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  • Gaming Drummers…Product Reviews

    Posted on January 31st, 2009 Shawn No comments

    It’s been a while since the pre-Rock Band 2 (RB2) / Guitar Hero World Tour (GHWT) debate of which game would have the better peripherals. For me, a drummer, I have been most interested in what the makers (Harmonix, Mad Catz, Red Octane, and Ion) had in store for the new games.  See our initial preview from July.

    Now, that both games and kits are available for purchase across basically all of the consoles, it’s about time I got some hands-on time with each drum kit. In this post, I will talk about the drum kits for RB1, RB2, GHWT, and the growing world of modified electronic drum kits. I will briefly talk about the kit for Rock Revolution though will keep it short due to lack of hands-on.

    Rock Band 1

    The first drum kit on a console ever. Great and flawed all at the same time. Four pads, and a kick drum plugging into your console (or wireless for PS3). Has a total of five inputs.
    The Good
    * Songs played on expert are pretty darn close to the real thing (though that’s more compliments to the software, not the hardware).
    * This kit can help the rhythmically challenged, get quite good on getting, hands and feet operating independently…similar to real drumming.
    The Bad
    * The pads are loud, just too loud. My wife regretted me purchasing RB1, because no matter where she is in the house, she can hear me “click, click, clicking” away at the pads.
    * The pads have little (to no) bounce, making the kit nearly impossible to play perfect on difficult songs with lots of repetitive notes (i.e. 1/16 or 1/32 notes). You will inevitably miss notes, due to the lack of bounce.
    * Dropped beats. I believe, due to a combination of no bounce and sensitivity issues, nearly all fast songs will have dropped beats on occasion.
    * Kick pedal will break. I was surprised that it took me nearly four months to break my kick pedal, since it’s made of poorly reinforced plastic. It took me only 2 weeks to break my second. Now, the broken pedal is covered with duct tape.

    Rock Band 2

    I got a chance to play this kit today, at my local Circuit City. Visually, it looks 95% identical to the RB1 kit, just some slight coloring differences. Four pads and a kick pedal. New pedal is metal reinforced, but don’t let that fool you. Reinforced in the middle, not the bottom. Cymbals available to add on, to enhance realism but not change game play. Extra (unknown) input in the back, no details announced. Possibly a 2nd kick pedal add-on.
    The Good
    * Pads are considerably softer than RB1. Great improvement.
    Better bounce. Immediately, the bounce is noticeable. You will get less hand cramps on this kit, and you may be able to perfect Don’t Fear the Reaper (if you desire).
    * Wireless. If the RB1 wires bothered you, they have been removed.
    * Cymbal addition. Mad Catz has been licensed to add on up-to three cymbals. They were not on the set in the store, but should improve realism if you are looking for that. They map to the same pads as the toms, so you will have two options for the same note.
    The Bad
    * Kick pedal still built with flimsy plastic at the base. Although the middle is metal reinforced, the point where I broke two pedals is still flimsy. Expect it to break.
    * Cymbals cost extra. I would pay for these, though wish it could come pre-packaged.
    Nice, must have improvements over the RB1 kit. Nothing revolutionary, but solid evolutionary updates (just like the game itself). Need to build a better kick pedal though, or users will be forced to stock up on duct tape.

    Guitar Hero World Tour

    Three soft, quiet, bouncy pads, and two cymbals. Big plastic kick-pedal. This set has six inputs, where the RB kits only have a total of five. You basically get an extra cymbal on this kit, but interestingly lose a tom in place of a 2nd cymbal.
    The Good
    * Quieter pads than RB2.
    * Good bounce.
    * Set plays well over all.
    The Bad
    * Kick pedal might be prone to same breakage as RB1 pedal.
    * Kick pedal doesn’t have a place to lock on. So, it can easily slide around the floor if you aren’t playing on a carpet.
    * Software glitch. I haven’t seen this, but there was reported some cross-talk and missed notes on the set, though looks like it’s been corrected with a PC-base software patch.
    A good set. Quite a good 1st attempt from Red Octane. Nice having the cymbals all packaged in one. As a drummer, the more pads available the better…I like that. I’m not sure about the extra-soft pads. They feel unusual to the touch. Need more playing time on them.

