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Roland TD20KX / TD20SX

Electronic Drum Kit
By Mark Gordon

The TD20KX is Roland's flagship electronic drum kit — but how does it measure up against other big hitters?

Roland TD20KX / TD20SX

Over the years, Roland have become almost synonymous with innovative drum and percussion products, from iconic drum machines like the CR78, TR808 and TR909 through to the Octapad and SPDs. After some initially less‑than‑successful forays into the electronic drum kit market, 1997 saw the introduction of the V‑Drum system, which has since joined this band of celebrated products.

The current top‑end kit in Roland's extensive V‑Drum range is the TD20KXSX, which certainly cuts a dash with its five V‑Pads featuring interchangeable shell 'wraps', substantial new V‑Kick and new silver‑coloured V‑Cymbals and V‑Hi‑Hat. Sound generation is taken care of by the powerful TD20X module.

The Hardware

This is a six‑drum kit comprising two 10‑inch rackmounted toms, two 12‑inch rackmounted toms and a free standing 12‑inch snare and 14‑inch bass drum. Three cymbals are supplied with the kit (two 14‑inch crash and one 15‑inch ride), and a pair of 12‑inch hi‑hat cymbals completes the set.

The kit ships with the new MDS25 drum rack, a pretty substantial piece of hardware constructed from cylindrical chrome tubing and held together with brushed aluminum clamps. Five similar clamps are provided to attach the toms and cymbal arms to the rack. Those of you good at counting will have noticed that that's enough clamps for four toms and three cymbal arms. This is because either two of the cymbal arms or tom arms (depending on how you choose to set up the kit) are mounted directly into the rack legs. The tom arms themselves are, again, significant pieces of hardware and use a fairly standard ball and socket system to enable the pads to be easily positioned exactly where you want them. This works very well and gives the whole system a very solid feel — although for my money the hex‑rack system employed on the Yamaha DTX system seems more suited to a kit at this level and price point.

The wiring loom that connects the pads to the module fits neatly inside the rack and can be accessed via rubber grommets at the various points where the system connects together. Little black cable clips fitted to each tom arm and cymbal stand help keep the whole thing neat and tidy, and the silver‑coloured cables help it all blend in. This is a very elegant solution to the obvious cabling issues an electronic kit will always have over an acoustic one, although it was a bit tight getting all those cables down the rack tube!

As I mentioned earlier, the snare pad, hi‑hat and kick‑drum pad are free standing, which I personally like a lot, as it allows a great deal of freedom in setting up the kit exactly as you would an acoustic set. The only disappointment is that the TD20KXSX doesn't ship with either a snare or hi‑hat stand. I have various stands around that were perfect for the job, but in a top‑end kit I was surprised that they were not included. Roland, however, say that this is because the professional players at whom the TD20KXSX is aimed will already have their own stands and preferences for stands.

The Pads

The PD25XS snare pad features a mesh head developed in co‑operation with Remo.The PD25XS snare pad features a mesh head developed in co‑operation with Remo.

The pads included with the TD20KXSX kit are Roland's new V‑Pads, and I would say they're as close to hybrid as you'll get. They are constructed almost exactly like an acoustic drum with a very shallow shell. The head sits on the shell and is held in place by a regular rim/hoop, complete with tension lugs. The rims have a covering of black rubber to reduce the acoustic noise when you're playing rim shots.

All the pads use the Roland mesh heads that have been an integral part of their electronic drums for many years now. Developed with probably the best-known drum-head manufacturer in the world, Remo, the Roland mesh heads behave in almost exactly the same way as a regular drum head would, but produce very little acoustic noise. The multi‑layer mesh heads can be 'tuned' to give you exactly the tension you want on each drum, just as you would expect on a real acoustic kit. Of course, turning the tension lugs doesn't actually change the pitch of the drum, but I can honestly see that happening in the not too distant future! All the pads, apart from the kick, have dual‑zone triggering, so can be struck on the head or rim (or both, giving a true rim shot).

