Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Slayer in the Studio: Loud, Fast and Ready to Thrash

Shredding on Dimebag's guitar and bashing religion as the metal vets prep their 10th album

STEVE APPLEFORDPosted Apr 16, 2009 12:31 PM

Some things can be counted on at a Slayer recording session. "Can I interest you in something fast and aggressive?" asks producer Greg Fidelman. He's sitting beside guitarist Kerry King at the Pass Studios in Los Angeles, where Slayer are working on a still-untitled album planned for a summer release, and cues up a new metal track with the working title "Build Up." King is ready to thrash.

He's already tapped the Jägermeister machine upstairs, and is now bent over a custom camouflage guitar, his black combat boots on the hardwood floor in the studio control room. King is plugged simultaneously into four amps, each one given a name: The Beast, Hot Ticket Deux, BLS and GF11. Fidelman rolls "Build Up," and King begins overdubbing bits and pieces of intricate metal melody and a harsh, aggressive riff, his eyes closed, nodding to the intense recorded beats of drummer Dave Lombardo. King's strumming hand is a blur, like a wasp in flight.

"Man, I don't even remember it being that fast," King says with a laugh after one take. "We're fucking flying!"

A pair of candles burn nearby, and a large chart lists the songs in progress, most with descriptive working titles, including "7 String," "Drop B" and "Industrial," along with "Psychopathy Red," recorded last October and already leaked online. Slayer are still in the early stages of recording, just five weeks in, working out ideas for what will be an 11-song album, released in July, in time for the summer's second Mayhem Festival tour with Marilyn Manson. Lyrics still wait to be written. Rick Rubin, who produced the band's landmark 1986 album Reign in Blood, is executive producing.

"Why do I write this shit at my age? It's fucking brutal," says King, 44, his head shaved and tattooed. "It's exciting to be part of it and I'm excited to be writing this heavy fucking shit. It's still in the blood."

During this night's session, some friends arrive for a visit. One of them is Rita Haney, wife of the late "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, and she's brought one of the Pantera veteran's old guitars. It's a blue V-shaped electric from the early-'80s, and she's hoping King will give it a try. "That was his holy grail," she says, handing it to King's guitar tech. She notices a snapshot taped to the Beast of King boozing it up with Darrell and Ozzy guitarist Zakk Wylde. "Ah, the triple threat."

Slayer have survived nearly 30 years since forming in Orange County in 1981, creating the metal-punk collision known as thrash in league with Metallica and other malcontents, inspired by the likes of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. The band's 2009 album will be Slayer's second with the original lineup since Lombardo returned in 2002, a full decade after his acrimonious break from the band.

"Dave needed to be away from us, and we needed to be away from him," says King now. "He's played with some musicians, not just dumb-ass thrash guitar players. That only makes us better when we apply thrash, and he applies his drums to what we're doing. He's had 12 years of different schooling that he may never have gotten. When he came back, we were all grown up now, and nobody had problems or issues. It was cool."

The process of making Slayer records hadn't changed much in Lombardo's absence. "We're trying to capture our live sound, and I play fucking loud," says King, whose favorite subjects remain bleak themes of insanity, death and "religion-bashing, making people think for themselves." A prime example was 2001's God Hates Us All, a title King now has tattooed in huge Gothic letters along his left arm.

Rush-hour traffic is enough to fuel the rage. "All I need is a day in public and I'm tired of people," King says of his typical lyric-writing inspirations. "People need a lot guidance, and there's not a lot of guidance out there, so there's a lot of situations that are very maddening to me."

At home between tours and recording sessions, King spends his free hours watching football, raising Carpet Python snakes and checking out new metal bands. He's a fan of Marilyn Manson and expects to share a few glasses on absinthe on the road with the shock-rocker this summer, as both acts induct another generation of fresh new metal fans.

