INTRODUCING THE TRAPS E500 ELECTRONIC DRUM KIT
Electronic Drums have always been Roland for me but there are other manufacturers with slightly different ideas. Like Synthesizers, I wish I could take the best bits from them all and create a super kit. Electronic drums are expensive so for many people they are forced into making some compromises due to cost when purchasing an electronic kit. In this very competitive market, we are now seeing some really great value for the money kits and one such kit is the new Traps E500 Electronic Drum Kit. This kit is the third generation and a successor to the very popular E450 kit and gives you an upgraded drum brain which has some great new sounds and other features. I think it is fair to say this is an entry-level kit but one that really provides a great wealth of extras for the money.
THE TRAPS E500 KIT OUT OF THE BOX
The whole E500 kit comes in two boxes, one of which is very heavy at 26.3 Kg. The boxes are not too big and everything is tightly packed. As I started to remove each item, my first surprise was the size of the drums. What I had unpacked were standard drum sizes including a 20 inch Bass Drum. Yes that is what I said 20 inches. There has been quite a bit of discussion over electronic drum Bass Drum sizes over the years. One line of thought is that a 12 inch Bass Drum is easily transported and as the Drum Brain is making the sound and not the Drum it does not matter what the size is. The other thought is its look and how solid it feels to the player and whether or not it is likely to move or not. I really liked the size and hexagonal shape of the original Simmonds Bass Drum. (Simmons were the pioneering British manufacturer of electronic drums that supplied electronic kits from 1980 to 1994). It seemed to look right with the rest of the kit and that is exactly how the Traps E500 looks with everything in proportion featuring a dual trigger 12 inch Snare Drum, a single trigger 10 inch Tom-Tom, a 12 inch Tom-Tom, a 14 inch Floor Tom and of course the 20 inch Bass Drum. All of which are supplied with mesh heads and under skin triggers. The drums are made of a strong, durable production-grade thermoplastic and the hoops are made of steel and are tuned in the traditional way.
The weight in the box is mainly attributed to the fact that it houses a drum rack, a Hi-Hat stand and a Bass Drum Pedal. The drum rack supplied is a solid steel tubing construction that feels as if everything is going to be just where I put it with little to no movement. So the first big job is putting the stand together but I am no stranger to these types of stands so it shouldn’t be too bad. OK so after unpacking the (12 clamps, four rubber feet, two upright tubes, two ‘feet’ tubes and one short tube) and following the instructions, I now have my assembled stand ready to mount my drums, cymbals and the new brain. There is even a drum basket so you do not need to buy a conventional snare drum stand. The impressive Bass Drum goes in first and locks onto and fills the size of the stand’s opening. This is a very sensible design and obviously with it being attached to the main stand provides the necessary stability. I then added the snare basket to mount the Snare and then the Toms. I do like the natural feel of these mesh heads and these are great if you want to do some quiet practicing in your bedroom with headphones. The last job is a cabling job but fortunately the cable loom is all colour coded and makes the setup a breeze.
TRAPS E500 HI-HAT AND CYMBALS
I was also surprised to see a Bass Drum Pedal and a Hi-hat stand included as well as the two boom arms for the two cymbals. The cymbals are moulded with an internal trigger and are quite soft to damp down some of the stick noise. The Hi-hat is similar to Roland’s VH-11 in that it is just one cymbal instead of two but actually functions in the same way as a conventional Hi-hat.
The cymbals that come seem OK but in my opinion, they have some good and bad points. They are designed in a similar way to the Roland’s to pivot on the cymbal arm and provide natural movement. Having cracked an electronic cymbal in the past, I am not a great lover of the hard plastic type like these that do not look as if they could take the punishment that drummers like to give out. The rubber area however is quite responsive for stick bounce and I quite liked this and almost wished the whole surface was covered with it to add to its strength and durability. I also did not the like the blue logo which gives more of a toy-like look to the cymbal rather than a professional look but I suppose it matches the rest of the kit.
The best looking electronic cymbal I have seen to date has got to be the new Zildjian’s Zen 16 cymbal which is simply stunning. I think if I was designing cymbals for an electronic kit, I would want them to move just like a real cymbal, be made from something that can take a heavy battering and at the same time (especially for the Ride Cymbal) have sufficient bounce and playability and finally like acoustic cymbals, stand out in relation to the rest of the kit and look eye-catching on stage. The difficulty with this is obviously the cost factor and whilst I would not expect to see Zen 16’s on a kit in this price range, I do believe that they could improve on the looks without increasing the production costs.