Although they're possibly not the quietest pads on the market, the mesh heads are an absolute joy to play, and being able to adjust the tension of each individual drum brings a huge degree of realism to playing the kit. Another unique feature of the pads is the ability to change the drum shells. The TD20KXSX comes with a brushed aluminium‑style shell‑wrap, but red and blue variations are also available, should you ever fancy a change!

It's worth mentioning the kick drum at this point: it has been 'upgraded' from a 12‑inch to a 14‑inch pad and certainly has some presence. It almost took two people to lift it out of its box! This weight, combined with a couple of substantial legs, means that you can really lay into this drum and it feels as solid as a regular kick.

The whole kit is certainly eye‑catching, and the new V‑Cymbals add to this with their unique silver colour. It gives them the appearance of a regular acoustic cymbal, and although this is purely visual, it's a nice touch and fits in perfectly with the look of the kit. The cymbals feature two trigger zones — the edge and the bow — and can also be 'choked' by grabbing the edge. The ride cymbal adds a third trigger zone by way of the bell.

The hi‑hat comprises two cymbals, silver again, and fits on a regular hi‑hat stand, in much the same way as its acoustic equivalent. The two cymbals are connected together by a small jack‑to‑jack cable to allow triggering information to pass between them.

Brain Work

Roland TD20KX / TD20SX

At the heart of the TD20KXSX kit is the TD20X module. Physically, it's the same as its predecessor, the TD20, but now combines the features of the original TD20 with the TDW20 expansion board, in a single unit.

The module is laid out logically, with the rear panel featuring the usual selection of jack sockets. Across the bottom of the rear panel are pad inputs for kick, snare, the four toms, cymbals and hi‑hat. Four additional 'Aux' inputs are provided to connect extra pads to the kit, and the loom thoughtfully includes four extra cables for exactly this purpose. There is an unbalanced Left /Right master output and an S/PDIF digital output, along with eight direct out sockets, labelled for kick, snare, hi‑hat and ride, with a stereo pair each for the toms and cymbals. By default, each kit's drums are pre‑assigned to these individual outputs, so it's very quick to get an individual feed from each drum to, say, a mixing desk or audio interface, in addition to the stereo mix from the master out.

A footswitch socket is provided that can be used to switch kits, or for starting and stopping the on‑board sequencer, and a Mix In jack allows you to connect a CD player or audio source to play along to. The rear panel is completed by MIDI In and Out and an IEC mains socket rather than an external PSU connection, which adds to the professional feel of the unit.

The front panel has rather a lot of knobs, faders and buttons, but they are grouped together in well‑labelled sections, making navigation pretty easy. A large LCD displays the currently selected drum kit and relevant parameters when editing, and a bright LED display to the left shows the current kit number. Five 'soft' function buttons under the LCD correspond with whatever is displayed on the LCD. An LED ladder shows the trigger level on any pad being hit, which is particularly useful when setting up some of the trigger parameters.

The eight faders have dual functionality, and are 'flipped' using the Fader button to their right. In its initial state, each fader controls the volume of individual drums — kick, snare, hats, and so on. Pressing the Fader button switches the faders to control the level of the four Aux inputs, Percussion sounds in the sequencer, the sequencer Backing and the Click. Although there's an LED at the top and bottom of the fader group to show which 'mode' you're in, I did, on occasion, find myself trying to adjust the level of a drum and realising that I was in the wrong mode and fader moves were having no effect.

To the right of the LCD are four cursor buttons for navigation around the screen. A large value wheel is provided for data entry, along with two slightly oversized '+' and '‑' buttons, which are great for pushing (gently!) with the butt end of your stick to change kits or parameter values.

