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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

  • My Top Obsessions of 2008

    Posted on December 31st, 2008 Shawn 1 comment

    As we wind down 2008 and wind up 2009, let me recap on the obsessions that have kept me coming back to the blog. In looking over the past 12 months, I’ll highlight the top seven obsessions that have swallowed up all my free time this past year. I’ll also take a look at what obsessions might be cropping up for 2009.

    Here are the obsessions in order of importance to me.

    Picture the ball dropping, and countdown on…
    10, 9, 8…

    7. Death of My Treo Obsession.
    After four dedicated years to the Palm OS and the Treo lineup, and the blog formerly named My Treo Obsession, the obsession that started this blog has ended. I have handed my Treo to my 3 year old son as his new toy phone, and my Treo 700p to my 2 year old daughter for her new toy phone.

    6. New Xbox Experience.
    The Xbox 360 is my console of choice (though do use a Wii nearly as much) and the New Xbox Experience (NXE) was a fun obsession this year. We got to hear the rumors, leaks, and beta testing of a cool dashboard for the Xbox 360, which in November brought new life to the 3+ year old gaming system. I really haven’t played with NXE much since it came out, due to other obsessions taking up much of my time…also, my general rule when it comes to Xbox is, (1) turn it on (2) start Rock Band 2.

    5. Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy.
    Well this is an obsession that has spanned a decade+, and finally came to fruition (well, sort of) in November 2008. Axl Rose, and an entirely new band, finally released Chinese Democracy. So, the hype was of course huge and the album…well, more of a let down to most. But, honestly, something that was hyped for about 14 years is guaranteed to never match expectations. I can say that I have only listened to the CD three times, which either means I don’t really love it, or maybe I just got old in the past 14 years. You decide. None the less, it was a very exciting past few months discussing GNR all over again. I felt like I was back in high school again.

    4. Drumming Stuff.
    You may know that I’m a long time drummer. If it weren’t for Rock Band and all the other rhythm games out this year, I probably would have not talked much about drumming on the blog. But, thanks to Rock Band 2, Guitar Hero World Tour, Rock Revolution, and others, drumming was a big part of the year. From the new kits with the games, to the ION Drum Rocker, to me building (and temporarily failing) a custom Roland/Yamaha kit to work with Rock Band, it was a great year for electronic drumming. I can anticipate that in 2009, this obsession will likely continue. As my Rock Band drum kit recently died (red pad is a goner), and I plan to continue my soldering challenges of building a custom Roland/Yamaha kit to work with Rock Band, 2009 will be a big year for my drumming obsession.

    3. BlackBerry Storm.
    Although the Storm has been on the top of my blog posts lately, it tops out at #3 this year. The hype leading up to RIM’s for touchscreen device was just awesome. The release date flops and “not ready for prime time” OS that it released on, made for great posts and quite an obsession. Now it’s stabilizing, and 3rd party apps are cropping up everywhere. For me, I have enjoyed the Storm since I got it, and continue to love it more every day. Since this blog was founded on gadget obsessions, I’m sure the Storm and BB in general will play a big role in 2009 obsessions.
    2. Rock Band 2.
    This has taken a big part of my life in 2008. What a game! What a soundtrack! What a fun way to listen to music! On and on. I just love this game and everything about it. Rock Band (and Rock Band 2) has brought me back to gaming, has brought me back to drumming and singing, has brought me closer to friends and family (though my wife would disagree), has given me a way to stay close to people who are geographically far away. I get excited every Friday to hear about the new downloadable content (DLC), and rush home Tuesday nights to play with friends. In 2009, I see this genre remaining big on my obsession list, possibly with focus on new DLC or possibly the rumors of a Rock Band 3.

    1. You, the readers.
    Corny, I know. You may not know this, since I only blog about it once or twice a year, but I spend a lot of time watching statistics of the site. I love seeing what the sites visitors are reading, where in the world they live, and what keeps you coming back for more. As much as I started this blog for myself, it’s built up a few occasional writers (I’m always looking for more writers) and thousands of visitors. In the six months I’ve been using Google Analytics to follow site statistics, I’m happy too see over 5,000 visitors a month and steadily growing. My current target is 9,000 visitors a month by Summer. I’m happy to see some people taking advantage of the Store offerings we added this year (sponsored by Amazon, Best Buy, and Google), and just glad to see that people enjoy reading and discussing the same things that I obsess about. Thank you!

    With that, we’ve come to the end…

    Happy New Year!

    Please share your top obsessions in comments below.

