Hey guys. I got hired to play drums at a large youth conference at a church in Vancouver WA this weekend. The original plan was to play on a DW kit with my snare and pies, but in the last minute they decided I would play their Roland TD-20. Bummer... I'm not a fan of E-kits, mostly because of the cymbals (hihats especially). A few songs into the rehearsal their live sound engineer showed up with a box of Zildjian Gen16 cymbals so I quickly threw them on the kit.
Each cymbal needs to be mounted a certain way on its stand. There's a bottom washer, bottom felt, then a stereo microphone unit, another felt, the cymbal, top felt and then the wingnut. So the microphones pick up the actual sound of the cymbals from underneath the cup and connect to the module via a 3.5mm stereo jack cable. The cables are color-coded to help you hook up the right cymbal to the correct input on the brain. The mic attaches to the top hihat cymbal and the bottom hihat has a hole for the cable to go through. The cymbals are by no means silent like rubber cymbals, but they're at least a quarter of the volume. They have hundreds of round perforations. They have a shiny and smooth silver finish that fingerprints very easily. Hopefully their finish doesn't wear out and tarnish over time like the fiasco that were Zildjians ZXTi cymbals.
While the sound is relatively soft, the cymbals do acoustically exhibit a very high-pitched ring, especially if you play the bells. This won't likely be heard out in the audience, but other musicians on stage will hear it and might think it's feedback. Speaking of feedback, I had to re-position my floor monitor a little because the ride mic (closest one to the monitor) was feeding back. Normally I like to let my cymbals swing freely and I don't use top felts, but with these cymbals if the cymbal swings too steeply, it will collide with thye microphone unit and the impact with overload the mics, which causes a terrible loud and disrupting clipping sound. Thankfully Zildjian does give you lots of extra soft rubber felts to stack on top to deal with this.
While I didn't get to really hear how the cymbals sounded out in the audience through the PA, I got a pretty good impression from my wedge. I had initially been using the stock rubber cymbals with the TD-20, and after I set up the Gen16's I left the second crash from the roland cymbal set (CY-14C-SV). As I mentioned previously I hate the feel of rubber cymbals and their response. The TD-20 until recently was Roland's flagship e-kit, yet the cymbals won't trigger every time you play them. If you hit them too soft or too hard they often make no sound. And the dynamic response feels very narrow and limited. The Gen16 cymbals though feel like real cymbals and because the module recieves signals from mics, the response is pretty much on par of tha of a real cymbal. What a difference! The mics are very sensetive though, and you'll get sympathetic vibrations from other sources (which happens with acoustic cymbals too anyway).
Someone was concerned that the cymbals would act like a cheese grate and chew up my sticks, but the edges of the perforations are very smooth and rounded so no such thing occured. Another interesting thing is despite all the holes, the cymbals were about as heavy to lift as regular thinner-weight cymbals and also responded like such with a familiar feeling stick feel and rebound. You can tell Zildjian put a lot of work into these!
Compared to the TD-20 cymbals, the first thing that struck me about their sound through my monitor was the sustain. All the cymbal samples on the TD-20 are very dry and short. The mics capture all the natural sustain and wash of the actual cymbals. I didn't really have time to go through the different sound presets on the brain, but the default ones sounded pretty decent, albeit rather bright (which worked for the music). The brain has 15 presets for each cymbal type. There are 5 inputs on the brain - the first labeled hihat, the second ride and the others 'cym3', 'cym4' and 'cym5'. The set I was using had 14" hihats, an 18" crash and a 20" ride cymbal. Speaking of sizes, I really appeciate the fact that they are sized just like real cymbals. It would otherwise be impossible to capture that familiar feel and sound. Everything is really small on the stock TD-20 kit - the snare and floor toms being inches smaller than ones on an acoustic kit and the cymbals being tiny, which causes you to either space everything with gaps inbetween to try and get familiar distances between the centers of the heads or have everything tight and for the distances between all the drums and cymbals to be much closer than what you're used to and it throws you off either way when going around the kit. The proper-sized cymbals are a big step in making the e-kit feel and play more like an acoustic kit. The cymbals respond wonderfully to chokes and swells.
You can adjust the individual volume level of each cymbal on the brain and also pan the cymbal. There's a master output volume knob and a phone volume knob. The brain has a two inputs for the e-kit brain output, which with the Cymbal/Drums mix knob on the Gen16 brain allows you to easily balance the volume of the cymbals and the drums to eachother. And it allows you that way to keep everything on two channels to send to your mixer or interface if you wish to.
The unit that contains the mics has a blue ring around its perimeter that lights up very brightly when the brain is turned on. In a church setting I found them to be a very unwelcome distraction for the audience. It's a bit tacky, but it does look sort of cool, though I wish there was the option of turning them off.
I'm sorry I couldn't get better shots than with my iPhone. They'll have to do for now.