In today’s era of music it’s not uncommon to hear live bands playing with backing accompaniment. You’ll find it everywhere from arena pop bands to local lounge acts. The Roland OCTAPAD SPD-30 is a set of electronic drum pads with practically endless musical possibilities.

On first impressions the SPD-30 looks small and compact but this minimalist design hides a wealth of music potential. You can use the SPD-30 just like a regular drum kit or electronic kit by playing on the pads supplied. Alternatively it works as a triggering module for starting and stopping backing SFX, samples and full tracks. It really is a one-stop-shop for sample enthusiasts.

It’s in the price range just above an entry-level electronic drum set. While it can do many of the things that an electronic kit can do, it also has a whole lot more to offer. Let’s examine the OCTAPAD SPD-30 in more detail.

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Design

Roland has built the SPD-30 with portability in mind. The entire unit is just less than 2 feet in length and weighs a tad under 4 kilograms. From the off, it’s plain to see that the OCTAPAD would be no hassle when transporting to and from live gigs. If you shop around you can find a standard guitar pedal soft case that will fit the dimensions of the SPD-30 snugly. Some online retailers offer the SPD-30 as part of a package deal, including a soft case and clamp mount too. Many drummers prefer to mount the SPD-30 onto their drum rack or to a tom stand. In general it seems to be in or around the position of the hihat that most players find the SPD-30 most playable.

On the face of the device we have 8 rectangular pads which function as the main sound triggers. You can configure these pads in any way you like. Effectively the SPD-30 acts as an advanced 8-way triggering system. There are a total of 670 different sounds built into the OCTAPAD and they range from acoustic drum sets to electronic synth sound effects. There are 50 different preset drum kits to choose from right off the bat. You can play around with the SPD-30 just like you would a regular electronic drum set. Each pad is assigned a different sample, such as a hihat, ride, snare, bass drum and so on.

It’s good to know that this unit is compatible with other electronic components such as pedals and pads. You can plug additional devices into the SPD-30 and use them for controlling onboard trigger sampling. If you already have an electronic kit with pads and cymbals, then the chances are that certain components will work with the SPD-30. You can use the hihat and bass drum pad from your electronic drum set to control the sounds just like with a regular electronic drum module. There are 5 inputs of this type on the back of the unity and they are labeled, ‘ride’, ‘hihat’, ‘snare’, ‘kit’ and ‘hihat controller’.

To the right of the pads on the SPD-30 we have all the controls for accessing menus and making changes. There is a large backlit LCD display which clearly shows the section or subsection we are currently viewing. There’s a total of 5 different dials which are used for different functions such as scrolling and parameter adjustment. Also we have 13 buttons of varying shapes and colors with which to make our selections. Functions such as ‘power on/off’ and cursor keys are to hand and readily accessible.

The ‘phrase loop’ is a handy feature that allows you to compose and build beat loops on the fly. You simply arm the record function and can play with or without a metronome to create your own beats and phrases. Once you have recorded your first take and are happy with it, next you can continue to layer more takes. You can do this with 3 parts in total. If you are not
happy with a take, or would like to redo your playing on only one pad, you can delete it and just overdub that pad again. When you are happy with the completed phrase, you have all the regular options that come with built-in loops. You can play around with the tempo, add effects and customize it until it is to your satisfaction. Then save it to one of the empty presets for use at your live gigs.

There are 30 effects built into the OCTAPAD SPD-30. These effects can be armed and disarmed at the touch of a button. You can choose from the usual array of effects such as reverb, phaser, flanger, overdrive and delay. Once the effect has been selected, you can change parameters and play with the wet/dry mix.

Connectivity

Aside from the 670 sounds which come with the OCTAPAD, you can also import your own. This is typically done by using any standard USB flash drive to load on the selected sounds or songs. Also on the back of the SPD-30 is a USB-MIDI connection which can be used alongside any DAW. The SPD-30 will act as a MIDI controller so you can create and build songs in real time. There’s also standard MIDI in/out connectors on the back of the unit should you prefer to use that type.

When it comes to monitoring the SPD-30 you have options too. There is a stereo out, one left, one right, on the unit which is ideal for sending to a P.A. or monitor mix. You can also plug headphones directly into the SPD-30 if you prefer to play silently without distracting anyone. Like many electronic drum sets on the market, the OCTAPAD allows you to send audio through it. Connecting iPods or MP3 players is easily done and gets routed to the main outs or headphone outs.

There’s also a connection input for adding a foot switch. This is an invaluable tool, especially when it comes to playing live. A simple footswitch can be assigned to either stop or start a loop or backing track any time you need to. This frees up band members and more specifically drummers so that they are not confined to playing along with a strict tempo-based clicktrack.