Looks are not everything as the main thing is that you want your drum kit to feel and sound good. Unfortunately I think the weakest link on this kit is the hi-hat. Having said this, I think I have always spent the majority of time with the Hi-hat trying to get it to feel right, by using different stands and adjusting the settings on the drum brain and I am sure if I had more time with this review I could achieve a better hi-hat feel on this Traps Kit. I remember trying the VH-12 Hi-Hat on the Roland TD20 kit and to be honest I hate the idea of two pieces of rubber flapping together, I much preferred their VH-11 with just one cymbal but even this took me sometime to achieve what I was after. For the novice I think that the Traps hi-hat will do an OK job, but for drummers that have some good skills, I think they will find it lacks some of the feel of an acoustic hi-hat and does not quite measure up to the Roland and Yamaha equivalents but again you have to take into consideration the cost element here. Roland and Yamaha kits can cost 2,3,4 and even up to 5 times the cost of this Traps Kit so I think this really does put things into perspective.
THE FEEL OF THE TRAPS E500 MESH-HEAD DRUMS
For me without a doubt the best thing that I liked about this kit is the Bass Drum. It is a great size, has two heads, looks good, feels good and sounds good – what more could you ask? I do like the natural feel of these mesh heads and these are great if you want to do some quiet practicing in your bedroom with headphones. I did experience a few small miss-triggers and occasionally some cross-talk so I referred to the manual to make some adjustments on the drum brain. I would like to say at this point that I feel the manual could do with some improvements and clarity and perhaps their site could have a video clip to explain the workings of the drum brain to assist where the manual falls down a bit, but with a bit of perseverance and trial and error, I successfully made my adjustments.
TRAPS E500 ELECTRONIC DRUM BRAIN MODULE
The new E500 Module is fairly light and therefore I think that you would have to take some care with it, if you used this kit ‘live’. It is however packed with features. I would not say there is anything different here from other drum brains apart from the on-board recording which I thought was a nice addition and could assist with the kit being used as a training aid for an individual or for teaching if they were used in schools for example. The layout is very sensible and easy to understand but there is the usual problem of navigating the menus, which makes it less user-friendly and as I have said this is where you could do with some clearer instructions in the manual.
There are many buttons on the oval-shaped brain which are divided roughly into three sections, with the LCD centrally at the top and the main data wheel in the centre. On the left you have controls that relate to recording, editing and playing songs. Here you will find a button for Click, Part Mute, Menu, Mixer, Record, Play, Tempo, Kit, Utility and Song. With the Menu button you can access pages to change a voice etc., whilst the Utility button allows you to make global settings for things like adjusting the sensitivity of the drums, effects and MIDI. The section over on the right-hand side provides you with three volume knobs for Headphones, Auxiliary In and Master Volume. And there are buttons for + page and – page, Save/Enter, Exit and Card and lastly larger plus and minus buttons to increase or decrease the current parameter that you are on. Finally the third section at the bottom as a kit layout of pad selection buttons where you can audition the sounds of the currently selected kit. There is also a red indicator light to show clearly as to which pad is selected. These indicator lights are also used on other buttons of the brain and I found this very useful to constantly be reassured as to where I was and what I was doing / editing for example.
There are quite a few editing parameters for you to set up to suit your own needs, even the Click Track you can have with a voice count, adjust the Time Signature, Tempo, interval and Volume. Each part of the kit can be tweaked like the sensitivity of the Pads, the velocity curve and the elimination of any cross-talk. You can adjust the EQ for different environments or to assist in creating different sounds and/or you can add reverb and adjust the Surround and Pan. You need to a little trial and error in conjunction with understanding the manual until you are creating and saving your own kits with relative ease. To assist you they have programmed the fact that the kit defaults to the last one that you used when you power up the brain.
CONNECTIONS AND THE SD CARD
Around the back (and labelled nicely on top) are the connections for all of the drums and cymbals with two spare connections to expand and add another Tom and Cymbal. There is the DC9V power adapter input (with a tiny on/off switch on the side, strangely I was expecting a push on/off button), an Aux In, Left and Right Main Output jack sockets, a USB port and MIDI In and OUT. At the front are Headphones socket and a slot for an SD card which supports cards from 16 mb to 2 Gb which can be used very usefully to play back MIDI files or to save User Kits, User Songs and Global setups.
