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Yamaha M12 Multipad

Yamaha Multipad 12

Yamaha DTX Multipad 12

The Yamaha DTX Multipad 12 (or M12 as I shall refer to it from here onwards to save my typing fingers) is Yamaha’s first entry into the whole ‘many pads in a box’ arena which was first started by the original Roland Octapad. It’s a simple concept – put pads on top of a box, which contains sounds and MIDI to connect it to other devices – and obviously, looking around the current market, the M12 is going to be compared to the Roland SPDS.

There are definite comparable points between the two devices – multiple pads, ability to loads samples etc – but the M12 is more like a mixture of an SPDS, SPD30, Handsonic, DrumKat, Korg Wavedrum X and a MIDI controller.  Both devices are designed to be mounted within a drum kit/percussion rig and trigger sounds and samples, but Yamaha claim that you can play the M12 with hands and fingers (like a Handsonic) and dampen sounds (or otherwise change them) by applying pressure to the pads (like a Wavedrum) as well as controlling your computer from the front of the M12 (hence the MIDI controller comparison). Anyhow, let’s get on and look at it.

As its name suggests, the M12 has 12 pads arranged in its top surface. The pads are arranged in four lines of three (top left is pad 1, bottom right is pad 12) with the pads at the front and far back more like bar pads i.e. rounded edge triggers rather than flat ones. The six flat pads in the middle are not flat; they are stepped so that the front three are a centimetre or so below the back ones giving the whole device a raked appearance. It’s very comfortable to reach all the pads, but as the box is really rather small to begin with (34x32x9/wdh), it shouldn’t be a problem for anyone.

The bar pads feel very similar to the old Yamaha BP80 bar pads – soft but positive, and on this subject I was initially really surprised by the feel of the main pads. Having played the SPDS many times before, I was expecting the pads to be hard and bouncy, but the pads on the M12 are very soft in comparison. And I mean really soft – you can probably push your finger 5mm or so into the top surface without much effort. However, although they are just too soft to do a buzz roll on, hitting the pads with sticks is fine – they seem to float slightly which may explain the softness. Also, its unlikely you’ll be buying one of these to perform really quiet buzz rolls anyway (you can always plug in an external pad if you really have to), more likely you’ll be clobbering it to trigger a loop or sample while wailing away on your acoustic kit.

Inside there are 50 preset patches to get you going and any can be tweaked and saved into the 200 user kits. If that’s not enough for you, you can save and load in a complete new set of patches complete with all your custom samples from a USB stick.

Sound wise, we have the usual vast palette (over 1200 sounds) from Yamaha, with a particular slant on ethnic percussion. However, ethnic in this case doesn’t mean all African; there are whole sound banks full of percussion from Japan, Cuban, India, Africa and Brazil as well as the usual acoustic drum kits, electronics, sound effects and melodic sounds. The melodic sounds cover a load of stuff specially sampled for the M12 including Mbira (African thumb piano) and Tubular bells. I don’t think I’ll ever need those samples but the Mbira samples sound so clean and lovely (and buzzy, out-of-tune and authentic) that I’m going to try and find an excuse to do so.

As well as the internal sounds, there are 128 internal MIDI loops which trigger the internal sounds (if that makes sense). These loops cover most styles and sync to the internal click (more of this later). If you want a shaker part, you don’t have to play every note of it, you can just hit one pad to start or stop one of the internal one or you can record your own (into one of the 50 user slots) . If you do record your own patterns you get the opportunity to assign the pattern you have just recorded (which can use any of the pads, internal or external in any combination) onto one pad, so you can just hit that one pad and start or stop your monster percussion groove which at any other time would need 17 arms to play.

One area that doesn’t come up to par is the area of ‘dance’ samples. Unfortunately, most manufacturers seem to think that putting in a few (dated) record scratch sounds means they are ‘down-wid-da-kids’. Hmmm…

However, small selection of weak samples aside, the majority sound great with particular attention being drawn to the Oak Custom kit and the tablas. Now, my tabla technique is non existent, but given half an hour on Pete Lockett’s marvellous site, learning about how to program tabla more authentically, and I was ready to lay down some patterns and relas (rolls). However, my fingers aren’t strong enough so I played the bayan (big drum) with my hand (fingers, heal and palm) and the dayan (little drum) with a drum stick. I’ve got to say I even surprised myself. Lovely.

