2Box’s Speedlight kit takes an unconventional but flexible approach to electronic percussion.
My first (and only) review of an electronic kit from Swedish company 2Box was for Sound On Sound back in February 2011, when I checked out the company’s first foray into the world of electronic percussion: the DrumItFive. It was certainly a quirky kit, with its bright orange pads and functional, utilitarian design.
Since then, 2Box have focused more on their Open Sound Architecture modules than full kits, with a redesigned DrumItFive MkII and the more recent DrumItThree module. The Speedlight kit is a return to the past and combines pads, cymbals, rack and hardware with a DrumItThree module in a mid‑priced package.
Fighting for attention in an already crowded sector of the market, the Speedlight kit boasts the world’s first drum module with an Open Sound Architecture and a Universal Trigger Interface. But is that enough to set it apart from the pack... and what does it even mean?
As its name suggests, the 2Box kit arrives in — you’ve guessed it — two boxes! The first box contains the bulk of the hardware and the second contains the pads. This makes constructing the kit a little easier, as you only need to deal with one box at a time, but I have to say that building the kit wasn’t the simplest of tasks. The manual looks like something from Ikea, and the way in which some elements fit together is also reminiscent of the modernist Scandinavian retailer. Having said that, when constructed the rack is very solid, stable and fit for purpose. The poles are an all‑metal construction and fit together using familiar clamps. However, I found that some of the fittings were a little tight, and it did require a fair amount of force to locate the poles.
Small aluminium arms connect the snare and toms to the rack and allow for just enough adjustment to position everything comfortably in place. Two cymbal stands locate securely into the top of the two main uprights of the rack. These are very solid chrome affairs, but the boom arm is quite short, and there is no additional adjustment at the top of the boom to angle the cymbal.
Setting it apart from its direct competitors, and putting it in line with more high‑end electronic kits, the Speedlight ships with an optical hi‑hat rather than the fixed pad and wired pedal typically found on kits in this price range. The hi‑hat fits onto a regular hi‑hat stand which is also included with the kit. Completing the kit is the DrumItThree module, which ships with a mounting spigot that enables it to fit neatly on its own rack arm, close to the hi‑hat.
The original 2Box DrumItFive I reviewed back in 2011 was definitely a striking‑looking kit, with its uniquely designed bright orange pads. While they certainly worked perfectly well, I was pleased to see that the pads on the new Speedlight kit have a more conservative black and chrome design.
The kit comprises three 8‑inch tom pads plus a 10‑inch snare pad, all identically constructed using a familiar black plastic tray to which the trigger is mounted. The single‑ply 2Box‑branded mesh head is held in place by a standard drum hoop, enclosed by a protective rubber surround. All the pads are dual zone, meaning that you can trigger different sounds by hitting the head or the rim.
The kick‑drum pad is a more basic affair, featuring a solid rubber pad mounted on a metal stand. Spikes are provided to secure the drum to a carpeted surface, but any drum of this size and weight is prone to movement and the Speedlight kick is no exception. It’s not a criticism, more an acknowledgement of physics! I would have expected a mesh kick‑drum pad on a kit in this price range, as they offer a more natural playing experience, as well as creating less physical noise, but the Speedlight kick performs perfectly well.
A 12‑inch crash cymbal, 14‑inch ride cymbal and 13‑inch hi‑hat (all good sizes) are provided as part of the package. The crash is a single‑zone unit and is chokeable — ie. it allows you to mute the cymbal by grabbing the edge. The 14‑inch ride provides three zones — bell, bow and edge — and is also chokeable. A three‑zone ride is a nice addition, adding to the realism and playability of the kit and, like the optical hi‑hat, isn’t often featured on kits in this price range. Both cymbals are constructed of a hard shiny plastic, with half of the playing surface covered in a more ‘playable’ rubber coating.
The hi‑hat is fully encased in rubber and, as I mentioned earlier, works as an optical trigger, as opposed to the more typical fixed cymbal with a separate electronic pedal to control the open and closed element. What this means in practical terms is that the hi‑hat mounts onto a regular stand and looks, feels and plays like a real hi‑hat, using a mechanism placed under the cymbal to detect positional information from the hi‑hat pedal.
