Allan Leibowitz set out for some “shakin’ all over”.
THERE ARE SOME who say all that’s lacking in electronic drumming is “the vibe”. Literally – the vibrations, especially the low-end thump, that make you feel your beat.
This is not such an issue for those starting out on their drumming path with electronics, but may be a deal-breaker for acoustic converts and especially for gigging drummers relying on in-ear monitors or wedges to hear their kit.
Until recently, Pearl offered a good middle-of-the-road solution with its Throne Thumper, but that has been withdrawn, leaving the market open for the much higher-end Porter & Davies tactile monitors.
The UK company, probably realising that its previous $1,200 entry price was a bit steep for the average punter, recently added an entry-level BC-X model, priced at just under $1,000.
According to the company, the new model “has identical build quality to the BC2 and Gigster, just some simplified features”. The aim is to provide a stripped-down, lightweight version of the Gigster but still with 75-80% performance.
The new model may still be beyond the budgets of many drummers, and there is growing interest in alternatives.
One option is the ButtKicker Concert, basically the same unit built for Pearl, but now cutting out the middle man. One difference, however, is that the $300 ButtKicker still needs an amplifier to drive it. You can’t just plug it into your module.
The manufacturer recommends a minimum of 400 W and a maximum of 1,500 W.
V Expressions, the company best known for its Roland and mimicPRO kit patches, offers a few different ButtKicker packages, including a $620 Pro Concert Throne Rig which includes the shaker, a 1,000 W amp and throne bracket.
And, just like everything else e-drum-related, there is always the DIY approach.
digitalDrummer set out to explore the home-brew options, kicking off with a generic 50 W tactile shaker. The unit in our test was a basic discontinued model from Australia’s Jaycar chain, producing around 15 Kg of vibration force. Similar shakers abound on eBay, aimed mostly at the home theatre market, with a number of similar 50 W “rockers” available for around $80.
We also had to source an amp to drive the shaker, and, attempting to pull off the project on a limited budget, opted for a Chinese-made Fosi M03 which had got some decent reviews on home cinema forums.
The M03, available direct from Fosi or on Amazon, is often discounted to around $80, so it’s not a bank-breaker. The compact subwoofer amp is rated at 200 W. It’s a no-frills box which needs to be connected to your module (I connected it to the main outs) and to the shaker.
If you wanted to save a few bucks, you could try the Fosi TP-02. This is a simpler amp which pumps out 220 W. It doesn’t have the PBTL/SUB switch of the M03, which allows you to select either a full-frequency or a subwoofer setting, but that is only really necessary for a powered sub. Another difference is the absence of the sub frequency dial – something which didn’t make a huge difference in my tests. The TP-02 sells for $60.
The next challenge is mounting the shaker to your drum throne. If you don’t have access to metal working tools, the best option is to buy a ButtKicker Drum Throne Bracket, available on eBay for around $50. This will require some modding – generally drilling additional holes – to accommodate a non-ButtKicker transducer. The real advantage of the bracket is that it allows you to attach the shaker using the existing mounting hardware which connects the padded seat of your throne to the stand. But, if you wanted to save some cash and didn’t mind drilling into the base of your throne, you can attach it directly to the underside of your seat. (I’m not sure if the continued high-intensity vibrations will loosen the screws over time.) Finally, if you don’t want to drill into the base of your throne, you can attach the shaker to a strip of metal mending plate which you can pick up from a hardware store for a couple of bucks.
We wanted to also test a more sophisticated shaker, so we managed to arrange a review loan of an Earthquake Miniquake transducer.
The Miniquake is rated at 300 W and sells for around $300.
It only takes a glance at the Miniquake to realise that it’s a significant step up from the generic shaker. It has a much more compact footprint but sits significantly higher than the puck-shaped shaker.
The recommended Earthquake amp was not available at the time of the review and the distributor was confident that anything over 100 W would produce good results. So, we used the Fosi with this one, too.
