Trigger happy

Tuesday, 11 September 2018 1:06 pm

Hybrid is more than hype, and Allan Leibowitz compares some easy to use, affordable options.

Stand-alone triggers, already loaded with samples, are a new growth area, popularised by Roland’s RT-MicS.

These instruments are part of the hybrid move, with acoustic and electronic elements blended to create specific sounds.

Our interest was first aroused by Drem Trigger, which launched on Kickstarter in April 2017, surpassing its goal, but not quite reaching the $40,000 stretch goal.

We’ve been keenly awaiting a review sample, but the trigger has not yet shipped.

We held off doing a head-to-head comparison while we waited for the Drem to hit production, but in the interests of timeliness, here’s our take on the two contenders currently on offer.

TrigMic

As it turns out, Drem is not the first trigger preloaded with samples. TrigMic has been around since 2011.

TrigMic offers a number of trigger versions, but the developer was keen that we try the “original” product, the TrigMic kick. Elijah Mudrenov said his experience was that “almost all the drummers want to trigger a kick drum first of all. That's why my company is focused on the kick drum triggering devices.” Who am I to argue with that?

The concept:

TrigMic is a contactless laser-powered trigger. Buyers get a Laser Pick unit that attaches to the rim – either a full-width wooden hoop or a regular tom-style hoop. The unit is powered by a regular AA battery (not supplied) and by default shines two beams downward to trigger a double kick. You’ll get some reflector strips that you need to attach to your beater (or you can order custom beaters).

Getting ready:

Once the unit is positioned so that the beam shines on the beater or beaters, you need to configure the trigger for either a single or double kick. There’s an additional setting to create machinegun triggering in dual mode (don’t ask me why).

The unit connects to an amp or PA via an XLR output.

Tweaking the unit is fairly old school – there are five LEDs that tell you the status in various modes. There are a couple of prominent switches (on/off and open/mute) and three buttons at the bottom, used to set parameters and change sounds.

The unit is Bluetooth-enabled, which is great. Not so great is that the companion app is only available in Android. While you can actually do much of the adjustment by holding multiple buttons simultaneously, it is much easier with the app. Using the app, you can tweak more than half a dozen parameters, including sensor type, threshold, mask time and retrigger – although TrigMic uses its own names for all of those.

Importantly, you can also import new sounds from a library of about 50 custom .tms files.

For the more creative, there are also Windows and Java tools for custom sample creation.

In action

TrigMic is designed to extend the drummer’s sonic palette without the need for a drum module, computer connection or external power sources.

The sonic extension consists of 10 onboard kits – two banks of five each. Actually, the second bank is empty on shipping, so you’ll need access to one of the software tools to fill ‘er up.

Since I was using a kick, I flicked through a bunch of stock kick sounds, from deep to punchy to electronic. While there’s no way of auditioning the sounds in the app, the easiest way is to load them all and see which are useful. Each time you load a sound, it overwrites the existing sound in that slot, so if you’ve lost one you like, simply grab it again and save it over one you like less.

Triggering was easy to dial in and rock solid once you get there. The dynamic range was good since we’re talking kick sounds, and the risk of machinegunning was low (in non-machinegun mode).

It’s worth noting that you can use the TrigMic with either mylar or mesh heads – in fact, you could probably use it with no heads at all since it doesn’t require vibrations – it just needs the beater to break the beam.

Bang for buck

Including shipping, the bass drum unit comes in at just over $200. That’s a modest investment for a self-contained plug and play hybrid solution of a trigger plus 10 sounds.

RT-MicS 

The concept:

In Roland’s words, “if your gigs demand more than your acoustic drums can deliver, the RT-MicS is the gateway to an inspiring new world of hybrid sounds”. The RT-MicS is a microphone, a trigger and a mini-module in a single unit that attaches to the drum hoop – either a full-width wooden bass hoop or a standard snare/tom hoop. Interestingly, the manual says it can’t be attached to wooden hoops, but I managed that without any problems. It is powered by a 9 volt battery (supplied) or an AC adaptor (sold separately).

Getting ready:

Set-up is logical and easy: attach the unit to the hoop and connect it to your amp or PA via two ¼” TRS cables – one for the mic and one for the electronic sounds.

There’s only one adjustment – sensitivity, which adjusts the sensitivity (surprised?) of the pickup. This control has no impact on the mic setting.

When you’re ready to play, a switch allows you to select your sound source: the pickup or a mix of pickup and mic. And you can control that mix by adjusting volume dials for each. You can even configure the unit so that imported sounds are only triggered when you hit the rim.

There’s a digital display on the top that shows which “patch” is currently selected, and you can scroll through the eight sounds by tapping the oversize button which also lights up when a strike is detected.

In action

Roland has mastered the art of delivering complex tools to the mass market, and the RT-MicS is designed to be instantly usable by anyone, regardless of their e-drum knowledge – or lack thereof. It is very much plug and play, and the limited controls (don’t overcomplicate things!) make it extremely intuitive and easy to use.

As a drum mic, it works well. Sure, it’s no Neumann KM 84, but it’s a good clean mic which does a good all-round job. Even on the kick, it performed well – despite the fact that it’s positioned on the batter side, rather than the more traditional placement at the resonant head.

As a trigger, it works really well both on the head and as a rim sensor.

The preloaded sounds - a couple of snares, a couple of claps, two sets of percussion sounds and two impact elements -  make it clear the unit is primarily designed for use with a snare, but you can change that by loading your own samples. Roland has a free app for sample loading, available for both Windows and Mac. Simply connect the trigger unit to your computer via USB, select the target location for the sample, choose a suitable sound from your hard drive (.wav, AIFF, AAC or MP3) and transfer it in one click. Roland has even supplied copies of the stock sounds because loading new ones overwrites the originals.

The sounds are single layers, but the unit adds a lot of options, bounded only by your access to sounds and the limits of your imagination – and the 10 second per sound time limit.

Bang for buck

Hybrid drumming just doesn’t get any easier: this is probably the most idiot-proof plug-and-play single-unit solution currently available.

Sure, it only comes with eight sounds, but the free software allows you to easily add your own samples in almost any common format.

Of course, that convenience comes at a price – in this case $260. Yes, you could achieve the same effects (plus a bit more) with a TM-2 module ($200) and a TR-30RH trigger ($90), but not as conveniently, nor in one compact package.