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Yamaha DTX400K

Electronic Drum Kit
By Mark Gordon

Yamaha's new entry-level electronic drum kit is easy on the wallet, but aims not to compromise on sound quality. Is it a hit?

The DTX400 series is a new range of entry-level electronic drum kits from Yamaha. The full range comprises the DTX400K, DTX430K and DTX450K, and the model on review here is the cheapest, the 400K.

Yamaha DTX400KYamaha say the range is primarily aimed at the starter audience and includes "technology as found in the Pro DTX models and Yamaha's Motif synths”. Having reviewed the top-of-the-range Yamaha DTX950 kit (and been mightily impressed), I found this interesting. The idea of achieving something close to the sound of the DTX950 for a shade over £400$500 was particularly intriguing...

Hardware & Setting Up

All the DTX400 kits are similar in configuration, each comprising five drums, with two cymbals and a hi-hat. The differences between kits are small but quite significant, with the TD430K getting an upgraded kick drum and hi-hat controller and the TD450K additionally benefiting from a three-zone snare pad. All the kits feature the same TD400 brain module.

The DT400K is a lightweight, compact affair and arrives in a single box. Setup of the tubular-steel rack isn't too complicated, with some elements already pre-mounted on the rack cross-member. A regular drum key is used to tighten all the parts, and, once assembled, the rack sits sturdily on its two simple legs. You shouldn't have to put up or break down the kit often as, once assembled, it can be 'folded' into quite a small, convenient package for storage.

As with most electronic kits, particularly lower-priced ones, all the elements are attached to the rack, rather than being free standing. The two seven-inch 'rack toms' mount directly onto the horizontal rack bar without any 'tom arms'. This restricts their positioning a little, but it's possible to angle them and move them left or right, in addition to raising or lowering the rack bar. The 'floor tom' mounts via an additional arm which, again, allows for more than enough movement.

The two PCY90 cymbal pads are a new design, three-quarters covered in rubber with a section cut out, giving a cool, almost futuristic look. They attach to the legs of the rack with a simple metal rod that connects to a fixed bracket. Although perfectly stable, I did find that the rigid clamp restricted the positioning of the cymbal a little. The snare and hi-hat are both connected to the main rack by an L-shaped bar configuration, with the hi-hat mounted on its own rigid metal rod, like the cymbals. The hi-hat is thus mounted at a fixed distance from the snare, but this isn't a big problem in reality.

The KU100 beaterless bass-drum pedal that ships with the DTX400K kit.The KU100 beaterless bass-drum pedal that ships with the DTX400K kit.The hi-hat, unsurprisingly at this price point, is a fixed cymbal using the same PCY90 pad. A control pedal then connects via the brain module for open and closed hats. The 430K and 450K kits include a KP65 kick-drum pad (with the 450K you also get a Yamaha bass-drum pedal), but the 400K uses the KU100 beaterless bass-drum pedal. This is identical in construction to the hi-hat controller, and is a simple footpedal with a spring to provide a rebound, and a soft pad to reduce impact and noise.

Pads & Playing

All the drum pads are solid rubber with a hard plastic backing — no mesh heads or 'Textured Cellular Silicon Head' technology here, I'm afraid! They're all single zone, but are velocity sensitive and feel surprisingly good to play; not too hard, with a good rebound. You won't get 'virtual reality' dynamics on an entry-level kit like this, but you can play pretty subtle grace notes effectively and achieve a good range of dynamics. The very distinctive PCY90 cymbal pads are particularly nice to play. While they always produce a great sound, I've often found that the cymbals on electronic kits just don't quite feel right. I think the PCY90s benefit from being smaller and more lightweight, giving a more natural feel.

The fixed hi-hat feels equally good, and the control pedal allows for fast and accurate open and closed sounds. There is no provision for the gradual opening and closing capabilities of some of the high-end models, but that isn't something I'd expect at this price.

I wasn't expecting to like the beaterless kick drum, but it works surprisingly well, and after a few minutes getting a feel for the pedal, I was able to play it quite comfortably. Although a real pad with a pedal would definitely be preferable for me, the beaterless approach has a huge advantage when it come to reducing noise. Electronic kits are 'silent', in that they don't produce 'drum' sounds unless amplified, but they can certainly generate some ambient noise, and the kick drum is the biggest culprit, particularly if someone is playing in the room above you!

Control Module

The TD400 control module is a small, matte-black unit with no LCD or knobs, simply three rows of grey buttons that light in orange when pressed. The DTX Drums legend embossed on the panel adds to what I think is a very cool, minimalist look.