As discussed, to preserve the base of my treasured Pork Pie throne, I mounted the review shakers on a ButtKicker mount. The cheaper shaker has four screws which didn’t quite align with the mount holes, while the Miniquake has three holes, so there was a bit of modding required to attach them firmly. In the case of the Miniquake, the supplied L-bracket was not really suited to a throne, so I added an offcut of 3 mm aluminium to the ButtKicker bracket and attached the shaker to that.
Prepping the amp was pretty straight-forward: a TRS to RCA cable from the mono out of the module to the input of the amp and a simple connection of the red and black wires from the transducers to the amp output jacks. The Miniquake comes with a pair of serious cables with tinned ends for easy connection.
If you have module with individual outs, you could connect the kick output to the amp, but I opted to connect the main out. I’d tried both previously with other shakers and found that with the main out, you also got some oomph from the toms, especially the low toms, which felt far more natural than just a jolt from the kick drum.
The ‘generic’ shaker produced reasonable vibrations, but needed the module master volume cranked up and the amp pushed almost all the way up. The vibrations were certainly discernible – not just from the bass drum, but also from the toms. The sensation was subtle and probably not enough for those who want their drumming to be a white-knuckle ride.
The Miniquake was a significant step up – it produced good vibrations at much lower output levels on the amp. The vibrations were cleaner and more precise and with a bit of adjustment on the sub frequency dial, I could expand it to include tones from the floor tom and even the second hanging tom in some patches on a Roland TD-50X.
The Miniquake was considerably quieter than the generic, even though it was more powerful. The smaller surface area also seemed to produce more focused impulses that somehow felt more realistic and closer to what you would experience on a stage with a big acoustic kit fully micced.
The sensation is very different from the enveloping feeling of BC models, but it certainly adds a degree of ‘realism’ to the drumming experience.
Ideally, if you could source an amp twice as powerful at twice the price, you’d be onto a winner, but I couldn’t find a 300 W sub amp for less than $500 – which would totally blow the budget.
The bottom line
It’s good to be able to feel what you’re playing and if you don’t want to break the bank or enter thrill-ride territory, you should be able to find a reasonable DIY solution.
Our testing has indicated that 50 W is nowhere near sufficient for a full-bodied shaking experience if you’re an average-sized or larger player. A child or someone of slight build might just get some sensation to approximate the vibrations of an acoustic kit.
Unless you have the tools and metalwork skills to craft your own, you will need to splash out on a ButtKicker mounting plate and some insulation around the screws to tame the rattle because the shaker will need to be driven at full bore to have any impact.
The Miniquake, paired with the cheap Fosi sub amp, frankly, was about as much shaking as I needed. With the module master volume set at normal 12 o’clock levels, I needed to set the amp at about 75% power to get a decent amount of thump. With a bit of tweaking, it was possible to recreate a low-frequency response from the low tom and even one of the hanging toms with a few low-tuned kits. And, realistically, the thump intensified as the tone dropped: a bit on the hanging tom, some more on the floor tom and a kick in the butt from the bass, especially with the really low-tuned instruments.
If you need even more shaking, it’s worth considering the Earthquake Q10B, but rated at 1,000 watts, this is a serious transducer designed for a home theatre couch. It costs more than double the price of the Miniquake, and, significantly, will need a much bigger amp (the recommended unit in the US sells for well over $1,000 – taking you into Porter & Davies territory).
So, the ‘bottom’ line (forgive the pun) is that for under $400, you can get a DIY solution that requires few tools and little technical skill. The result will certainly enhance the playing experience. A slightly more powerful subwoofer amp will give you more grunt – and still give you change on the purchase price of an off-the-shelf solution.
I’m not suggesting that you can replicate the build quality, reliability or finesse of the BC or the ButtKicker at a fraction of the price, but you will still get some decent bang for your buck – literally – if you make your own.
A subwoofer amplifier
A mounting plate
A decent throne with suitable mounting points
Various bolts and screws