Aug 24

INTRODUCTION TO THE ROLAND SPD-30 OCTAPAD

The SPD-30 Octapad is the latest digital percussion multi-pad from Roland using the most up-to-date triggering technology and sounds. It has come a very long way since the first octapad – the Pad-8 introduced in 1985 as a MIDI percussion controller. In 1989 they introduced the second model – the Pad-80 Octapad II which had a larger memory that could store up to 64 different patches with 64 patches on a Roland M-256E memory card. Further improvements to the MIDI specification included the control of modulation, pitch bend and aftertouch using a foot pedal. They then went on to release their SPD range which were very similar to the Octapads but had on board sounds and effects.

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Drums, Drums, Drums – we all seem to need them but why do we need a Percussion Pad? These multi-pads have a range of uses from complementing existing Digital Drum kits or Acoustic Drum Kits for a far reaching palette of  sounds to setting up a small drum kit for working in confined spaces, to playing live as a percussionist on stage along with a drummer. They are also ideal in the studio for musicians and producers as they are very, light, portable and compact and have a great selection of world and cinematic sounds to create the next film Soundtrack. A percussion instrument (according to Wikipedia) is “any object which produces a sound when hit with an implement, shaken, rubbed, scraped, or by any other action which sets the object into vibration. The term usually applies to an object used in a rhythmic context or with musical intent”. Well the only thing you need to hit here are 8 rubber pads, no need for any rubbing, scraping or shaking.

As a drummer, integrating this with my existing TD-20 V-drum kit is a dream.  Perhaps when Roland invents the TD-30, they will incorporate the SPD-30 into the TD-30 – now there’s a thought. Perhaps the only serious competition for the SPD-30 is the latest Yamaha DTX-MULTI 12 multi-pad, which as you can tell from the name has 12 Pads. I will need to do a review of the DTX-MULTI 12 to give you a better idea  as to which is better, but I have always believed that for your money, Roland put more of an emphasis on quality and Yamaha seem to put more effort on quantity.  That is not to say that Yamaha’s sounds are not very good. In fact, quite the opposite, as they use sounds from their MOTIF series. It is just that Roland in my opinion pay greater detail to sound makeup and how these characteristics can be adjusted.

LAYOUT – IT’S GOT THE LOOK
The whole unit has 8 raised black pads housed very stylishly in a strong road-worthy plastic white tray with a control panel on the right which grabs your attention due to its cool looking 2½” square back-lit  LCD. The pads have a good sized target area and to me felt very playable, the stick bounce is comfortable with the right pad-sensitivity. These Pads have been designed to be totally isolated from each other. They have something called “Cross- Talk Rejection” which means that no matter how hard you hit a pad, or whatever vibrations are on stage, it will not accidentally trigger another pad. The  Size and Weight details which make it very portable are as follows:- Width = 541 mm [21-5/16 inches} /  Depth = 272 mm [10-3/4 inches] /  Height = 88 mm [3-1/2 inches] / Weight  =  3.8 kg [8 lbs. 7 oz].

After just a few days with the SPD-30, I came to the conclusion that whilst I loved so many things about it, there were also a couple of aspects where I think Roland’s design team could have done so much better. If we take the layout for example, it looks superb, with its large, smooth-running screen – very slick. Some controls however, have black buttons and black knobs on a black background, which is not very clear for live use. In my opinion, each of oblong buttons should have been lit and/or be white. I found it interesting that Roland decided to put pieces of white around the black ON/ OFF button, which is not the button you are going to be pressing the most.

USER – FRIENDLINESS

The User-Friendliness of this machine is long way from what Roland have just successfully achieved with the Roland GAIA. This is probably down to the fact that the SPD-30 has an LCD screen as well as manual controls. For many people like me, you will need the manual readily available as you start to do more than hit the pads. I know drummers have a reputation for being  technophobes, but with this in mind Roland’s priorities should have been Speed and Ease. Having said all of this, once you do make the effort to familiarise yourself with its workings, the rewards are fantastic. After only 3 days with this machine, I did feel so much more at home with it, pressing all the right keys and performing tasks very quickly. This is not how I felt on day one – so you need to be patient.

CONTROLS
Starting with the Volume Controls, there are two here, one for the Headphones and another for the Master Volume. I felt that personally I would prefer to have the Master Control first and then the Headphones. The Power On / Off button – I found this to be the best I have ever used. It is very smooth giving you the confidence of an extremely high quality piece of kit and reassuring you that it will power up faultlessly every time. I particularly liked the power down, again very smooth running with a clear reassuring message as to what is happening (If only Windows XP was like this).

