Alesis Strata Prime: we’ve got our hands on Alesis’ brand-new, BFD-loaded electronic drum set - here are our first impressions

Alesis is known for delivering a lot of bang for your electronic drum set buck, but today it has unveiled its latest flagship electronic kit in the Strata Prime. But, while on the surface it might appear like another familiar evolution in the Alesis line-up, this 10-piece, all-mesh kit is packing a potentially game-changing trick up its sleeve. Big talk, but backed up by the fact that the trick is actually a 40GB sound library, lifted straight from BFD 3 and placed inside the Prime module. So, just to reiterate, that’s a multi-layered, multi-microphone (including close mics, overheads and room mics) sample set housed in a drum module.

As well as this, the Prime module is based around a 10.1” touchscreen, allowing you to tap your way through your kit presets, drum selections and…well, pretty much the entire user interface without having to endlessly scroll through menus.

Thanks to the good folk at Alesis, we got our hands on a Strata Prime ahead of launch, so while we ready our full review, here are our first impressions, including some things we love, and a couple of things we’re not so sure about. 

We love: The BFD sound engine

Alesis Strata Prime hands-on

(Image credit: Future)

If you’ve ever sat at your e-kit triggering one of the many drum sample libraries from a computer and wished you could import more than basic one-shot samples, you might want to pay attention. 

The Prime module is loaded with over 40GB of sample data running in a BFD engine. They react dynamically – because they are dynamic – so a softer hit triggers a softer sample, and a harder hit gives you a harder sample. 

The sounds transition nicely and straight out of the box there’s very little machine gunning. A few tweaks of the sensitivity settings and velocity curves, and you’ve got studio-quality drum sounds dialled in. 

No computer, no audio latency. Plus, there are a lot of very cool instruments to choose from - from vintage drums to modern metal, funky hi-hats to Istanbul Clap Stacks, all with adjustable close, overhead and room mic positions. Nice!

We love: The touchscreen

Alesis Strata Prime

(Image credit: Future)

It’s 2024, and we’re conditioned to prod at any sort of backlit display we come across. Alesis has obliged by fitting the Prime module with a massive tablet-style touchscreen that takes care of 95 per cent of business while using it. It looks great too, with a full-colour output making everything nice and clear, we quickly forget we’re sat at a drum module. 

Of course, some things still benefit from hands-on control, and there are volume knobs for the main output, aux input and headphone levels, plus Alesis has placed six rotary controllers at the bottom of the touchscreen for making more detailed adjustments to your sounds and settings. Overall, though, it’s a very intuitive user experience.

We don’t love: The Bluetooth

Alesis Strata Prime

(Image credit: Future)

As with above, it’s 2024, so upon getting the strata Prime set up, we reached for our phone to start jamming with our Spotify library. Jabbing at that touchscreen quickly puts us on the settings screen, and just as with the Alesis Nitro Max recently, we go about syncing our phone to the Prime’s Bluetooth connection. 

“Instant pairing? Excellent!”. Except there’s a problem - the sound is still coming out of our phone. That’s because the Strata Prime is equipped with Bluetooth MIDI, but not audio. Now, arguably it’s not fair to criticise a pro-level module for not including a consumer-level feature such as Bluetooth audio. Some of the Strat Prime’s rivals such as the Roland TD-50X don’t have it either. 

But, we can’t help but mention it, especially as there is some Bluetooth capability onboard. Alesis tell us that this could be a possible update in the future, but for now, we get wireless MIDI (which is admittedly, great) only. So, you’ll need to dig out cable if you want to jam with your music library.

We love: Stacks

Alesis Strata Prime hands-on

(Image credit: Future)

A big part of creating our own customised sounds involves stacking a couple of sounds together. The Prime module allows us to do this easily via its Stacks feature. Want a bass drum with more weight but without losing the slap? You can scroll through and blend multiple, multi-layered samples together to create a huge sound. 

The Prime module can mix-and-match any of the internal sounds, or import your own to do this, and the result can be anything from a modern, massive production type-sound to convenient layering of sounds (a snare drum and a handclap, for example), or, you can set it to switch between the sounds at any given velocity level. Bravo!

We don’t love: The cross-stick

Alesis Strata Prime hands-on

(Image credit: Future)

With such a massive amount of realism on hand from the sound set, coupled with the slick looks of the module, we can be forgiven for trying out all of the snare articulations as one of our first ports of call. Snare head? Check. Rimshot? Check, check. Cross-stick? On yer bike, pal. 

Unfortunately, the cross-stick on the Strata Prime is executed by hitting the rim in the same way as you’d play the other snare articulations. Ok, so it’s not like it can’t play a cross-stick sound, but we feel that since Alesis has gone to pretty great lengths elsewhere – not to mention with the realistic pad sizes – it’s a bit of a faux pas. 

But, we did find a workaround by laying the stick parallel across both sides of the snare pad’s rim, allowing us to at least get near a convincing placement for those '90s ballads/Police covers.

We love: the cymbals

Alesis Strata Prime hands-on

(Image credit: Future)

Electronic cymbals can be a divisive thing. Too heavy and you don't get the natural swing and feel of a traditional cymbal. Make them from anything other than rubber and you risk annoying those around you. 

Alesis has struck a great balance with its ARC cymbal pads, which play nicely, have a good stick response and move with an acoustic-like swing. The choke function responds quickly across the crashes and ride, and the 360-degree playability is another welcome addition.

Most impressive, though, are the sizes. Where electronic cymbals have traditionally been smaller-sized, having 16" and 18" pads to play on adds to the realism, and the same can be said for the 14" hi-hat. Talking of which, we love how easy it is to get the hi-hat set up. The Prime module includes a simple configurator to help us get the open/closed position set comfortably, and it tracks our pedal position well.

We love: The pad configuration

Alesis Strata Prime hands-on

(Image credit: Future)

Across the entire kit, it's clear that Alesis has gone for realistic sizing. From the fusion-size 20" bass drum (with a real drum shell), to the 8"/10"/12"/14" tom layout, it feels like we're playing on a real drum kit in terms of spacing.

While we unashamedly love the growing trend for acoustic-style shells on electronic kits, largely due to the fact that it forces a realistic positioning of every part of the kit, we also understand they're not for everyone. 

The fact that the diameter of each Strata Prime pad is pretty faithful means that there's no tricking yourself by placing everything close together, plus those mesh heads are tension-able, so you can make each pad react in a similar way to its acoustic counterpart.

One big bonus of having the additional 8" pad is that you can set it up wherever you like, without losing the realistic sizing across the toms. So, if you want an auxiliary snare, for example you can move it to the left of your hi-hat and still have a traditional five-piece setup.

Stuart Williams

I'm a freelance member of the MusicRadar team, specialising in drum news, interviews and reviews. I formerly edited Rhythm and Total Guitar here in the UK and have been playing drums for more than 25 years (my arms are very tired). When I'm not working on the site, I can be found on my electronic kit at home, or gigging and depping in function bands and the odd original project. 

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