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INTRODUCING THE TRAPS E500 ELECTRONIC DRUM KIT
For me, Roland has always been the name that I have associated with Electronic Drums, but there are many other manufacturers out there, all with slightly different ideas. Like keyboards, I just wish that I could take the best bits from each one and combine them into one super kit! However, electronic drums are expensive so most people are forced into making compromises in some areas when making this type of purchase.
In this very competitive market, we are now seeing a number of kits that offer exceptional value for money and one such kit is the Traps E500. This kit is the third generation and a successor to the very popular E450 kit and it comes with an upgraded drum brain, which has some great new sounds along with a load of other useful features. I think it is fair to say that this is an entry-level kit, but it is one that really provides a great wealth of extras for the money.
TRAPS E500 - OUT OF THE BOX
The whole E500 kit comes in two boxes, one of which is very heavy at 26.3 kg. However, the boxes are not too big and everything is tightly packed. As I started to remove each item, my first surprise was that the drums were all proper size, including a lovely 20 inch bass drum! Yes, you heard correctly, the bass drum trigger is 20 inches!
The size of electronic bass drum triggers has made for quite a bit of discussion over the past few years. One line of thought is that the size of the electronic bass drum is irrelevant as it is the 'brain' that is creating the sounds, and so it is more practical to have a smaller 12 inch trigger for ease of transportation. However, other performers argue that a standard size trigger will make for a more natural playing experience, not to mention the fact that smaller bass drums cannot incorporate double-pedals.
I really liked the size and the hexagonal shape of the original Simmonds Bass Drum; Simmons were a pioneering British manufacturer of electronic drums that supplied electronic kits from 1980 to 1994. It seemed to fit in perfectly with the rest of the kit and that is exactly how the Traps E500 looks, with everything in proportion. It features a dual trigger 12 inch Snare Drum, a single trigger 10 inch Tom-Tom, a 12 inch Tom-Tom, a 14 inch Floor Tom and of course that 20 inch Bass Drum, all of which are supplied with mesh heads and under-skin triggers. All the drums on the Traps E500 are made of a strong, durable production-grade thermoplastic and the hoops are made of steel and can be tuned in the traditional way.
The weight in the box is mainly attributed to the fact that it houses a drum rack, a Hi-Hat stand and a Bass Drum Pedal. The drum rack is constructed of solid steel and it feels extremely sturdy, which is exactly what is needed considering the E500 is made to be hit!
So, the first big job is putting the stand together. Luckily I am no stranger to these types of stands so it shouldn't be too bad! Ok, so after unpacking the 12 clamps, 4 rubber feet, 2 upright tubes, two 'feet' tubes and one short tube and following the instructions, I now have my assembled stand ready to mount my drums, cymbals and the new brain. The Traps E500 even has a drum basket so you do not need to buy a conventional snare drum stand.
The first thing that needs to be attached to the frame is the impressive bass drum. This is a very sensible design as it provides the trigger with exceptional stability. I then added the snare basket to mount the snare and I followed this up by attaching the Toms. I do like the natural feel of these mesh heads and they are great for if you want to do some quiet practicing in your bedroom with headphones. The last job is a cabling job but fortunately the cable loom is all colour coded, making the setup a breeze.
TRAPS E500 - HI-HAT AND CYMBALS
I was also surprised to see a bass drum pedal and a hi-hat stand included with the Traps E500, as well as the two boom arms for the two cymbals. The cymbals are moulded with an internal trigger and are quite soft to damp down some of the stick noise. The hi-hat is similar to Roland's VH-11 in that it is just one cymbal instead of two, but it actually functions in the same way as a conventional hi-hat.
The cymbals that come with the Traps E500 seem OK, but in my opinion they have both good and bad points. They are designed in a similar way to the Roland kits so that they pivot on the cymbal arm and provide natural movement. Having cracked an electronic cymbal in the past, I am not a great lover of the hard plastic types like these as they do not look as if they could take the punishment that drummers like to give out. The rubber area however is quite responsive allowing for some good stick bounce and so I quite liked this part of the design. However, I almost wished that the whole surface was covered with it to add to its strength and durability. I also did not like the blue logo, which gives more of a toy-like look to the cymbal rather than a professional look, but I suppose it matches the rest of the kit.
The best looking electronic cymbal I have seen to date has got to be the new Zildjian Zen 16, which is simply stunning. I think that if I was designing cymbals for an electronic kit, I would want them to move just like a real cymbal, be made from something that can take a heavy battering, have sufficient bounce and playability (especially on the Ride Cymbal) and finally, like acoustic cymbals, stand out in relation to the rest of the kit and look eye-catching on stage. The difficulty with this is obviously the cost factor and whilst I would not expect to see Zen 16's on a kit in this price range, I do believe that they could improve on the looks without increasing the production costs.