"In the last 10 years, we've had girls in the pit, throwin' with dudes and holding their own every step in the way," says King. "It used to be girls were girls, and they might show up with their boyfriends. Now girls are fuckin' into it. And they let you know."

Heavy metal parents also bring the kids. "You'd be surprised how many fucking diapers I've signed," says King.

Singer Tom Araya credits Slayer's longevity to a core mission based not just on speed but on a persona that's darker and heavier than the rest, despite such signs of mainstream acceptance as Grammy nominations and awards. "I credit that to kids discovering Slayer in junior high school," says Araya, at the studio in a black corduroy hoodie, strands of gray in his goatee. "Or the friend hanging out with his buddy who's listening to something he thinks is heavy. And he goes, 'Ha! Heavy?' It's like the Twilight Zone movie: You want to hear something really heavy? Listen to this."

Outside the door of the Slayer sessions is a sign, lifted from some local club: "Absolutely no ins or outs — two drink minimum." Earlier, Araya was wailing and raging some vocal melody ideas for one of guitarist Jeff Hanneman's tunes, but right now the focus is building up King's 2:51 minutes of thrash and burn.

The speed of the tune is almost too much in places, and King rips through a few takes before he's satisfied. But he gets there quickly enough, finishing initial overdubs for three songs in just one session. He then hands the camouflage guitar to his tech, whose eyes grow wider as he says, probably not for the first time, "The strings are hot!"

courtesy: rollingstone

DW Collector's Series X Shell kit

Does DW's X Shell technology justify the hype? Hell yes, this kit is inspired...
Adam Jones

Collector's Series X Shell kit
specification :
Any DW Collector's Series finish
Drum Shell Material:
North American hard rock maple
Floor Tom Size:
14"x12" (£748) and 16"x14" (£913)
Kick Size:
23"x18" (£1493)
Snare Size:
14"x6" (£573)
Tom Size:
8"x7" (£543 ), 10"x8" (£584) and 12"x9" (£641) / Rata drums: 6"x18" and 6"x12" (both £552)

Drum Workshop began life as a hardware company (a fact reflected in its class-leading stands and pedals) and expanded into drum manufacture in the late 1980s. Since then it's progressively strengthened the brand, earning a reputation for constantly evolving designs. DW's newest drums – dubbed X Shells – represent a departure from the accepted norms of drum construction. The clue's in the name people…

If you're familiar with existing DW drums you may well recognise the acronym VLT. It stands for Vertical Low Timbre and describes a manufacturing process by which the outer and inner plies of a drum run vertically. Drums have to be cross-laminated for strength – at 90° to one another – but keeping the outer and inner plies vertical places less stress on a shell, giving it a lower fundamental tone.

In theory, a shell made up of exclusively vertical plies would possess enormous amounts of bottom-end. In reality, such a shell would not be strong enough to be fitted with heads.

"Without any dampening, things got understandably boomy, but a felt strip across the front head calmed down the ringing, leaving a wide open-sounding and distinctly Bonhamesque drum"

John Good at DW's solution to this conundrum was the X Shells. He proposed that a shell made with plies laid diagonally at 45° to the vertical axis of the shell – still cross-laminated at 90° to each other – would give the closest results to a fully vertical shell. According to DW, Good's first attempt at creating an X Shell was spot on and the X Shell option now forms part of the Collector's Series range.

DW reckons the diagonal cross-laminating technique will work its magic with any wood; the review kit is made from maple. X Shells don't cost any more than other equivalent Collector's Series drums and can be ordered in any Collector's size, finish or hardware option. A typical five-piece kit will take between eight to 12 weeks to turn around.

X Shells are eight plies thick for all toms and bass drums, while snares come in at 10 plies. In addition, toms and bass drums also feature three-ply reinforcement rings (optional on snares). These are beautifully made, with the innermost plies being fashioned from the sort of superior cut of wood that's normally reserved for a final exterior ply.