You will then see 8 white buttons that surround a Phrase Loop light and they are labeled as to their functionality – MUTE, FX CONTROL, V-LINK, ERASE, SET LOOP/NEXT, PLAY, RECORD and STANDBY. Another strange decision was the fact that there is no dedicated STOP button. Stop is achieved by pressing PLAY and RECORD together and this is marked under the buttons. I would say that to a drummer this is one of the most important buttons to him and pressing these two buttons together is unfortunately what you have to do, but you really do get used to it. The SET LOOP button is useful if you wish to change the measure at which you want to loop.You cannot however set the loop point in the middle of a measure.

The main part of the control is obviously the large LCD screen constantly providing useful information. I like the kit screen because you can see at a glance as to the main sound assigned to each pad. Navigation is very slick and you need to use the 8 buttons and 3 knobs below the screen. You initially find yourself going to the two main menus – MENU and QUICK MENU and adjusting the Tempo that spans from 40 to 260.

SOUNDS
670 Sounds and 50 Kits which include :-  23 BASS DRUMS, 50 SNARE DRUMS, 37 TOMS, 11 HI-HATS, 15 RIDE CYMBALS, 30 OTHER CYMBALS MIXED, 173 PERCUSSION SOUNDS WITH HEADS, 64 METALLIC PERCUSSION SOUNDS, 82 MISC PERCUSSION SOUNDS, 59 PITCHED INSTRUMENTS and 61 SOUND EFFECTS.

These sounds are of great produced quality and really take you to remote parts of the world with ethnic sounds such as a Rain-Stick,  Riq, Doira Tik, Tang Gu, Ohkawa,Water Drums, Ipu Stomp, Madal, Darabuka TekMut and Bajiaogu, making this a very useful add-on to any acoustic kit setup. They are great fun to play and inspire you to create rhythms you have never in your life heard. Your head soon gets used to this Jungle life and you have to take yourself away from it at times to play with the TR-808 and TR-909 electronic sounds on board. It is here that you realize with these sounds combined with the effects section that you can conjure up a variety of electro-rhythmic madness.

For even more tonal possibilities, the SPD-30 makes very good use of  layering two sounds on each pad by 4 layer types – , MIX, SWITCH, FADE and XFADE. If the setting is set to OFF, then only one sound will play. You can use these facilities for example to change sounds from one sound to another depending on how hard you hit the pad. You can’t however use Instrument Layer Type for External Pads. You can further customise sounds by editing the Tuning, Muffling, Soft Attack, Tone Color, Pitch Sweep, Volume, Pan and Reverse (to play some sounds backwards). It is a shame that SPD-30 has no sampling facility, but then I suppose Roland still have the SPD S.

DSP EFFECTS

There are 7 Ambience Types, an Equalizer, a Limiter and 30 Multi Effect Types. If you set the “BPM Sync” parameter to “ON,” settings can be made in terms of a note value, so as the effect is applied, it will synchronize to the tempo set for the Kit or Phrase. These effects can be edited simply and the send levels adjusted. Surprisingly you can edit the Send levels for each of the two sounds on each pad.

The Ambience, Equalizer and Limiter are Global effects, so if you adjust these remember it will affect all kits. The Ambience Types (STUDIO, JAZZ CLUB, GARAGE, CAVE, CONCERT, ROCK LIVE, and EXPO) are all very good and they can help you create a much Bigger drum sound to emulate the overall sound in different environments. There is also an Ambience Depth which can be adjusted from 1-10. The three-band EQ allows you to adjust each band from -12 to +6dB. The Limiter has a threshold from -12 to +0dB to adjust the volume level at which compression will begin.

People that own Roland equipment will be very used to the Multi-Effects. I enjoyed using the three types of filter on board which are the Super Filter, the Step Filter and Filter plus Drive. The Reverb and Long Reverb can do wonders for some of the ethnic percussion. There is also a Chorus and Hexa Chorus, a Ring Modulator, Step Ring Modulator, Stereo delay, Three-tap Pan delay and Reverse delay and Phasers, Flangers, Pitch-Shifters, Compressors and Distortion to complete the 30 and give you endless sonic fun.

CREATING AND SAVING KITS
Creating a kit is simple enough and Roland provide you with the facilities to name a kit, exchange pads, perform a multi-edit, adjust the kit volume, copy and paste a kit or pad, provide kit protection, add effects and a phrase loop, make midi settings and chain kits. You have 50 kits that you can overwrite and additional kits can be saved to a USB memory stick.

PHRASE LOOPS
For me, the most useful and interesting part of this machine is the functionality of the Phrase Loop. This is something I could put to so much use. I prefer it to my old Boss DR880 drum machine because the results are just so much better and instant. (On an aside, I think the replacement for the DR880 is long overdue – Come on Roland, where is the DR990?)