The 'Drum Kit' group of buttons gives direct access to the effects and pad edit functions, while a useful large illuminated Kit button takes you back to the main screen. This allows for very quick and easy editing of the kits 'on the fly'. There are also transport buttons for controlling the internal sequencer, and a Preview button so that you can edit even without having pads connected.

All the volume controls are grouped together, with individual controls for Master output, Headphones and Mix In. The headphones socket itself is conveniently located on the front edge of the unit, alongside a Compact Flash card slot for saving and loading user memory settings.

Playing The Kit

The TD20X sound module is at the heart of the setup, and is able to mimic almost any type of kit and in any 'space' you care to place it in.The TD20X sound module is at the heart of the setup, and is able to mimic almost any type of kit and in any 'space' you care to place it in.

At the risk of spoiling the anticipation and getting to the point too early, I have to say that the TD20KXSX is stunning to play. The combination of the drum‑like feel of the mesh pads and the realism of the preset kits is fantastic, so much so that after a while it's easy to believe you're playing a well‑miked acoustic kit rather than a set of electronic pads.

The preset kits cover a huge spectrum of drum types and styles, and almost without exception sound fantastic. The first kit you're presented with when turning on the TD20X is the TD20X kit. According to the manual, this kit 'Allows you to explore the expressive capabilities of the V‑Drums'... and it's not wrong. The dynamics achievable are amazing, with even the quietest grace note being accurately reproduced. As you hit the snare drum harder, the sound opens out, with a beautiful ringing overtone. Striking the rim and the head together produces a great rimshot, which changes depending on exactly where you strike the head. The sound of the snare even changes as you move from the centre to the edge of the head. You can also play cross‑stick parts, and even play with brushes.

The toms and kick drum are equally impressive, springing to life when you hit them, and sounding very natural. Tapping the rims of the toms gives a highly realistic sound, and as you tap harder, the drum begins to 'resonate'.

Acoustic cymbals and hi‑hat are always going to be tough to replicate electronically, but the TD20KXSX does a very creditable job, particularly with the hi‑hat. A lot of playing is done on the hi‑hat of a kit, and much of that is repeated hits, so a poor hi‑hat is going to stand out a mile, but the TD20KXSX doesn't fall short. Closed hi‑hat, edge accents and loose, half‑open sounds are all reproduced faithfully, with the sound changing in a completely smooth way from closed to fully open as you move the pedal. Even the pressure of the two cymbals closing tighter will provide slight changes in the nuance of the sound, just as with an acoustic hi‑hat. Moving gradually between the bell of the ride cymbal and the edge produces an equally impressive result and, again, the dynamics are reproduced perfectly. The crash cymbals, although only dual‑zone, do a great job, to the point where even a splashy cymbal roll can be performed pretty convincingly.

This outstanding playability and realism is duplicated across all the preset kits, with plenty of acoustic examples from the swing and jazz kits of the '40s and '50s, through to '90s stadium rock and, it seems, everything in between. Roland have also plundered their own drum archives, in the form of TR808 and 909 kits. Some of the TD20X's impressive 'box of tricks' manifest themselves in the form of melodies and loops that play when you strike a pad, and toms that change pitch when you open and close the hi‑hat, along with a host of processed sounds and special effects. The 100 preset kits would potentially be enough for anyone, but that's actually just scratching the surface of what the TD20X brain can do.

Under The TD20X Hood

The rear of the TD20X is where we find connections for all the trigger inputs and audio outputs, as well as MIDI I/O and a socket for the internal PSU.The rear of the TD20X is where we find connections for all the trigger inputs and audio outputs, as well as MIDI I/O and a socket for the internal PSU.

The TD20X is based around Roland's CMOS Variable Drum Modeling Technology and features 920 different instruments and sounds, all of which can be edited in the most exhaustive way.

Selecting a kit and pressing the 'Inst' button takes you into a world of shell materials, head types and damping options that would make any tech‑head drummer drool. Here you can edit existing kits or construct from scratch almost any kit you can dream up. It's like someone's given you the keys to the drum factory!

