Jan 9

INTRODUCTION

As a drummer, not a percussionist, I have often wanted to purchase a set of bongos or congas to play by hand. Today I am more of an electronic drummer than I am acoustic so the thought of playing an electronic drum full of hand percussion sounds plus a whole load more with a real drum head seems to be just the thing for me.

I remember back in 1994 when Korg released their first Wavedrum. I was extremely interested in this product but like many people I was put off by the high price. I also did not like the fact that this original model looked very much like a toilet seat but you could not argue with the fantastic sound it produced and not be amazed by the professional percussionists that used them.

The new Wavedrum is a rework of the original, disposing of the “Toilet Seat” look and replacing it with something that looks similar to an LP Compact Conga. The price has come down significantly by approximately £1300 and you can now buy the Korg WD-X for about £370 in most shops. Korg have also only recently brought out the Wavedrum as a limited edition in black with an exclusive black suede Remo drum head.

BASIC LOOKS AND SPECIFICATIONS

I have the standard white head and grey metallic rim.  Between the (one o’clock and three o’clock positions) and the (nine o’clock and eleven o’clock positions) the rim has a set of notches – small and large. These can be used to make a tremolo-type effect by scratching with sticks.

As I hold this drum, I realise that this is a sturdy piece of kit. It is slightly over 13 inches in diameter and weighs 4.41 pounds. It has a real drum head 10 inches in diameter and is tensioned with five bolts. You can use your own drum head of choice if you prefer and play with whatever you feel appropriate – hands, sticks or mallets etc. Korg however recommend the use of the REMO FA-0510-00 head. The head must be tuned evenly just like a real drum and Korg supply some instructions on this. Once the head is tuned the head, rim and pressure sensors need to be calibrated.

The Wavedrum has 100 preset programs and space for a 100 user programs. These programs are made up from a combination of DSP Algorithms and PCM Instruments. There are 36 DSP Algorithms (of which 26 are single-size and 10 are double size) and 200 PCM Instruments (of which a hundred are Head sounds and a hundred are Rim sounds).

There are also a hundred loop phrases, a small three character LED and two effects Reverb and Delay. You can use any 14 inch snare drum stand to mount the Wavedrum. If you want to play it standing up then you can purchase Korg’s Percussion Stand ST-WD.

SENSORS

The Wavedrum has multiple sensors. The head and rim pickups are directly used as a sound source to be processed by the Digital Signal Processing algorithms, and they also trigger the PCM sound engine. Together with the pressure sensor under the head, the Wavedrum responds to each and every subtle part of your performance. With the pressure sensor, the head tension is fairly critical, but fortunately the Wavedrum will tell you on booting up if the pressure sensor need adjusting.

SOUND

Working through the presets, you will find that the 100 presets are divided into 6 categories. There are 46 Real Instruments, 12 Pitched Instruments, 15 Bass Drum and Snare Drum splits, 4 Synth, 10 Original Wavedrum Taste sounds and 13 Sound Effects.

There is no doubt in my mind that many of the Sounds are extremely real-sounding and if you placed the actual instrument alongside it would be difficult to tell them apart. Korg are a company however that seem to like complex sound structures. There are many occasions when they get this complexity just right but there are other times when there is just too much going on and in a “Live” environment it doesn’t work.

In the case of the Wavedrum, I feel that they should have put a greater effort in making the presets useful from the drummer’s perspective rather than from a marketing point of view to show off the Wavedrum’s potential.  I know that is easy for me to say as I am not on Korg’s Marketing Team but I think the quality of the sounds and usefulness to a drummer would sell the product in a greater way than have sounds with so much Reverb, delay and layer that are not sufficiently useable.

The other small thing that I feel Korg should have done better on, is the time it takes to load each patch. This is about 5 seconds. Whilst I understand the complexity of the algorithms which obviously adds to the loading time, this is not very practical in a “Live” setup where you may well want to change backward and forward through programs changing the sound but with no break in what you are playing. This is however quicker going from favourite to favourite which provides instant changes, but you can only have 12 favourites but this may be enough for most people.

A few of my favourite programs are Preset 7 which is a Taiko, Preset 15 a double size Djembe, 23 Timbales, 30 Surdo, 33 Metal Dumbek, 34 Darabuka, 35 Tabla Drone, 36 Shaken Udus, 48 Pressure Wah drum, 53 EthnoOpera and 63 Harmonic Kikudus,    These are great-sounding World Percussion Sounds that are instantly useable and I would load these straight into the Favourite Banks. The Wavedrum also provides totally new and unique sounds that are not available in the real world and this drum synthesizer gives you the opportunity to create your own unique drum sounds.

The Tabla algorithm is especially authentic and does a fantastic job of perfectly creating both the Indian Tabla and the Baya. What you need to do here is use your fingers to mute one area of the head while you hit another area of the Wavedrum’s head. For the Baya sound characteristic use your wrist to apply pressure to the head while your fingers stroke the head. If you go to my DRUMS page here:- http://www.tonylongmusic.co.uk/drums/ amongst other interesting drum-related You Tube Clips you will find a great clip from Peter Lockett on the Wavedrum explaining Tabla technique.

