Since the early 1990’s Roland has been producing electronic drum sets for consumers all over the world. Their original TD-7 drum set was a huge hit and helped elevate electronic drums to new audiences. The appeal of electronic sets has always been the low noise playability and the vast array of sounds and styles that they have to offer. In this article we will focus on the best Roland drum modules. This is the component of the drum set which deals with the sound samples as well as the extra features such as play-along songs and tempo trainers.
The drum module is sometimes referred to as the “brain” of the drum kit. It’s here that all the signals from pads and cymbals are processed in order to produce the sound output. Quite often it’s possible to upgrade your electronic drum set to a new, better drum module. If you have a good set of pads and cymbals but you’re tired of the sounds that you have to play with, perhaps a new module is what you need. Read on.
You can mix and match different brands of electronic drum pads with different modules. Most components use a standard ¼ inch jack to connect.
Best Roland Drum Modules
As mentioned modules do not only produce the sound for each pad and cymbal. Quite often they are compatible with your desktop computer or laptop. This means you can connect to your favorite DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) and use the set as a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) musical controller.
Fans of play-along songs will get great use of the inbuilt songs that come with the majority of drum modules. There’s everything from metronomes to full backing tracks to which you can jam along to.
When it comes to realism and drum kit simulation, each module has different capabilities. For example a super-sensitive drum pad may not be suited to a very basic low budget drum module. In this case, expression on the pad will be limited to the capabilities of the module. It’s important in this respect to match your components well when considering a new drum module.
1. Roland TD-11 Review
The TD-11 is a lower mid-range drum module produced by Roland. The TD-11 is a step above both the TD-1 and the TD-4 series of drum sets. It comes with 50 drum kits to choose from (in terms of sound presets). These kits range from natural acoustic sets to digital FX kits.
Each sound can be altered or enhanced with the built-in sound effects that Roland have included.
There are 10 types of ambiance to play with along with a 4-band equalizer to tweak your sound. Each drum can be modified in a variety of ways from volume and stereo panning to more advanced features like tuning, muffling, snare buzz control, strainer setting and tone color.
Roland has created the TD-11 module with their own SuperNATURAL sound engine which boasts something called “behavior modeling”. Effectively the TD-11 module will work in real time to produce a more realistic play performance from the pad triggering. It does this by varying the sample selection during your playing. The net result is a performance with less rigidity.
If you like to record your playing, then the TD-11 will up your street. There’s a handy “quick record” feature that lets you put down ideas without much fuss. Playback is just as easy with the “quick play” function. This kind of feature is useful for teachers who want to give their students short patterns or beats to work on during the week.
It can also be beneficial for sound checking as it allows the player to get out front and hear how their kit will sound to the audience. The TD-11 is fully compatible with modern DAW’s too so you can hook it up to your computer and get tracking.
2. Roland TD-17 Review
The TD-17 is one of the latest releases from Roland. It is a state of the art module with many new and improved features. Roland tells us that the TD-17 is based on the same sound engine as the top-of-the-range TD-50 module. Good news indeed.
On the face of the TD-17 are 6 main buttons. You can use these buttons for accessing some of the most common features and menus on the module. There is also a big user-friendly wheel to scroll through the options with. Selecting kits and sounds is easy with the TD-17. The large LCD display shows clearly which function has been selected.
Layering sounds is one handy feature that allows you to expand your arsenal of samples. You can simply select any drum and use the “sub” feature to layer another sound on top. The TD-17 even lets you import your own samples on to the module. Once imported, they too can be mix and layered to your preference.
Delving into the editing features of the TD-17 and we find that it’s possible to manipulate samples too. You can edit the start or end point of any sample and save it to a custom slot. Both drums and cymbals can be muffled for further customization. Increasing or decreasing the muffling on any drum is similar to adding dampening tape to the head. The effect is a reduction or increase of any overtones. When applied to cymbals, the muffling feature controls the length of decay. A nice feature of the TD-17 is that it allows you to control the cymbal size from 1 inch all the way up to 40 inches. Plus, as is common with most modules, you have the ability to pitch any sample up or down.
The TD-17 comes with a selection of effects which can be placed over your kit sound. There are delays, reverbs, phasers and more FX to pick from. Ambiance settings allow you to control the environment of the kit. Room size can be altered and the module will even let you play around with mic positioning on individual drums.
