July 16, 2012

Product Review: Roland SPD-SX Sampling Pad

Roland SPD-SX Sampling Pad

The ultimate sampling pad for drummers

Roland announced their new SPD-SX Sampling Pad in late 2011 and we’ve now had many months to put it to the test and push it to the limits. We’ve been thoroughly impressed, and we are here today to proclaim it the undisputed king of sampling pads for drummers!

Being big fans of the original SPD-S and sampling in general, our expectations were very high when this sampling pad was announced. The original SPD-S became ubiquitous on professional stages around the world and a must-have device for drummers who wanted an easy way to trigger their own samples while playing without putting down their sticks. But the primitive compact flash card technology and file size limits meant that getting samples onto the device was a chore and the only way to keep a whole set’s worth of samples with you was to carry around a pile of flash cards. Now with the SPD-SX, sampling enthusiasts can rejoice because all of your samples and other data can be transferred over USB and there are now 2GB of storage on the device itself.

The ease of getting samples onto the device is the biggest notable improvement over the SPD-S and is something you will appreciate the first time you transfer a sample. Just plug in the USB cable, open up the new SPD-SX Wave Manager software, and you are set. You can even assign the samples to pads and build your kits using the software, which eliminates the need to keep pushing buttons on the device itself to setup your kits.

To make the ease of transferring samples even easier, you can now plug in a USB flash drive and import your audio files onto the SPD-SX from there. This is a feature that we’re seeing on other new Roland products like the TD-30KV-S Electronic Drum Kit and the TD-11K-S Electronic Drum Kit, and it’s a welcome addition that helps make these current Roland products more flexible than their competitors.

Additional USB functionality includes the ability to send both audio data and MIDI traffic, which means that recording the audio output of the SPD-SX is now as simple as plugging the USB cable into your laptop and opening up your favorite recording program. Being able to send MIDI traffic over USB also eliminates the need for a separate MIDI to USB converter, and because the SPD-SX has four trigger inputs and two pedal inputs, you can use it as a trigger-to-MIDI-to-USB converter for up to six add-on pads or triggers! This makes the SPD-SX and your laptop all that you need to start building any number of custom setups with enormous flexibility.

Roland SPD-SX Back

Back Panel
(click for full size)

The other big new feature that we’ve been loving is the new effects section. Although the SPD-S boasted an effects section with “28 multi-effects,” we found that these were not as easy to use in real time to manipulate your samples, and because of this they were more of an afterthought when using the device. The new effects section on the SPD-SX changes all of that by focusing on a handful of more useful master effects that you can manipulate in real time with two knobs, while still giving you twenty more “kit effects” that you can automatically apply on a sample-by-sample basis.

The master effects have been chosen well. There is a filter, a delay, a sweet new effect called the “Short Looper,” and an FX button that can be assigned to any number of effects like tape echo, phaser, step phaser, vibrato, ring modulator, pitch shifter, and more. The two knobs give you the perfect amount of real time control over the effects. When you are on the delay effect, the knobs control the delay time and the feedback; when you are on the filter effect, the knobs control the frequency and the depth. The “Short Looper” effect cuts a small slice of your sample and repeats it  to get that rapid fire, glitchy sound that is so popular today in dubstep and other kinds of electronic music. This effect becomes a great way to spice up your fills and transitions by letting you glitch-out your sample as the new sample comes in.

All things considered, the new SPD-SX is a near perfect device for many kinds of drummers. Those who like to play along with their favorite songs can cut up any song into its parts to make samples that can then be assigned to the pads as loops, which allows you to stay on any section of the song as long as you want and only move on to that last chorus when the time is right. Songwriters can make samples of their intros, verses, and choruses and play their drum parts live while triggering the other parts of the song as they go. Drummers who want to add triggers or pads to their kit can plug those pads into the SPD-SX and pick any sample they want to trigger, giving them the power to instantly transform that 18″ bop kick drum into a 909 low-frequency bass explosion. And if you’ve always been wanting a massive collection of shakers, rattles, vibra-slaps, chimes and other noise makers, add an SPD-SX next to one of your rack toms and you’ve suddenly got every studio percussion sound you could ever want right at the tip of your sticks.

The other options out there for sampling pads for drummers hardly even come close to offering the flexibility and features of the SPD-SX. If you are a drummer in the market for a sampler, pick up a Roland SPD-SX Sampling Pad today and you’ll thank yourself every day as it transforms your music making and takes it to the next level.

Click here to see our product page for the Roland SPD-SX.