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Alesis DM10 Pro Electronic Kit

Alesis DM10 Pro Electronic Kit

As of late, the electronic drum market has become a little more crowded with gear appearing from companies other then ‘the big two’. This is true especially down the bottom end with companies in the Far East providing gear which is stencilled to appear as though it is from a particular shop or chain of shops. The middle range of ekits has remained a little clearer but now Alesis have proudly (and confidently) stepped up to the mark. The DM10Pro kit is the top of their current range and it’s that kit we are looking at here. 

To detail the kit, it’s a five piece kit with two chokable metal cymbal pads, stereo pads (heads and rims) with loads of real drum samples which can be edited to your hearts desire. There are (very good) internal songs to play with, you can plug in your iPod or other device and play along with tracks and you can link it to your computer to trigger other sounds or upload new sound sets. That’s it in a nutshell.

This kit has obviously been making waves as it won the ‘Best In Show’ prize at the 2009 Summer NAMM show. So is all the fuss worthy of our attention? Well, yes it is. Read on and we’ll starts by looking at each piece of the kit individually. If you want to skip the technical stuff, go to the section headed Playability…

Rack

The DM10Pro rack is a standard chromed steel 1.5” tubular affair. It’s a front rack with three wings – one for the floor tom, one for the snare and one for the module. Obviously this can all be changed around to suit left handed players or non standard configurations and is a sturdy as you could hope for. The clamps are a mixture of sturdy plastic supports, black metal pad clamps and aluminium right angled clamps. It works very well and supports the whole kit more than adequately.

Surge Cymbal pads

The Alesis Surge pads are rebranded Smart Trigger cymbal pads which should be reassuring for many. Alesis haven’t simply tried to build some new pads from scratch for this kit; they have purchased an existing and proven brand to work with. The pads (they aren’t really pads for reasons am about to explain) are actually made of real cymbal alloy by a cymbal manufacturer. I shouldn’t say which one, but as they are stamped ‘Made in Canada’ I think we can all guess. The crash and ride cymbals have a clear plastic layer bonded onto the underside to kill any vibrations and have a small black plastic box and damping strip (on the 13” crash and the 16” ride), also on the bottom side. The box is small and contains the piezo sensor for the bow of the cymbals, the damping strip comes out of the box and goes down to the bottom edge of the cymbal where it  sits a couple of inches from the edge in just the place where you would grab it to choke it.

The 16” ride pad also has a bell trigger and because of this, the pad needs two cables to the module to carry the three signals (a la Roland modules). Unfortunately, Yamaha style ‘three zones down one cable’ pads aren’t supported by the module at the moment.

The 12” hi hat cymbal just has the box and the damping layer on the underside.

One observation is that the cymbals are very sensitive to where they are played. If you play over the box, the signal is much ‘hotter’ (and the sampled sound from the module significantly louder) than other positions on the cymbal and the sensitivity quickly drops of the further you move away from this area.

I also found the damping strips to be a little bit eager in that you only have to squeeze them very lightly for the sound to be choked rather abruptly. However, as that is really down to the module, it is not a reflection on the cymbals themselves.

Drum pads

There are two 8” pads and two 10” pads included with the DM10 kit which are the snare and tom pads. They use real Mylar drum heads (gloss black are supplied, but you can easily fit any standard head) and real steel rims with a rubber edge to lessen the sound of rim shots. The pads are very simple with a black plastic tray which sits at the bottom and a shallow (3cm?) wooden shell section complete with bearing edge and black plastic wrap. The head sits over the shell and the six drum key bolts tighten through the rim and then through holes in the plastic tray which hold standard nuts. If you try and take the heads of the pads when they are on the rack (as I did) you’ll find the nuts dropping to the floor (and hiding under other equipment) as you loosen the heads as there is nothing to keep them in, but as changing heads will (should) be a rarity, this wont be much of a problem.

Internally, the pads have a piezo pick up attached to the base of the plastic tray, which picks up rim shots and another piezo attached to a metal plate which is sandwiched between two pieces of foam under the drum head. The head sensor is, to all intents and purposes, suspended under the head by the foam, and I have got to say that crosstalk (where hitting the rim accidentally triggers the head or vice versa) was surprisingly good. Really good in fact. Full marks to Alesis for this.

