Is Roland’s new flagship TD‑50KV2 the best electronic drum kit you can buy?
Roland have certainly been busy these last few months with what seems like a continuous stream of new electronic drum kits, featuring a variety of innovative technologies. The latest addition to the range is the very impressive TD‑50KV2, the new flagship in their electronic drum range.
Weighing in at a hefty £6700$7750, the TD‑50KV2 brings together Roland’s existing digital products (the PD‑140DS digital snare and CY‑18DR digital ride) and combines them with a brand‑new digital hi‑hat, all‑new rack system and upgraded version of the top‑of‑the‑range TD‑50 module. Does electronic drumming get any better than this? Let’s dive in and find out...
The kit comprises two 10‑inch PD‑108 BC rack toms, two 12‑inch PD‑128 BC floor toms, the KD‑180 bass drum and the PD‑140DS digital snare. Cymbals are provided in the form of two 16‑inch CY‑16R‑T thin crash cymbals, the 18‑inch CY‑18DR digital ride and the brand‑new VH‑14D digital hi‑hat. Pads and cymbals are mounted on the new MDS‑STG2 system, which is an absolute beast of a rack that includes a range of heavyweight chrome clamps, tom arms and cymbal stands, plus an internal wiring system for the loom. The final piece of the jigsaw is the TD‑50x module, an upgraded version of the highly regarded TD‑50 that has been at the heart of Roland’s flagship kit for the last five years and now includes a host of new functions and features.
The TD‑50KV2 is almost a Frankenstein kit, all its parts except for the new VH‑14D digital hi‑hats and MDS‑STG2 rack already being included in kits within the current Roland range. The PD‑108 and PD‑128 tom pads have been around since 2012 and are currently part of the TD‑30KV kit but are still great‑looking, top‑of‑the‑range pads that include a new rim sensor to accurately detect the depth of rim shots. All four tom pads sport two‑ply mesh heads that can be fully tensioned via the usual six tension lugs and come with a very cool black‑chrome wrap.
The KD‑180 18‑inch kick drum was released in 2018 and is the smallest of the ‘full size’ bass drums Roland offer. It features a standard all‑birch acoustic drum shell with what is essentially the trigger part of a Roland KD10 drum pad mounted in the centre of the batter head and is also finished in the same matching black‑chrome wrap as the toms. The CY‑16RT crash cymbals are part of the new thin range (denoted by the T) and feature dual triggering via the bow or edge, as well as edge sensors, enabling the cymbal to choke when grabbed. They are 40‑percent thinner than previous models, which enables them to flex more and gives them a more natural feel when struck.
With all the analogue pads covered, we can move on to the digital elements of the kit. The PD‑140DS digital snare and CY‑18DR digital ride are included in the VAD506 kit I recently reviewed in SOS November 2020 and have also been part of the existing TD‑50 kit range, but their innovative and ground‑breaking features certainly qualify them for another mention.
Dispensing with the standard quarter‑inch jack connectors, the digital pads connect to the control module via USB cables, which not only power the on‑board processing of each pad but also enable them to transmit far more information about when, where, and how hard they have been hit.
The PD‑140DS snare looks, to all intents and purposes, like a standard 14‑inch metal snare. Its tubular lugs and polished chrome finish wouldn’t look out of place on a high‑end acoustic kit. It’s also incredibly heavy! Under the three‑ply mesh head are four cone triggers that supply the module not only with data on how hard the drum is being hit, but also with positional information. This allows the drum to respond more like an acoustic snare, and to vary the sound depending on where the drum is struck.
Also impressive, and very usable, is the PD‑140’s method for dealing with cross sticks — a sound achieved by placing your hand on the drum head and hitting only the rim with the stick, producing that classic ‘click’. On an acoustic drum, this happens naturally, but on a drum that is triggering samples it’s not quite so simple. Similarly to the way your finger works on a touchscreen, the head of the PD‑140S responds to the static electricity in your hand when it’s placed on the head of the drum, instantaneously switching the rim sound to a cross‑stick sample. This really is a revelation for an electronic drum. Previously, the options were limited to selecting a dedicated cross‑stick preset (forfeiting a rim‑shot option), pressing a modifying button or playing a dedicated part of the rim.
In theory, it’s also possible to use brushes by selecting the appropriate option in the TD‑50x module. I found that brushes worked well for striking the drum, but the ‘stirring’ techniques associated with more jazzy styles weren’t interpreted as well. There may be something I’m missing, but this was also something I noted using the PD‑140DS with the TD‑27 module. I added the caveat, in my review, that if you primarily play in that style I’m not sure you’d be choosing an electronic kit, but I had hoped a top‑of‑the‑range snare/control module combination like the PD‑140DS and TD‑50x, with all its digital functionality, would be a little more impressive in this department.