Interestingly, the grain on the reinforcement rings runs vertically, so DW could be looking to induce a subtle VLT effect as a bonus.

Peering inside each drum at the main shell visible between the two sets of reinforcement rings, the diagonal pattern of grain registers immediately, as it's such an unusual sight. The bearing edges are DW's standard 45° cut. The kit supplied for review consists of X Shell drums with three exceptions: the snare drum is a standard Collector's Series model with VLT plies, while a pair of Octoban-like Rata drums have also been included.

The Rata drums are another new DW product, also launched at NAMM and like Octobans they're available in one diameter (6") with eight lengths (4" to 18" in two-inch increments).

Also making its UK debut with this kit (but by no means limited to X Shell drums) is DW's 23" diameter bass drum, which has been developed from an idea originally floated by DW endorsee Neil Peart. Remo has been commissioned by DW to make 23" bass drum heads and is presently the only head manufacturer supplying them. All 23" bass drums are shipped with a spare batter head, as the likelihood of finding one in your local drum shop at five o'clock on a Saturday afternoon is pretty remote…
Hands on

For obvious reasons the 23"x18" bass drum was the first drum out of the box. It's an unusual drum to sit behind, as it has the apparent physical presence of a 24" kick, but being an inch smaller can accommodate rack toms above it that little bit lower. The kick is fitted with a DW pillow that's narrow in the centre and T-shaped at both ends where it meets the heads.

In use, the drum delivered a thunderously low note, but one with definition. It wasn't so bassy that the note could be felt more than heard; it combined the punch of a 22" kick with the stage-shaking capabilities of a larger drum. The supplied pillow undoubtedly helped keep it under control, so we tried removing it. Without any dampening, things got understandably boomy, but a felt strip across the front head calmed down the ringing, leaving a wide open-sounding and distinctly Bonhamesque drum.

The five toms came next (8"x7", 10"x8", 12"x9" racks and 14"x12" and 16"x14" floor toms) and carried on where the kick left off. The claim about the X Shell technique producing lower sounding drums really did ring true. At average tensions each of the drums sounded a couple of inches bigger than they were. They weren't just deep, they were magnificently rounded and sonorous.

Because the heads didn't need slackening off to achieve the extra bottom end, they didn't sound flappy or dead – just loud, rich and addictively powerful. The floor toms particularly excelled and were almost timpani-like in their enthusiasm. We likened the sound of the toms to those of Keith Moon's on Live At Leeds, which is a suitably apt and graphic comparison.

The snare was always going to struggle to impress next to such dynamic partners and though it was a highly versatile drum, it didn't mesmerise me like the toms did. The VLT plies on the snare meant that thick, woody crack was easily attainable, while cranking up the head produced an excellent sharp retort. It's a shame that an X Shell snare didn't come out with the kit, as it would've been interesting to see how one sat with the toms.

The Rata drums were all about piercing attack, giving a bright note that bristled with metallic overtones. They were a little like a cross between a Roto Tom and a timbale. As add-ons they were diverting, offering an unusual and penetrating sound. At over half a grand apiece though, they can't really be described as affordable.

Leaving aside the snare and Rata drums, this kit represents a giant step forward in drum manufacture. Over the years DW has become a brand synonymous with innovation and the X Shell technology is a radical piece of drum making. More importantly, it works, delivering results that really justify the hype.

courtesy: musicradar

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Mesa/Boogie M6 Carbine bass combo


Spesification : M6 Carbine bass combo
Country of Origin:
Additional Features:
Effects Loop with bypass, tuner out, balanced XLR line-out with ground lift, voice function switching, mute, 2 x combination Speakon /jack speaker output jacks, impedance selection, fan cooled
Audio Output Power (w):
Device Type:
Trans-Class valve preamp with MOSFET power section
Dimensions (mm (w x h x d)):
546 x 750 x 432
Loudspeaker Size (Inches):
Weight (kg):
Weight (lb) (lb):

While Mesa/Boogie has the reputation of providing 'stadium status' amplification, it is also appreciated for its design practicality. So while this new transportable bass combo is not aimed directly for use at mega venues, it is still extremely powerful and well conceived.

