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June 12, 2008 | Reviewer: Allan Leibowitz

rolandtd9kxThe new TD-9 electronic drums are designed to slot into the middle of the Roland range – above the entry-level TD-3 and below the fully loaded TD-12 and 20 flagships, replacing the TD-6. The TD-9KX V-Tour kit is a self-contained set-up featuring the new control module, an all-new sturdy, compact rack, mesh-head snare and three mesh toms together with electronic hi-hat, crash and three-way triggering ride cymbal.

The module, the brain of the kit, has a new shape which makes it looks more like a serious musical instrument than its predecessor which could be confused for a game controller. The module has a large LCD display and generous buttons and controls.

As a mid-range drum controller, the TD-9 has made some compromises. Where the TD-6 had 99 pre-set kits, the TD-9 has 50. The drum instrument library has also been tightened – down from 1,024 to 522. But in this case, Roland has gone for quality over quantity, and the sound engine boasts some terrific instrument sounds, especially snares and cymbals which take full advantage of the increased wave memory, now 4 times greater than its predecessor. And the module has also gained some rudimentary modelling capabilities, allowing users to tweak the sample sounds, for example by virtually tuning the heads tighter or looser, adding virtual muffling, or in the case of cymbal sounds, changing the size and sustain.

The module also allows for ambience and equalisation tweaking, emulating anything from playing in a bathroom to the superdome. The 50 customisable pre-set kits range from resonant acoustic kits to jazzy set-ups with sizzling cymbals. There are sharp fusion kits and specialty sets for disco, Latin and reggae – as well as some fun set-ups like steel drums or orchestral kits. And of course, users can edit or create new kits – and thanks to the TD-9’s USB functionality, keep back-ups on hand for a quick install. This replaces the cumbersome MIDI-USB cables and file exchange system required on other modules.

While the new module may have fewer stock kits and sounds than its predecessor, it certainly has some advanced functions. One feature sure to be used by many drummers is the instant record function which allows for patterns or songs to be recorded on the fly and played back instantly. This is very useful when you want to layer your performance or if you simply want to listen and critique your style.

Play along songs now feature actual audio recordings which can be looped and the drums and individual instruments can be muted. It’s Possible to play along with just the real bass player’s part and record the entire song with backing into the quick record feature and store them onto a USB stick.
Another useful tool is the “Scope” function – which displays a separate line for each drum instrument with zoom in and out from 2 bars down to a single beat creating a visual representation of drumming accuracy and whether the user is on the beat, behind or ahead of it. The “Scope” feature is a great training aid, especially when coupled with the in-built metronome.

The enhanced KX kit features dual-trigger drums throughout, allowing for head and rim sounds previously not available on TD-6  – and in the case of the 10-inch snare, added cross-stick sounds. The three toms are Roland PD85 8-inch triggers, and are set for either rim sounds or different instrument sounds in the various kits.
While perhaps a little small for acoustic drummers, the drum pads have the feel of “real drums” as well as dynamics that one would expect with harder and softer hits. The V-cymbals also have a great feel and very little stick noise. The compact, dual-zone CY5 is used for the hi-hat, a CY8 for the crash and the three-zone (edge, bell and bow) CY12 makes a versatile and expressive ride.

The kit is supplied with a KD-8 kick trigger and an FD-8 hi-hat controller that provides realistic open-closed effects.  Also, the TD-9 is compatible with the TD-12 pro series VH-11 hihat for even more realistic and responsive feel. Aux trigger inputs work with acoustic drum triggers like Roland’s own RT series triggers and the addition of a TMC-6 trigger to MIDI converter unit will give users 6 more, 3 way trigger inputs for use with the kit.

Roland has beefed up the rack from its TD-6 predecessor, and the new MDS-9 benefits from two extra legs and memory locks. The ride and crash cymbal have been shifted to the vertical posts which might have impeded access, except for the new multi-joint cymbal mounts featuring a new ball-joint for extra flexibility. The same joints are used for the snare mount, while the toms attach with regular Roland L-rods. The rack is easy to assemble and to fold up for gigging, and a new cable management system is also designed for ease of set-up. Instead of the sea of spaghetti and bunch of plugs, the triggers are joined to the module by a single plug fitting.

The TD-9KX has 11 inputs, but the ride takes two of those. So drummers can potentially only add two more drums or cymbals to the set-up – which may be a limitation to anyone planning a huge collection of triggers. But the ability to trigger two separate sounds from the toms gives the set an impressive range of sounds.
Another oddity is that Roland has chosen to equip the set for the input of .WAV song files rather than the more popular MP3 format, but anyone wanting to play along with MP3s can do so via the “Mix In” input or by simply converting their MP3 songs (out of iTunes for example) and store them onto any MAC/PC USB stick.

For practice, the kit has a stereo headphone jack, and for performance, there are dual left and right (or mono) output jacks as well as in and out MIDI connections.
The kit, which sells for $3,995 (KXS all-mesh version; or $2,795 for the non-mesh KS line-up), is easy to use, expressive and versatile and should be a hit for any drummer from beginner to gigger. Its sounds certainly rival its top-end siblings, even without tweaking. But this is a mid-range kit and professionals will probably give it a miss because of the limited number of inputs, the limiting proprietary cable system and the lack of full-blown COSM (Composite Object Sound Modelling) capabilities.

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