The bass drum pad is another 8” pad attached to a tower to hold it in the right position. The pad is identical to the tom and snare pads apart from being mono (it doesn’t have the rim trigger).

The hi hat controller is a simple pedal of the continuous controller type so over MIDI it gives 128 positions whereas the module gives five, if my ears are correct, positions from closed to open.

DM10 Module

It’s obvious from the start that a lot of thought has gone into the DM10 module. Lets get the fact and figures out of the way first…

1047 sounds covering acoustic, electronic drums, percussion and melodic instruments which totals 128 meg of 16 bit uncompressed samples (not modelled).

199 drum kits (99 prewritten, 100 empty but all over-writable – you can tweak any of the kits to be how you want)

100 patterns (75 preset and 25 user though all can be over written)

12 trigger ins (stereo/dual zone – triple zone not supported), many of which can be split to make two mono inputs giving you 23 mono pad inputs should you need loads.

4 outputs (main stereo and Aux L+R) plus Audio In

MIDI In/Out and USB connections

The module is very clearly laid out and it passed my ‘if it’s a good product I shouldn’t need to read the manual except for really random stuff’ test with flying colours. There is the mixer section on the left, the large screen in the middle at the top, the large scroll wheel to the right side of it and the edit buttons below and the sequencer/transport buttons to the right. In the middle front of the module it a large ‘Drum Kit’ button which takes you back to the main front screen from where ever you are. It’s simple and acts as a panic button if you get lost (unlikely) in the editing.

As well as all the things you would expect from a drum module, like editable sounds, effects, trigger settings and the like there are a couple of things on the DM10 which really deserve a mention.

Firstly, although this isn’t anything new, you can layer any two sounds together and edit them completely separately so create some pretty cool or weird sounds. Say you want to layer a detuned tambourine with a piccolo snare – no problem. Although this isn’t anything new, there are a couple of patches on the DM10 which are perfect for layering. Theses are things like a conga pattern (each consecutive hit gives the next note in the pattern) or agogo pattern (which does the same). When stacked with the hi hat or snare, these really give your groove a different sound and feel and are really effective for no extra effort.

Secondly (and this gets full marks for originality), you can record yourself playing very easily, either to one of the preset tracks or grooves or just to the click track. Again, nothing new there, you can on 99% of electronic kits, but then you can press a button and see everything you played written out on a grid just as though it were programmed into a drum machine (complete with all your sloppy timing, fluffed notes and miss-hits). Then you can use the erase and quantize functions (simple and clear to do) to tidy up or change your pattern visually, all on the screen in front of you. It’s such a simple idea; I am amazed no one has done it before. This is especially good for beginners or non readers as they can record themselves and then see exactly what they were doing and how one drum or cymbal, for instance, relates to the others in the groove. Genius.

Thirdly, the songs/grooves deserve a mention as they are not MIDI patterns but full on sequences of samples of real instruments. They are composed using a ReCycle type facility (which chops up the audio tracks into bite size pieces) so as the tempo changes the audio quality doesn’t suffer and they sound much more lifelike than most modules out there. It’s nice to see there is a distinct lack of cheesy tracks – pretty much all are useable, sound good and some, dare I say it, inspirational.

Fourthly, (although I couldn’t test this as it hasn’t been released or finalized yet) it is possible to replace the entire sound set with one multi sampled, very detailed drum kit from one of what Alesis are calling their sound partners who make drum sample library software. These are companies like FXpansion (who do BFD) and Toontrack (who do Superior Drummer and EZdrummer) and the idea is that they will release special download files which Alesis DM10 owners will be able to load into the module. The loading time is reported to be about 20 minutes each time you want to do it and no mention has been made of cost, availability or features yet, so stay tuned, but potentially it’s rather good. On the subject of replacing sounds, its worth mentioning that you can’t load your own samples into the module.

I tried triggering drum sounds from a laptop via USB and had no problems at all, it was quick and easy. It also helped that the package I had up on the screen at the time had a preset trigger setting for the DM10 Pro kit, so I didn’t even have to change any MIDI notes. On the triggering front, I found the pads worked best with the internal sounds with the ‘soft’ pad settings, but over MIDI it needed the ‘medium’ setting to get the best from the pads/MIDI.

