Yamaha's DTX Multi 12 squeezes an entire electronic drum kit into a single box.
With long experience in designing electronic drum kits, Yamaha are ideally placed to take on the world of the portable kit. On paper, at least, the DTX Multi 12 has plenty to offer. Its 12 rubber pads are suited to either stick or hand performance (or a mixture of both) and including over a thousand drum and percussion voices, plus a selection of keyboard sounds, this electronic drum pad can push the boundaries. The inclusion of 64MB of Flash ROM offers the prospect of housing your favourite percussion voices and sound effects in one sturdy package, and with a built‑in sequencer and effects, plus a high degree of customisability, the DTX Multi 12 clearly hopes to attract the big hitters.
Weighing in at just over 3kg and designed to be played on your lap, tabletop or a stand, the DTX Multi 12 (which I'll refer to simply as the DTX from now on) is solidly impressive. No space is wasted by framing the pads, and the six largest are about 11cm square, which is a decent, smackable size. When handling the DTX, one word you can't avoid is 'chunky'. It can be applied liberally to the solid plastic torso, the poundable rubber pads, and even the two large Inc/Dec buttons. The pads are divided into three regions: upper, middle and lower. The six slender pads run along the top and bottom while the larger pads occupy the middle ground, in a stylish split-level arrangement. The whole thing looks and feels great.
Beneath the pads is a fairly minimal control panel with rubber buttons, a main volume knob and a titchy 2x16 display. Adjacent to the controls is the 'Pad Indicator' — a mini representation of pad activity using red LEDs. This is no mere gimmick because many of the preset kits feature loops, loops that run until the triggering pad is hit a second time. In such cases, those tiny red specks of light prove invaluable for identifying the pad responsible. Just one LED reflects the summed activity of any external pads, footswitches or other control pedals.
With the control panel positioned where it is, whacking the controls by accident is pretty much unavoidable, especially when playing by hand. Any Eno‑esque serendipity experienced by accidentally starting the sequencer or metronome soon became tiresome, I discovered. Happily, there is a solution: a handy key combination of Shift and Enter locks out the panel.
The DTX's audio output is stereo only: there are no individual outputs, possibly because the rear panel is already rammed. No less than five extra pads can be connected, two via stereo jacks to make better use of the space. You can also connect either of Yamaha's hi‑hat pedals (the HH65 or the RHH135) and a standard footswitch, or even a volume pedal. With this level of connectivity, the DTX could easily become the centre of a rats' nest of trailing pedals, but if you need a kit that fits neatly into a rucksack, a kick and hi‑hat pedal are a good start. Rucksackers hoping for true portability will be disappointed that there's no battery option, though: power is via a 12V external adaptor.
A stereo audio input is also present, complete with gain control. External signals can optionally be fed to the headphones and main output, or to the phones only, and the headphone socket even sports a dedicated level control. The rear panel is completed by MIDI In and Out sockets.
Of course, these days we're not going to be satisfied without another addition: USB. Here the DTX delivers doubly, as a glance at the recessed side panel shows. Not only do you get bi‑directional USB MIDI communication with your PC or Mac (having first grabbed the driver from Yamaha's web site), but there's a second USB socket for memory sticks, hard drives and so on. We'll look at the joys of USB a little later. First, let's make some noise...
Throbbing with 64 notes of polyphony, the DTX aims to outgun the tone generators of any and all rivals. There are 50 preset drum kits and room for a further 200 of your own. Exploring the presets revealed some fairly irritating elements, in the form of loops, bass lines, instrumental showboating and miscellaneous guff of limited value outside the store. The kits encompass a wide range of styles from exotic locations such as Cuba, Brazil, Africa, India and Japan, plus orchestral percussion, tubular bells, marimbas and so on. The standard is high throughout, although I was surprised there wasn't a larger selection of straight or even dance kits. I'm sure a wider cross‑section of percussionists would be won over by the gift of more bread‑and‑butter kits ready to go.
Some kits feature a small hand icon, indicating that this is how they should be played. The six smaller pads are curved and can be struck with either the fingers, the shoulder of a drum stick or the palm of the hand. I initially found the hand response a little lacking compared to, say, Roland's Handsonic — especially when trying to articulate the lower row with palm or fingers. To personalise the response, up to 10 user trigger selections can be defined, with several sensitivities available for both stick and hand performance. The most sensitive hand setting suited my out‑of‑practice fingers best and I even employed some hand sensitivity for light stick playing. The rubber pads do absorb a certain amount of stick energy but it's on a par with other pads of this type, and doesn't take long to adapt to. To further aid playability, each pad has a unique velocity curve governing how your hits affect signal level.
Being able to personalise triggering in this way makes a big difference to playability. The split-level design is also a plus, especially with sticks. In many kits, the snare drum is paired with a rimshot on the smaller pad below, and using the head and shoulder of the stick to play them quickly felt natural. There is some crosstalk between pads, but Yamaha thoughtfully provide software tailoring for this, either at a global level or between individual pads. The pads also generate polyphonic aftertouch, a feature demonstrated in some of the presets. For example, in the timpani kit, pushing one pad with your hand changes the sound of another struck with a stick — an effect much like tightening the skin. Using pressure sensitivity for muting is especially useful for hand drums; you can shorten hits or dampen pads that are already sounding. However, unlike Roland's Handsonic, the pads aren't used to bend pitch. Thus in the otherwise excellent tabla kit, the pitch 'woop' is part of the sample and soon starts to sound artificial and grating.