Pads and cymbals all connect to the module via independent numbered stereo jack cables. Although perhaps not as neat and tidy as a loom, this does allow for cables to be exchanged should one fail, or for longer cables to be used if positioning of the pads dictates.
At the heart of the Speedlight kit is the DrumItThree module, a rugged and functional‑looking piece of hardware, although it perhaps doesn’t exhibit the sophisticated design aesthetics we have grown used to from other manufacturers.
The rear panel sports a host of jack sockets including 14 inputs, far more than is required for the supplied pads and cymbals — but for very good reason. In addition to working with the 2Box pads, the DrumItThree module theoretically supports pads and triggers from any third‑party manufacturer. We’ll get into the details of that later when we dig deeper into the module, but for now it explains why I’m presented with three CYMB A/B sockets and a Hi‑hat control input in addition to the Kick, Snare and Tom inputs.
To the left of the rear panel are four quarter‑inch mono outputs, plus a quarter‑inch stereo headphone socket which can be configured as two additional outputs via the routing options, giving a potential total of six discrete outputs.
The complement of jack sockets is completed by a quarter‑inch Line Input for monitoring external audio sources, such as an MP3 player for playing along or an in‑ear monitor mix. Remaining I/O comprises MIDI In and Out sockets, a 12V DC input and a USB socket that connects the module to the free Mac or PC editing software.
The front panel is a far less populated space, clean and simple in design, with only a few knobs and buttons. A fairly small LCD is framed by three soft keys above it and a data‑entry knob below. Two buttons either side select the Unit or Kit modes, and there are Page up and down buttons.
A More button towards the centre of the unit extends the functionality of the data‑entry buttons, while Channel Up, Channel Down and Trig buttons enable you to select which of the connected pads you are editing, and audition it.
A single level knob controls the overall output volume which, unfortunately, means that there isn’t independent access to the headphone volume from the front panel, although you can configure a mode whereby all output levels are fixed and the level knob exclusively controls the headphone volume.
The Speedlight comes equipped with 90 preset kits and further 10 blank user kit locations, but any of the presets can be overwritten.
Scrolling through the preset kits, what immediately strikes you is the emphasis on realistic and natural‑sounding drums, which particularly appeals to me. A number of the kits are named after artists, such as the ‘Randy_Black_Kit’, ‘Simon_Phillips’ and ‘Minneman_Kit’ — which I assume are kits sampled from these particular drummers, rather than homages or soundalikes. There a fair few of those too, with easily decrypted names like ‘Invisible Touch’, ‘Bloody Sunday’ and ‘Dreadlock’. Of course, this invites you to instantly play the ‘riff’ associated with the track! Many of the drum and cymbal samples use up to 128 velocity layers, which gives them their realism and wide dynamic range. A number of electronic kits are included, along with some interesting Latin and percussion ensembles. The ability to trigger different sounds from the head or rim of the drum allows a few presets to include loops assigned to the tom rims.
Overall, triggering is very accurate. The mesh heads, although only single ply, can be tuned high or low to suit your playing style, and trigger equally well at any tension. The cymbals are fairly rigid beneath the rubber coating and certainly don’t give very much when struck, but they do trigger very accurately. The three‑zone bell, bow and edge ride cymbal works particularly well.
The DrumItThree module has two modes — Kit and Unit — directly accessed by the two buttons on the front panel. The former deals with editing individual kits, while the Unit mode covers global module settings. The LCD display is divided into two sections: one large area that displays parameters and a smaller section to the left that tells you what page you’re currently on. Anyone who is used to large LCD displays with animated graphics and even full colour may need to take a few moments to get used to the more basic approach of the DrumItThree.