Finished in sturdy 'Black Bronco' covering with a stylish black jute grille, this is a triple-ported enclosure in Boogie's Tilt & Roll format. In other words, think of a substantial bass combo sitting on a sack barrow and you have the basic design concept as employed here.

Of course, Boogie has used this design feature before and proved its usefulness. Naturally it's all sturdily built and weighty, so any assistance in shifting it around has to be applauded. And there's no discernible vibration noise from the wheels or handle of this 'barrow' section. Loaded with a pair of 12-inch PowerHouse Neo 300 speakers and a horn this is all about quality tone and great delivery.

For the 'well informed' there may be an air of familiarity about all this and that's because it made a brief appearance as the 'Fathom' (and the instruction manual still carries that title) but unfortunately that name was already registered elsewhere so it's now known as the M6 Carbine. The specification remains entirely intact however.

In the past Boogie has been accused of over engineering its amplifier sections with too many options for the general player. However, since the magnificent M-Pulse model things have become much more straightforward. In fact the output section is the same as the M-Pulse, but the valve driven preamp and the driver section are all new.

The front panel is clean and logically set out from input gain, through the tonal section, DI level (with pre- and post-EQ ability) and the master volume, which includes a rather neat pull-mute ability.

At the rear things are just as practical with a pair of Speakon Universal connectors for speaker connection that handle both standard jack plugs and Neutrik locking plugs, while a micro-switch is supplied for selecting the correct speaker impedance.

A group of five jack sockets provide a means of external activation of the voice function switches as well as mute. Any grounding footswitch connected to the desired voice pattern could do this, or the whole lot could be stored in a master external switching unit and selected at will.

The DI connection is of standard XLR type and comes with a ground-lift switch and with effects send and return jacks, a choice of bypass on this loop, and a tuner connection so all the essential ingredients for any working bass player.

As a further part of Boogie's 'Player Control Network' the rear of the speaker enclosure also has a setting panel for the horn. Not only is there a rotary attenuator to determine the degree of horn involvement but there's also a choice of three points in the crossover range and even a horn protect isolator that just needs a push to reset. If only all bass horns were fitted with this!

With such a highly respected reputation you can approach this combo with an air of confidence. Think Boogie and you naturally combine high output with trouser-flapping projection, and true to form this does not disappoint.

With the usual high quality of build to the main enclosure you can feel safe in the knowledge that the whole speaker complement is able to handle whatever you want to throw at it. And that's just as well as the range of tones available is truly exceptional.

While the bass and treble controls are active, the basic mid control is passive for a more balanced overall sound, but with the voicing option you can select a more refined use of these mid tones for some spectacular results.

In fact the key element for selecting your preferred sounds is the impressive voice control. Surrounded by waveform diagrams it shows the graphic effect that each position produces, including a flat response. This is a very neat idea, instantly understandable and presenting four of the most popular tonal imprints for today's players.

It's centred on these mids and provides a dip at two different frequencies before the flat signal and a couple of boosts beyond. When set at flat this control allows the natural voice of your bass to shine through, but by simply advancing through the settings you will soon realise that one in particular has captured the very essence of what you personally desire from your instrument. All in all this provides a very efficient and quite impressive array of tonal abilities.

But, of course, there's even more. The bass control also has the pull-deep feature, which shifts the normally tightly focused bass response to a sub-bass area that just overflows with warmth and fullness. However, in this mode it simultaneously activates the extreme top end of the tonal range, so notes stay clear and defined.

This is a monster feature that any blue-blooded bass player will adore. It also demonstrates just how well this pairing of 12-inch speakers can perform. There's plenty of bottom-end but with that classic edge that 12-inch drivers deliver so well.