This modern module has Bluetooth capabilities built in which allow you to connect the device to your smartphone. There are numerous benefits to this connectivity such as MIDI importing and exporting. It’s also really easy to stream your own music through the TD-17 using the Bluetooth function. This saves time and hassle and means there’s no need for any cables. There are a number of different TD-17 modules available and not all of them support Bluetooth. The TD-17L, for example, has no Bluetooth function.
In total there are 310 sample sounds on the TD-17 drum module. That equates to 50 user kits. You can also store up to 50 custom kits on the device. Fans of coach modes will get a lot of use out of the TD-17’s “time check” and “warm up” features. Time check monitors your playing and gives feedback on your timing. The warm up feature takes the user through a number of different patterns that will test your skills and coordination. There are also metronome dropout features to strengthen internal timing.
TD-17 Sound Quality
Take a listen to the TD-17 drum module here:
Many drum modules allow you to connect online in order to update internal firmware. Some updates will even allow you to update the sounds so you can play on the latest kits.
3. Roland TD-25 Review
The Roland TD-25 is a slick looking module packed full of sounds. There are 36 kits onboard the TD-25 with the ability to customize many more. Whereas many modules for the money offer more kits, they don’t match the depth of sampling that Roland have achieved here. Each drum has been painstakingly sampled from a variety of angles and dynamic ranges. The result is a flexible module that will bring out the best in any responsive drum or cymbal pads.
The design of the TD-25 is quite minimalistic. It’s easy to navigate and quite intuitive to get to grips with. The LCD display is clear and works well under any lighting. There is a large control wheel in the center of the TD-25. Labeled around the wheel are six kit types; standard, rock, metal, jazz, funk and electro. This allows you to easily select a kit to begin with. Once selected, you can delve deeper into the library of sounds and kits on the TD-25.
Also on the front of the TD-25 we have sound controls to add some equalization. You can adjust the bass and treble of your mix as well as control the backing music, if you happen to be using any.
This module can be connected to your Mac or PC for use with a DAW. Connection is through a USB port on the back of the module. Once connected, you can import and export sounds, as well as track drums, using either audio or MIDI.
This demo takes you through the TD-25 in greater detail:
Most drum modules can be used with standard drum triggers.
4. Roland TD-50 Review
The TD-50 is the flagship module in Roland’s series of electronic drum sets. This module boasts the best sounds along with the best brain to provide a uniquely realistic drumming experience.
First impressions are that the TD-50 has a far busier design than the TD-25. There are more knobs, buttons and faders to control parameters than when compared with previous models. You can now control each pad individually with an assigned volume fader. This saves a lot of time when mixing your sound on the fly at live gigs.
With 100 drum kits and over 400 sounds the TD-50 excels the TD-25 in both quality and quantity. The sample bank of sounds on the TD-50 was entirely generated from scratch so you won’t have heard them on earlier modules. You also have more effects to play with. There are 25 room types to choose from when picking your ambiance. There are also a few nice features such as individual compression for each pad, and 30 effects in total which can be assigned to any drum or cymbal.
Importing is also easily done on the TD-50. You can splice your own samples from your music collection or alternatively record them yourself. Once imported, it’s easy to chop down the samples using the LCD screen. The wave is displayed in full and you can select start and stop points for each new sample to be created.
Roland TD-50 Sample Importing
This video takes you through the import feature from a Mac:
The TD-50, being, dare we say, the best Roland drum module, is not cheap. You can spend around $2,500 just on the module alone. That’s without the pads, rack, or cables. It’s no surprise that an entire TD-50 kit can cost up to $10,000. For this reason, the TD-50 will be popular with professionals with deep pockets. Ideally when purchasing this module you need to have top end pads to go with it so as to get the most from the technology. Playing with the TD-50 module alongside a PD-140DS is a pleasure, and you really get a sense of the attention to detail that Roland have gone to. It wouldn’t be worth purchasing with an inferior pad.
When you go shopping for a Roland module you need to be confident that it will work to its best with your current setup. Roland has designed their kits in a way that ideally each module has an appropriate set of pads to go with it. There’s no real point buying the best Roland drum module to go with a set of entry level pads. And vice versa, you won’t get the best out of a high-end pad with just any old module. Bear this in mind and you won’t go too far wrong.
P.S. Not a Roland fan? Perhaps consider the Alesis Nitro as your foundation.
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