Friday, 17 October 2014

Review: Porter and Davies BC2 & Gigster

The last drum monitor you will buy ...

Most of you, I'm sure, will have at least read about 'silent' drum monitors.  These are the drumming equivalent of Force Feedback for gamers or Tactile Feedback for smartphones & tablets.

Tactile or 'Haptic' technology has been around since the early 1970's.  It came about because as controls (typically) have become more electronic and virtual, there has been found a need to transmit some kind of tactile response to the user.  On Smartphones this might be a low frequency 'buzz' when you touch the screen.  On aircraft it's often a rumble (much like some video games) which increase or decreases when a control surface is operated.

Now that more and more drummers are using IEM (In Ear Monitors) and Electronic Drums (see some of my other Shlogg posts) we are increasingly isolated from the tactile nature of our instrument, and so haptics are riding to our rescue!  There are a few manufactures in this space today, Fischer with their Buttkicker and Pearl (who partnered with Buttkicker) have consumer models for drummers but these consist of a large pneumatic device which clamps to the drummer's stool - and a large amplifier to power it.  However, Porter and Davies are walking a different path.

They came out with the 'Bum Chum'.  I don't know why they thought it was a good name, but they did.  These days they call it the 'BC' which now stands for Bone Conductive ... hmmm ok ...
Dodgy names aside, the BC is now in it's second iteration and features a seat top, the 'engine' to drive it, and the leads required to hook it together.  The engine comes in it's own flight case, which has sufficient space in the lid for you to store your leads in transit.

You will need your own seat base (standard 7/8" post) and a microphone on your bass drum.

The idea is this.  You have a microphone on your bass drum, you connect it to the BC2 engine, which in turn connects to the seat top.  There are some small adjustments to make on the engine (gain, frequency curve, volume) and you feel your bass drum through your butt.  The Bone Conductive part comes in because you 'hear' your bass drum because the vibrations travel up your spine and into your eardrums.  Whatever.  It just works.

In fact, it works so well and it so powerful that if you run an entire electronic kit through it and turn that volume knob up ... you will find yourself battered and bruised!

I've been highly sceptical of these devices over the last few years.  I came to the conclusion that this would just be a glorified force feedback joystick for a computer game, that ultimately just makes your hands tingle but otherwise doesn't give you an improved tactile feeling from your drum kit.  Well, I've continued to read every single review from every single drummer who used any of them over the years, and pretty much all the seasoned pro's are finding the best performance and highest reliability from the Porter and Davies devices.  When my favourite drum store (Graham Russell Drums) became a stockist I just had to try one out and the rest is history!

It's difficult to describe a sensation, particularly when you don't really have something to compare it to.  When people ask me, I tend to say it's a little bit like having a massive drum monitor behind you on full chat - but without the actual sound.  You 'feel' your snare and your toms, perhaps not a lot, but a little.  Get down to your floor toms and you can definitely 'feel' some rumble coming off them.  But when you lay into your bass drum - that thing is slapping you hard in the chest.

This is effectively what you get from the BC2.  You feel the low end of your drums (mainly your bass drum, if that's what you're mic'ing up).  There is definitely some sound associated with it as well, but I reckon its tactile 'haptic' feedback that is tricking your brain into thinking you can hear it.  Whatever the science is, the effect will revolutionise your playing.  With my IEM's feeding click and backing directly into my ear canals, I haven't been able to hear my drums for years.  Where my beats actual land has been 50% experience and 50% luck.  Now I'm part of the groove again and it's true what the pro drummers are saying - after a couple of hours with the BC you will never want to play without it again.

The Porter and Davies solutions are not cheap.  Buttkicker will sell you their solution for around half the money and who knows - it may be exactly what you need.  However, before you spend a penny I urge you to do some homework and try them out where you can.  The cheaper devices can be prone to overheating (basically, work them hard and they just stop) and they can be more irksome to set-up and adjust to suit the individual.  I wanted a reliable, easy to use, high quality solution and this is exactly what P&D do.  When you try one, you will realise it's a better upgrade than that new snare drum or cymbal set that you've been thinking about ... which I'm sure will make it less of a wrench to fine the cash.

Porter and Davies also product a rackmount version for the road warriors (BC2rm), and a slightly cut down version for the session player (Gigster).  All of them are identical in terms of components and performance, the only difference being the Gigster doesn't provide phantom power (although it does respect it) and does not have a switchable power supply.  

