The Laptop Drummer

Octapad SPD-30

DJ’s do it. Keyboardists have been doing it for a while now. Guitarists have joined the parade. And now drummers have joined the ranks of this revolutionary instrument… The Laptop. I can’t think of too many shows that I have been to lately where you didn’t see a shiny MacBook Pro as part of the stage landscape. Laptops have become standard gear.

Now enter the Roland Octapad SPD-30 which is Roland’s effort to return to the retro 80’s Octapad. It’s beefed up of course, offering a plethora of sounds, four dual-trigger inputs with a hi-hat controller input, and USB MIDI(finally). A quick review: feels great to play, but the sounds are pretty average. I was shocked to hear just how average the drum kits were. I’ll put it to you this way… I would not use them live. The percussion sounds are a bit better though, if that is what you are after. I wasn’t after its sounds.

I was looking to create a highly portable electronic kit that I could pair with my latest obsession… Toontrack’s Superior Drummer 2.0. You probably have come across this and/or other drum samplers like FXpansion’s BFD. I choose Superior Drummer after watching New York session drummer Nir Z ripping a funk tune in one of the Toontrack product videos. I was amazed at Nir Z’s playing and how fat the drums sounded. Beautifully recorded kits and cymbals captured by top producers and players in top New York, London and Nashville studios. The sound libraries for Superior Drummer 2.0 clearly bury anything I have heard. It makes Roland’s flagship TD-20 sound like a $7000 toy. I am actually surprised Roland is still charging that much for such a sub-standard sounding sound drum module. These new drum samplers/plugins have left them in the dust… years ago.

Roland Octapad SPD-30

Now, when paired with Superior Drummer, the SPD-30 feels and sounds as good as you are going to get electronically. So much so that I will be using this rig for rehearsals and corporate gigs. And, the whole thing packs up into one case to boot! In the days of the laptop musician, I think it’s fantastic that a drummer doesn’t need to dump $3000-$7000 on an electronic kit to sound good. If you have a laptop, pick up a cheaper Roland, Alesis, Hart Dynamics, or Yamaha electronic kit, make sure it feels good, has hi-hat variable pedal control, add Superior Drummer via USB/MIDI, and you are killin’ it!

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