With the ability to select active or passive basses as well as an input gain control and a master volume you can achieve the optimum level of performance and overdrive for any make or type of bass. And with the added advantage of a DI control on the front panel you can also ensure that your preferred sound is sent into the PA for when you do get to play those stadium gigs!

Reliability is a key issue for any Mesa/Boogie design, and with their current high regard to design simplicity, ease of use and now with 'aviation style bracing' for an even more robust build, we are full of praise for this latest addition to the expanding bass range.

Like any of the major names in amplification there is a particular nuance in the sounds this produces, but the result here is a powerful and high quality delivery.

It may seem somewhat expensive in today's financial climate but it is all hand-built and well constructed and, when compared with the rest of Mesa's bass range it's actually very reasonably priced. And the truth is, with a cool 600 watts of pure Boogie tone waiting to be unleashed this bass combo has to be considered as something rather exceptional.

Not for the faint-hearted, but if you're serious about your amplification this has simply masses of appeal.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Fender Eric Johnson Stratocaster RW

A new signature model with a series of tweaks
Neville Marten, Thu 5 Mar 2009, 4:10 pm GMT

Any mention of Eric Johnson invariably – and perhaps rather tediously for Johnson himself – concentrates on his status as a tone-hound of legendary credentials.

It will inevitably state how he goes through his equipment microscopically, making sure the polarity of each internal component faces the same direction so the current passes as smoothly as possible. Mention is unfailingly made of his preference for battery power over mains, while his predilection for Duracell is reiterated.

Thankfully, writers do then go on to talk about his astounding musicianship and an almost unfeasible knowledge of what makes great guitar tone. But sometimes it's forgotten just how into guitars and amps Johnson truly is – to the point where he probably knows as much about Strats as the people at Fender, and could likely give Marshall's amp engineers a run for their money.

"Even though you'll need to re-learn how to use a Strat to some extent, we can heartily recommend it."

Most importantly, some ignore the fact that Johnson's love for detail is never for the sake of it, but to extract the last drop of musicality from whatever equipment he chooses. So a signature Stratocaster, spec'd to Eric's exact requirements and built by Fender – whose reputation for quality is currently better than it's ever been – warrants close inspection here.

Of course this isn't the first EJ Signature Strat. We loved Eric's original, all-maple-neck model for its balance of vintage vibe and modern playability.

We were bowled over by the attention to detail that Johnson personally brought to bear over all aspects of its design and production; the two-piece alder body with deeply scooped contours, the delightfully smooth neck-to-headstock shaping and the thin-skin nitrocellulose finish.

All these features from the previous instrument have been retained for the current one. Others that have also been carried over include the slimmer headstock design and staggered-height tuner posts that negate string trees; Johnson-voiced pickups with a tone control on the bridge single-coil; and no vibrato cavity cover – Eric reckons they sound better without it and who are we to argue?

Of course, the main point of the new model is that it comes with a rosewood fretboard – a result of requests from players. But Johnson stipulated that other changes would be needed if a rosewood version were to be produced. Visual changes include a white three-ply pickguard with countersunk pickup height adjustment screws: the 'right' choice for classic '60s Strat aesthetic.

Rather than go for the classic 'slab' fingerboard originally introduced in 1959, Eric has chosen the 'round laminate' that Fender switched to around 1963. At the time slab 'boards were deemed too 'dark' sounding, so the use of a thinner slice of rosewood over a pre-cambered maple neck addressed the problem to Leo's satisfaction. Some people say that it also made for a more stable assembly.

The prime visual detail about the new guitar is the fact that the 'board is bound – the most famous bound-necked Strat being the blue one owned by Ry Cooder. Apparently, the reason that Strats briefly sported bound necks during the mid-sixties was because the model shared an identical neck to the Jazzmaster (around this time both were code number 13).

