This pad’s OK(to)
Friday, 26 March 2021 3:45 pm
Allan Leibowitz tested an Octapad look-alike to see if it’s also a sound-alike.
Multipads are coming of age, with the range growing rapidly, especially at entry-level.
In line with the recent low-cost SPD-X knock-offs, including the nPad/Avatar PD705/Gear4Music DD90, Carlsbro has released an Octapad clone which I am surprised is not the subject of a legal action – if not for its similar name, Okto A, then for its striking design similarity to the SPD-30.
What’s in the box
The Okto A is an eight-pad drum multipad and kit substitute with 408 drum voices, 30 preset drum kits and 20 user drum kits. It ships with proprietary hi-hat controller and kick pedals wired together and connected via a single TRS jack.
The box also contains a pair of Carlsbro-branded sticks – something of an indicator of a beginner product.
The eight pads are almost identical in size to the nPad/Avatar line at 9 x 10 cm, although the rubber is much thicker and slightly more bouncy.
The Okto A can be expanded, with inputs for an additional ride, snare and kick as well as a pair of inputs for an external hi-hat and controller.
The rear panel also includes a full-size stereo audio out, a mix-in jack, a 1/8” headphone jack and a USB connection.
There’s a 6 x 5 cm LCD screen and an array of dials and knobs on the right hand side to control most of the functions easily and logically, without having to dig too deep into menus.
You can buy an optional stand, but the pad can be mounted using a regular module mounting plate. There’s also an optional carry bag – which is a nice touch not available with other lower-cost multipads, including the Alesis Strike Multipad.
The multipad is pretty much plug and play. Plug in the pedals, connect the power cable, switch it on, select a kit and start playing – with the free included sticks.
Each pad is editable for triggering, with users able to adjust sensitivity, threshold, mask time, crosstalk and retrigger “cancle” as well as choosing from one of six response curves.
The kit menu allows you to switch between the kit presets and choose from one of the 30 stock kits which span everything from pop to world and orchestral sounds – including two rather unconvincing brushes sets. Kit modification options are limited to reverb (six options) and EQ (high or low). And if you make any changes, these are saved to a User kit.
Individual pad sounds are also editable. You can select a voice from the 400-odd samples, modify the reverb and shift the pitch up or down. Again, the changes are saved to a User kit when you hit “save”. Like Alesis, KAT and some other brands, if you don’t hit save, the changes won’t stick.
The manual specifies which pads can be connected to the external pad inputs and, of course, they are all from the Carlsbro range.
Not having access to any of those pads – a situation which will no doubt confront most buyers, I tried some pads from my collection and found the kick input was virtually plug and play with anything that was connected. I got decent dual-zone triggering on the snare input from a range of piezo/piezo mesh drums and found much more dynamic range and sound variability than with the inbuilt rubber strike zones. On the ride input, I got bow and edge triggering from various cymbal pads, but not necessarily in the correct configuration (often getting edge sounds from bow and vice versa). Hi-hat triggering was good, but I couldn’t get the pad to work using Roland, Yamaha and ATV controllers.
There is no trigger-type selection when setting up external pads, so it’s very much the luck of the draw if your non-Carlsbro drum or cymbal pad will work – but when they did work, they needed very little tweaking.
A nice touch on the Okto A that I haven’t seen anywhere else is the ability to switch the pad configuration from standard right-hand to left-hand set-up at the flick of a switch.
Besides being triggered by hitting pads, the Okto A also acts as a MIDI synth – interestingly via USB rather than conventional five-pin DIN connector. I was able to easily trigger VSTs via USB MIDI, but couldn’t trigger the Okto A from my laptop. I was also not able to connect via Bluetooth, although the menu indicates that both audio and MIDI can send wirelessly. There seemed to be no way to pair the mutipad with external devices – but maybe that will be fixed in a firmware update.
As mentioned, the Okto A is virtually ready to play out of the box. The default settings seem to be appropriate for the average player, and it’s possible to get decent dynamics and responsiveness from the pads in stock settings.
If these settings don’t do it for you, it’s very easy to adjust the responsiveness, and all changes are saved automatically.
The pads are slightly more bouncy than most anything else in this genre – but not unpleasantly so. The dynamic range, when you’ve got the setting dialled in, is pretty good and the pads seem well isolated from each other, with not a hint of crosstalk.
