Need to turn your acoustic kit into an e-kit quickly and easily? Allan Leibowitz reviews a new option.
Back in 2018, when RTOM Corporation launched its Black Hole slip-on mesh head solution, digitalDrummer was among the first to attempt to electrify the heads by adding external triggers.
To recap, 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 the now-defunct NFUZD, but with a mesh head instead of a rubber playing surface.
For our test, I cranked up the heads, slipped them on some acoustic drums and raided the digitalDrummer trigger vault.
The Black Hole heads come with a turn buckle tension ring and it’s possible to get them pretty 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 rims.
While the placement of the heads was successful, our electrification efforts stumbled at the next hurdle – mounting our “stock” external triggers. There are two types of trigger 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 were tricky because the raised hoop of the Black Hole sits far too high above the lug. To use these, you would have to remove the mounting tension rod and replace it with a much longer version – and even then, placement was difficult.
Similarly, the shape of the Black Hole rim didn’t lend itself to attaching the bulk of the “side screw” trigger units in our collection. Models from ddrum, ddt, pintech, Tdrum and Billy Blast could not be reliably attached.
Some users reported success with Roland RT-30 triggers and I managed to attach an older ddt trigger and 2box’s Trigit snare and tom triggers.
The results of our triggering tests with a range of modules can be found here. In summary, it worked okay – with a lot of module tweaking. But it was not ideal.
Fast forward four years and RTOM – as we hinted in our initial review – has come up with its own dedicated e-drum offering: the bh Single-Zone Trigger.
What’s in the box
There are two parts to this solution – the Black Hole mesh head described above and the trigger unit.
As mentioned, the snare/tom heads simply slip onto the hoops of acoustic drums. The kick versions are similar in design, but are a bit more fiddly to fit. (We didn’t test the kick version.)
The trigger units, sold separately, have a notch on the bottom which grips the Black Hole rubber rim and, when pushed into place, makes contact with the head.
The Black Hole system is designed for easy silent practice. The heads are made to slip into acoustic drums effortlessly, avoiding the need to remove the acoustic heads.
So, installation is probably the easiest of all the offerings on the market, requiring no modifications to the head or shells of the host drum, and leaving the acoustic drum fully playable with minimal effort.
The Black Hole heads are heavy-duty single-ply mesh with a circular patch in the centre. They are undoubtably noisier than ‘regular’ mesh heads, but do have pleasant tones which would be useful for silent acoustic practice.
It should also be noted that while the Black Holes are tensionable, it’s hard to get them to the kind of tension I generally crank up for my mesh heads – and this can impact on triggering. The tightest I managed to achieve was 60 on the Drum Dial, where our benchmark tension is 70.
Speaking of which, the trigger instructions point out that “you may need to adjust your module setting to achieve optimal trigger performance”. That is a bit of an understatement – very significant trigger setting modification was required on many modules with which I tested the 12” unit.
I quickly discovered that using a mono instrument cable makes it much easier to dial the triggers in as it minimises false rim triggering.
The trigger performed extremely well with a Roland TD-30, using the Roland RT30H single-zone external trigger preset. There was no need to change any of the basic stock settings, and all that was required was a reduction of the retrigger cancel setting to accommodate rolls and fast strikes which were initially clipped off. Overall, modest tweaking delivered excellent triggering across the whole head, with good dynamics and predictable responses.
On the Pearl mimicPRO, I got the most predictable triggering with the Side Trigger setting, but only after significant tweaking of the threshold, detect time, retrigger cancel and mask time settings – mainly to dial out false triggering due to the resonance of the heavy mesh. The real challenge was setting the retrigger cancel low enough to allow for buzz rolls, but high enough to eliminate unwanted notes – something I was not really able to achieve. This meant triggering was probably adequate for the toms, but not quite up to the performance level you would want from a snare.
The GEWA G9 also required a significant adjustment to accommodate the triggers. Starting with the stock 12” mesh pad settings, I had to adjust almost every parameter – from basic settings to advanced. Again, the major challenge was retriggering, and when I got to the point where I had dialled out unwanted triggering, I was not able to play really fast strokes or buzz rolls. So again, I was able to achieve ‘decent’ tom triggering, but nothing capable of delivering delicate or fast snare performance.
The Alesis Strike performed very well with the trigger, requiring only a slight increase in the retrigger setting to dial out unwanted triggering. The bh delivered an excellent dynamic range and good response across the entire head. And since this is a single-zone trigger, it avoids the complications associated with the module’s rim triggering for third-party triggers.
With the 2box DrumIt Three, I got good triggering almost out of the box with the stock AcTr1 external trigger preset, with only minor tweaks required. A slight increase in mask and a switch to Lin2 curve delivered responsive, accurate triggering across the whole drum.
With the ATV aD5, I went through the set-up wizard for the module, which needed a minor tweak to the ddrum trigger preset – mostly, a reduction in threshold, some head/rim adjustment and a reduction in the retrigger cancel setting. Once dialled in, I got predicable performance across the entire playing surface, with good dynamic range.
Our vintage module, the ddrum4 SE, performed flawlessly with the bh trigger using the Ac1 preset and just a touch of input gain. Triggering was accurate, responsive and dynamic across the head.
The Black Hole/bh Trigger combination is an easy-to-use hybrid solution, quickly and simply converting acoustic drums to electronic pads.
The triggers are easy to fit and fairly unobtrusive, meaning there’s not much chance of hitting them accidentally.
Set-up is hit and miss, depending on your module. In very few cases, it’s plug and play. More often, decent triggering required significant module tweaking and for at least a couple of modules, we couldn’t get performance good enough for dynamic, delicate snare triggering.
On the whole, the set-up is a practical solution which I would happily use at home for practice. In fact, for anyone who currently uses a mesh practice kit, the ability to add sounds would certainly enhance the practice experience and would probably be a motivator for those who get bored easily.
I’m not sure I’d be willing to stake my reputation on this rig for paid gigs – due to the performance limitations with some modules and inability to crank up the heads really, really tight. Perhaps in covers gigs where a few songs required electronics, it might be an option, but I’d be dubious about an entire gig with a full set of these heads/triggers.
But at least the Black Hole/bh combo won’t break the bank. The bh triggers sell for $26 for a single unit or $76 for a five-pack. The Black Hole Starter Kit, consisting of 10″, 12″, 14″, 16″ and 22″ heads sells for $299.99. Throw in some cables and, for under $400, you have a set of triggered pads for your kit – and all you have to add is a module and cymbals.