In Kit mode, the left‑hand side of the display initially shows ‘Prog’, indicating the Program page. Across the bottom of the screen is the kit number, metronome meter and tempo. Each of these parameters is accessed by repeatedly pressing the data knob, which scrolls through them in turn. Their values are then adjusted by turning the knob. Across the top of the screen are the Save, Stop and Play functions that are actioned from the three soft keys above the display. Save is fairly self‑explanatory, while Play and Stop control the metronome or associated backing track.
The Page up/down buttons to the left of the display access the various pages in the Kit mode; Drum, ENV, CFUNC, KFNC, VOL, EQ and ACMP. The limited LCD display does give rise to some fairly cryptic names.
- Drum is where you can adjust which sample is assigned to the pad and set its pitch and volume.
- ENV allows you to adjust Attack, Hold and Decay, specify how samples and loops will play back (mono or polyphonically, fixed volume, and so on) and also which zones of the pad or cymbal you want to use. There’s a neat feature buried in this page that relates to the playback of loops, namely Loop Groups. They are a little like mute groups, where striking one pad instantly mutes the sound of another. Assigning a pad to one of three Loop Groups automatically stops one loop from playing when another is triggered, which is a pretty useful feature for triggering loops live.
- Similarly handy for the live performer, the CFUNC page enables a control function to be assigned to a pad alongside its sound. Functions include Metronome Start/Stop, Next Kit/Previous Kit and Tap Tempo, so hitting a pad could start playback of the metronome or backing track, or select the next available kit.
- The VOL and EQ pages are where you can set pad volume and pan position, in addition to whether a specific pad is routed through the onboard EQ or not. The EQ page itself offers 80Hz Low shelf, 12kHz High shelf and a semi‑parametric Mid band with variable frequencies from 100Hz to 10kHz and 12dB boost or cut. Surprisingly, EQ is the only signal processing available. While I find the majority of the multi‑effects bells and whistles of many electronic kits surplus to requirements (I rarely flange my toms!), a reverb would be a welcome addition.
- Finally, the ACMP page is where you can assign a backing track or metronome to a specific kit and adjust parameters such as playback level and tempo. The metronome offers time signatures from 1/4 to 12/8, and most reasonable points in between, and has a tempo range of 30‑280 bpm. Backing tracks in the form of WAV files can be copied to the module via the USB connection and assigned to each individual kit. A useful ‘Split Wave Mode’ is available which automatically routes the left and right side of the file to separate outputs, so one channel can be ‘track’ and the other ‘click’.
The module’s Unit mode enjoys a slightly less cryptic set of page names and includes a level mixer for each kit element, trigger and pad settings, hi‑hat calibration, MIDI and Audio configuration, output routing and an overview of the available memory and current software version.
Of particular interest is the Trig page where, as you’d expect, you can configure the pads to suit your playing style, via a range of familiar parameters such as Velocity Curve, Threshold and Crosstalk.
The Trig page also brings us back to that unique feature I mentioned earlier — the DrumItThree module’s support for pretty much any third‑party pad or trigger. The manual includes a comprehensive chart that details all the different trigger and pad types that can be used, and their respective modes. This is where the additional inputs on the rear of the module come into play, supporting pads from different manufacturers that use dual cables or hi‑hat control pedals. This is a fantastic feature and really emphasises the open‑architecture ethos of 2Box. You are free to expand your kit with any pad or trigger you like.
The INTF page is where you can assign a MIDI note and channel to each drum, and also an audio bus output. In conjunction with the Out page, this enables you to set up a wide range of output configurations to deal with almost any scenario. With some work (and a few references to the manual), I was able to route kick and snare to individual outputs, toms and cymbals to another pair of outs, and backing track and metronome to the headphones. It’s also possible to include the line input in the routing matrix, to use it as an external monitor source.
Does the open architecture and universal trigger support set this kit apart from the pack? — I’d have to say yes.