And when the Jazzmaster switched to an edge-bound, dot-inlaid rosewood 'board it made sense to Fender's new owners, CBS, for the Stratocaster to follow. Before long the Jazz changed again, to block inlays, and so the Strat reverted to the more classic unbound look.

What's not immediately apparent is that the guitar's fingerboard has a flatter, 12-inch (305mm) radius. That's the same as a Gibson Les Paul and, therefore, markedly different to Fender's vintage-style 7.25-inch (185mm) camber, which can make string bends choke out and enforce an unwieldy action.

Frets are medium jumbo and have been seated, profiled and polished to perfection. Their ends overlap the binding but there's no hint of sharpness: this is an exceptional fret-job. Position marker dots are real pearl and add that final touch to what is already a very classily put-together guitar.

In playability and set-up terms, a guitarist with Johnson's extraordinary facility requires perfection. Nothing less could handle his speed and articulation. And so it is that our EJ is flawlessly set up.

With all five vibrato springs installed the bridge lies flat on the body and the action is set low for speed, but with enough purchase to allow for positive string bends and vibrato. It would certainly go lower should that be your personal preference, but we'd happily leave it as it came.

With its slight 'V' profile the quarter-sawn maple neck feels modern – it's the fingerboard's flatness that does it. Ibanez comparisons are odious though; this is a Fender through and through, and yet it feels like no other Strat we've played – not even the previous Johnson model. It's super-slick, extremely fast and, above all, totally capable at playing anything and everything.

When we reviewed his first signature guitar Eric told us that he had voiced the pickups – especially the bridge unit – even brighter than usual.

Now that's surprising at first; but when you consider Johnson's non-lead work – which often consists of super-bright, chorused, delayed and often harmonically complex chords – it starts to make sense.

Then bring in the tone control on that bridge pickup – back it down to halfway or even further and pile on the overdrive – and Eric's 'violin' tones emerge already fully formed.

It makes for a completely different Strat experience. Clean, all of the settings seem to provide exaggerated versions of the expected sounds, but get used to using the neck and bridge pickup tone controls and you'll never go back. Even though you'll need to re-learn how to use a Strat to some extent, we can heartily recommend it.

The Johnson's broader extremes of tone make it an extremely versatile guitar, and with the middle pickup's lack of tone control there's an extra funky edge to be had with it on its own, or in tandem with either of the other two. It's really hard to argue with Johnson's logic.

Reviewers ponder over the verdict of their musings for days before a piece is finished. Who is the guitar for? Who will like it? Does it fulfil its stated remit? Is it what it says on the tin – or less, or even more?

It might have been easy to conclude that the rosewood 'board version of Eric Johnson's signature guitar is for players who like the idea of Strats but prefer playing Gibsons. But the EJ doesn't play like a Gibson; it plays like a Fender, but a Fender with an even flatter fretboard than the 9.5-inch radius of many guitars in its current range.

Without resorting to active electronics or humbuckers, Fender and Johnson have managed to broaden the Strat's tone at both ends of its sonic spectrum, giving dark, tight distorted sounds and huge clean or chorused chords. It's flawlessly made, albeit knocking very serious money thanks to the current US Dollar exchange rate.

Eric Johnson is a charming and intelligent man, and a sophisticated guitarist capable of playing almost anything extraordinarily well. The fact that his new signature Fender is designed on exactly these premises and succeeds on every intended level, probably says as much as we need to.

When a musician of EJ's calibre puts his stamp on the best electric guitar design of all time, every serious player needs to check it out!

Roland TD-4K

An entry-level electronic kit with sophistication
Jordan McLachlan, Wed 22 Apr 2009, 11:50 am BST

Fizzy drinks, miracle age-repair make-up – everything is sold today with the promise of it being the 'best ever recipe'. Most of this stuff is so boring that, really, who cares? But when electronic drum makers make similar claims for their new products, it's a rather different kettle of fish.

This happens on a regular basis, of course – in fact every time a new kit is launched. But the posturing is justified more often than not where digital drums are concerned.

