DW Drums is currently holding a three-day event in celebration of its 50th anniversary, and as well as announcing a number of limited edition anniversary products - following quickly on the heels of the news that e-drum giant, Roland has acquired Drum Workshop - the Santa Monica-based drum brand has taken the opportunity to introduce its DWe kit.
Now, information from the official press release is limited, but DW has uploaded video of the kit’s unveiling amongst presentations of its anniversary edition kits, snares and hardware (watch the video below to jump to the DWe section).
Here’s everything we know so far about DWe.
It involves a legend of the music technology world
At the start of the presentation, DW founder Don Lombardi invites music tech pioneer, Marcus Ryle on stage. Why is his involvement important? Well, Marcus Ryle has been involved in a wide range of innovations from designing synths for Oberheim, bringing us the Alesis HR-16 drum machine, and he had a hand in inventing ADAT, which started out as an affordable digital multitrack recording format and has found a second life in audio interfaces as a connection standard.
Oh yeah…he also founded Line 6, democratising high-end tone for guitar players the world over. So, the fact that he is returning his attention to electronic drums is good news.
DWe uses wireless triggering technology, and runs off batteries
A big focus from the launch presentation is DWe’s wireless technology. While this may seem like a buzzphrase, the reality is that setting up an electronic kit - even in a real-shell format - then battling with a cable snake or individual connectors adds setup time, complication, and is one of the big ‘giveaways’ that you’re using an electronic kit (if that matters to you).
DWe’s triggers are mounted inside the drum shells, and they communicate to an as-yet name-unconfirmed receiver/converter box. There are no connector cables, and the receiver runs off AA batteries.
Ryle preempts concerns about latency with an explanation of the technology’s efficiency. “These things are set up so that they only send a very small message, only when the drum is hit.
“Then the wireless is off. As a result, the wireless transmission is so short and so fast, that the wireless communication is actually about 10-times faster than MIDI. So the wireless does not introduce any latency to the process.
"On top of that, because the radio is on for such a short amount of time, these are being run from normal AA batteries and under normal daily playing, the batteries will last over a year.”
It’s a full-size DW kit, and can be electronic or acoustic
When DWe was first mentioned to the public four years ago, we saw images of a DW kit, but it featured shallower shells. The DWe of now is a full-blown DW acoustic kit. During the short promo video - set up to steer us into thinking we’re about to see ‘another acoustic kit’, John Good and Don Lombardi talk over a bed of Chad Wackerman playing.
Good talks-up the maple shell’s construction, bearing edges and acoustic sound while fondling a headless tom, before piece-by-piece the drums are taken away from Wackerman and set up as an electronic kit for Thomas Lang.
So, with acoustic heads fitted, it’s a maple-shelled DW acoustic kit. Change to “special” (we’re assuming mesh, given that Roland owns the patent) heads, and the pre-mounted triggers allow for immediate conversion.
But what of the cymbals? DW’s press release says “metal”, and that they’re three-zone. From the images supplied, it seems that the playing surface of the cymbals and hi-hats are metal, mounted to a thicker underside sensor array.
Thomas Lang was on hand, and as someone who has had a close association with Roland as an artist and demonstrator for years, was asked for his first impressions early.
“Obviously, as you can see it’s a beautiful DW kit. My first reaction was ‘Wow!’ just another beautiful acoustic drum set. Then there was the reveal of what’s inside them and I was blown away.
"I mean, not only is it beautiful, it feels great, all the dimensions are right, it’s a real acoustic drum set that has all these added capabilities.
“The response is amazing, and of course the game-changer for me is that it’s wireless. Usually this would be a total mess with lots of cable-salad all over, and it would take forever to set up, but there it is. It’s all there, inside of the drum. It’s a drum set on steroids for me. The best of both worlds.”
There’s no brain, as such
Lombardi ends the presentation to great applause with a belter of a dad-joke he calls his 'marketing ploy'. “DWe: it’s a no-brainer”. That’s because as we’ve already mentioned, there is no brain in the traditional sense.
Just the wireless receiver/converter box. Marcus Ryle revealed during the presentation that the box is capable of receiving signals from up to 30 drums/cymbals in one setup.
It's unclear as to whether this is 30 zones, or 30 wireless ‘inputs’ with a maximum of three zones per-pad, but either way, that means we can create at least 30 individual voices in one kit.
One thing we do know from the presentation is that there’s no electronic sound generation on-board, which means…
It involves a computer
At this point, we should remind ourselves that the kit we’ve seen on stage and in images is a pre-production model. The specifics aren’t fully finalised, but it seems fairly certain that the sound generation for the DWe is computer-based.
As Ryle explains, the wireless box connects to a computer, and interfaces with DW’s Soundworks (note the adjoining 'D' and 'W' in that name) software. It seems likely that this will be the centrepiece for making settings, editing and creating sounds and essentially doing anything to the DWe’s electronic side.
It suggests that using the DWe live will require a laptop unless DW have an additional hardware solution that hasn’t been mentioned yet. But then again, it is 2022, after all, and laptops are becoming more and more common, even at pub/club gigging levels.
Chad Wackerman helped make the multi-mic sound library
The logical step to improving the sound of electronic drums is to include multi-sampled kit sounds along the lines of software such as EZDrummer and Steven Slate Drums (which Pearl has already incorporated in its Mimic moduls). So, when Chad Wackerman is handed a mic, he reveals that he was heavily involved in creating the sounds for the DWe.
“We blocked out a studio for a couple of months. Every drum was miked with 15 mics in various parts of the room, within the software you can choose which mics you want to have for each individual drum or the whole set.
"For a Bonham-esque sound you might want the room mics a bit more, or choose the overhead sound more for a jazz sound, but you have all these choices.
“It was meticulously recorded, so you’re getting a very audiophile sound with all these different kits that we’ve sampled so far. That’s going to be an ongoing thing too, there’s going to be a pretty massive drum and cymbal, percussion sound library with this.”
We’ll have to wait until 2023 for the full unveiling
The DWe has been in development for a while. Indeed, the DWe was first mentioned publicly back in 2018 at the Frankfurt Musikmesse, although that first incarnation was a collaboration with DW’s European distributor, GEWA. This is not that kit.
We’re going to have to wait until 2023 to get the full unveiling of the DWe set, and as yet the price and specs haven’t been made public. We do know that the shells are US-made in Oxnard, California, but this is obviously just the start.
We're speculating, but with DW’s new ownership under Roland, along with import kits from PDP and DW’s Performance series, we’d be surprised if DWe’s technology is forever limited to high-end, US-made kits. For now, here’s what DW’s John Good and Don Lombardi have to say.
“DWe will deliver the most authentic playing experience in the market for drummers whether played acoustically or electronically. Our focus has always been helping drummers elevate their craft by delivering new innovation, and DWe is no exception.”
Lombardi adds, “Including technology in the drummer’s toolkit will enable them to introduce new creative ways to express themselves. DWe solves the issue of having to choose between electronic or acoustic drums and gives drummers the ability to add new sounds to their setup.”