If you’re looking for a mid‑priced electronic kit, it would be easy to opt for one of the big three, and for many people that would be the right choice. While on the surface the Speedlight doesn’t offer quite the same ‘kerbside appeal’, it may well give you everything you need — and a little bit more. A very broad parallel may be that of the old Mac versus PC argument, with the DrumItThree module taking the place of the Windows machine with its more open architecture and compatibility with third‑party components, yet arguably less intuitive operating system. Once you get used to where things are and how the operating system works, it’s not difficult to navigate the DrumItThree with relative ease and access some well thought‑out and very practical features.
The onboard samples are excellent and instantly give the Speedlight kit a sound of its own. The ability to import your own multilayered sounds only adds to the uniqueness of the proposition, and having free access to a library of 700 samples is a resource many other companies would charge for. Complex as it is, I was very impressed with the flexibility of the routing. Having six individual outputs is a real plus point for live playing, multitrack recording or external processing of sounds. The idea of using different manufacturers’ pads and triggers with any drum module is a compatibility minefield, but 2Box support for almost any third‑party pads and triggers leaves you open to change and expand your kit as your mood, or budget, takes you. This, along with the ability to import your own multilayered samples means that you have a kit that is able to grow with you and adapt to your requirements.
So in answer to my question — does the open architecture and universal trigger support set this kit apart from the pack? — I’d have to say yes. It may not be the slickest‑looking kit or have all the usual bells and whistles, but it does have a lot of well thought‑out and practical features that might be exactly what you need.
A downloadable Mac/Windows editor is available for the DrumIt module. Connect the module to your computer via USB, turn on while holding down one of the parameter keys and the module appears on the desktop. It’s possible to simply open the module as if it were a regular USB drive and interrogate the contents. A PDF version of the manual and quick‑start guides are stored on the ‘drive’ alongside the kit files and folders of samples. This makes the process of dragging and dropping a backing track WAV file to the module very simple, as is renaming or restructuring the sample folder hierarchy.
On opening the editor, you’ll see a single‑window graphical interface with two modes; Kit and Sound. The Kit window is where you can configure drum kits by dragging and dropping samples onto the appropriate pad. The left‑hand side of the screen displays the folders containing the samples, which are stored in a proprietary .dsnd format in the module.
The .dsnd files include the multiple velocity layers that make up each sound, along with zone allocation — so dragging a cymbal file onto the ride pad places the appropriate samples onto the bell, bow and edge zone. A tom or snare sample will automatically have samples assigned to the head and rim, but you can easily drag a different sound or loop to the rim of a pad, should you want to. Kits can then be saved to the module individually or as a whole bank of 100 presets. You can save as many banks as the 4GB onboard memory will allow, and select which you want to use when you boot the module.
The Sound window is where you can create your own multilayered samples and loops, and this is one of the features that gives the DrumItThree its unique edge.
A new sound can be created on one of four different pad types; kick (also suitable for percussion sounds or loops), which features a single zone, a snare or tom pad, which has two zones (plus a third cross stick zone for snares) a three‑zone cymbal or a three‑zone hi‑hat, which also includes several degrees of ‘opening’ to further add to the realism.
The left side of the window now becomes a file browser that can access all the drives, files and folders on your Mac or PC, and a simple drag‑and‑drop method is employed to place up to 128 individual WAV files onto a pad. The WAV files are distributed dynamically, so the more samples you have, the more realistic the result will be.
Once created, the new .dsnd file with all its component parts can be saved into the appropriate folder in the module and assigned to a pad in a kit or saved onto your internal hard drive. If you aren’t in a position to create your own samples, 2Box provide a library of almost 700 free sounds on their website, formatted as .dsnd, ready to drag and drop into the module — which is quite a bonus.
- Support for third‑party pads and triggers.
- Multiple outputs.
- Excellent sounds.
- Open sound architecture.
- Optical hi‑hat.
- Three‑zone ride cymbal.
- Not the easiest OS to navigate.
- No onboard effects.
- Rubber kick pad.
The Speedlight kit is definitely quirky, particularly when it comes to the DrumItThree module. It doesn’t quite have the physical finesse of its contemporaries, or the impressive GUI, but if you’re looking for something that offers flexibility and usability, that can grow with you and has its own unique sound, this kit is well worth checking out.