As the shape of modern music continues to evolve, incorporating electronic sampling instruments into traditionally acoustic settings is becoming more and more common – and that’s no less true among drum set players. Unfortunately, investing in effective sampling units is incredibly expensive, making it difficult for most average working drummers to take the plunge.
Thankfully, e-drum industry stalwart, Alesis, is working hard to make sure young and working musicians have access to the tools necessary for a growing number of gigs. By developing a selection of very reasonably priced pads and offering drummers an affordable avenue into the world of electronic samples, the company has taken over a seemingly unoccupied market space that desperately needed attention.
One of the most intriguing products to come out of the Alesis camp is the PercPad, a small, lightweight, four-pad unit with an onboard sound library. The company was nice enough to ship one over for review, and I’ll say right up front that I was very, very impressed. It’s not without its flaws, but the PercPad is definitely worth a look. Let’s break it down.
Before we get into the details, I want to point out that the PercPad is available for $99.00 at a number of different retailers. That’s a four-pad midi controller with an included 25-sample library for less than a hundred bucks. This is a great little machine, but that price alone makes it something special.
I originally reached out to Alesis because I’d been using their ControlPad, but wanted to know more about their products that offered onboard samples. I was also really intrigued by the idea of reviewing such an affordable product that allows drummers to get their feet wet in the electronic percussion realm without costing an arm and one of the legs attached to those feet.
When I received the PercPad, the first thing I noticed was how light it was. I always expect electronic gear to be fairly substantial, but that wasn’t the case here. The machine was very light, and less than the size of a snare drum head from corner to corner. Obviously, the unit wouldn’t create any transportation problems as it could easily slide into a gig bag along with another drum. Very convenient.
The next thing I noticed was the very simple layout. The twenty-five included samples were printed clearly on the top left corner of the striking side, making it very easy to quickly assign desired sounds to each pad. An LED screen at the top-center of the face used large, easily legible red numbers and letters to indicate the sample number or function value. The screen was flanked by two sets of navigation buttons, with the left side adjusting assignment and value, and the right side navigating between functions. It’s a simple, intuitive design that made the PercPad very easy to use right away.
The unit also included a space for a mounting bracket on the bottom (sold separately), but it fit comfortably on a snare stand. A quick look at the back of the PercPad revealed stereo outs, a headphone monitor jack, a MIDI out (meaning the machine can be linked to soundboards or computers with MIDI sound libraries, and used as a controller), and even a trigger input for adding a kick tower (again, sold separately). Because most of these utilities require additional purchases, the rest of this review is going to focus on only what’s included in the box.
So, now that we’ve got the specs out of the way, how did the PercPad perform on the stand? Remarkable well, actually. I hate to mention price again (no I don’t – the price is just awesome), but I had my doubts about an e-drum unit that retailed for so low.
The PercPad proved me wrong, however. All four pads were extremely sensitive – more so than a mid-level electronic kit I own – responding to everything but the softest ghost notes even with the sensitivity setting at sixty percent. The pads fired from all points, including the corners with hardly any accidental triggering of the others (really, it almost never happened – pretty awesome).
The dynamic response of each pad probably wouldn’t blow your mind, but it was wide enough to offer some genuine range. And, the machine didn’t seem to have any trouble navigating different dynamic levels between notes in quick succession. I played a couple rapid-fire rudimentary passages on each pad, and got back almost every note I put in (again, only excluding those super soft ghosts) at the volume I’d intended. On the whole, I was really impressed.
There was one problem with the playability, though, and it turned out to be my only major problem with PercPad as a whole. Every now and again, when playing multiple pads at the same time, one just won’t fire. This was especially problematic when playing complete grooves on the machine (see video). It’s rare, but it happens, and it’s kind of a bummer. That said, I don’t think it’s something that would stop me from purchasing the pad; I just wouldn’t want it to be my only option in a professional environment.
The twenty-five samples included on the PercPad are pretty standard – hand clap, timbale, shakers, conga, 808s and digital snares among others – but they make a nice complement to a standard acoustic kit. They’re recorded well, and for the most part, don’t sound swamped by that papery digital wash like so many other drum samples. They’re clean.
I would have preferred the inclusion of closed hat and riveted, digitized ride samples in lieu of a couple of those included, but for the most part, I was really happy with the sounds on the unit.
Additionally, the PercPad includes Reverb and Tune (as well as Level, Pan and Sensitivity) settings, which made it easy to customize all of the sounds. The Tune tool was really fun as it allowed me to create little melodies using different tunings of the same sample. Very cool.
As I’ve mentioned a few times already, the Alesis PercPad is a great machine made even better by an outstanding price. It has a couple of minor flaws, but as an introduction to including electronic percussion into your acoustic kit or simply a tool for learning about electronic percussion at all, it has incredible value. The onboard sounds are very usable, and if you’ve got a MIDI library, the pad makes a fine controller.
I’ve spent years trying to smoothly incorporate pieces of my electronic kit into my acoustic kit, but the PercPad offers a legitimately viable alternative worthy of consideration. The fact that it retails for under $100 (can’t say that enough) makes this excellent machine very attractive.
Official Alesis Video