As you hit a pad, an image of the virtual drum (or cymbal) appears on the LCD. You can either scroll through the 920 preset instruments and assign one to the pad or press the Edit soft key and start to manipulate the drum itself. Snare‑drum materials vary from wood through brass and steel, and you can change drum depth from one inch to an outrageous 20 inches. Toms vary from shallow to deep, as does the kick drum, and you can even choose clear, coated or pinstripe heads. Muffling is in the form of virtual gaffer tape, 'doughnuts' or even a blanket in the kick, all with graphic representations on screen (when you tune a drum, a little drum key turns!). The cymbals have similar editing flexibility. I had great fun creating a 40‑inch ride cymbal complete with sizzle rivets! As if that's not enough, you can even vary the mic position for each drum and cymbal. There are some nice touches that add to the realism of the acoustic kits, such as the ability to make the snare drum 'buzz' when other drums are hit and the toms resonate when the kick drum is hit hard.

You can assign any voice to any of the trigger zones in a pad or cymbal, and in addition to simple voices, it's also possible to assign an internal sequence to any of the pads. These can then be triggered by hitting the pad, which really does open up some possibilities.

A comprehensive palette of effects includes compression and EQ, which are available for each individual pad, while Ambience and Multi Effects are applied to the kit as a whole. An additional Master Compressor and EQ can also be applied to the final output stage of any kit. The compressor, EQ and multi effects are much as you might expect from Roland, with the usual selection of high‑quality modulation effects, delays and distortions, while the Ambience settings allow you to edit room type, size, and shape, together with wall material and mic position. Hitting the Mixer button brings up a great little virtual mixer that uses the faders and makes it very simple to adjust the send level of each drum to both Ambience and Multi Effects.

The only criticism I have is that there doesn't appear to be an edit buffer. While running through some of the editing parameters, I happily made random edits to the preset kits, not realising that I was permanently changing them, without being asked if I wanted to 'Save' or 'Make changes'. The simple answer is just to copy preset kits to user locations before you start to edit them.

Conclusion

Roland's V‑Drums have pretty much become an industry standard, and having lived with the TD20KXSX for a couple of weeks, I can easily see why. It's the closest thing I've experienced to playing an acoustic kit, and wouldn't be out of place in almost any type of session. The list of well‑respected drummers using the TD20KXSX in the studio and live includes artists such as Karl Brazil, Omar Hakim and Steve White, which underlines what a truly professional piece of equipment it is.

This is, of course, the absolute top of the range V‑drum kit from Roland, and the price tag does reflect that. At £5999$6999, it does appear expensive, but as I have said before, a good acoustic kit with a set of cymbals, hardware and microphones isn't going to give you much change from sixseven grand either. In fact, once you introduce a few additional kick drums, snare drums, and acoustic and electronic percussion for the more specific requirements you may have, it would be easy to far exceed this amount. (There are alternative kits from Roland and Yamaha that will set you back slightly less and may be more suited to your requirements; see the 'Alternatives' box.)

Factor in the ability to create almost any kit you can dream up and place it in almost any acoustic space and suddenly I can feel myself wanting to reach for the phone to call the bank for a loan. (This reviewer and Sound On Sound magazine do not in any way endorse over‑reaching yourself financially in order to obtain any piece of equipment, regardless of how much you really, really want it!)  

Alternatives

As an alternative to the TD20KXSX, you could consider the Roland TD20KS or TD12KX, or the Yamaha DTX950K. The TD20KS is almost identical to the TD20KXSX and would suit all but the most demanding of players. It uses a slightly different rack system and includes the smaller 12‑inch kick drum pad, while the brain module is the unexpanded TD20 (without the additional features of the TDW20 expansion board), so some of the editing features and kits available on the TD20KXSX are missing. Although the pads and cymbals are the same size and work in the same way, you don't have the luxury of silver cymbals or the option to change the drum shells. The TD12KX offers a significant saving but does use a different brain module, the TD12, and smaller, lighter pads.

