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Alesis Samplepad Drum Machine review

Dedicated to delivering memorable musical experiences for more than 30 years, Alesis deliver their latest rhythmic performance tool in the shape of the Samplepad drum machine.

The Alesis Samplepad is a compact size yet remains practical, fitting into a 290mm x 280mm x 65mm area and has a lightweight yet sturdy feel to it. This instrument is all about performance; its four rubberized pads are velocity sensitive and just large enough to avoid miss hitting. There’s a blue backlit display which gives information on what sound is playing and displays editable basic parameters such as the tuning of the sound, amount of built-in reverb, volume, pan and pad sensitivity.  Four easy to use cursor buttons help you navigate around the display and allow you to edit and change sounds. There is a dedicated master volume control encoder along with a backlit red LED indicator, which will let you know which of the four pads and one kick input are in use at any given time. At the back you’ll find a pair of output ports that take care of the main stereo outs; in addition to this there is also a headphone monitor which, similarly, is the ¼” jack size. One of the more practical features of this unit is the dedicated kick drum trigger input, which can be assigned to either switch mode (which allows you to connect using a mono ¼” cable with non velocity type kick triggers), or trigger mode, with velocity sensitive hardware such as Alesis’s own DMpad. In line with their focus on performance, there is a MIDI out port as well. This improves access to different sounds by means of hooking up to a MIDI interface, straight into another drum machine or even your laptop perhaps. A 9-volt DC power pack that you can plug right in provides the necessary power.

By any standard the unit is user friendly. As soon as it’s switched on, with drumsticks in hand, it’s ready to go. Accessing the Samplepad’s 25 built-in sounds couldn’t be easier as they have been organised into eight user kits – changing and storing new configurations is also a simple procedure. The Samplepad will remember any changes you have made as you cycle through each kit, making on the fly changes easy. The sounds are of a good quality, with some decent electronic snares along with wind chimes, cowbells, claps, congas and kicks to name a few. But the truly exciting part of the Samplepad’s capability is the fact that you can load your own samples using a SD card. (Make sure that you have formatted your card properly to start with – it always pays to read instructions about using SD cards carefully as there are usually some special cases to consider.) In this case, you have to ensure your sounds are mono .Wav audio files, sampled at a rate of 48k, 44.1k, 32k, 22.05k and 11.205k and located in the root of the SD cards directory and not in any folders. It’s also recommended that you format your card to the FAT32 file system, which means you have to be careful not to use any special characters in the naming of your file and keep it down to eight letters, not including the .Wav suffix. It takes a few seconds to load the sounds into the memory but it is possible to store up to five of your own sounds in the Samplepad’s memory – as long as the size of all those files doesn’t add up to more than 14MB. (Be careful when calculating file sizes as they are rounded up to the nearest megabyte.) There is also a limit of 10MB per sample. Even though the basic operations of this unit are simple, there are still some tricky – but admittedly small –hurdles that need to be overcome to make the most of this performance tool.

Hooking up to MIDI is easy, with no lagging or  double triggering. The kick trigger input is also a very handy tool. Taking into account the size of this machine and the fact that you can load your own sounds into it, plenty of DJs will take it on the road with them. (Alternatively, it can be also used to extend an existing drum kit or percussion set up.) It is possible to get good results by hooking up the trigger to one of the industry standard drum transducers, which allows you to extend the tone of the regular acoustic kick by adding something either from the Samplepad library or your own samples via the SD card. Of course, the Samplepad is not alone in the world of sampling drum pads. Roland’s SPD-S sampling drum pads have been in the marketplace for some time, and last year they upgraded their unit to the SPD-SX which ships with a whopping two gigabytes of memory. Along with all that, however, comes a bigger price tag and also the Roland is a lot more complicated to use. The small memory size of the Alesis’s does restrict loop triggering somewhat, and it would be nice to see multiple outputs and a slightly more rugged build. It’s possible to mount the unit on either a standard snare drum stand or you can buy the rack mount kit, which comes separately. With Alesis it is all about the musical experience, and to their credit they have made a user friendly, portable, sampling drum pad performance tool at a realistic price.

Review: Robin Lee

Specifications:

Dimensions Approx 290mm x 260mm x 65mm
Power 9-volt DC
Controls 4 performance pads, 4 cursor buttons, a volume encoder and an on off switch
Outputs Stereo 1/4″ jack, 1/4″ headphone jack, midi out
Inputs Kick trigger input 1/4″ mono
Library 25 percussion and electronic drum sounds, SD card access to up to 14 MB of mono .Wav samples