The DTX400K's display-free brain module takes a minimalist approach, with function navigation and selection being undertaken via the buttons.The DTX400K's display-free brain module takes a minimalist approach, with function navigation and selection being undertaken via the buttons.With no display, the buttons act as both selection tools and as a way of providing feedback on the current state of the unit or parameter value. I'll explain this later, but first let's look at the layout.

A row of 10 buttons is spread across the upper part of the module, clearly labelled 1-9, with the final button labelled 10/0. The row underneath comprises Kit and Song selection buttons, a Metronome on/off button, and a Play/Stop button to control song playback and training sessions. The final row includes the power, Training selection and Drum Mute buttons, the last providing a simple method of muting drum parts in demo songs and training sessions. To the right are the tempo up/down and volume up/down buttons. And that's it!

The right edge of the module houses nine trigger-input jacks, which connect via the included loom to the pads, hi-hat and kick-drum pedal. I was surprised to find that although the pads feature standard quarter-inch jack connections, the trigger inputs are mini jacks. As the sockets occupy the full length of the module, I assume they've been chosen to save space, but I'd prefer a less 'prosumer' option.

In addition to the power adaptor socket, the left edge of the module features connections to the outside world: a USB socket for connecting the TD400 to a computer, an Aux In mini-jack for external audio sources such as MP3 players and, finally, a single quarter-inch output that doubles as both headphones and stereo audio output. Although I certainly wasn't expecting multiple audio outputs, I was surprised not to see separate phones and line-out sockets.

Playing The Kits

The TD400 features 10 editable kits, initially preset with 10 'legendary' drum kits: Yamaha Maple Custom, Yamaha Oak Custom, Hard Rock, Vintage, Funk, Session, Jazz, R&B, Marching and Percussion, selected by pushing one of the 10 number buttons when the control module is in Kit mode.

The preset kits are absolutely outstanding and certainly belie the price tag. The Maple Custom has a fantastic, deep, woody sound. Switching to the Oak custom, the kick drum becomes brighter and a fantastic mid-range overtone is introduced to the snare, which increases the harder you hit the drum. The Jazz kit has a tight, open sound and a full, dark ride cymbal. Interestingly, even though the PCY90 cymbal is a single-zone pad, the bell part of the cymbal is not covered by the rubber coating and remains hard plastic. Hitting this area thus naturally produces a less damped trigger for the control module, which, in turn, velocity-switches from the bow ride sound to the bell sound. This fooled me into thinking that the PCY90 was a dual-zone pad!

The electronic sounds of the R&B kit and the eclectic Percussion kit complete a range of preset kits that are very usable and should satisfy even demanding players. Of course, all kits can be overwritten, using any of the 169 drum sounds provided. These comprise 23 snare drums, 21 kick drums, 36 toms, 31 cymbals, and 42 percussion instruments taken from Yamaha's DTX900 and DTX700 modules.

Editing Kits & Settings

Editing the TD400 is a relatively simple procedure. However, without an LCD to indicate what I was doing, I did initially find myself needing the manual close at hand.

Pressing the Kit and Song buttons together activates the Menu mode. The Number buttons 1-7 start to flash, indicating that you can select one of the following edit menus: 1 (Metronome Settings), 2 (Kit Settings), 3 (MIDI Settings), 4 (Hi-hat Settings), 5 (Trigger Settings), 6 (Training Settings) and 7 (Other Settings).

To change the volume of a pad, for example, you press '2' to enter the Kit Setting mode. The first five number buttons then flash, to show that you have five options: 1 (Pad Sound), 2 (Pad volume), 3 (Pad Panning)... and so on. To select a pad to edit, you simply hit it, and the number buttons display the current parameter by flashing. In the case of volume, for example, a pad set to 123 will flash buttons 1, 2 and 3 in quick succession. To enter a new volume level, you press the number buttons in the same way.

After repeated use of the module, you may remember that Kit setting 3 is Pad Panning or that your favourite kick drum is number 43, but I do wonder how much extra a simple LCD would have added to the cost of the kit? This is particularly relevant when you realise how many editable parameters the DT400 has, and it can make editing the module a bit tricky when you're dealing with the more obscure and less used parameters. However, those parameters are probably ones you tweak once during the initial setup, and as the kit is primarily aimed at home use, having to make adjustments on the fly at a gig is unlikely.

Training & Practise

Training is a big part of Yamaha's electronic drum range, and the DTX400 series is strong in this area, offering 10 training functions including Groove Check, Rhythm Gate, Tempo Up/Down, Change, Part Mute and Fast Blast. Each covers a different skill, enabling you to work on aspects of your rhythm and timing, and also learn new patterns.