Now, looks are not everything, as the main concern should be that you want your drum kit to feel and sound good. Unfortunately, I think the weakest link on the E500 is the hi-hat. I spent a lot of time trying to get the hi-hat to feel just right by using different stands and adjusting the settings on the drum brain and whilst I am sure that if I had more time with this review I could achieve a better hi-hat feel, I was still a little disappointed that the it wasn't there straight out of the box. I remember trying the VH-12 hi-hat on the Roland TD20 kit and to be honest I hate the idea of two pieces of rubber flapping together. I much preferred their VH-11 with just one cymbal, but even this took me sometime to achieve what I was after. For the novice I think that the Traps E500 hi-hat will do an ok job, but for drummers that have more advanced skills, I think they will find that it lacks some of the feel of an acoustic hi-hat and it does not quite measure up to the Roland and Yamaha equivalents, although of course you have to take into consideration the cost element here. Roland and Yamaha kits can cost 2, 3, 4 and even up to 5 times the cost of this Traps Kit so I think that this really does put things into perspective.
TRAPS E500 - FEEL OF THE MESH HEAD DRUMS
For me, without a doubt the best thing about the Traps E500 is the Bass Drum. It is a great size, has two heads, looks good, feels good and sounds good - what more could you ask? I do like the natural feel of these mesh heads and these are great if you want to do some quiet practicing in your bedroom with headphones. I did experience a few small miss-triggers and occasionally some cross-talk so I referred to the manual to make some adjustments on the drum brain. I would like to say at this point that I feel the E500 manual could do with some improvements and clarity, and perhaps their site could have a video clip to explain the workings of the drum brain to assist where the manual falls down a bit, but with a bit of perseverance and trial and error, I successfully made my adjustments.
TRAPS E500 - DRUM BRAIN MODULE
The new Traps E500 Module is fairly light and therefore I think that you would have to take some care with it if you used this kit live. It is however packed with features. I would not say that there is anything different from other drum brains here apart from the on-board recording, which I thought was a nice addition and could assist with training for an individual, or for teaching if they were used in schools for example. The layout is very sensible and easy to understand but there is the usual problem of navigating the menus, which makes it less user-friendly and as I have said, this is where you could do with some clearer instructions in the manual.
There are many buttons on the oval-shaped brain that are divided roughly into three sections, with the LCD positioned at the top and the main data wheel in the centre. On the left you have controls that relate to recording, editing and playing songs. Here you will find a button for Click, Part Mute, Menu, Mixer, Record, Play, Tempo, Kit, Utility and Song. With the Menu button you can access pages to change a voice etc., whilst the Utility button allows you to make global settings for things like adjusting the sensitivity of the drums, effects and MIDI. The section over on the right-hand side provides you with three volume knobs for Headphones, Auxiliary In and Master Volume and there are buttons for + page and - page, Save/Enter, Exit and Card and lastly, larger plus and minus buttons to increase or decrease the current parameter that you are on. Finally, the third section (at the bottom of the module) is a collection of pad selection buttons, usefully arranged with the same layout as the kit. Here you can audition the sounds of the currently selected kit. There is also a red indicator light to clearly show which pad you currently have selected. These indicator lights are also used on other buttons of the brain and I found this very useful to constantly be reassured of where I was and what I was doing/editing.
There are quite a few editing parameters for you to set up to suit your own needs, and you can even have the Click Track with a voice count, adjust the Time Signature, Tempo, interval and Volume. Each part of the kit can be tweaked, including the sensitivity of the Pads, the velocity curve and the elimination of any cross-talk. You can adjust the EQ for different environments or to assist in creating different sounds and/or you can add reverb and adjust the Surround and Pan. You will need to go through a little trial and error in conjunction with understanding the manual until you are creating and saving your own kits with relative ease. To assist you they have programmed a feature that defaults to the last kit that you used when you power up the brain.
TRAPS E500 - CONNECTIONS AND THE SD CARD
Around the back (and labelled nicely on top) are the connections for all of the drums and cymbals with two spare connections to expand and add another Tom and Cymbal. There is also the DC9V power adapter input (with a tiny on/off switch on the side), an Aux In, Left and Right Main Output jack sockets, a USB port and MIDI In and OUT. At the front are a Headphones socket and a slot for an SD card that supports cards from 16 MB to 2 GB, which can be very usefully to play back MIDI files or to save User Kits, User Songs and Global setups.