There are 674 drum voices covering drums, percussion and effects and a further 18 Hi-Hat combinations in this brain, which is enough for you to find the sounds that you want and there are 40 Preset and 59 User Kits for you to make your own setups. Some of the sounds are very good but again there is nothing too different here that you would not find on most of the other electronic kits. The sounds to my ears sound as if some form of compression has been used on them, this especially noticeable with the Ride Cymbals. I would not say that is necessarily a bad thing, but as there are only EQ and Reverb available as on-board effects, there is not a lot you can do about it, if you do not like it.
I have always thought that the electric kit is a completely different instrument from that of the acoustic, yet manufacturers seem to be completely obsessed with creating electric kits that sound like acoustic kits. For me, I wish there was an electric kit that sounded nothing like an acoustic kit. I would want it full to the brim with the type of sounds you might find themselves on machines like the Elektron Machinedrum SPS1-UW, Arturia Spark, Korg Wavedrum Oriental, MOTU bpm and Native Instruments Maschine. The idea here is to have sounds that could be used for drums instead of drums, such as pieces of metal and especially vocal samples. Then finally throw in all the weird and wonderful world-type percussion sounds and you could have an incredible, original drum brain to make all manner of rhythmic flavours. This would be an incredible useful tool in the studio but also a great add-on for Acoustic drummers that want a more varied sound palette. It is nice to see that there are some sounds that fit these criteria on this Traps kit. One of which is an Electron Kit and there are 18 Electron Bass Drums to choose from but probably the best feature here is the USB connection whereby you could use the Traps Kit to drive drum software on your PC or MAC.
You will need familiarise yourself with the sounds available. The Manual lists them but the FX sounds are unhelpfully listed as FX 1 to FX 70 and then Fx 1 to Fx 17, then there are DJ1 to DJ10. This is 97 sounds that I have no idea as to what they are. On investigation I discovered that page 14 of the manual attempts to advise you on how to edit a voice on a kit. I noticed at the bottom of the page it said “Exchange and Rename menu can’t be seen when it’s Preset Kits”. As there are 40 preset kits, I went to kit 41 “MyKit 001” and pressed the menu button which gives access to four pages:- Voice, Pattern, Exchange and Rename. With the Voice page displayed and the Bass Drum highlighted, I pressed Enter and this took me to the Group page for KickBk. The plus and minus buttons here take you through eight groups for Kick, Snare, Tom, Ride, Crash, Hi-Hat, Percussion and SFX. With the SFX page on screen, I pressed the +page and this took me to FX1. Now I can hear the 97 sounds by scrolling through them and discovered that they are the usual General midi FX sounds ranging from dog barks to gun shots.
PLAYING SONGS WITH THE TRAPS E500 DRUM KIT
There are 120 Songs loaded internally and space for another 100 in the User area. That is far larger than Roland’s expensive TD20 song facility which also has no user area. They all seem to sound a bit dated to me but make a very useful practicing tool as you can mute the drum part and play your own part over the top. There are songs such as Fusion, Funk, Ballad, Disco and Pop which are basically Pattern Loops. Then there are some Percussion Loops like World 2, Bossa and Reggae. There are also some One-Shots and Hits.
USEFUL TRAPS ACCESSORIES (OPTIONAL EXTRAS)
A couple of items that caught my eye was the fact that Traps have some very reasonably priced additions; a single braced Drum Stool, a dust cover for their kits which is a great idea and two shoulder bags that will transport the whole kit.
Well the obvious conclusion is that this is such a great product for the money, full size drums all with mesh-heads and all other hardware included. At this price-point, no-one should find fault with it because you really do get a lot here. On no other kit do you get a 20 inch Bass Drum and the addition of a USB connection, a recording facility and the ability to store to SD Card as well as play MIDI files. I think if I was making these kits, I would make a few improvements and charge a little bit more, still keeping the price very competitive. I would look to try and improve the Hi-Hat and Cymbals, do away with the blue colours around the kit, improve the packaging a bit and re-write the manual. If I could still do it without significantly increasing the cost then I would also look to improve some of the minor triggering issues and look to achieve a slightly better dynamic response.
So if you are looking for a compact Mesh-Head kit for an unbelievable price then I would certainly give the Traps E500 a bash because I really do believe you would be pressed to find an electronic kit that offers this much in this price bracket.