The DTX Drum Lessons app focuses on basic playing techniques.The DTX Drum Lessons app focuses on basic playing techniques.Depending on the training session, you can set the difficulty level and speed. When you're finished, the DTX400 evaluates your performance and displays a score using the number buttons (1-10). The module also includes 'Voice Guidance', which announces exactly how you've done, from 'Try Again' through to 'Fantastic'!

To further enhance the training aspect of the DTX400, Yamaha have released two iPhone and iPad apps. DTX400 Drum Lessons provides video tutorials on basic techniques such as holding the sticks correctly and playing the hi-hat, through to useful visual examples of the built-in demo songs and training sessions, with several camera angles of each one being played by a real drummer.

Yamaha DTX400KThe Song Beats app allows you to download any Yamaha MIDI file from their store and see a visual representation of the drum part played, with each drum glowing as it is hit, very much like the Rock Band game. These are great add-ons, particularly for beginners, although I can also see Song Beats being handy for learning parts if you're in a covers band. I'm sure it's a design feature that your iPhone can sit neatly in the recess at the top of the module, allowing you to see how each exercise should be performed as you play

In addition to its training features, the DTX400K comes equipped with 10 'play-along' practise songs covering styles ranging from Electro Pop to Slow Blues. These are all MIDI files and take advantage of the 128 keyboard sounds built into the control module. The songs are great to play along to, but some sound better than others, and they all have that 'keyboard demo mode' feel. On the up side, as they're MIDI files, you can easily change tempo or mute the drum part while you play along.

The Song Beats app allows you to play along to downloaded MIDI files, à la Rock Band.The Song Beats app allows you to play along to downloaded MIDI files, à la Rock Band.Yamaha's free Musicsoft Downloader utility can be used to transfer Type 0 MIDI Files from your PC (no Mac version is currently available) to the TD400 module via USB. Doing this replaces one of the existing song files, but if you fancy playing along to 'Roundabout' by Yes in MIDI File format (yes, it really does exist!), then you can. Of course, you can also take advantage of the Aux In jack and plug in your MP3 player to play along with pre-recorded material.

Speaking of USB, here's a quick word about using the DTX400 with your computer. In addition to transferring files, the USB connection allows for MIDI interfacing between the DTX400 and your Mac or PC DAW. This is, in fact, the only method of MIDI integration, as the module doesn't have MIDI In or Out ports. With the driver installed, the DTX400 pops up in your DAW, and recording a part is as simple as hitting play and record. You have access to the additional keyboard sounds in the TD400, and of course the kit can be used to trigger your virtual instruments.

Conclusion

The DTX400 is a really good kit, and my hopes of high-end sounds for a low-end price were certainly met. On the down side, the mini-jack connections make the control module feel a little cheap, to me, and I would have preferred separate main out and headphone sockets, but space is most certainly at a premium on the module. Having used the kit for a while, I'm getting quite used to the lack of LCD and, while it would be nice to have, I can appreciate that it helps to bring the DTX400 in at the right price point.

The pads, although only single-zone, still allow for good, expressive playing, and I like the PCY90 cymbals a lot. Personally, I would be inclined to go for the DTX450 with the three-zone snare and dedicated kick drum, but the silent kick is a great alternative, and in some environments would be the preferred option. It's worth pointing out that both the TP30s three-zone snare pad and the KP65 kick drum pad can be bought separately so you just as easily start with the DTX400 and upgrade later. The built in training features are excellent, and work not only for beginners but also more accomplished players who want to improve their timing.

The 10 factory preset kits sound fantastic and are all very usable. I'm not a big fan of kits made up of voices or the sounds of car horns, bells and whistles. I'd rather have a drum kit that sounds like drums! All the built-in sounds are more than good enough to use on recording projects, and the kit is the perfect tool for triggering virtual instrument drums from your DAW. All in all, I think the DTX400K is a great entry into the world of electronic drums.   

Alternatives

Other manufacturers offer their own entry-level electronic drum kits. In this price range, you could also consider the Alesis DM6 and the Roland HD1, HD3 and TD4KP.

Pros

  • Sounds excellent.
  • Great price.
  • Upgradable with different kick and snare.
  • Compact and light.
  • Good training features that work for beginners and more experienced players.

Cons

  • Mini-jack pad connections.
  • No separate phones and audio output.
  • No display.

Summary

I can find little to fault in the DTX400 at this price point. It sounds great, feels playable, and doubles as a useful training tool.

information

DTX400K £457; DTX430K £559; DTX450K £610. Prices include VAT.

Yamaha UK +44 (0)844 811 1116.

www.yamaha.com

DTX400K $499, DTX430K $599, DTX450K $699.

www.yamaha.com

Published June 2013