The pedals, on the other hand, are less responsive, and I found the bass pedal virtually unplayable. The stock hi-hat pedal, on the other hand, was more than adequate for the open/closed/foot splash functionality.
A good feature, especially if you’re able to connect an external kick trigger, is the ability to allocate x-stick sounds to the kick pad universally with a single switch. This means all the kits automatically get head and rim sounds for the snare, using the bass pad for the rim.
Kit changes were lightning-fast, but when you’re only switching one-layer samples, that’s not surprising.
The Okto A has a limited built-in record function. Why limited? That’s because, like the Avatar multipad, the device uses MIDI for recording. Even though you can set a metronome for the recording, there’s no count in, so the capture starts as soon as you hit record. And it’s not editable. Yes, you can set the tempo and record with or without a click, but you really have to hit the ground running with no way of editing out any silence at the start. And, sadly, the recordings are not saved permanently and each time you do another recording, you lose the previous one. So, there’s no way you can build loops in multiple takes, as you can with more advanced instruments. On the positive side, because the recording is MIDI and not audio, you can change the kit sounds after recording so if you decide on an electronic kit after recording the loop with a rock kit, it’s easily done.
Another nice feature is the LEDs which light up when each pad is struck.
As a drum module, the response of the Okto A is quite quick, with latency of 9.7 ms – far better than Avatar’s 13.9 ms and pretty close to the Alesis Strike Multipad’s 6.4 ms.
The Okto A is being marketed as a teaching tool and it boasts some nifty onboard coaching applications which allow students to practice rhythms, beats and patterns – at different tempos and degrees of difficulty.
Obviously, with electronic percussion products at the lower end of the market, you’re not going to get VST-quality sounds.
The Okto A has a good spread of sounds suited to a range of genres and the samples are decent enough. But played with the pads, they are one-dimensional, and the only variety is volume. So, it’s impossible to avoid machinegunning, especially on the snare and toms. Interestingly, when I connected an external snare, I seemed to be able to get much more variety in the sounds and could do a fairly passible roll.
While they can be used as full-blown kits, products like this are mostly used for sonic enhancement these days, offering drummers sounds they may not be able to achieve with their regular acoustic or electronic kit – and on that score, the Okto A probably does provide some usable additions. There are some decent electronic samples where the lack of sample layers is not really an issue. Similarly, a number of the ethnic sounds, from congas to tree chimes and shakers, sound decent enough.
Maybe the reason Roland has not acted against this new entrant is that anyone listening to the two side by side won’t be at all confused by the apparent similarities.
The Okto A is a useful instrument built for a pricepoint. It triggers well and has reasonable sounds. It can also be expanded into a mini drum kit by adding an external snare, kick, ride and hi-hat (with some caveats). And, for novices, it has some useful learning tools built in.
But the recording function is so limited as to be useless in the performing world.
There’s also no ability to import new sounds, so what you hear is pretty much what you get.
Comparisons with the other entry-level offerings is inevitable, especially as both are around the same price levels – the Carlsbro selling for around £229 in the UK (it is not available globally, but will no doubt later appear under other brand names), while the G4M multipad is slightly cheaper at £200.
While the G4M pad has nine trigger pads (three of them quite small) to the Octo’s eight, the Carlsbro has more external trigger inputs – as well as a hi-hat controller and kick pad included in the package.
The form factors are very different – two rows of four pads vs two rows of three and a third row of smaller pads.
The Avatar/G4M multipads do have one advantage: the ability to import user samples and generous onboard memory to store them. But, their sample-adding software is far from intuitive and, anyway, adding samples is not a deal-breaker for a lot of people.
Where the Carlsbro wins hands-down is its array of knobs and dials and the far more friendly user interface. Many months after first encountering the Avatar multipad, I am often stumped by the menu system and struggle to make the simplest changes. The Okto, on the other hand, is very easy to use, thanks to its logical controls and menus.
Kits: 30 preset + 20 User
Voices: 408 drum sounds, 128 GM song voices
Effects: 2-band EQ; 6 reverb settings
Audio sequencer: 1,000 notes (MIDI)
Connectors: 1/8” stereo headphone out, 1/8” stereo Mix In
Audio connector: ¼” stereo out, USB MIDI
Pedals: ¼” kick/HH controller
Extensions: hi-hat, ride, snare, kick, HH controller
Latency: 9.7 ms
Street price: £229 (A$449)