The Phrase Loop function allows you to record with 3 drum kits, layering them each with individual sound effects in real time. As you record your 3 parts, the Pads that you have recorded each light up to indicate which pads you have used, so that you could delete the part if you wished. The variety of sound and rhythmic possibilities are astounding. You can use Electronic sounds and mix them with sounds around the world to create new flavours.

You have a metronome and quantize to assist you but the best bit for me (which I did not find out immediately) was the ability to continually switch between record and play modes, all while everything is still looping around. You can record a bit, play some sounds to try out ideas, record them , go to the next part (Kit) and do the same again etc – absolutely brilliant.

You do need to however, set some things up before you start recording, such as the number of measures (2, 4, 8 or 16 ), the time signature (number of beats 2, 3, 4 or 6), the Metronome and Quantization (which unfortunately only works during the recording phase). To save your rhythmic compositions is also very easy. I would suggest saving each phrase twice – once on the SPD-30 and again on a USB Memory Stick. Roland wisely point out that recorded phrases are lost if you either:-exit the Phrase Loop Mode or you select a different phrase and obviously if you turn of the power.

GETTING CONNECTED
At the back of the unit you have the usual MIDI IN/OUT, Quarter inch L/R Stereo and headphones outputs and a MIX IN for connecting mp3 players and iPods etc and a foot-switch input. However, there are also 4 Dual-Trigger External Trigger Inputs which are assignable for ( BASS DRUM, SNARE DRUM, HI-HAT and RIDE) and a HI-HAT CONTROLLER for you to connect other V-Drums in order that you could create a very compact electronic drum kit. There is USB MIDI connectivity so that you could use the SPD-30 as a MIDI Controller. You can then either trigger sounds in your computer by playing the Octapad, Record directly into your sequencer software or use your sequencer software to play the Octapad.

There is also a USB Memory connection to save all your user data (kits, loops etc). The foot-switch is an essential item as it has 6 settings – OFF , PAD CONTROL, PHRASE LOOP CONTROL, START/STOP, KIT [+] for the next kit  and KIT [-] for the previous kit. KIT [+] and KIT [-] can be used to cycle through kit chains. Also by using Roland’s cable (PCS-31L), you can connect two of Roland’s FS-5U foot switches and have different options for each of the pedals.

ACCESSORIES
This unit is supplied with AC Power adaptor (PSB-1U) and an Owner’s Manual and 4 Screws (M5 x 12 mm) ,but unfortunately to put this unit on a stand, you will need to buy the mounting clamp APC-33 separately and possibly a stand.

CONCLUSION
I am aware that with any product trying to capture the largest audience possible, there must be some compromises. Aside from the few niggles I have mentioned and notwithstanding this unit’s function in a live setup, I have found this to be the best product for creating phrase loops that I have used. In seconds I had created an exciting loop, recorded it in my DAW and began writing a new song. In my book that is exactly what I want – fast creativity with nothing to hinder the process.

12 Responses

  1. Foot Problems 101 Says:

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  5. Dave Says:

    Great reading. I have this unit and use it for live gigs a long side DJs, I have found that I get poor sound out of it when I run my jacks into their DJ mixer. Would i require a DI box to fix this?

    Overall its a wicked unit with great sounds.

  6. Niall Says:

    I think it is worth pointing out that, although there are 30something effects, you can only have ONE selected at a time, and it is applied to the whole kit (you can set different Send amounts for each pad, but you cannot for example have Distortion on your kick drum, and the filter on your snare.)

    This is something where the Yamaha multi-12 really kicks rolands ass.

    By the way, if you thought the spd30 was hard to use (its not, I figured out the kit editing in the store, without the manual) then dont even go near the multi-12. Its menu system is horrific.

  7. Valentin Says:

    What is the advantage of using 2 Roland’s FS-5U instead of a Boss FS-6?

    Thanks

  8. tonylongmusic Says:

    Valentin,

    As far as know, there are no advantages. Having two footswitches allow you to assign different functions to each pedal and the Boss FS-6 appears to be just two pedals in one. Before you buy a Boss FS-6, I would suggest you contact Boss Support to confirm that this will work in exactly the same way.
    Thanks – Tony

  9. tonylongmusic Says:

    Rafek, thanks very much for your enquiry for a Roland Octapad SPD-30. I passed this onto the sales team immediately, so they should have got back to you by now – Tony

  10. Jacob Reuban Says:

    Where could I get the Spd 30 version 2 Knob which is near the menu and quick button I lost one of the knob out of those 3knobs Plz tell me where it would be available

  11. tonylongmusic Says:

    Reuban, simply contact your nearest Roland dealer

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