Tuesday, October 14, 2008

ION Drum Rocker Review (without drum module)

A Rock-Band-Special Edition-sized box greeted me when I got home from work today. The ION kit had arrived quickly; thanks AMS! Truth is, I was expecting the kit to come in a bigger box, but smaller was easier to wrangle into the front door.

Digging into the box, the first question is: Whatever happened to packaging, anyway? Like the original Rock Band kit, the ION kit is cheaply packed with cardboard parts and next-to-no Styrofoam. Somehow they managed to make it good enough though, so I shouldn't complain.

The other blogsites sure made the kit out to be this huge living-room consuming device in words and in picture. Physically, it is probably 50% bigger than my RB1 drums, but the footprint still manages not to bother me.

Assembly is easy and obvious, especially for those who have setup a drumkit before. For those who haven't, a Lego-style instruction sheet is included. There is some text instructions in the corner but they are mostly worthless.

The parts look a bit cheap compared to the regular electric kits, but they also manage to feel sturdy. Their lightweight make for easy relocation. I have no concerns of breakage, although I will say the wingnuts should NOT be over-tightened. The clamps are plastic, so finger tight should be good.

Continue reading...

The most difficult part about the assembly is aligning the pads to your specific tastes. Pad adjustments are done with metal wingnuts, and the rack adjustments are done with an included drumkey. A few twists is about all it takes to get things moving. I recommend setting the rack up so the clamp wingnuts and the drum "boltheads" are facing outward. This will make for easier adjustments.

The only hardware that bothers me is the kick pedal. While it feels fantastic, it has a thin metal piece in it that vibrates. It gets annoying when the music is turned low. Why ION didn't put a simple dampener on it, I have no idea.

I should note that I had two problems after getting it together. My kit was missing an allen wrench used to prevent the cymbals from turning. This wasn't a problem since I have my own tools. However, when I first plugged the kit in, the 360 was not recognizing it and the control ring wouldn't light up. Minor panic ensued, and I ended up swapping the detachable USB pigtail with the pigtail from my RB1 kit. The ring lit up and I was in business. I'll see about getting replacements on these minor parts from ION later.

Starting in Freestyle mode, I was happy to find that the cymbals and tom pads of the same color made different sounds. Tour and Quickplay mode don't seem to care whether cymbal or tom is hit. However, that's a pro since it's not always apparent which it's going to be. From my experience, when the kick is hit in conjunction with green it is a cymbal hit rather than a tom.

To exaggerate profusely, this kit is a million times better than the standard Rock Band kit. It feels fantastic to play in a real drum configuration rather than the stiff in-a-row pads. The cymbals alone make a monumental difference, so I recommend that anyone who sticks with the RB2 kit get the cymbal add-ons. Hitting the crash adds the missing satisfaction from the original layout.

As some have reported, it does take some effort to get acclimated to having multiple options for certain colors. I caught myself delaying mid-song to try and figure which hit made the most sense. For me, this mostly went away after about 2 songs.

For those "real" drummers that want to play Rock Band, I can tell you that this kit is the only way to go (unless modding is your forte).

Good news so far, eh? Well, I do have to complain about what will hinder many purchases of this kit: The price. I think $300 should have netted us one of two things: either a real kick pedal setup, or the third cymbal. Getting both would probably be asking too much on the consumer side. I'd lean toward the 3rd cymbal to remove the awkward switch-up during ride parts. Unfortunately, that option is another $50 to an already expensive rig. For what the buyer gets, the price really should have been less.

As for turning this into a "professional" kit, I'd say that is giving too much credit. The ION kit would serve great to get basic beats in a studio, but the trigger pads would fall short for a full drumming experience. No cymbal choking or rim shots does suck a little. Thankfully, it provides enough for my purposes; I'd even be happy using RB2's freestyle mode for my drum sounds. Too bad there's no hi-hat trigger though.

While I'm happy with my purchase, I recommend prospective buyers think carefully before dumping money into this rig. If you want a real electronic drumkit, your money would be better applied to an Alesis or Yamaha kit that would cost around the same (if the Alesis brain was added to the ION kit). If you have extra money and love Rock Band, then this is the kit for you.

Massive fills:
-Authentic drum feel
-Good response from all pads
-Easy to configure

Stick clicks:
-Annoying kick pedal sound
-Short a cymbal

Resembles/Feels like:
A high quality electric kit from a low quality vendor (this is probably better than their usual line of electric kits).

Rent or Buy: N/A, but try a friend's first or at the store if you are considering it.

Personal Appraisal:$250
Other Opinions:
IGN: good for drummers, more durable, "more realistic feel"
Joystiq: cymbals a novelty, not for limited space, over-priced
Engadget: good for hardcore, beefy hardware, not a midi controller

Edit 10/15/2008: I said plastic wingnuts originally, but they are indeed metal. The cymbal-top wingnuts are plastic, but they should be.

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