The simple fact is that technology continues to move on at such a pace that, even now, improvements in tone and responsiveness are coming in leaps and bounds. Roland has, of course, set a shining example of how to refine a product line over the last 10 years, so you'll be wanting to know if the new TD-4K continues this...

"Even if you never switched on the Coach Mode, you'd still be spoiled by what is an array of exemplary, all-new, on-board sounds"

Before we get into the tonal developments that the TD-4 module presents, the rack on which it (and the now familiar array of pads) is secured is worthy of a quick once-over.

Those well-versed in V-Drum evolution will notice that the black metalwork sports an extra couple of legs as compared to the simpler, flatter TD-3K rack. It's a feature that brings the TD-4 set-up into line with the pricier TD-9K rig, and to our minds, makes for a rather more rewarding physical interaction with the kit.

It's a simple thing, but having the two 'proper' extra rack bars to your left and right adds a higher end feel to the TD-4K. The TD-6K and TD-3K may have perfectly sturdy sections for hi-hat and 'floor tom', but we're all for the new legged look.

The kit wraps around you in snug fashion now too and, as with the whole V-Drum range, once you've got everything locked down, there are absolutely no concerns in terms of rigidity.

Roland td-4k brain

Hands On
In practice, even with the TD-4 smack in the middle of the front bar, the kit proves immensely capable and usable. The brain is super-simple, so the fact that a few buttons might be obscured by the toms is less of a problem than it would be with more fully-featured modules.

But the TD-4 nevertheless offers handy sound-altering features in the form of Tuning and Muffling parameters, easily accessed and edited in seconds. Just press one of the dedicated buttons, hit the pad you want to tweak and spin the data dial on the right on the TD-4 to either increase or decrease the pitch or, er, mufflisation.

On the right hand side of the module lie the controls for the TD-4's training functions. Roland clearly has the 'improving drummer' in its sights with the kit; the company has a good track record of offering useful practice functions in its V-Drum sets and this one is no different.

Coach Mode features five different training exercises including the funky new Tempo Check, which lowers the click volume when you're bang in time, and raising it when you're out of time.

"Whether you're a metronome-obsessed shredder or simply a weekender groover, there is not much for you to dislike here"

Quick Record also allows you to put your efforts down on the TD-4's internal memory with one touch. It's an unfussy sequencing function, but one that keeps you honest about your feel and timekeeping – if you're serious about practice the TD-4K is a great partner.

But don't let the 'personal trainer' bits fool you into thinking that the TD-4 might sport only perfunctory sonic abilities. Even if you never switched on the Coach Mode, you'd still be spoiled by what is an array of exemplary, all-new, on-board sounds.

There aren't hundreds to choose from – the TD-4 has 25 acoustic, electronic and percussion kits – but they really are fabulously playable. It's the responsiveness of sets like our personal favourite 'Coated' that immediately impress.

Yes, the sounds are great, indeed the reverb is smooth and natural, but it's the extent to which ghost notes can be coaxed from the pads (particularly the PDX-8 mesh snare) that makes for such a 'real-feeling' dynamic sensation. A few years ago even the top-end V-Drums weren't this good.

If the selection of kit sounds within isn't quite doing it for you, there is a certain amount of editing available too. But there's not much menu-wading to do. Ambience type and level, kit set-up and so on are all just a couple of button pushes away.

And although there's no deep-level tweakery to be had, we actually like the immediacy that the TD-4 allows. The basic sounds are so good that there's little that needs to be done to enjoy the kit, so it becomes more about the playing experience than programming the elusive perfect set. And there's much to be said for that.

Boringly predictable or reassuringly consistent depending on your viewpoint (not that the former is particularly valid), Roland has done it yet again with the TD-4K. And while the functional focus is on practice, rather than heavy-duty editing of sounds or production capabilities, the kit is a million miles from a sterile learning tool.

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