RE­VIEW ale­sis

£699 An all-mesh kit for un­der £700 from the strong­est ‘other’ name in elec­tronic drums

Rhythm - - NEW GEAR - Words: Stu­art Wil­liams

com­mand mesh kit

The elec­tronic drum set mar­ket used to be pretty much a two-horse race, with Ja­panese giants Yamaha and Roland both the first names that sprang to the minds of many po­ten­tial e-kit cus­tomers. How­ever, in the last decade or so, this part of the drum mar­ket has be­come a bat­tle­ground – par­tic­u­larly in the en­try and mid-price range, with plenty of generic op­tions avail­able at com­pet­i­tive prices. One com­pany that has stuck out as a se­ri­ous con­tender is Ale­sis, of­fer­ing more than just ‘me too’ prod­ucts, it has fast be­come the third name on the ‘e-drums you can trust’ list. And for good rea­son too, its pedi­gree has pro­vided us with af­ford­able elec­tronic mu­sic gear rang­ing from the 3630 com­pres­sor to the SR16 drum ma­chine, so it should be no sur­prise that the com­pany has har­nessed this abil­ity when ap­proach­ing elec­tronic drums too. This year sees the ex­ist­ing Com­mand kit re­fined to in­clude mesh pads to of­fer a greater play­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Let's take a look.


The Com­mand Mesh sits be­tween two other kits in the Ale­sis line-up to fea­ture all-mesh pads: the Forge, and Ale­sis’ pre­mium of­fer­ing, the Strike. It fol­lows a stan­dard five-piece-plus-cymbals kit con­fig­u­ra­tion, with three 8" tom pads, a 10" snare pad and an 8" bass drum pad, which also uses a mesh head.The snare and tom pads are all dual-zone, mean­ing that sep­a­rate sounds can be as­signed to the head and rim of each pad, of­fer­ing up to eight dif­fer­ent voices from these pads alone. There are three 10" cym­bal pads (ride, crash and hi-hats) plus a hi-hat con­troller pedal. In­cluded in the box is a sturdy 1 ½" tube rack sys­tem, sim­i­lar to that found on kits from Roland and Yamaha – and a bass drum pedal. Other fea­tures in­clude a USB MIDI con­nec­tion, to en­able you to eas­ily record MIDI data into a com­puter – plus stan­dard MIDI in/out sock­ets, 3.5mm head­phone and aux­il­iary in­put jacks, ex­pan­sion pad in­puts for an ad­di­tional tom and cym­bal pad. To the side of the mod­ule sits another USB socket, al­low­ing you to con­nect a mem­ory stick con­tain­ing jam tracks or sam­ples.

Hands On

As with other brands, Ale­sis sup­ply the rack for the kit in a ‘flat pack’ style, so the first job is to build it. This is te­dious, of course, but fairly un­avoid­able, and made eas­ier by the in­cluded pho­to­graphic guide. The Com­mand mod­ule is a sleek-look­ing piece of kit, and cer­tainly sets it­self apart from more off-the-shelf mod­ules. Cen­tral to con­trol­ling every­thing is the large ro­tary con­trol in the mid­dle, and as is com­mon, nav­i­gat­ing through pre­set kits is easy, while delv­ing deeper to edit sounds will re­quire a bit more weav­ing through menus us­ing the

"The Com­mand Mesh is a rea­son­ably-priced kit that pro­vides a de­cent level of func­tion­al­ity and fea­tures out of the box"

