Can Roland’s latest V‑Drum kit recreate the feeling of playing real drums?
Roland’s electronic drum kits ‑ or V‑Drums, to give them their correct title — have been at the forefront of electronic percussion since the 1990s. Theirs is probably the name most musicians think of when they are asked to name an electronic kit. By the same token, when asked to describe an electronic kit I’m sure many imagine the classic configuration of a set of slim pads with rubber or mesh heads hanging from a chrome rack system and connected to a ‘brain’ by a loom of wires. And that’s pretty much the way it’s been for those last 25 or so years. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, in the case of the majority of today’s electronic kits, if you shut your eyes it’s more than possible to imagine you are playing an acoustic kit. But open your eyes and that’s where the illusion ends. As Little Britain’s stage hypnotist Kenny Craig puts it... 3, 2, 1, and you’re back in the room.
This isn’t too much of an issue if you are using the kit for practice or as a studio tool, but for live work ideally you want something that looks the part. Even in the studio, the ‘vibe’ you get from sitting behind a full drum kit can lift your performance.
Step forward the Roland VAD506. VAD stands for V‑Drum Acoustic Design and the 506 (along with its smaller counterpart, the VAD503) is exactly that — V‑Drums that are designed to look like a full acoustic kit, and a very nice acoustic kit into the bargain.
The VAD506 ships as a five‑drum kit featuring a 20‑inch kick drum; 10‑inch and 12‑inch rack toms; a 14‑inch floor tom; and the PD140DS 14‑inch digital snare. The cymbals comprise 14‑inch and 16‑inch crashes; the misleadingly named VH10 12‑inch hi‑hat; and the impressive 18‑inch CY18DR digital ride cymbal. Sound comes courtesy of the all‑new TD‑27 module. This kit is very much about looks and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. The black sparkle wrap is very classy, and the lugs and hardware used on the drums are both beautifully designed and functional.
The kick and tom shells are constructed from poplar. Perhaps not as revered as birch and maple for its tonal qualities, it is still (no pun intended) a very popular wood for the construction of acoustic kits. In the case of the VAD506, the drums use a thick two‑ply shell to achieve the opposite of what is required by an acoustic kit: tone and resonance. If you are trying to accurately trigger electronic sounds, the last thing you want is additional resonance and vibration from the shell causing mis‑triggering. Staying with triggering, the 10‑inch tom features a single trigger cone offset toward the edge of the drum and another for the rim trigger, while the 12‑inch rack and 14‑inch floor tom use three cone triggers per drum (plus the rim trigger), to ensure that there are no ‘hot spots’ where samples may trigger more loudly or quietly on these slightly larger drums.
The KD200 MS bass drum is a slightly different design compared to the other drums, but is in keeping with the existing ‘full size’ electronic kick drums in the Roland range, the KD180 and KD220. The KD200 is a 20‑inch design with what is essentially the trigger part of a Roland KD10 drum pad mounted in the centre of the batter head. The drum also includes ‘air vented mechanics’ that precisely vent the air pressure inside the drum every time the beater strikes it, to further enhance the realistic feel. Like the toms, I can’t fault the feel or the triggering of this kick. It feels very natural as the beater strikes the head, with just the right amount of give. The kick drum is often the downfall of many electronic kits, as it takes quite a beating, and the usual minimalist designs have a habit of not staying in place. The size, weight and substantial chrome spurs on the KD200 help to make this drum feel exceptionally solid.
In keeping with the acoustic look of the VAD506, the kit ships with three heavy‑duty, double‑braced boom stands and two tom mounts for the rack toms. This is a pleasant change from the usual chrome or black rack systems, whose construction is often akin to building an Ikea scaffold. As seems to be the case with the higher‑end kits I’ve reviewed, a snare and hi‑hat stand are not included. I can...