There are over 1200 16‑bit samples in the 100MB of wave ROM, some sourced from Yamaha's Motif workstations. Percussion voices are organised into 18 categories, such as Kick, Hi‑hat, Sound Effects and even General MIDI. So if you want to set up a kit to play a trumpet solo, you can do it. The samples are clear, crisp and varied and even if I didn't find many of the kicks and snares to my taste, the generous selection of hand percussion samples more than made up for it. With so much source material to plunder, all ripe for a little tweaking or transposition, you shouldn't get bored in a hurry. However, there is a final voice category, User Waves, the panacea to satisfy all tastes (more later on importing them).
It quickly became obvious to me that this pint‑sized black drum kit is actually a detailed and complex instrument. Each pad triggers up to four layers (A-D) and each layer boasts a unique waveform, a basic envelope and even a modelled resonant filter. The DTX rabbit-hole goes deeper still: each layer has the transpose, level and pan parameters you'd expect plus individual send amounts for the reverb, chorus and variation effects. Layers can be stacked such that all voices sound simultaneously (so you can play chords), or successive strikes can trigger voices on a round-robin basis. We're talking serious gratification potential for chromatic playing!
Each layer responds to its own velocity window. The pads already offer a wide dynamic range but when you incorporate velocity switching of waveforms, effects and tuning, you gain unprecedented expressive control. Ordinarily, the pads trigger layers via MIDI notes but for the more experimentally‑minded, they can kick off alternative events instead, such as start or stop commands, MIDI continuous controllers and program changes. These MIDI events can be fired at the internal sound engine or at an external sequencer or module. To audition an example of this funky triggering, select kit P017, EleTomSet. In this kit, pads 1 and 2 manipulate the effect levels, the first introducing a lush phaser, the second a metallic chorus.
The last thing I'll say about the pads is that they can trigger voices in either monophonic or polyphonic modes. Suppose you've imported a sampled loop; it can be very impressive to kick off multiple instances of it polyphonically. Alternatively, if you don't time your hits too accurately, it can be crazy and chaotic.
Yamaha have occasionally been accused of producing convoluted, non‑intuitive interfaces. The DTX's menu system, while it has as many shortcuts as are practical, isn't blameless in this respect. The extensive menu system is navigated using arrow keys and other buttons, but there are simply too many pages for an interface this small. Numerous copy operations speed up kit and pad creation, but it's always laborious, and I felt an external editor was definitely needed.
Importing samples is as simple as putting your 16‑bit WAV (or AIFF) files into the root directory of a USB memory stick (or hard drive) then using the 'import all' option. USB transmission speed wasn't lightning fast but it worked reliably enough. And since root directories have a limit of 256 items you can't import everything in one go, but that's no great hardship, either.
Populated with original samples, the DTX began to acquire a fab new personality (and some zappy kicks and snares). Although I mentioned that building kits from scratch is a drag (especially when you use all four velocity layers of every pad), the results are worth it. You can load either 500 user waves or 64MB's worth — whichever limit is reached first. No stereo wave can be bigger than 4MB and mono waves are restricted to half that. Otherwise, the sky's the limit.
The second USB port — the USB to host connection — lets you use the DTX as a MIDI interface. PC and Mac owners can happily whack in their percussion parts in a far more natural way than via a keyboard. The USB interface is also your means of playing recordings back to the DTX's tone generator.
It seems to be an unwritten rule that if a set of drum pads are fitted with a sequencer, then that sequencer has to suck. Yamaha have embraced this rule like they're hoping for a partnership deal with Dyson. Not only must you stop playback to record a new pattern, but the default recording mode is 'one shot', which plays through its designated number of bars (from one to 999) then stops, warning you not to turn off while it stores your recording. This can be remedied by switching to 'loop', but I'd argue strongly that 'loop' should be the default behaviour.
Recordings are made in real time at a resolution of 480 pulses per quarter note. You can activate quantise prior to recording, or you can apply it afterwards. But be warned: the quantise process is destructive. And there's no undo. Nor can you delete an individual instrument or note when you've made a mistake.
Up to 50 user patterns may be stored internally (with more on a USB stick), which is probably enough for most gigs. There are 128 preset patterns, too, in a variety of styles. Many of these are rather busy and seem more about showing off the capabilities of the machine than providing useable grooves to play along with.
This is a sequencer with the absolute minimum of transport controls, but given that so much available panel space is (rightly) taken up by drum pads, it's understandable. Start and Stop share a key, and Record is accessed via Shift and Play. There's a dedicated tempo button to awaken the metronome click at any time. Tap tempo is provided, too — and, in fact, there's a bewildering number of options related to the metronome. These include the selection of internal tones to be used, the metronome's main volume, the individual volumes of beats within a bar, and the metronome audio routing: whether to the headphones only, or to phones and master output in parallel. You can optionally have a metronome that consists of triggered MIDI notes and, naturally, there's a menu for which ones. Now this is all very well, but personally I wondered if it's because Yamaha became so fascinated by the metronome that they totally forgot to include several more useful functions.