As well as the built in pads, you also have the ability to plug in up to 5 external pads including one of Yamaha s three zone ones. The foot switch input which is usually used for changing patches can also be used as a trigger (although it’s just a fixed velocity) so it its triggers you need, you can have 20 triggering surfaces all accessible at once. The obvious use for the trigger inputs is to trigger from an acoustic kit and I had no problem triggering using a Ddrum trigger. There’s also space for a hi hat controller as well, so you can make a complete stand-alone ekit just using the M12.

The ability to be played with hands and fingers goes some way to explaining the softness of the pads as apparently there is a switching layer under the pads which allows the use of pressure on them to affect the sounds. When using your hands to play the M12 you can set up pads to link to other pads so that on the internal conga patch (for instance) applying pressure to the pads can change another pad from an open stroke to a muted stroke. Exactly how you want these to perform is totally up to you as it’s all adjustable, but if you program it carefully; you can pretty much use normal conga technique and get all the right sounds at the right time.

The pressure switching uses two of the four available layers per pad. Sounds can be stacked, alternated (every hit gives you the next sound in the cycle) or used as velocity layers (quiet hits give you ride bow, hard ones give you ride bell for instance).

From a practical point of view, the M12 scores highly from the point of view of working drummers. As every one of the 200 user patches can be named and have a click tempo assigned to it, I can see drummers using it as a combined click, sampler, triggering system and loop player, all in one small box. The click can be assigned to just the headphone output so the main outputs can handle the sounds going to the PA. The audio input can also be routed to the headphone output so you can also use the M12 as a monitor mixer too. It’s all rather flexible really.

On the sampling front, the M12 loads samples from USB stick and thankfully (at last!) the samples are loaded into flash memory which means that you don’t lose them when you turn the unit off. There is no facility for sampling directly into the module, although I don’t think that this will be missed by many as it’s much easier to edit on a computer screen. When you do import samples, you find out two things fairly quickly – one, that the M12 only has 64 meg of sample RAM (about 12.5 minutes or so) but secondly, there is a limit to the size of samples that can be loaded.  The largest stereo sample that can be loaded is 4 meg and the largest mono sample is 2 meg. In this day of massive sound libraries, I do find this a little strange that these figures are so small, as the M12 would be perfect for triggering whole backing tracks, but it would appear this was not what the M12 was built for. Oh well. There could be a cottage industry out there for anyone who finds out how to put 5 gig of RAM into the M12!

Once inside, the samples can be treated in the same way as the internal sounds, edited to your hearts content and have effects from the internal processors applied to them. The effects are good and cover all the standard bases.

One criticism would be that the M12 is not the easiest of devices to navigate yourself around. The display is a 2x16 LCD which doesn’t handle long names well, and the menus and submenus can get a bit confusing until you ‘get it’.

One other area that makes the M12 stand out is that it comes with a copy of Cubase AI5. Yamaha have owned Steinberg (who make Cubase) for a number of years so it’s not surprising that you get a copy, but as a valuable, added extra, its rather nice, especially if you’ve been looking for an excuse to get into home recording.

The reason for the inclusion of Cubase is that the M12 can act as a remote control for Cubase via a USB cable to a computer. We aren’t just talking Play/Stop/Record either, as it can change tracks, start and stop the click and select the VST instrument you want to play from the pads and even select presets in it. So if you want to play BFD or Superior Drummer in your computer the M12 is a pretty easy way of doing it and controlling your software at the same time. I suppose this in some way counteracts the lack of sample memory as when connected to a laptop on stage, you can trigger any length sample you want. It’s all pretty seamless and works well.

Lastly, the M12 would also make an ideal expander for an existing electronic kit, if you were, say, bored with your current sounds or wanted to add sampling onto it. You could either MIDI your existing module to it and play the sounds (and samples) from the M12 from your kit or you could plug the pads into the pad inputs for a smaller, striped down ekit when you don’t need the whole lot.

Well, I think that about sums it up. It feels like I’ve covered a lot of ground or maybe I’ve just squashed loads into 1800 words. There are a few disappointments with the M12 (sample length being the main one) but to be honest, they are counteracted by the positives. Its not often you get a free copy of a software package worth a couple of hundred pounds, the sounds (apart from the dance ones) are great, its nice to be able to play with your hands and damp and bend as required, it’s very small and light, you can use it as a click/monitor mixer as well as its ‘proper’ use etc etc.

Overall, I’m really impressed with the M12. I won’t pretend it’s the easiest of devices to work with, but then nothing else on the market does all the things it does and the learning curve for the M12 is much lower than it would be for separate sampler, trigger interface, sequencer, headphone mixer, metronome and effects units. When I first found out the price I thought it was too expensive but now I’ve spent time with it, I think it’s a bit of a bargain.

John Williams

March 2010

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