TRAPS E500 - THE SOUNDS
There are 674 drum voices in the Traps E500 covering drums, percussion and effects and a further 18 hi-hat combinations in the brain, which should definitely be enough for you to find the sounds that you want. There are also 40 Preset and 59 User Kits for you to make your own setups. Some of the sounds are very good but there is nothing too different from most other electronic kits on the market. To my ears, the sounds appear as if some form of compression has been used on them and this is especially noticeable with the Ride Cymbals. I would not say that this is necessarily a bad thing, but as there are only EQ and Reverb available as on-board effects, there is not a lot you can do about it if you do not like it.
I have always thought that the electric kit is a completely different instrument from that of the acoustic, yet manufacturers seem to be completely obsessed with creating electric kits that sound like acoustic kits. For me, I wish there was an electric kit that sounded nothing like an acoustic kit. I would want it full to the brim with the types of sounds you might find on machines like the Elektron Machinedrum SPS1-UW, Arturia Spark, Korg Wavedrum Oriental, MOTU bpm and Native Instruments Maschine. The idea here is to have percussive sounds that could be used instead of traditional drums, such as pieces of metal banging together and snappy vocal samples. On top of this, I would like a manufacturer threw in all the weird and wonderful world-type percussion sounds as this would provide an incredible, original drum brain to make all manner of rhythmic flavours. This would not only be an incredibly useful tool in the studio but also a great add-on for acoustic drummers that want a more varied sound palette. It is nice to see that there are some sounds that fit these criteria on this Traps E500 kit, one of which is an Electron Kit with 18 Electron Bass Drums to choose from. However, probably the best feature here is the USB connection whereby you could use the Traps Kit to drive drum software on your PC or Mac.
You will need to familiarise yourself with the sounds available. The Manual lists them but the FX sounds are unhelpfully listed as FX 1 to FX 70 and then Fx 1 to Fx 17, and then there's also DJ1 to DJ10. These are 97 sounds that I have no idea as to what they are! On further investigation I discovered that page 14 of the manual attempts to advise you on how to edit a voice on a kit. I noticed at the bottom of the page that it said 'Exchange and Rename menu can't be seen when it's Preset Kits'. As there are 40 preset kits, I went to kit 41 'MyKit 001' and pressed the menu button, which gives access to four pages:- Voice, Pattern, Exchange and Rename. With the Voice page displayed and the Bass Drum highlighted, I pressed Enter and this took me to the Group page for KickBk. The plus and minus buttons here take you through eight groups for Kick, Snare, Tom, Ride, Crash, Hi-Hat, Percussion and SFX. With the SFX page on screen, I pressed the + page button and this took me to FX1. Now I could hear the 97 sounds by scrolling through them and I discovered that they are the usual General midi FX sounds ranging from dog barks to gun shots.
TRAPS E500 - PLAYING SONGS
There are 120 Songs loaded internally in the Traps E500 kit and space for another 100 in the User area. That is far larger than Roland's expensive TD20 song facility, which also has no user area. They all seem to sound a bit dated to me, but they make a very useful practicing tool as you can mute the drum part and play your own part over the top. There are songs such as Fusion, Funk, Ballad, Disco and Pop, which are basically Pattern Loops. Then there are some Percussion Loops like World 2, Bossa and Reggae. There are also some One-Shots and Hits.
TRAPS E500 - ACCESSORIES (OPTIONAL EXTRAS)
Something that caught my eye was the fact that Traps have some very reasonably priced additions; a single braced Drum Stool, a dust cover for their kits (which is a great idea) and two shoulder bags that will transport the whole kit.
TRAPS E500 - CONCLUSION
Well, the obvious conclusion is that this is such a great product for the money, with its full size drums all with mesh-heads and all other hardware included. At this price-point, no-one should find fault with it because you really do get a lot. On no other kit do you get a 20 inch Bass Drum and the addition of a USB connection, a recording facility and the ability to store to SD Card as well as play MIDI files. I think that if I were making these kits, I would make a few improvements and charge a little bit more, whilst still keeping the price very competitive. I would look to try and improve the hi-hat and cymbals, do away with the blue colours around the kit, improve the packaging and re-write the manual. If I could still do it without significantly increasing the cost then I would also look to improve some of the minor triggering issues and look to achieve a slightly better dynamic response. So if you are looking for a compact mesh-head kit for an unbelievable price then I would certainly give the Traps E500 a bash because I really do believe you would be pressed to find an electronic kit that offers this much in this price bracket.
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