Alesis SamplePad Pro and SamplePad 4 | Learn More: https://www.alesis.com/
Review By: Steve Reed
What is it? A very compact and programmable electronic drum set/trigger pad
As the sonic landscape of music continues to include sounds from both acoustic and electronic drums, many drummers are looking for ways to get the sounds of their favorite recordings into a live venue. Enter a drum pad, these are those flat boxes (positioned next to a regular drum set) that are used pretty heavily by many of today’s artists. Designed to take the beating of being hit by a stick, these drum pads allow you to use the preloaded sounds included with your purchase, load your own via an SD card slot, or simply trigger sound by connecting to a computer via MIDI.
While essentially being a very compact electronic drum set, these pads can be placed alongside an acoustic drum set or even be used independently, giving you the features of an electronic drum set without the form of a drum set (a configuration that was even used by Christian artist/writer Ryan Stevenson at the National Worship Leader Conference this year).
While drum pads have been around for awhile, there has always been a bit of a barrier for most people. Namely, the one about the price. With many manufactures asking around $800, most people have not been ready to make the leap. However, with the new line of drum pads from manufacturing legend Alesis, that has changed. Offered at a fraction of the cost and loaded up with features, their flagship model, The SamplePad Pro comes with 200 sounds and has 8 pads that can be extended by additional pads and even allows you to connect a high hat and kick drum trigger, giving you the ability to potentially have a complete electronic drum set. It’s younger brother the SamplePad 4 only has 4 pads and only 25 sounds but it is a great option for those who don’t need the full drum set capabilities.
Each model allows you to load your own samples (pre-recorded sounds) via an SD card slot and gives you extensive control over pad settings from volume to pad sensitivity. Also available within the unit is the ability to adjust the pitch on each pad to get higher and lower sounds as well as add some light reverb. The SamplePad Pro even allows you to load up 2 samples per pad so that when you hit the pad softly it triggers an independent sound from when you hit it hard (a feature usually only found in advanced drum sample packs). The interface is simple but intuitive and I was quickly able to get the sounds I was looking for. Separate headphone controls allow for silent practice and an auxiliary in with volume control allows you to play along with your favorite music.
Maybe the biggest negative for these pads is that the custom samples take a few seconds per megabyte to load, which depending on how big your files are or how you structure the layout of your pad can take some time to be ready to use. This would be challenging if you needed to switch sounds quickly between songs. There are, of course, some workarounds. The first being to buy a fast SD card, as they are all not the same speed (look for a 10 on the label). The next is to lower your file sizes by eliminating silence or downsampling (lowering your audio quality) which seems a crime but in a live environment, it will probably go unnoticed. The last way is to avoid using the SD card feature altogether and to pair the drum pad with your computer by using such programs as AbletonLive and MainStage via MIDI. This allows your computer to handle all of the processing work and yet retain the primary benefits of the drum pad, which is that you can hit it with a stick.