I had a lengthy email discussion with Dil Davies and he recommended I go for the Gigster.  I don't need to use it in the USA or Japan (right now) and the slightly smaller form factor means it sits well on a tray or shelf in a 19" rack unit.  He was right, and that's the model I went for.

In summary.  If you gig, or record - I think you should buy one of these.  No I'm not sponsored (I actually don't think that P&D sponsor anyone?) and I genuinely believe this will improve every drummer's playing.

BC2 £999
BC2rm £999
BC Gigster £799

Monday, 13 October 2014

Review: Graham Russell Drums

The best and biggest drum shop in the UK ...

A lot of drummers in the UK (and probably beyond) will already know about Graham Russell Drums.  Despite the fact that he has never run a big ad campaign or put billboards up or anything, his business has been gone from selling some second-hand drums in his garage (albeit a very nice garage!) to a warehouse store on a busy industrial estate.

The business model is deceptively simple.  Buy used drums and cymbals at a fair price, and sell them on - still at a fair price.  Whatever this approach might lack in terms of profit margins compared to new kit, it obviously makes up for in volume.

The store has now grown to the stage where Graham will never turn down a part exchange, has main dealer arrangements with many accessory & consumable suppliers, and is able to buy up new overstock items and bankruptcy stock.  All sold at competitive prices and available via (normally next day) delivery via mail order - for those unfortunate enough to not be within striking distance.

Many drummers I speak to have never been to a specialist drum shop.  I suspect this is both a sign of these (Internet) times, as well as the fact that most musical instrument shops are forced to stock a wide range of musical instruments just to stay in business.  Certainly all of the stores in my area have one drum kit (if you're lucky) and it will normally be a half-size effort in the window, under several years of dust and faded from the sun.

A specialist drum shop is a revelation in itself, let alone one the size of GRD.  At 5,00 square feet, over two levels, with soundproof rooms for trying out gear, rehearsal rooms, toilets, and ample (free) parking - it can be a little intimidating the first time you arrive!  However, the friendly and helpful nature of Graham and his staff soon put you at ease and despite sensory overload at the sheer quantity of shinies on display - you will discover a method to the madness.

Downstairs, on display and  playable are the majority of the drum kits.  They are adorned with hardware, cymbals and pedals - so you really can step right up and try something out.  Now, I say the majority, because there are way too many kits for them all to be set-up on the many drum risers Graham has in the showroom.  Many of the kits have to be stacked-up like Russian Dolls, but if you need to take a closer look or to hear something it will get set-up for you.  Also downstairs is a bewildering selection of pedals, sticks and skins.  Around the bottom of the double staircase are some sofas and coffee tables (you WILL have hot beverages forced on you!) so you can take a break, or in my case encourage my other half to park-up with a cup of tea and a magazine while I am off busy drooling.

Going up the staircase you will pass a show-kit at the midway point on a glass platform (it will depend on stock, but there a gorgeous gold-plated DW kit there for a long time) before you get to the upper level.  At the top of the stairs is an entire side dedicated to cymbal trees.  You could be forgiven for thinking you were in a massive distribution warehouse, I kid you not.  Around the stairwell will probably be some low-end kits and electronics, to one side a hardware forest, to the other more cases than you have ever seen in one place (GRD is a Protection Racket main dealer) and at the end are the soundproof rooms.

I have visited half a dozen times since Graham moved into this new place, and every time there is more gear.  Popular stuff changes hands so quickly that it sometimes doesn't even make it to the website so if you have a particular need (or spot something highly desirable on the website) I recommend you give Graham a call as quickly as possible.

I've tried to give you a flavour of the shop, because no pictures I've seen have done it justice.  What you also can't get from a picture is a sense of the service.  With next day delivery, you don't have to be local (but it does help).  Several times I've bought something from Graham (once a Bonham kit, once a DW Edge Snare) and not been able to settle with them.  A quick chat with Graham and things can be sorted out at little or no cost.  Whether it be an alternative, a refund, or just some advice on how to get the best from your purchase.

Graham doesn't do sponsorship or discounts (he argues his sale runs 365 days a year) so you can be assured that my favourable review is based on my experience and my hard earned cash - and nothing else 8-)