Despite its capacity of 152,000 notes, it's been a while since I found a sequencer less inspiring than this one. Still, it is at least an onboard means of creating patterns that you can assign to be triggered by pads. This is a particularly worthy feature for those of us who like to store a few one‑shot, super‑slick patterns to pull out of the hat when needed. The sequencer can import Standard MIDI Files (type 0), which proved to be my preferred way of populating the user patterns.
The DTX is packed with a huge array of percussive choices. Its pad layout works equally well for hand or stick performance and the 64MB of non‑volatile user memory is ready to be filled with any samples you care to import. If 64MB seems a paltry amount when compared to the MP3 player built into your phone, in terms of hi‑tech musical instruments, Flash ROM still occupies the land of MB, not GB. I was initially sceptical about the inclusion of so many non‑percussion samples, but did eventually come to appreciate them as features in my own kits.
Yamaha probably spent about as much time on the pattern sequencer as they did thinking up a snappy model name. Still, any sequencer is better than nothing. If you have a PC or Mac, you can always turn to Cubase AI, which is included in the deal. Bang away happily into that, then export the results to the DTX afterwards. Even drummers with no interest in sequencing might find value in kicking off complete, prepared performances. Whoever said MIDI was cheating had a good point — but cheating has its own thrills!
It seems that the factory kits are intended to demonstrate what's possible rather than to be instantly playable. They do offer the chance to imagine playing along to your own bass lines or loops, though, and are viable starting points for original kits. It's just a shame it's not easier to create kits from scratch. In that respect, a free editor would make such a difference; were one to appear (and handle sample import too), the DTX would surely command wider attention. Currently, its interface discourages exactly the kind of experimentation and deep programming that is most needed to exploit the power beneath that bijou display.
Yamaha definitely went to town when it came to layering and triggering. I admit to being seduced by the pleasures of four-note chord layers, especially when triggered round-robin stylee. Multiply this by a fun factor of 12 (that's before you purchase any external pads or pedals) and you appreciate how indulgent this can be. The principle works equally well for the selection of subtly different percussion waves on each hit, too. What percentage of percussionists will relish such complexity, I can't forecast, but the complexity, combined with a lack of many standard kits, could potentially put off those who just want to switch on and play. This would be a real shame, because, despite being fairly expensive, the DTX Multi 12 deserves to be a hit.
The main alternatives to the DTX probably come from Roland, who generally take a simpler (and cheaper) approach. The SPDS has been around for a while, but can still impress, thanks to its onboard sampling. Its limited onboard memory can be boosted considerably by adding a 512MB Compact Flash card, but the DTX still outperforms it in most areas, not least in the sheer detail that can go into a kit. Roland's more recent SPD30 dropped user sampling and sample import, but has eight large pads and a nice display. There are other alternatives, too, such as the much cheaper Alesis Performance Pad and, if you can find one, the Kat DrumKat, but none are anywhere near as ambitious as the DTX Multi 12.
Any kit has access to three simultaneous effects: reverb, chorus and 'variation'. The last includes delays, flangers, phasers, amp simulators, compressors, and more. Alas, the menu system is at its most labyrinthine here, but if you patiently stick with it, the rewards are many. I thought the reverbs were rather good and the chorus very good. By adding effects such as tempo-sync'ed delays or velocity‑responsive effects like 'TouchWah' to your kits, you can instantly make them sound more lush and 'produced'.
Given that you can load so many user waves, some already processed, the onboard effects should placate those who pined for individual audio outputs. Since a pad's layers have send levels for each effect, you can program specific variations to be introduced merely by striking harder. Yamaha's final gift is a five‑band master EQ, for that last splash of tonal tweaking.
The DTX is shipped with a free version of Cubase AI 5. This is a pretty well-specified MIDI and audio workstation — and, to this Logic user pining for a decent drum editor (and scale transposition), any version of Cubase is a lovely thing to have. Its inclusion shouldn't be a major surprise, because Yamaha bought Steinberg in 2005 but they have taken some steps towards integration, building in a Cubase Remote Control facility. I'm not sure how many people will bother using their drum pads to rewind Cubase or to set its metronome on or off, but I'm sure someone will find a use for it. Also on the DVD is additional Yamaha content (mostly drum loops), but there's no software editor.
- Twelve pads on a compact, chunky body.
- Deep programming and customisation.
- 100MB of ROM waves plus 64MB of user samples.
- Cubase AI 5 included.
- Not enough instantly useable standard kits.
- It's quite complex and laborious to create kits via this interface.
The DTX Multi 12 is a bold attempt by Yamaha to take some serious strike action. Profound, powerful, yet ready to rough it up with hands or sticks, the DTX Multi 12 raises the bar for compact electronic drum kits.
Yamaha Brochure Line +44 (0)1908 369269.