PLAYING AND CONTROLS

From a playing point of view, percussionists should feel right at home with the natural organic feel of a real head which is very responsive and sensitive. For even more realism, you can tune this to suit the instrument you are imitating. You can easily have a nice tight snare drum or achieve just the right amount of bounce that is suitable for drum sounds such as timpani. Korg state that the Wavedrum will respond to the subtle nuances in the way that you strike, rub or scratch it with your fingers or your hand, or by the way you strike it with a stick, mallet or brush – I most certainly agree with this statement as the feel is excellent.

Different programs can also completely change the way the Wavedrum responds.  You can achieve a variety of sounds from different positions on the head. I enjoyed using my left hand on the head and have a stick in my right hand to play both the rim and the head allowing me to damp the head with my left hand. There is also no better fun than playing along with a song. I thought of “A Horse with No Name” by America. I selected a suitable conga sound and away I went – great stuff.

The curved black Control Panel above the main Sensor cover, has simply 2 knobs, 6 buttons and a small 3 character red LED. Korg have created the control panel to form the contours of the Rim and in doing so have obviously restricted the number of controls, visibility and ease of editing. A button that I would have liked is an Effects “off and on” button. I know this can be edited but a dedicated button would provide a much greater speed of operation.

From left to right, you have a Volume Control followed by a “Write” Button. You then have four buttons marked 1 to 4, which have multiple functions for editing and selecting programs. You can save 12 of your favourite programs here (3 on each button) for fast selection in a live performance. These buttons are labelled (not very clearly) as follows:- 1 = LIVE , 2 = EDIT (E1), 3 = EDIT (E2),  4 = GLOBAL (G). The last button is a Bank Select Button for Bank A, B and C. These have a secondary edit function as E1, E2 and G. You then have the LCD and lastly a “Value” knob

EDITING AND PROGRAMMING

Editing is much easier than I thought when I first looked at the Control Panel with its minimal layout. Each sound consists of one algorithm and one PCM sound. Each of these can be chosen separately for the head and the rim. You will also find some integrated sets, for real instruments where you can’t mix and match.

If you start with edit mode E1, you use the value control to specify which parameters that you wish to edit. Here you can select from Tuning, Decay, Level, Pan, Algorithm, Velocity Curve, Pressure Curve, Pressure Tune, Pressure Decay, Reverb and Delay.  For most of these parameters the 1 2 3 4 buttons control the different zones – 1 is the head Algorithm, 2 is the Head PCM, 3 is the Rim Algorithm, 4 is the Head PCM.

To edit even deeper if you go to edit mode E2 then here you will find that each individual Algorithm also has a set of parameters to edit. For example if you selected 24 The Mariko, then you could edit Tone Pitch, Pitch Response, Pressure Pitch, Tone Level, Resonance Balance, Brightness, Drum Type 1 and Drum Type 2

With editing you can achieve setups where for example the pitch would randomly change with each hit, or you could have melodic phrases play simply by choosing a scale and applying pressure to the head, or have sitar and tambura sounds at the same time.  I must say I found the algorithms very expressive, but I did have a bit of trouble getting the PCM sounds to integrate with them. It seems that this is a fiddly process that really could do with a Software editor, but then you would need some means of connecting to a PC. I think to get the best out of the Wavedrum you do need to some editing and I would recommend that you do go through the manual.

CALIBRATION

The whole point of Calibration is to ensure that your Wavedrum responds accurately. You should do this after you have changed the head or at anytime you feel that it is not responding as it should. The manual guides you easily through the process. There is a process for the head, rim and pressure sensors. I calibrated the head and it only took a few seconds.

LOOP PHRASES

If you need to practice but you do not have any audio input to jam along to, you can select from one of the 100 on-board loop phrases. These cover loops that include Rock, Pop, Funk, Jazz, Latin, Ballads and Cuban, The BPM ranges from 70 to 150.

WHAT NO MIDI – YOU MUST BE JOKING

Your first reaction when you look at the connections is “Oh My God – no midi ???”  As I have used the Wavedrum, the first thing I want to say is I haven’t missed it. It does however raise two main questions:- “Does it need it and is it actually possible to put MIDI on it?”  The problem to start with is that the Wavedrum uses the acoustic sound from the head and rim pickups as its basic input, so there would be no way to drive it with MIDI even if it did have it.  A bigger problem in my opinion is that deep editing is not too easy. If after hours of work you do come up with a new fantastic drum sound it would seem very sensible if you had some means of backing up the data – so perhaps a USB connection  would be better than having MIDI.

OTHER CONNECTIONS

The connections to and from the Wavedrum are very basic. There are two 1/4″ jacks for left and right stereo output, a headphone out and an Aux Input both on mini-jacks and as I have already said, there are no MIDI connections.

CONCLUSION

The highs for me are without doubt its great sound, playability, feel and sensitivity, fun and cost, portability, electronic drum with a real head.

On the negative side, it has got to be the editing and controls and small three character LCD. If I could Wavedrum my magic wand, I think I would merge the Roland SPD30 and the Korg Wavedrum into the most useful electronic percussion instrument ever. The irony is that when I reviewed the SPD 30, I really wanted more percussion sounds like the Wavedrum. Now that I am reviewing the Wavedrum, I really want that Roland Screen, that ability to easily edit, see the BPM, and best of all record and layer 3 layers of sounds. I think I have just come up with one of those inventions again.

I suppose you really need to decide what you want. If you want a MIDI percussion controller then the Wavedrum is not for you. If however you want a great ‘Live’ instrument to cover many percussive flavours from around the world and be both very portable and feel like a real drum then Korg have got it just right for you.

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