    Rock Revolution

    Set with the most number of pads. I believe 6 plus a kick. The actual set though, is odd shaped pads on one flat surface, and a kick pedal. I have not heard much as far as reviews on this.
    The Good
    * More pads is always good, and challenging.
    The Bad
    * Odd shaped pads looks bizarre, and I’d imagine difficult to get used too.
    * No cymbals, or cymbal option to purchase.
    Although, I state that more pads is better, the RR game looks quite bad. So, I don’t see any reason to look into a drum kit for a game that I don’t plan on buying. UPDATE 02.01.2009: Strike that last sentence since I have bought GHWT kit and have no plans on buying the GHWT game. Plus, without any cymbals (or expansion options), this kit actually falls behind the others.

    Ion Drum Rocker

    This is an actual electronic drum kit, made by a low-cost e-drum kit maker. It’s as close to the real deal as we have seen so far. 4 drum pads, 1 kick pedal, and up to 3 cymbals. It’s designed to work with RB (1 & 2) with 5 total pads, but has possibilities of working with GHWT too.
    The Good
    * Real pads, on a rack, to be positioned wherever you want.
    * Quiet pads.
    * Good bounce. No more missed beats due to bad drums. All missed beats are now your fault, not the drums.
    * For drummers, this is the official kit to get.
    The Bad
    * Expensive at $300. UPDATE 02.01.2008: It can be found for around $270 now.
    * Kick pedal is actually cheap and flimsy. Designed for hi-hat, but instead Ion put it in the package as the kick pedal. Recommend Ion users upgrade to an additional Ion kick pedal package.
    * Setup will take a while. Unlike the other kits, that setup in minutes, this will take you hours to set up…and days to get perfect.
    * For non-drummers, there will be a steep learning curve.
    Ion built this kit based on their $250 (non-RB electronic drum kit). They took away some components of that kit, and added in some RB specific, and sell it for $300. High on price, but solid on quality. It’s not the type of quality a long-time e-drum drummer would expect, but for the hardcore RB or GHWT drummer, this is the kit to get.


    There is lot’s of noise going around the electronic drumming community about taking a high-end e-drum kit, such as something by Roland or Yamaha, and connecting it to consoles. This has been achieved by a handful of people so far, where they’ve modified the chips on the RB1 kit, and bypassed the signal via MIDI output to their e-drum kit.

    There are several success stories of this in the RB forums, and we plan to join that pack. Instead of retiring the RB1 kit for the RB2 or GHWT kit, I’m in the process of gathering the parts to connect my Roland/Yamaha e-drum kit to work with RB2. I will be working on it later this week, and will document the steps as I go.


    • For the hardcore RB drummer, save your pennies and get the Ion Drum Rocker. If 300-beans is just too much, we understand. Both the RB2 kit and GHWT kit’s have huge advantages over the RB1 kit.
    • For the average RB2 or GHWT player, I’m a bit torn, but would probably say my 2nd choice would be the RB2 kit (assuming the add-on cymbals worked as expected)…though, I need more time with the GHWT kit.
    • For the completely insane with bottomless pockets, stay tuned for my post on the modded RB1 / Roland / Yamaha mega-kit that I’ll be bastardizing this coming Friday.

    UPDATE 01.31.2009: This post was originally posted in November 2008. I’m updating with newer info and reopening comments. Now, I own the GHWT kit and have an update.
    * The GHWT kit plays quite nice with the hi-hat (yellow) pad in a more realistic location. Though, the additional cymbal (orange) does nothing for Rock Band. That’s too bad. It would be great if Harmonix did some software updates to allow the orange pad to act as the Rock Band cymbal (blue or green) during in game play.
    * Though the yellow pad can be slightly awkward in Rock Band when it is used for a tom-tom. It’s not terrible when yellow is used for a tom, but definitely awkward and unrealistic.
    * The GHWT kit has a MIDI port (thanks Grant for pointing that out in comments). I wish I realized that comment two months ago. The MIDI port opens up a whole new world of game drumming. (See other posts regarding using a real electronic drum kit.)
    * Also, the GHWT kit has an additional port for a 2nd kick drum pedal, allowing double-bass drum in the upcoming Guitar Hero: Metallica. Very nice for the hardcore heavy metal drummers.
    * With the realization of the MIDI port on the GHWT drum kit, this opens up a world of drumming possibilities. I’m moving GHWT to the 2nd place spot over the RB2 drum kit.


    1st: Ion Drum Rocker
    2nd: Guitar Hero World Tour
    3rd: Rock Band 2
    2nd & 3rd (tie): Rock Band 2 & Guitar Hero World Tour
    4th: Rock Revolution
    5th: Rock Band 1


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