impressive. Even the cymbals and hi‑hat, usually the weak link in electronic kits, are surprisingly good, although they still lack the full authenticity of the real thing.
The remaining 99 preset kits are all of an equally impressive standard and include intriguing names such as 'Give_It_Away', 'The_Pretender', 'Kashmir', 'Roxanne' and 'Sweet_Home'. No prizes for guessing what kits they might be based on.
The regular 'acoustic style' kits utilise the dual‑zone pads brilliantly, by assigning a rim sample to the rim trigger, meaning that a convincing rendition of 'Ant Music' is never far away! Seriously, though, this adds an astonishing level of realism to the kits and, for a player of primarily acoustic kits, makes the whole playing experience far more rewarding.
The samples consist of up to 127 velocity layers, and the algorithms used mean that the gradual changes between soft and hard hits of the drum are faithfully reproduced. There is no evidence of 'machine gunning' on any of the pads, even to the extent that very splashy cymbal rolls can be played with very convincing results
Ethnic sounds and percussion are catered for in the form of various kits that, again, make great use of the dual‑zone pads by assigning, say, a shaker to a drum pad and an agogo to its rim, or using velocity switching to move from an open conga to a slap.
At first glance, I wasn't really sure what to make of this kit, with its unconventional, somewhat B&Q colour scheme! However, the old adage of not judging a book by its cover is borne out here.
My most recent experience of playing an electronic kit was Roland's flagship TD20XK, which costs just shy of £6000$7000. Now, of course there are some very big differences between the two kits, but in a simple 'stick some headphones on and check out the presets' shoot‑out, I think I'd be hard pushed to give the TD20 that much of an edge. Not bad, considering that the DrumIt Five is less than a third of the price!
The DrumIt Five module doesn't offer a built‑in sequencer, it doesn't offer the training tools that teach you to play in time, it doesn't have a huge LCD display with animated graphics and sliders to adjust the levels of every drum... but it does deliver hundreds of extremely realistic drum samples in a very playable form, and would be a very welcome addition to any studio where recording a real acoustic kit wasn't practical. The bells and whistles (quite literally in some cases!) on some kits are great, and I've enjoyed them very much but if it's real drums you're after, it would be difficult to beat the DrumIt Five. Out of the box (or even two boxes...), it's a fantastic instrument. The preset kits and samples are really very impressive, but add to that the ability to create your own multi‑layered sounds and you have an incredibly powerful system.
There are plenty of electronic drum kits on the market today, and while not all will offer the DrumIt Five's ability to create and edit you own sounds, a similar amount of money will get you a respectable mid‑range kit from either Roland or Yamaha. The Roland TD9KX is probably the closest kit, in terms of price and features, to the DrumIt Five. Its hardware looks impressive but there's no 'true' hi‑hat. The DTX550K is Yamaha's closet offering in terms of price and features, although it has all‑rubber pads apart from the snare, which features the Textured Silicone Head technology found on their high‑end kits.
One of the most intriguing features of the DrumIt Five is the ability to create and edit kits and sounds using the Mac and PC software editor. Not only can you configure kits using the sounds in the DrumIt Five module, you can also create your own multisampled drum sounds from Wav files. As I understand it, AIFF and REX files will be supported in a future software release.
To work with the editing software, you simply connect the module via USB to your Mac or PC. Booting up the unit with one of the parameter buttons held down puts it into USB Mode, which is confirmed by the display. The DrumIt Five module now appears on your desktop as a regular 4GB USB drive.
At start‑up, the editor will be looking for the Drumit.dkit file on the brain module. Once this has been located, the software then loads all the kits and displays Drum Kit 1 on screen. From here you can click on the pad, rim or any of the cymbal trigger zones to hear the currently assigned sound, as shown in the screen below. Holding the mouse button down and sliding the mouse up and down changes the velocity of the triggered sound: a very useful feature when auditioning multi‑layered samples. For each sound, you can adjust tuning, panning and volume on screen exactly as you would in the module, and creating new kit configurations couldn't be easier. Simply drag and drop files from the folders on the left of the screen directly on to the pads, cymbals and rims. The original sample is automatically replaced by the new one.
If the many, many beautifully recorded samples that ship with the DrumIt Five aren't enough for you, 2Box have already made a host of new samples available for free on their web site, with more to come. They are easily downloaded and can be dragged and dropped into the module.
One of the most intriguing parts of this kit is the ability to create your own samples and incorporate those into the DrumIt Five kits. The file format used by the DrumIt Five is a proprietary one, the dsnd file. I understand that in a forthcoming revision of the OS it will be possible to simply drag WAV, AIFF and even REX files directly onto the pads in the Kit window, but for now a dsnd file needs to be created on the Sound page.
To create a new sound, simply drag any wav files from the file browser onto the large pad area, as in the screen above. As you drag the files onto the 'pad', they are placed into layers according to their relative levels. With up to 127 layers per sound, it's possible to make some very complex and accurate‑sounding drums.
To test this, I recorded eight 'hits' from my Pearl Free Floating snare at increasing levels into Logic, edited the start and end of each hit and saved them as individual wav files. Using the DrumIt Five Editor, I located the files on my desktop and dragged them onto the pad. It's important to understand that no editing of the wav files is possible here, so the start and end points need to be correct and velocities need to be 'as recorded' and not normalised. Once the new sound file is created and saved, you can simply switch back to Edit mode and drag the newly created sound into a kit.
I know that a great deal of time and effort was spent creating the samples for the DrumIt Five, so the fact that my effort wasn't quite as impressive as the sounds that ship with the kit was hardly surprising. Having said that, my new snare was more than passable. With a little more time and effort, it would be no problem to create a host of totally unique samples. It really is that easy!
2Box seem very into the idea of the DrumIt Five being an 'open system'. Now, this has the potential to be all buzzword and no substance, but my experience of living with the kit and speaking to the UK distributor would suggest otherwise.
Having read through some of the forums dedicated to the kit, it's apparent that the DrumIt Five had a difficult birth, with a few teething problems. Had these issues not been addressed in software and hardware updates, this might have been a very different review... but they have, and that says that 2Box are a company that not only listen to their users but actually act as well. The slated new additions to the kit, such as rubber heads with positional sensing, 3x lossless compression, direct support for REX files and more effects, such as reverb, should be here in 2011, and with more samples being added to the web site as well, it makes you feel like you're in at the start of something quite exciting.