At 18 inches across, the CY‑18DR isn’t far off the size of a typical acoustic ride cymbal, which really enhances the playing experience. Being digital, the cymbal incorporates multiple sensors, including three bow sensors, a bell sensor, an edge sensor and a touch sensor. The three bow sensors allow for a degree of positional sensitivity that means you can play across the cymbal, from bell to edge, and the sound will change in tone and pitch accordingly. The sensor in the bell is able to differentiate between the tip of the stick and the shoulder, which means that you can employ the same playing techniques you would with an acoustic ride cymbal. In addition to the choking feature found on the two crash cymbals, the CY‑18DR enables the same trick the PD‑140S snare is capable of, allowing you to deaden the cymbal by simply placing your hand, or even a finger, on its surface. You can also use this feature to ‘play’ a deadened cymbal sound, allowing for yet more acoustic techniques to be incorporated into your playing.
The new kid on the digital block is the VH‑14D digital hi‑hat. Utilising a two‑pad design to mimic the top and bottom cymbals of an acoustic hi‑hat, the 14‑inch pads fit on a regular hi‑hat stand (not provided as part of the kit) and function exactly like their acoustic counterparts. Made of thin rubber and almost 2 inches larger than the analogue VH‑13 hats, the VH‑14D feels very natural to play. Similar to the CY‑18DR ride, the VH‑14D includes multiple bow and edge sensors in the top cymbal, to accurately reflect where the pad is struck. There is no dedicated bell sensor but the bow sensors allow for the sound to change as you play across the cymbal, with the bell area offering a darker tone. The additional information available in a digital unit allows for greater resolution in terms of the open and closed position of the hi‑hat and vertical motion of the cymbals when using the hi‑hat pedal. This makes the hi‑hat incredibly articulate to play and extremely sensitive to any foot ‘splashes’ from the pedal. As you squeeze the hats tightly closed, the pitch of the cymbals increases, exactly as you would expect from an acoustic hi‑hat. The muting facility featured on the CY‑18DR by placing your hand on the surface of the cymbal is also offered by the VH‑14D, and can be used to great effect to recreate jazz hi‑hat playing techniques. The size of the hi‑hat and its jaw‑dropping realism make this probably the closest thing to playing an acoustic hi‑hat you could imagine.
With everything set up, we can move on to what is the meat in the drum sandwich — the TD‑50x control module. The TD‑50 has been Roland’s top‑of‑the‑range module for some time now and the new TD‑50x looks remarkably similar. In fact, it looks identical... and that’s because physically they are the same module. All the new stuff is hidden inside, which happily means that existing TD‑50 owners can upgrade to the TD‑50x feature set for $199 through Roland Cloud Manager, the software‑based interface for Roland Cloud content.
In stark contrast to the minimalist look of the TD‑27 module included with Roland’s most recent VAD506 offering, the TD‑50x isn’t short of knobs, buttons and sockets, which gives it an almost retro look. Having dedicated buttons for most of the functions does cut out a lot of menu scrolling, which is great for quick access in, for example, a live situation.
The large LCD display is surrounded by five familiar ‘soft’ buttons whose function is dependent on what is displayed on screen. The five buttons are augmented by three illuminated rotary knobs below the LCD for changing values in the lower part of the display. Along with the page up and down buttons, the four‑way cursor buttons and large data‑entry knob are also used to navigate the display and change parameters. Two large +/‑ buttons can be used to increment through the preset kits or for data entry, and a fully velocity‑sensitive Preview button auditions sounds. This can be used in conjunction with the Lock, Rim and Pad Select buttons to easily configure kits and edit instruments directly from the module, with no pads attached.
Below the display are eight faders dedicated to kick, snare, toms, hi‑hat, crash, ride and percussion (Aux) instrument levels, plus the overall ambience level. To the right of the display, Instrument, Ambience and Mixer buttons take you straight to their respective screens. There are also individual buttons to access the SD card, Trigger settings and Set Up pages. Should you get lost in a menu somewhere, a large white Kit button takes you back to the main kit screen and illuminates to confirm its status. Finally, there are individual controls for master output levels and phones, along with separate volume knobs to control the Click level, Song playback and level of external devices connected to the Mix inputs.
The rear of the module is almost overflowing with sockets. Fourteen trigger input jacks are provided for analogue pads and cymbals, and are augmented by three USB sockets for connection to the digital snare, ride and hi‑hats. There are enough analogue trigger inputs to accommodate several additional pads and triggers if required — over and above those provided in the standard TD‑50KV2 kit. As this is very much a professional device, the stereo Master output is provided in the form of balanced XLR and unbalanced quarter‑inch jack sockets. A further eight balanced jacks add dedicated outputs for routing discrete instrument signals to an external mixer, typically a front‑of‑house desk in a live setup. A quarter‑inch jack Mix In socket can be used to bring in external sound sources such as an in‑ear monitor feed or output from another module. This is mirrored by a 3.5mm mini‑jack socket on the front of the unit that is suitable for MP3 players. The input level from both sockets is controlled by the Mix knob on the front panel.
The TD‑50x features two headphone sockets (quarter‑inch jack and 3.5mm mini‑jack), MIDI In and Out sockets, and a USB port for connection directly to a Mac or PC. Next to the USB socket is an SD card slot for importing user samples into the TD‑50x, and for saving kits and exporting song data created using the internal recording feature. I’ve yet to work out Roland’s logic on whether they choose SD card support or USB thumb drive support on their various modules — there seems to be a fairly random mix of the two across the range of available electronic drum products.