Yamaha's offering is their flagship DTX950K, which pitches in at a similar price. This is a fantastic‑sounding kit, and although it doesn't offer quite the same level of drum editing as the Roland kit, it does include a number of unique features. The DTX900 module is the only sampling drum module on the market, so for playing the drum sounds from your album live, it's the perfect tool. In the studio, the DTX950K also boasts tight integration with Cubase, giving the ability to control many of the sequencer's parameters directly from the kit.

The Sequencer

The brain's on‑board sequencer provides 150 preset and 100 user patterns and is organised into six 'parts': Drum Kit Part, Melody Part, Bass Part, Backing 1 and Backing 2 parts, and a Percussion part. Preset patterns are provided, which can't be recorded into and are simply there as demonstrations of what the TD20X is capable of. Alternatively, they could be used as play‑along practice tools. When playing back the preset sequences, you can easily mute any of the parts, using the soft function keys, and adjust the level of the backing, percussion parts and individual drums, using the faders. Enabling the click or the visual blinking tempo button and muting the drum tracks makes it the perfect practice partner.

A total of 62 backing instruments are available if you want to create your own backing tracks, although you need to connect a MIDI keyboard to the TD20X to do this. They cover a wide range of sounds and are fine for creating practice patterns, loops and melodic sequences. A limited number of edit functions are available, but if you were looking to do anything other than a relatively simple sequence, I imagine you'd be employing a computer and DAW.

Outside The Box

As a stand‑alone system, the TD20KXSX is a truly awesome piece of hardware, and its internal sequencing capabilities open up many interesting possibilities. Typically, though, most people will be using the TD20KXSX along with some kind of DAW. In my case, that's Logic on a Mac.

Unlike the Yamaha DTX900 brain module, the TD20X doesn't have a USB connection or direct communication with the computer or sequencing software, it simply connects via standard MIDI In and Out sockets. As the pads are triggering the sounds locally, you need to ensure that MIDI Local is turned off in the unit. This means that the sounds in the TD20X are only triggered via MIDI and not directly via the pads as well, which would result in a double trigger. The drum voices in the TD20X are accessed via MIDI channel 10, with the additional internal GM voices accessed via channels one to four (for creating backing parts in the internal sequencer). Recording into Logic is simple, with each pad's dual trigger zones of head and rim having their own note number. With more complex triggers, such as the hi‑hat, a MIDI Controller number and value are also transmitted. Of course, the degree to which you can edit a MIDI part surpasses conventional audio editing, and once the drum part has been edited, you can record the drum voices as audio via the separate outputs of the TD20X.

The drum sounds in the TD20X are some of the best I have heard, and their comprehensive editing capabilities somewhat negate the need for programs such as BFD. Having said that, such programs do offer an extra dimension, with the option to load your own custom kits. BFD includes a number of keymaps for different input devices, and the TD20 is included in the preset list, which means that all the pad trigger zones are mapped perfectly to the BFD kits. All the subtle variations in the hi‑hat are replicated by the BFD kits, along with rim shots and cymbal dynamics. The TD20KXSX along with BFD and Logic would certainly cover all the bases when it came to creating drum tracks.

Pros

  • Plays and looks like a real kit.
  • Fantastic sounds.
  • Awesome editing capabilities.
  • I want one!

Cons

  • Copy kits before you edit them, as all changes are final!
  • No hi‑hat and snare stand included.

Summary

The TD20KXSX really does blur the boundaries between acoustic and electronic drums. It plays beautifully, sounds amazing and offers a level of editing that would satisfy even the most demanding drummer or recording engineer.

information

£5999 including VAT.

Roland UK +44 (0)1792 702701.

www.roland.co.uk

$6999.

Roland US +1 323 890 3700.

www.rolandus.com

Published November 2010