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