cur­sor but­tons. Each voice in the kit is se­lected by hit­ting the rel­e­vant play­ing sur­face, and then ad­just­ing pa­ram­e­ters such as vol­ume, de­cay time, pitch, re­verb etc. We’ve en­coun­tered bet­ter-look­ing dis­plays, with slicker in­ter­faces and sim­pler nav­i­ga­tion, but it’s re­ally not dif­fi­cult once you get used to tap­ping through the op­tions. The sounds within the mod­ule fol­low the over­all feel of the rest of the kit: it’s safe, with every­thing you need. Acous­tic kits range from stu­dio all-rounders to sam­ples of brushed jazz kits, tak­ing in rock, funk and ‘power’ style sounds along the way. Mean­while, the ex­pected elec­tro stan­dards are present too: snappy snares, hand claps, 808 kicks and Sim­mons-style toms are there too. It’s loaded with per­cus­sion, and there’s a sur­pris­ing amount of tuned per­cus­sion – made more playable by the num­ber of play­ing sur­faces in­cluded with the dual-zone pads. With some tweak­ing it’s pos­si­ble to tease pretty much ev­ery kind of sound you need out of the raw sam­ples, mak­ing it very well suited to play­ing dif­fer­ent styles.

This can be done by con­nect­ing your phone (or any de­vice for that mat­ter) to the 3.5mm aux in­put, or by plug­ging in a USB mem­ory stick. As we men­tioned above, the USB fea­ture also al­lows you to im­port your own sam­ples and as­sign them to a pad, which un­locks a world of cre­ative pos­si­bil­i­ties. There are a few caveats, though. The man­ual states that this func­tion will work with a USB stick rang­ing from 4-64GB (al­though our ran­domly se­lected 2GB drive worked just fine), and it must be for­mat­ted to DOS Fat 32 (eas­ily done on your com­puter). As well as this, the

"The ex­pected elec­tro stan­dards are present: snappy snares, hand claps, 808 kicks and Sim­mons-style toms too"

sam­ples have to be wav for­mat, and must also be mono, so there could be some pos­si­ble edit­ing re­quired in or­der to get your sounds to work. As­sum­ing the above, plac­ing the USB stick into the mod­ule cre­ates a set of fold­ers, and as long as the sounds you want to trig­ger are placed in the ‘Sam­ples’ folder, they will be vis­i­ble on the mod­ule’s screen when view­ing the USB menu. You se­lect the file, im­port it into the mod­ule, then scroll to the start of the sound list and as­sign it to the pad of your choice. While all this sounds a bit fid­dly, once you have the cor­rect for­mat, it’s a lot of fun, and could make the Com­mand a use­ful hybrid brain for live as well as home use.

The Com­mand Mesh isn't with­out its lim­i­ta­tions – it's a rea­son­ably-priced kit that pro­vides a de­cent level of func­tion­al­ity and fea­tures out of the box. The hi-hat con­trol feels springier and has a box­ier look and feel to our Roland model, but the travel is ad­justable and we had no prob­lem get­ting it to open and close at a nat­u­ral-feel­ing dis­tance. The in­clu­sion of a 'proper' bass drum pad, as well as a sturdy pedal, rather than a space/noise-sav­ing trig­ger is a pos­i­tive for first-time e-kit buy­ers, or those look­ing to move be­tween acous­tic and elec­tronic kits too. We did find that the mount­ing hard­ware was prone to mov­ing a lit­tle un­der heav­ier strikes un­less tight­ened very se­curely, and the rub­ber rim shrouds made tun­ing with the in­cluded key a bit fid­dly. With all that said, these are mi­nor grum­bles, rather than any­thing that is likely to stop you en­joy­ing the kit. A quick scan of your favourite on­line re­tailer's web­site will re­veal that while there's no short­age of elec­tronic kits on the mar­ket, there aren't many boast­ing this level of fea­tures, com­plete with mesh heads. Yes, dual-zone cym­bal pads would be a 'nice-to-have', par­tic­u­larly for de­vel­op­ing ride voic­ings, but this kit is built to hit a price point, and at no point did we feel like we were play­ing a lower-priced com­pro­mise. The end re­sult is a solid, if not mas­sively sur­pris­ing set of sounds as a com­pet­i­tive pack­age.

As well as the sturdy three-sided chrome rack, the kit comes with bass drum and hi-hat ped­als Mesh bass drum The bass drum pad is 8", and uses the same mesh heads as the rest of the kit. It's tun­able, so you can ad­just the ten­sion and feel Hard­ware Pad exap­n­sion As well as the in­cluded con­fig­u­ra­tion, you can add an ad­di­tional tom and cym­bal pad to the setup

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