September 19, 2011
It’s hard to believe I linked to first review of the premium $299 Ion Drum Rocker almost three years ago!
Although I’ve been happy with the Rock Band 3 Pro drumkit (with cymbals), I finally decided to take my drumming to the next level and adopt the Ion Drum Rocker kit. One advantage of waiting this long, at least — the kit that was originally $299 is now only $249.
The Ion Drum Rocker, although super premium by gaming standards, is extremely low end in the real world of drums. I knew that, and I wasn’t expecting much when I unpacked the (zillion!) boxes. But my first reaction to the Ion Drum Rocker was “wow, this thing is rock solid”. It’s a huge step up in quality, construction, and feel from a stock Rock Band 3 pro drumkit. Consider that you’re going from this:
It is, in a word, beefy. One of the reasons I upgraded is because our 2.5 year old son enjoys whacking on the drums with us, and I wasn’t convinced the stock kit could continue to survive his tender mercies for a whole lot longer. Well, there’s no way any toddler can harm this Ion kit; it’s all ridged aluminum frame and multi-point bolted joints.
It’s also way, way more complicated than the simple Rock Band 3 kit. Check out the assembly diagram, below (click through for a larger version):
Here’s a full visual inventory of all the parts in the box. And after building it up, you’re not done — you still have to connect everything together, and that’s one distinct wire for …
- 4 pads
- 3 cymbals (the third cymbal is a highly recommended $45 addition)
- 1 pedal
… eight wires and eight connections all told, as you can see in this visual diagram.
Alesis, the underlying manufacturer, is known for inexpensive but good quality electronic drum kits; the Ion Drum Rocker is effectively their most inexpensive electronic kit. Given the heritage, it is every bit as reliable and satisfying to play as you might expect. That part didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me, however, was how ridiculously configurable this kit is.
Apparently not all real world drum kits are arranged in the layout of a Rock Band 3 drumkit! I’m sure this is totally obvious to any real world drummer in retrospect, but drum kit positioning is often a matter of preference, musical genre, even song! On the Ion drum kit, the frame, the pads, the cymbals — all can be adjusted, tweaked, and arranged in an almost infinite number of ways. (Not to mention that some drummers can have literally dozens of drums and cymbals in their kit.) This was a whole new world for me! If I’m going to spend the dough on a fancyish kit, I want to do this right — I want to learn something approximating real drum motions and proper standard drum layouts. But then I belatedly realized I have no idea what that is. So I asked a question on music.stackexchange to determine what the “standard” or “typical” drum kit layout is.
I’ll save you all the angst and give you the short version: the Rock Band 3 layout is fairly close to a typical drum kit, but the biggest difference is that the snare (red) drum should be under the first tom (yellow) and lower, between the drummer’s legs. And really there should be a pedal under each foot, too! As you can see in this diagram:
I’m still tweaking my layout, but the snare positioning and the general layout pictured above is what you want to shoot for. Bear in mind that most drum kits have four cymbals, which means two crashes (green cymbals) on the left and right. So at some level having just one green cymbal is kind of fundamentally incorrect, and you may feel it’s on the “wrong” side depending on the song. In a perfect world you’d have a duplicate green cymbal on the left, too.
It’s been a much more substantial upgrade than I ever expected; not only does it work great (and it’s surprisingly quiet, arguably quieter than even the Rock Band 3 Pro drumkit in play), but the kit has encouraged me to learn more about real world drumming. The only thing you give up is the wireless connectivity, and any semblance of easy portability. Neither of these are very important to an avid drummer so I heartily recommend the Ion Drum Rocker.
I have a few more tips for new Drum Rocker owners based on my experience:
- Once you get the kit, prepare to spend the first few days tweaking the layout to taste. Trust me, that little adjustment tool they include will be your best friend for a while. Just like a real drum kit, all those knobs and adjustments are fascinating — do not tie anything down until you’re absolutely sure you’ve got the layout just right!
- Use a silver sharpie marker to measure and mark intervals on the frame crossbars, so you can get the alignment just right. And if you don’t have a silver sharpie yet, for shame. Go get one! Silver sharpies = awesome.
- Only the foot pedal cable has a color band; I thought that was really clever and matched the colored inputs perfectly, so I bought some Scotch Vinyl Colored Tape in red, green, yellow, and blue to mark both ends of all the cables so I always knew which pad or cymbal it was going to.
- Rather than using the supplied zip-ties, I found it was simpler and faster to wind the extra cables around the frame.
I’m enjoying these baby steps into the world of real music and real musicians tremendously. In the end, with the Ion Drum Rocker you’re paying ~$300 (once you factor in that important 3rd cymbal) to get a reasonably complete, good quality basic electronic drum kit. It’s only a little more than 2x the price of the default Rock Band 3 pro drum kit ($129), and what you get is way more than 2 times as configurable, reliable, and realistic. That’s a great deal in my book!