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Roland OCTAPAD SPD-30

Review by: Christopher Golinski and Scott Kahn

 
             
  Features Usability Sound  Documentation & Product Support  Price 
Contact Info  Overall Rating—Product Summary
 
             
   
Roland Octapad SPD-30


Back in 1985, Roland unveiled the first OCTAPAD, and it has enjoyed a long history in the drum kits of thousands of drummers. What started out as simply a MIDI controller with eight drum pads has now evolved into a compact drum production workstation.

Rather than requiring the use of external sound modules (or drum machines, back in the day), the new SPD-30 ships with an onboard sound engine. If you’ve spent any time with Roland’s V-Drums products or some of their current music workstations, you know what to expect: a wide variety of great drums sounds ready to play.

And if you were to add nothing more than an electronic kick drum trigger and mounting stand, you would have the most portable drum solution ever conceived for songwriting and rehearsal sessions. It’s about time drummers can take their kit with them on a Manhattan subway or London tube for a casual jam or songwriting session!

Blending the old with the new, the familiar pad interface will have veteran OCTAPAD drummers (and newcomers) up and running in a matter of minutes, either using on-board drum kits or triggering your favorite computer-based virtual instruments, samplers, and vintage drum machines. With improved pad sensitivity, great onboard sounds, and useful expansion options, the SPD-30 offers one of the simplest ways to incorporate pro-level electronic drums into your acoustic kit.

Features

3.5 Stars

Roland Octapad SPD-30 DetailsAt a glance, it’s easy to see that the SPD-30 features eight individual drum pads. Not only are they sensitive enough for both stick playing as well as hand playing, but the sensitivity is adjustable individually for each pad, making it easy to create a custom kit with a few hand-optimized percussion pads and a few pads ready to be played with a stick.

Any instrument sound assigned to a pad can contain two layers (Inst A and Inst B) that each trigger different sounds. In the case of a hi-hat sound, for example, one pad can be set to trigger a closed hi-hat sound up until the velocity of your strike hits a certain user-defined threshold, and then an open hi-hat sound is triggered. Or, you might have a snare drum sound assigned as the primary sound on a pad, but striking with additional force would trigger a rim-shot.

There are inputs for five external trigger inputs: four are dual-trigger inputs, and one is a hi-hat controller input. You could either build a small electronic drum kit around the SPD-30 as a brain with “extra” built-in pads, or you could connect acoustic drum triggers that are attached to heads in your acoustic kit.

An additional jack enables connection of one or two footswitches for controlling various features within the SPD-30 such as selecting drum kits or operating the phrase looper (pattern sequencer).

The SPD-30 contains 670 different instrument sounds and has memory to save fifty virtual drum kits (plus a USB memory stick port for storing additional data). Each drum sound can be customized, with parameters for Tuning, Muffling, Soft Attack, Tone Color, Pitch Sweep, Volume, Pan, and Reverse.

Live performance has always been at the heart of the OCTAPAD line, and kit chaining lets you define the order in which different kits are selected. In a live setting, drummers commonly use a foot switch to change from one kit to another on a song-by-song basis, and while you could go through the effort of saving kits to the onboard memory in the order of your set, it’s much simpler to define a chain so that your selections (by foot or from the directional arrows on the face of the unit) go from Kit 1 to Kit 3 to Kit 37 to Kit 22 and so on, easily updated when the singer in your band changes the set list ten minutes before the show.

The SPD-30 also has onboard effects. There are thirty different multi-effects that can be applied to individual drum kits (including limiting, EQ, delay, etc.) and global effect settings — seven types of ambience — that can be applied to all kits in the SPD-30. This is useful for creating a common acoustic space for all of your drum kits, but then individual kits within your “room” can have dedicated effects, plus the ability to individually bypass the ambience setting.

The Phrase Loop feature is a simple pattern sequencer. It enables you to perform/record up to three patterns layered on top of one another, each using a different drum kit, so that you could record a drum beat, layer some percussion on top, and then layer a tambourine or cowbell for that classic ‘70s vibe. A mixer lets you adjust the levels of each layer, and you can save up to fifty phrases in the onboard memory (more to your external memory stick).

A USB memory stick can be used either to back up the entire contents of your SPD-30’s kit and phrase memory, or you can select individual kits and phrases for external saving (or loading into the onboard memory). This is for backup only, though — you can’t access additional kits/phrases in real-time from the memory stick (not that you really need immediate access to fifty kits in a given session).

The SPD-30 features both traditional MIDI In/Out jacks as well as a USB MIDI connector for interfacing with either a host computer or directly to other MIDI gear. You can use the OCTAPAD to play drum parts into your computer-based DAW or sequencer, or you can use a host sequencer to trigger the SPD-30’s internal sounds just like working with any external MIDI sound module.

Roland Octapad SPD-30 Rear Pannel

The SPD-30 is not a sampler, and it does not have memory in which to load custom samples. For those capabilities, Roland makes a similar product, the Roland SPD-S Sampling Percussion Pad.

Usability

3.5 Stars

The fantastic usability of the SPD-30 showcased its best qualities. For starters, the playability of the pads is amazing. Though extremely durable and made to take a beating, the pads also articulately responded to one-inch strokes at pianissimo, and even responded accurately when played with brushes. Not only that, but the pads also had a rather wide dynamic range (which is not very common).

