Just add triggers

Monday, 21 May 2018 3:52 pm

E-drummers tend to look at everything out there as a potential trigger device, and a couple of readers approached me a while back saying they had discovered “the next big thing”. Their interest was aroused when accessory-maker RTOM Corporation launched its Black Hole slip-on mesh head solution.

How it works

The Black Hole pads are heavy-duty mesh heads mounted on a rubber-covered hoop that snaps on top of an acoustic drum. Think of NFUZD, but with a mesh head instead of a rubber playing surface.

Now the official disclaimer: The system is designed to offer a quiet practice solution for acoustic drummers. The aim is to sound exactly like the acoustic kit but 80% quieter. The pads snaps on over the existing head, so no removal is necessary.

Although the manufacturer makes no claims about e-drum compatibility, I sense something may be under development to take it in that direction.

Triggering the heads

One drummer reported having attached a Roland RT-30 external trigger and achieved excellent triggering, so I set out to check whether the Black Hole pads would work with other triggers.

So, I cranked up the heads, slipped them on some acoustic drums and raided the digitalDrummer trigger vault. The heads come with a turn buckle tension ring and it’s possible to get them very tight, using the supplied tensioning tool. This, of course, is essential for a good trigger response.

Fitting the heads is also simple. They fitted on everything I tried – from thick to thin. The snare and tom pads just clip on with light pressure, but the bass drum pad requires a conversion kit which consists of some elastic attachments that clip on the reso head to keep the unit in place. The attachment kit may also be needed for some die cast or wooden snare and tom hoops, depending on the size and profile.

The bass drum proved problematic when it came to fitting an external trigger. Most triggers are designed for larger bass drum hoops, but none in my collection had an opening wide enough to accommodate the extra 3.75 cm Black Hole hoop. I suspect the Roland bass trigger, with its slotted design, may work.

The snare/tom units also post a mounting challenge for most external triggers. There are two types of mount: those which sit on top of the hoop and attach to a tension rod (eg. ddrum Red Shots) or those which effectively push against the outside of the hoop and which generally have a cut-out to accommodate the hoop.

The tension rod mount units are out of the question because the raised hoop of the Black Hole is far too high above the lug. To use these, you would have to remove all the tension rods and replace them with much longer versions.

Unfortunately, the news was not much better for the bulk of the “side screw” trigger units in my collection. Models from ddrum, ddt, pintech, Tdrum and Billy Blast could not be reliably attached. So, besides the Roland RT-30s tested by someone else, I could use an older ddt trigger and 2box’s Trigit snare and tom triggers. I also had some success with a DIY trigger that I’ll review in a later article.

In action

The pads come in a variety of sizes for common drum formats: 8”, 10”, 12”, 13”, 14”, 16”, 18”, 20”, 22” and 24”. I was loaned the Starter Pack (12”, 13”, 14”, 16” and 22”), but as mentioned, couldn’t test the kick.

For the snare and toms, the biggest challenge is attaching the triggers to the broader rim that sits on top of the drum’s hoop. Once attached, the three triggers that did fit remained in place and felt pretty snug.

I tested the triggered heads with a range of modules that allowed for adjustment of scan time, threshold and sensitivity/gain. Obviously, each one required some degree of tweaking when connected to the modules – generally, threshold was lower and gain higher than my usual external trigger settings.

I managed to successfully dial in all the tom/snare heads with relative ease and achieved good dynamics, sensitivity and head/rim triggering on all modules. A couple of design aspects had concerned me before testing: the cloth patch in the centre of the drums (much like Pintech’s mesh savers) and the rubber rims which I thought might impede rim triggering. Well, wrong on both counts! Triggering was even across the whole playing surface, including on the patch area – and rim triggering was flawless.

Of course, as with all side-mounted triggers, drummers sacrifice positional sensing for modules capable of that functionality. But the silver lining is that they also eliminate the dreaded hot spot as it’s impossible to hit the piezo directly because of its location close to the edge of the drum – and because it’s protected by the housing of the trigger unit.

Overall

So, do we have a new contender as an e-drum trigger surface? Provided you have the right external trigger or can modify an existing model to fit on the raised hoop, Black Hole pads do offer an alternative that is quick and easy and doesn’t require the removal of the acoustic heads.

On the plus side, the heads are tensionable and you can crank them pretty tight. The mesh seems quite robust and longevity is extended by the patch in the middle of the head.

Pricewise, in the USA the pads start from about $50 for a 10”, with the five-piece set selling for around $250. That’s not a whole heap more than decent name brand two- or three-ply mesh heads.

The downside is that this solution is noisier than regular mesh heads because of the resonance of the mylar heads. In fact, they are designed to deliver the original tones of the drums, but with an 80% sonic reduction. If that claim is correct, that still leaves 20% of the volume of the host kit. In some situations, like on stage, that may not be a bad thing, but if you’re after totally silent practice, then you may need to reconsider.

Anyway, thanks to those who spotted this as a possible e-drum solution. Please keep the suggestions coming and we’ll try to get hold of a sample and put it to the test. And in the meanwhile, given the interest they’re likely to have received to date, I would watch this space to see when RTOM works out an effective way to trigger these pads for a plug and play solution.

The review sample was supplied in Australia by distributor Dynamic Music. The RRP for the five-piece set in Australia is $799.