Hands-On Review:Roland Percussion Pads- Drums for the new millennium

Click here for all products by Roland.


When humans descended from the trees and began whacking logs with sticks, a percussion paradigm was established. Rhythmic patterns are best achieved when we hit objects with other objects, be they our hands, drumsticks, mallets, etc. If you've ever tried to establish a rhythmic groove using a keyboard alone, you know how tough that can be.


Roland's pads retain all the physics and dynamics of whacking objects while opening up a world of sounds, effects, and grooves that would require a warehouse to store and a lifetime to learn. Whether you're a drummer wanting to expand your acoustic or electronic drum kit or a musician seeking powerful, natural grooves in the studio or onstage, they're your passport to percussive bliss.


SPD-6: mojo plus MIDI
The most basic and affordable Roland pad set delivers a lot of performance and compositional possibilities. Six velocity-sensitive pads can be played with sticks or your hands-a toggle lets you set sensitivity. I found I could easily avoid cross-triggering.


The SPD-6 offers 32 patches-16 factory and 16 user including conventional sets, hand percussion, and effects. Altogether you've got 113 sounds grouped in four banks to play with. I was particularly impressed with the conga's realism.


Eight buttons let you select patches, parameters, and values. Though there is no display as such, I found navigating through these processes was quite straightforward.


With MIDI out, the SPD-6 serves as a triggering device and with a pair of optional footpedals you can more naturally control your hi-hats and kick drum.


SPD-20: upping the ante
With a whole lot more waveform memory, a bigger working surface, and 14-voice polyphony, this senior sibling gives you the power to create highly complex rhythm tracks. If you've balked at diving whole-hog into Roland's V-Drum technology, here's a viable alternative.


The SPD-20's 700 pristine sounds range from dry acoustic drums to jazz, old school, funk, rock, pop, Latin, and orchestral sets. If you're a devotee of Roland's ultra-phat TB808 and 909 beats, you'll find them too. It's also loaded with outrageous ethnic percussion from all points of the globe-particularly nice for creating dance and world music with all of their eclectic instruments.


Even if you don't know a paradiddle from a press roll there are drum loops and rolls to help you construct convincing rhythm tracks. Editing is easy with an interface that makes short work of adjusting parameters. The eight pad zones respond realistically to traditional drumming techniques such as rolls and flams. You can also layer different sounds on the same pad by assigning velocity-dependent triggering so that based on your stick technique you can alternate, for example, between rim shots and full-on snare hits.


With four trigger inputs you can use other pads or even your acoustic kit to trigger sounds. Adding the optional

FD-7 Hi-Hat Control Pedal lets you trigger open and closed hat sounds. The optional KD-7 Kick Trigger lets you employ your favorite kick pedal.


SPD-S: slick sampling machine

If you want to incorporate sampling into your setup sidestepping the need for rack samplers, acoustic triggers, and MIDI programming, here's your pad.


The surface includes six pads plus three edge triggers that with eight-voice polyphony let you construct elaborate tracks. With three sound-quality modes, the sampler imports up to 360 seconds of sounds and phrases at CD-quality 44.1kHz. The CompactFlash card slot provides a pathway to the entire world of electronic percussion.

Of course, the SPD-S comes with a full complement of preloaded waves that run the gamut from acoustic drums to exotic percussion instruments to effects and phrase loops. The Phrase Maker helps you create custom loops easily.


HandSonic: put your paws on it

For the hand percussionist and those of us whose stick technique is rough, this baby is IT! The 10" circular pad is split into 15 zones with a control surface that's both sleek and easy to understand. Flanking the pad are a pair of ribbon controllers and a D-Beam controller. It's armed with 600 sounds, 160 presets, 80 user patches, a host of effects,   and a sequencer that has its own set of 99 preset and 99 user patterns.


Though the menu-driven parameter settings are deep, I have to admit that during my first evening messing with the HandSonic, I never got beyond the presets. Twirling the jog dial through 10 sound categories brought up an incredible array of acoustic drums, shakers, timpani, electronic drums, and much more. I was especially impressed with some of the Latin and African percussion as well as tabla voices that have sharp edge sounds contrasting with open sounds at the center of the pad.


As with all the units, the HandSonic is standmountable for performance. The ribbon and D-Beam controllers coupled with hi-hat and kick triggering plus 18-note polyphony let you get a whole lot of percussion going all at once.


Features & Specs

  • 6 velocity-sensitive pads
  • 4-voice polyphony
  • 113 sounds
  • 16 preset, 16 user patches
  • 8 patch-select buttons
  • MIDI output
  • 8 velocity-sensitive pads
  • 14-voice polyphony
  • 700 instruments
  • 99 patches, 8 patch chains
  • Independently assignable effects
  • 4 external dual trigger inputs
  • MIDI in/out
  • 7-segment, 3-character LED display
  • 9 velocity-sensitive pads
  • 8-voice polyphony
  • 360 seconds of sampling @41kHz
  • 128 patches, 399 waveforms
  • CompactFlash slot
  • 30 effects
  • 2 waves assignable to each pad
  • MIDI in/out



HPD-15 HandSonic

  • 15 pressure-sensitive zones
  • 600 pad, 54 backing instruments
  • 80 user, 160 presets, 10 chains
  • 64-voice polyphony
  • 2 ribbon controllers
  • D-Beam controller
  • 3 realtime control knobs
  • Kick and hi-hat controller support
  • Multi-effects
  • Built-in rhythm performances
  • 4-track sequencer
  • MIDI in/out/through
  • Expression pedal/hi-hat control jack
  • Dual trigger & footswitch jacks