Alesis Performance Pad Pro
Alesis Performance Pad PRO Review
Alesis have been around a while and are generally well known for their electronic music equipment for DJs, sound systems and indeed electronic drums – the DM5 drum module has been around for quite some time and is still a favourite of many users for its simplicity and sound quality at a great price point.
Alesis now bring to the table a pair of percussion trigger pads, the larger eight pad Performance Pad PRO reviewed here and the smaller (four pad) PercPad unit [review already on the site]. These are designed in the vein of other classic percussion pads such as the Roland Octopad, SPD-20 and SPD-30, Yamaha DTX Multipad12 and others so, as per their contemporaries, these are designed as all-in-one modules to be played by drummers and percussionists as stand alone devices, or linked to external triggers and MIDI sound sources etc for playback and control.
The Performance Pad Pro (not to be confused with the similar Alesis Performance Pad) is a fairly large, black and slick looking unit and is one of the slimmest perc modules I have yet come across. The eight large rubber trigger pads, large blue LCD backlit screen and buttons generally speak for themselves although I initially noticed a lack of large, easy to access buttons as per Roland and Yamaha offerings. Also lacking is a now common USB port so this unit is designed very much a stand alone unit (although I will come back to MIDI and external triggers later).
What it can do
On offer are 500 sounds of all types including tuning instruments, percussion, sound effects etc, 100 user definable and 100 present kits, 100 user and 100 preset patterns (to build up songs in smaller chunks), 100 songs and 32 note polyphony. On board rhythms and sequencer (lifted from other ‘well known Alesis drum modules’ ie the SR18) offer accompaniment, recording and playback of the internal sounds. Connectors include a pair of trigger inputs (for ‘bass drum and hi hat pedals’), left and right ¼” jack outputs, headphone socket, and 3.5mm aux jack input for iPod etc connection for audio playback through the Performance Pad Pro. There is also onboard effects and processing in the form of reverbs and compression etc. and a familiar Alesis sequencer for recording and compiling performances, grooves and tracks.
The underside has four screw holes for attaching a mounting plate for clamping the unit to a stand, again as per just about all other percussion trigger pads.
So, at a glance this is a stealthy looking, simple to use system. So do the guts of this perc pad unit match the funky exterior?
What it actually does
As soon as you turn on it is easy to start playing on a drum kit, or percussion patch which you can jump to via the three blue buttons in the middle of the keypad. This is a nice touch and reminds me of some stage pianos where you are only ever one ‘short cut’ button push from your favourite piano sound. As I said, there are 100 preset kits each laid out suitably on the rubber pads so a pair of sticks can form a pretty reasonable ‘drum kit’ groove. You can also rearrange any of the 500 sounds to allocate to any pad of your choice within the user programmable patches so custom kits are possible to fit your requirements. This was handy for customising your own sound layouts or indeed setup of a drum kit patch for left-handers (out of the box, all drum kit patches appear to be for right-handers – BD and snare on the left bottom row pads, hi hats on the right).
How it plays and sounds
In practice the large, curvy shaped flat rubber pads offer a pretty good response and overall sticking experience. Like all rubber-type pads there is a fair old amount of bounce but you can easily adapt to this and the triggering seemed, on the whole, quick and responsive. In performance at a disco gig I did not once notice any crosstalk (where one vibration from striking one pad activates one of its neighbours). Only time will tell if these pads will stand up to the rigours of a lot of beating but I found no wear and tear in my time with this unit. I also tried some bare hand playing on the pads and, while this works by simple activation of the pad trigger, there is no added function offering, for instance, after-touch or positional zoning for things like pitch bend offered by other, more costly or dedicated hand percussion trigger units.
I also liked many of the sounds inside this machine. Especially for the price, these are often quite vibrant and realistic, although, as always with a large number of sounds, there are a few (I would say) oddities but there is usually someone out there who needs exactly the sounds I don’t and vice versa! The percussion sounds were warm and wall rounded in character and seemed to sit well together such as bongos and congas, for instance. Also the on board effects, and especially compression worked well to offer a more up-front sound character that helped cut through the live mix. The unit claims to offer 24 bit audio output so should offer a reasonable source for sampling into your computer or recording.
There are some other handy features such as mute groups so any pad allocated to a particular group will cut of the other sounds in that same group – ideal for open/closed hi hats etc.
What it can’t do
There are no USB connections for dumping sounds to and from the memory [ie, you cant load samples], MIDI input connection or indeed USB flash memory stick. This is a little surprising as just about every other electronic musical instrument I can think of these days does at least offer MIDI over USB. That said, there is an argument for this being a cost effective stand alone machine, and, to be fair, there is a standard five pin MIDI output for using this unit as a controller for external MIDI devices.
To me the buttons are also a little small for a ‘performance’ module. Also, located at the top of the front panel as they are, these are possibly a little less accessible than might be ideal, especially if you happen to be playing with one hand while punching buttons with the other. Also a volume dial on the top/front panel would be handy (it is actually a small dial on the rear face and therefore not accessible while in mid groove). Otherwise, the controls themselves are quite well thought out and generally mean less page jumping than some other modules (the balance between too many and too few buttons is a bit of a issue for me but Alesis seem to be somewhere in the ‘acceptable range’ the ratio of page turns (scrolling through pages) verses button number for most efficient navigation of the module). The screen makes up for button size as it is large, clear and well laid out offering just the right amount of information at a glance relative to the capabilities of the unit. This, coupled with the large rotating alpha wheel make everyday navigation quick and easy and makes up a lot for the slightly small panel buttons.
The two trigger inputs (designated bass drum and hi hat pedal respectively) work fine with simple non-latching foot switches, but not apparently with pads or bass drum triggers which is a pity as it does somewhat stop you from building a small electronic kit around the Alesis. I would like to have seen a few actual trigger inputs so you could add, say, snare drum and tom(s) pads also. But perhaps the price dictated the aux trigger numbers so really I cannot gripe. In their favour the ¼” jack connectors themselves are the robust, nut and screw type assemblies Often found on decent guitar amplifiers etc) so are actually better and more solid than many other drum brains and modules where the jack inputs/outputs are only sitting butt-up to the rear panel and held in place only by their solder on the printed circuit boards. So I expect the Alesis design will see less damaged jack connectors over the years to come!
Finally, I found out just before a gig, you can’t use the Yamaha mounting plate on the Alesis unit due to the slightly off-square cut-out recess on the underside. The Yamaha plate is just a little too big to sit flush with the bottom surface so you would be best going for the Alesis own option (which is also black plastic) or the heavier, chunkier metal Roland APC-33 plate and clamp set will also do it. Or, indeed, a trusty old snare stand.
Why it is worth having
The Alesis Performance Pad Pro is around half the price (or less!) of most other manufacturers of similar products! So, while it does not do everything that the latest top end models offer from Roland and Yamaha (USB interface, multiple trigger inputs etc), it does what it says on the tin and sounds good too. Easy to play and use, even the more usual complex and multi page programming is actually reduced a little here so that gets my vote! Indeed I was able to program some last minute sounds during sound check to get what I needed and was happy with the simplicity and speed of it (although a list of the sounds in the user manual would have been nice for quick reference).
All things taken into account this is a good bit of kit for the price and Alesis have a reputation for nice, sensible gear without a big price tag which is obvious with the Performance Pad Pro. I had fun playing this unit, especially for the classic disco sounds such as syn-toms and hand claps which had our guitarist in stitches – in a good way! So, watch out for this perc pad - I can see this taking some of the sales that might have otherwise gone to Yamaha or Roland, especially if all you need is some goods sounds and a surface to trigger them all in one box.
Also see www.alesis.com
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