Learn more about the OCTAPAD SPD-30 specs from the official Roland website.

Pros

There’s no doubt that the OCTAPAD SPD-30 is one extremely versatile instrument. Not only can you play drums with it but you can also use it like a pitched keyboard too. It’s easy to assign pitched percussion samples to the individual pads and play the SPD-30 like a marimba or a xylophone. The pads themselves can even be triggered by hand, so it’s not like you must use a drum stick. This opens up the SPD-30 to being an ideal accompaniment tool to any musician from singers to guitarists and bassists. The range of sounds supplied by Roland is impressive too. There’s everything there from techno pad sounds to world percussion.

You’ll often see the SPD-30 being used with large ensembles for major pop acts. The real advantage of a machine like this is that you can cram decades of one artist’s signature style into it. Many touring acts end up playing songs from different albums, some of them spanning generations. Naturally this means that there may be many, many different sounds that need to be recreated on stage. The versatility of the SPD-30 means that you can now trigger these sounds in real time, without the need for hiring a busload more musicians.

When it comes to digital music, the OCTAPAD SPD-30 really excels. There is so much you can do with it musically. You can load any sample you want onto the device and, once imported, you can alter it in a number of ways. The potential to create new and exciting sounds is always there with the SPD-30 which is great for getting out of any musical writer’s block situations.

Cons

It’s surprising that Roland have not chosen to include a hardcase with the OCTAPAD SPD-30 as standard. This is a sturdy piece of kit but it’s not the type of machine that will take too many knocks. There are a lot of internal electronic components that need to be cared for, especially in transit. I would suggest getting a proper hardcase for the SPD-30 if you do decide to purchase one. It’s not worth taking the risk with a piece of equipment, especially at this price. Should you wish to have a hardcase made for the SPD-30 you can. The dimensions are 22×11 inches and 4 inches in depth. This is a common size, especially for guitar pedal boards and similar pieces of equipment.

Another part we are missing from the basic Roland package is a suitable mount. In 99% of cases the SPD-30 will be mounted to a robust stand of some sort. This means that you will need to purchase the appropriate mount. You could get away with placing the OCTAPAD on a flat surface but in most cases, and especially on stage, this will take up more space and means you have less options to adjust the height and angle.

When it comes to the pads on the SPD-30, they are made from a gum rubber type of material. This is similar to the material that many electronic drum sets and practice pads are made from. The stick response is sharp and the pads offer a solid bounce. There are no rims on these pads, which would have been a nice addition. Perhaps Roland will consider this with their next iteration of the OCTAPAD. It would also be good to see a version of the SPD-30 but with mesh drum heads. Mesh drum heads provide a much more natural and realistic response which is closer to that of a real acoustic drum. With mesh drum heads you also have the option of increasing or decreasing the tension to adjust the stick response.

Price-wise, the OCTAPAD SPD-30 is not exactly cheap and might be outside many people’s budget. It’s a nice piece of equipment with lot of versatility but the price is a bit inhibitive. There are cheaper drum pad sets out there but none come close to the SPD-30 in terms of usability. It would be nice if Roland had priced the SPD-30 closer to the sub-$500 price bracket. It has better sounds and more nuanced features than most electronic kits at that lower price, but there is much less expense when it comes to hardware with this unit. Also the SPD-30 is such a compact unit that shipping it is far less bothersome than with any full size electronic drum set, which is sure to keep the cost down.

Conclusion

This is a slick percussion controller with a host of features. Roland has made the SPD-30 so user-friendly that it makes it a pleasure to work with. You could leave most musicians in a room with the SPD-30 and they would have a basic grasp of the functions within a half an hour. Whether it’s creating your own custom groove, synth bass line or SFX track, the SPD-30 makes the process a breeze.

As an addition to a drum set or as a standalone music tool, the Roland OCTAPAD SPD-30 is a fine piece of equipment. It will prove popular amongst all type of musicians as it is so intuitive to use. Cycling through the features of the SPD-30 is easily done and it’s clear within minutes of playing that there is so much potential for music. Whether you plan on using it to increase the amount of auxiliary snares on your drum set, or you need something that can easily trigger backing loops, the SPD-30 is hard to beat.

This is one of the most popular drum pad systems on the market. The size of the unit makes it easily transported, which is a huge bonus when effectively you’re carrying a full drum kit and more around. Fetching a second hand SPD-30 is not that easy either, and for a reason. They tend to hold their value. It’s the type of kit that once you learn the ropes, you won’t want to part with it.