Ever since Drum Workshop’s unveiling of its wireless acoustic/electronic convertible drum set, there has been lots of speculation and discussion.
The initial press release and the public unveiling were quite thin on details, so here are the facts around the project, drawn from information shared at the official release, public record documents and digitalDrummer’s archives.
- DWe is not a product of DW’s purchase by Roland
Work on DWe began long before Roland’s acquisition of DW in September. DWe was originally flagged at Musikmesse in 2018 as a collaboration between DW and GEWA. At the time, DW was planning to provide trigger shells, hardware and rack systems to combine with GEWA’s G9 Drum Workstation, electronic pads and cymbals.
- DWe wireless technology is based on Versatrigger
In 2016, Versatrigger released the first wireless e-drum triggers. Initially, the trigger mechanism was built into a wireless transmitter which was supplied with a receiver box, the Versatrigger Hub, which connected via USB to a computer and a free Versatrigger Studio application that tied it all together. Later enhancements included separate transmitters which could be connected to third-party drum and cymbal pads. The Hub supported up to 25 inputs.
Versatrigger inventor Paul Piscoi has been part of the DWe development team and he is listed on the Drum Workshop patents, so we can assume that DWe’s wireless technology has evolved from the Versatrigger eco-system.
- DW has devoted serious resources to the DWe project
The DWe project falls under the direction of David Coons, DW’s vice president of technology development. The DWe product manager is Mark Moralez, product development manager – electronic drums, who joined DW from KMC, where he was product head for KAT Percussion.
The project team includes electronic instrument luminary Marcus Ryle who previously worked for Oberheim and Alesis.
As mentioned, Versatrigger’s Piscoi has played a key role, while V Expressions founder Alan Miller is on the sound engineering team.
DW artists Thomas Lang, a long-time Roland endorser, and Chad Wackerman have been signed up to demonstrate the kit – Wackerman has also been involved in the creation of samples.
The project has the full support of president and CEO Chris Lombardi.
- A real DW kit
Previous electro-acoustic kits have used ‘no-name shells’ with the possible exception of ddrum’s Hybrid kit, but that was not a great-sounding acoustic drum set. The DWe kit is designed to be played acoustically, with nine-ply maple shells. The launch kit consisted of a bass drum, snare, two rack toms and a floor tom, augmented with metal e-cymbals. The kit will ship with both traditional mylar heads and low-volume e-drum heads. While it is widely assumed that DWe will use mesh heads, the patent mentions heads made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate), the chemical name for polyester, and Ryle mentioned “some special heads” at the launch.
- The triggering system
A DW patent reveals that the drums are triggered using multiple sensors – specifically “one central trigger … surrounded by two, three, four, or more secondary triggers”. This suggests a trigger array like ATV or Efnote, with multiple piezo sensors around the outer edges of the drum to even out triggering and avoid the central hot spot. The patent also covers a rim sensor and an additional (FSR) sensor “to sense when a user applies pressure to the top surface of the drum”. This was seen in the demonstration to show pitch bend on the snare.
The snare also contains a throw-off sensor to determine when snares-off sounds should be triggered.
The origin of DWe’s metal cymbals has not been revealed, but they look very similar to Field cymbals, and there is speculation that the American e-drum manufacturer may be the supplier, although sources close to the project dismiss the rumours.
- Close to zero latency
Much was made in the launch presentation of the lack of latency, with Ryle claiming the wireless communication is “10 times faster than MIDI”. While it felt quite lagless, digitalDrummer was unable to measure the latency of Versatrigger when we reviewed it, but we have seen estimates of less than 2 ms for the trigger to MIDI conversion.
- DWe has no module
Like Versatrigger, DWe produces MIDI from its hub. The kit will require a sound source of some type – either a drum module or a VST. It’s been confirmed that there will be a companion trigger app – probably based on Versatrigger Studio, where users can tweak their drum and cymbal settings, and DW will also supply a dedicated plug-in, sounDWorks. At the launch, Wackerman flagged “a pretty massive drum, cymbal and percussion library”.
DWe will also have maps for all the main modules and VSTs, making it plug and play with almost anything it’s connected to.
- Still to be revealed
DW has flagged a 2023 launch, but the exact date still remains a mystery.
So too does the pricing. Keep in mind that the cheapest DW maple five-piece shell pack currently sells for around US$2,000. DW’s offering, of course, competes with the acoustic-style offerings from the company’s new owner, Roland, whose Roland VAD507 kit sells for around US$5,400 (including a TD-27 module) – as well as a growing number of large and small rivals.
And then there’s the model line-up. Will DW offer a single version of the DWe, or will buyers get to choose the configuration and finish of the kit and have cymbal choices? For some time, mainstream e-drum companies were criticised for not offering choice, and DW has built its business on customisation, so one would expect the same approach to its e-drum offering.
Given that the old Versatrigger Hub could handle more than 20 inputs, it is technically feasible to offer much larger DWe kits – or at least add-on drums and cymbals.
Many are also curious about whether DW will roll out “trigger-only” offerings, not least for its own legacy customers. Will the owner of a DW Collectors Series kit, for example, be able to buy drop-in triggers and a hub to convert their kit to electronic?
And finally, scores of Versatrigger owners are no doubt curious about whether their now-defunct products will get a new lease on life. Will the old triggers be compatible with the new system and especially the new trigger controller and sample library? The official answer: No, Versatriggers are not compatible with the DWe hub.