On certain electronic percussion devices, there are limited sound possibilities based on your attack. However, with the SPD-30 each pad gradually changed in both dynamics and sound quality as things were struck differently. On the downside, it should be noted that this level of sensitivity was optimal closest to the center of each pad, but was not maintained linearly to the edges of each pad. To get the utmost response (as with a real drum) we needed to hit each pad as close to the center as possible.

The Phrase Loop feature was very easy to use and in a lot of ways was the heart of the machine. In fact, with a quick skimming of a single page in the manual, we were off and running setting tempos and time signatures, layering many individual parts between three separate drum set configurations, quantizing performances to different note rates, etc. If you’re a drummer who shies away from electronic drums for fear of their complexity, with the SPD-30, you have nothing to fear. It makes integrating electronic drumming into your rig simple.

With regards to physical construction, the SPD-30 is light in weight, with both good-feeling playing surfaces as well as a sturdy display screen and rubberized knobs built to withstand a number of mis-choreographed strokes, all too common in the heat of a live performance.

Sound

3.5 Stars
 
The Roland SPD-30 generally does a very good job providing realistic acoustic drum sounds. With clearly distinct overtones emanating from certain snare samples (depending on the velocity of your stroke), impressive resonance from many of the tom samples (with deep low end) and snare buzz emanating from the vintage bass drum samples, it is clear that Roland has spent some time developing these sound libraries. However, as is expected, there are just certain sounds that are too complex to duplicate accurately in an environment with limited memory (compared to a more costly V-drums sound module or a computer-based sampler).

For example, snare drum sounds played with brushes and a jazz ride cymbal with rivets were questionable as far as their sound quality. While the former was recognizable, it tended to lack the smoothness of a brush sweep and sounded too “brittle” to our ears. The word “crunchy” also came to mind when describing this sound (though we were very happy with snare samples played with a stick).

Moving past conventional acoustic drum set sounds, Roland’s latest toy provides some really great percussion sounds. Some highlights include clave, congas, bongos, timbales, tabla, surdo, cuica, digeridoo, rain stick, cajon and djembe. Especially considering the frequent use of the last two instruments by drummers playing with singer/songwriters, there is a real chance that with the SPD-30 you could end up bringing less equipment to a gig (which is always a good thing).
What makes these samples even more useful is the surprising number of variations that each one possesses. For instance, when playing one of the many conga samples, not only can you get a slap sound with the most velocity, but an open tone with a medium stroke and a bass note with a softer stroke. We were also able to get the really cool conga sound known as a “moose call,” which was really surprising to us.

For those of you who are into Hip-Hop or electronic music, the SPD-30 has you covered, too. Hip-Hop has recently taken to certain sonic qualities in rhythm tracks such as hand claps in place of rim shots as well as drum corp/marching band sounds. The SPD-30 has a great selection of both. As a matter of fact, if you’re looking for the deep, yet airy synth bass part for something like Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” you’ll find that sound here.

If Snoop isn’t your bag and you’d much rather listen to bands like Depeche Mode, EuroDance music, or even Drum n’ Bass, library settings like “Lost Melody” or “808” were made for you. If you’re in a working cover band and need to recreate anything from vintage ‘80s huge drum sounds or ‘90s dance music, this machine leaves no stone unturned. Considering the usefulness of the onboard effects and adjustable ambiance, the possibilities are pretty broad.     

Despite some sounds being near misses (we’re really picky about sampled cymbals), we were still very impressed overall with the collection of sounds. We didn’t feel any need to connect external sound sources to achieve aural happiness, and in fact were so thrilled with the SPD-30 overall that we refused to send it back.
 

Documentation and Product Support

3 Stars

The SPD-30 Owner’s Manual explains or visually illustrates all of the various settings contained within the OCTAPAD. At a quick glance, the eighty pages can seem intimidating in that computer manual sort of way, but it clearly explains how to accomplish most tasks within the unit.


Price

3 Stars

The OCTAPAD SPD-30 (MSRP $799) sells for $700, which makes it something to consider more than an impulse buy for a player just looking to experiment with electronic drum sounds in their kit.

The sound quality is often times quite comparable to Roland’s professional V-drum line, though, so for a player who knows they want to add some great electronic drum sounds to their kit, with a controller that has excellent feel and dynamic response, this is easily the most economical way to bring a world of pro quality electronic percussion sounds into your kit.


Contact Information

Roland Corp.
www.rolandus.com/octapad

Overall Rating - Product Summary

   
   
Category Value Rating
Features 20% 3.5 Stars
Usability 25% 3.5 stars
Sound 25% 3.5 stars
Documentation & Support 10% 3 Stars
Price 20% 3 Stars

OVERALL RATING = 3.4

3.6 stars or better: Outstanding, WIHO Award
3 stars or better: Worth considering
2 stars or better: Suited to specific needs
1 star or less: Not recommended
 
  Evaluation Short-List
  • Roland SPD-S Sampling Percussion Pad
  • Yamaha DTX Multi-Pad
  • Alesis Performance Pad
  • Simmons Digital Multi Pad
   
   


Christopher Golinski is a New Jersey-based freelance professional drummer and instructor. Reach him via email here.

 

   
             
             
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