There are lots of desirable pieces of equipment sampled inside with the names barely disguised… cymbals companies whose names start with Z, S and P anyone? Drum companies starting with L, G, Y and P amongst others?

Sounds

I’ve got to say I was impressed with the sounds of the module. Thankfully they are real samples so they are more realistic than some overly perfect modelled sound. There are lots of desirable pieces of equipment sampled inside with the names barely disguised… cymbals companies whose names start with Z, S and P anyone? Drum companies starting with L, G, Y and P amongst others? The samples themselves are multilayered so there are different samples for different velocities but there are also left and right hand alternating samples which help with the realism.

The electronic sounds cover the usual bases with nice clean samples of, oh, I don’t know, how about drum machines starting with ‘8’ and ‘9’? You get the idea!

I found most of the preset kits to have a little too much reverb for my taste, but as everything is editable, it was a quick job to lower it and save the kit. There is also a bit of noise on the tail ends of many of the samples. However, I don’t think this is the samples as such, more the compression applied to them in the module. Its not a problem in most areas but a quiet solo snare passage might make it more noticeable.

Thankfully the range of sounds is MUCH better than the Alesis SR18 drum machine we looked at a while back. Favourites are the BB samples (think expensive American snare), the Remix hi hats and the ‘Y’ toms. Ok, guess the names!

I’m not sure which section this should come in, but if you get the chance to play a DM10 kit, try out Kit 5. Try and play something funky on it without smiling.

Playability

Right, so how does it play? Well, the drum pads are fine - without headphones on they are rather noisy and feel too hard, but with headphones on (or the PA up loud) they feel fine which just goes to show that if it sounds good, it doesn’t really matter so much what the pads are like. The pads can’t track a press roll very well but for most playing they are fine.

The cymbal pads were the area I most had to work at. This might sound a little strange but to me (and my hands) the metal cymbals felt… plasticky. I know that’s a really weird thing to say (especially as they are real cymbal alloy) but I actually prefer the feel of Alesis’ cheaper plastic cymbal pads. I found the Surge cymbals too dead to the stick and as I tend to move the stick around the cymbal to pull out different sounds, I found the cymbal volume was fluctuating too much unless I played consistently over the piezo sensor. BUT, and it’s a big BUT, they look ‘right’ being real cymbals so it’s a trade off – visuals versus playability.

I can’t fault the module at all. For the price it’s superb – it doesn’t do anything too flash, and what it does, it does very well. It’s a really good mid range module that would cater for quite a few more serious players as well. While I had it set up in my studio I tried it out with some other pads to see how it performed and it was equally good with them too (the pads being stereo rubber pads with edge switches and stereo mesh pads with piezo rim triggers). The only area (again) that wasn’t so hot were the cymbals as the module didn’t give me enough parameters to really dial in the right feel for me.

To sum up, if you want a really good electronic kit with great samples and change from a thousand pounds, this is definitely one to look at and possibly the leader of the pack at the moment. The recording functions and the simplicity are real winners. The module is available separately (I believe) and I can see it being an ideal replacement module for those with simple electronic kits who want to get into better sounds and facilities. I tried the module with drum triggers and it worked fine, although the trigger settings may be a little lacking for serious stuff, but it’s nice to know it can handle it too.

Its worth re-mentioning that Alesis also make a Studio version of this kit which has a cheaper rack, four tom pads (rather then three), three plastic/rubber cymbal pads (rather than two metal Surge cymbals), but with the same module, AND it comes in at a couple of hundred pounds less than the Pro kit. If you don’t need the look of the Surge cymbals, this may be right up your street.

I was beginning to worry about Alesis as they used to be great, then they went a little quiet, then they bought out some equipment that was OK but nothing serious. However, now with the release of the DM10 Pro and the DM10 Studio, they really are ready to take on the market.

UK Pricing

DM10 Pro = £899.99
DM10 Studio = £699.99

To see our video of the DM10 Pro from NAMM 2010 click here

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