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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Review - Alesis DM10 drum module

I've had this sucker for over a month now, and I think I have enough data to compose a review, and I do this after finding out something that is super annoying. But, we'll get to that.

First, a quick review for the impatient. This is, IMHO, the best module for it's price on the market today. Alesis could probably charge 50% more (and maybe more) and it would still be a good price. With extra purchasable 'sound sets', the DM10 is also expandable without having to go the full VST / Laptop / computer route, this isn't the first module to allow uploads (I have heard the ddrum modules did), but it is the first in recent years, and is definitely a feature that is unique in the current market. The triggering and editing capabilities are excellent and easy to learn. A few minor annoyances aside, I am very, very happy with this module.

The fuller, longer version for the detail gluttons:
The DM10 module is the newest offering from Alesis for their e-drums set. A full kit runs about $1000 (US) for the 'Studio' and about $1500 for the 'Pro' kit. Personally, if I were buying a full kit, I'd get the 'Studio' kit.

Since I built my own e-drums using acoustic shells, and I already own a bunch of e-cymbals, I only wanted to purchase the module. Cost $639, plus the mounting hardware of $40. (purchased from RMC Audio)

Comparison vs. Roland (functionality & price)
Functionally, it compares in between the Roland TD-9 and the TD-12. It has some high-end features which makes it a better module than the TD-9, but there are features that the TD-12 have that the DM10 doesn't, so I rate it in-between for functionality. But for cost, it is LESS than the TD-9, making it a great deal.

Comparison vs. Yamaha (functionality & price)
If you're a Yamaha edrummer, it's got a lot of the features of the DTXtreme III (layering comes to mind) and completely out classes the DTXPress IV. I think the only thing that the DTXtreme III has on it is on-board sampling (which even Roland TD-20 doesn't have!). The DM10 is definitely better than the DTXPress, but not quite the level of the Extreme.

After that, the DM10 is a very good module for low/mid-entry level e-drummers, it's just slightly short of the other companies top-end offerings, making it a great deal. For expereinced e-drummers, if you are used to a top-of the line modules, this may not do what you want, but it is cheaper, so if you are looking for the mondo kit and one more module, maybe this would be a good second / add-on module.

My experiences with it:
The good:
excellent editing capabilities - I get excellent dynamic response from my drum pads after tweaking the module a bit, and once I learned some settings, I could apply them across all my pads to get good response from all of them.

Lot's of inputs - The DM10 has 11 stereo inputs that an industrious user could use and configure 22 single-input pads. the 12th input is the hi-hat, and it is not stereo, only mono.

Hi-hat dynamics - This was the primary reason I bought this module, I wanted a newer module with excellent hi-hat reaction and definition. I can get about 5-6 different levels of 'openness' that I can hear. Maybe there are more, but I can't hear the difference. I can get a foot chik, and a splash.

3-zone ride feature - this takes 2 inputs (2 stereo cables) but you get a ride that has a bow, bell, edge crash and choke functionality.

Built-in kits - 100 pre-programmed kits out of the box. This thing sounds really quite good. Even kit 001, Fusion, is decent and I find myself using a lot of the default kits. You can modify these kits, too, if you want. But there are a lot of room to customize, read on.

Editable kits - the DM10 gives you 100 more kits to edit to your hearts content, what is better, you can copy a pre-programmed kit, and make changes to it, leaving the default kit alone, and allowing some significant tweak room to make your perfect kit.

Third party kits - the DM10 is going to soon feature down-loadable sound sets. These are specific kits that are made for the DM10 from companies like ToonTrack, FXPansion and others. These sound sets will allow you to replace the default sounds with a purchased 'high definition sound set'. Alesis hasn't quite gotten these out yet - to my current disappointment - but they are planning to have some for purchase soon.

Expandability - The DM10 has a unique feature to allow access to 35 additional customized sounds via MIDI. And this could be user-custom sounds, not just stock sounds. So, with my Trigger IO, I could build a monster kit with this option.

The Bad:
Single Zone hi-hat. tip and shank - is that really too much to ask for?

One choke-able crash - for some reason, only the input #7 for a crash cymbal allows choke. True, the ride allows choke, but only when configured as a 3-zone. I have a second crash that I cannot configure to choke, and I am slightly disappointed in that.

MIDI note editing - I just found this out, I was testing the DM10 into VST - I own Steven Slate Drums and I wanted to check out the DM10's MIDI capability / functionality. I found the that the hi-hat and Ride MIDI notes cannot be edited - and the manual confirms this. I found this super annoying, and while I am resourceful and can get around this in at least 3 different ways, the easiest way is to edit the note in the module. Why would Alesis hard-code MIDI note numbers for certain inputs? It baffles me.

That's my review, and as usual, I was long-winded. Maybe you'll find this useful, I hope so. If there are questions you have, feel free to post them, and I will answer them as best I can.