  • Guitar Hero World Tour patch fixes (some) issues with Ion Drum Rocker

    Posted on October 29th, 2008 Maki 4 comments
    The recently-released Guitar Hero World Tour title update has corrected issues Ion Drum Rocker kits were having with the game on Xbox 360. Initially, the Ion was detected as a Guitar Hero kit (with 5 pads plus a kick pedal.) The problem arose whenever a cymbal was hit, since both the orange note and whatever color the cymbal was mapped to were triggered. The note streak was broken and it became almost impossible to gain star power, much less 5-star songs. An additional minor issue was velocity sensitivity not working at all on the red pad and preventing players from completing one of the drum tutorials.
    The new patch has fixes these issues by detecting the Ion as a Rock Band controller and using the 4 pad plus kick pedal configuration. While making the game playable, it unfortunately doesn’t make full use of the Ion kit’s cymbal attachments because now they are mapped to yellow, blue and/or green exclusively. Velocity sensitivity is now active for all pads and cymbals but drum tutorials are disabled unless you are using the Guitar Hero drums. “Accent” notes are disabled in gameplay as well, making velocity sensitivity a useless feature.
    In many ways this feels like a case of two steps forward and one step back. The game is playable and no longer an exercise in frustration for drummers, but hopefully future title updates will add orange note support for Ion owners and give them a reason not to go straight back to Rock Band 2 after they finish GHWT’s solo drum tour.
  • TWIRB – This Week in Rock Band

    Posted on August 27th, 2008 Shawn No comments

    First up, no Rush DLC due to technical difficulties.  Something else promoised to take its place before the week is out.

    From hmxseam (Harmonix Developer):

    Rush Delay Info

    Hey everybody,Unfortunately, due to unforeseen technical difficulties, we won’t be able to release Rush’s “Moving Pictures” this week. We’ll be working on it as hard as we can, but it looks like it could be a couple of weeks to fix. In the meantime we will be moving around our schedule so we still have DLC coming out each week (including this week, info to follow in another announcement).

    Look forward to some exciting news this weekend, from PAX and elsewhere.

    Engadget gets the ION Drum Rocker.  We are jealous.

    Hands (and feet) on with ION’s Drum Rocker Rock Band Premium Drum Set

    Rock Band 2 might not be out yet, but ION was kind enough to send us the new Drum Rocker Premium Drum Set a couple weeks early. Built like a tank, this thing makes the original Rock Band drum set look like the toy it is — we’re talking aluminum tube construction that apes traditional electronic rack kits, soft trigger surfaces that register velocity, and quarter-inch connections that’ll make modding a dream. Of course, all that heft means that set-up took over an hour and it eats up just about twice as much living room space as the original with no easy way to take it down, but if you’re a hardcore fake rocker and you don’t have the DIY chops to roll your own, this is $300 you’re gonna want to spend. A couple more quick impressions after the break, and tons of pictures in the gallery.

    Update: Joystiq also got a chance to check this bad boy out, they didn’t like it quite as much as we did. Take a peek here.

    I’m still stuck on (Don’t Fear) the Reaper drums expert.  Wo is me.

  • ION Drum Rocker. Not so Real Life

    Posted on August 25th, 2008 Shawn 7 comments

    First, Thanks Pabel for starting the conversation about the ION Drum Rocker for Rock Band on Xbox 360. This will keep us busy.

    I’ve started to review the photos over at Engadget, since those guys got their hands on a pre-release Drum Rocker. Hmmm….how does a schlep like myself get pre-release swag from the people in the biz? Honestly, I’d love it for free, but I’d pay for it too. Same thing with people getting pre-releases of Rock Band 2 and guitar Hero World Tour.  Just saying, think about the little guy over here on his blog.

    Back to my reason for this post. I take some issue with the ION Drum Rocker, and have quickly realized some early disappointment. I do hope what I have seen in the photo below is not the final plan.

    Look at the far left and far right sides. There are green, blue, orange, yellow, and red inputs for the drums/cymbals/pedals. At first sight, you might be excited about 8 inputs….I was. Then I thought about it.

    Wait a second…. Let me put on my real drummer hat for a minute. A basic drum set has 4 drums (snare, hi-tom, low-tom, and floor tom; hi-hat cymbal plus hi-hat pedal; kick drum pedal; ride cymbal; and crash cymbal. That’s 9 inputs. The Drum Rocker has 8.

    Hmmm. Ok, I have an even more concerning issue with this setup. ION has claimed that they are coming out for a second bass drum pedal for the heavy songs that use double-bass. Well, where’s the input for it? So, for me, a basic every day drum kit should have 10 inputs.

    I can say that some drummers use only two toms, but still that’s 9.  And not every drummer plays double-bass.  So I can see 8, but there is only one official input for “pedal”.  So, I don’t know. I haven’t played it yet, but I think they may have missed something here. I do want to get my hands on this ASAP for a real hands-on test drive and review.


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