Roland Friend Jam software
The practice of upgrading products entering the middle period of their life-cycle elicits one of two responses. As far as the cynics are concerned, it's an easy way for brands to eke out a few more months of sales without having to come up with new designs. Those of a more generous persuasion are more inclined to welcome improvements that make good stuff even better.
Roland's popular TD-9K and TD-4K are at exactly that mid-life point, and so it is that they've received several new features of late. So let's see how the new TD-9K2 and TD-4K2 acquit themselves…
Starting with the much-loved TD-9-based set-up, the K2 incarnation gets several tweaks. The enhanced TD-9 module, for example, contains no less than 40 new kits (plus the ability to playalong with MP3 as well as WAV files from USB drives), and the updated hardware offering now includes the new lightweight, chokeable CY-12C crash, three-way triggering CY-13R ride and the fresh-faced KD-9 bass drum pad.
The new kick also crops on the TD-4K2, although you have to make the jump to the new TD-4KX2 to get your mitts on the new cymbals. It's fair to say that the updated TD-9 kit is blessed with rather more enhancements than the new TD-4 rig, although it remains a great set-up.
The cymbal pads are important, according to Roland, because they move more freely than previous offerings, allowing for a more realistic response. The kick meanwhile is quieter than rubber-faced predecessors and again closer to the feel of an acoustic drum.
These might not be game-changing developments, but Roland are steadily and consistently honing the electronic kit experience with improvements like this, and they're very welcome.
If that weren't enough, the TD-9K2 now also gets a full complement of mesh heads - PDX-8 for snare and tom three and PDX-6 for the rack toms. It's a very cool-looking rig as a result…
The TD-4 was always a fantastic proposition for practice and training - stuffed full of good sounds and really useful features to check your groove and improve your sense of time.
Enlivened with the lovely KD-9 pad, it's more attractive - although this definitely feels like more of a 'sprucing up' than a mid-life makeover. That's to take nothing away from the improved feel of the KD-9, though.
The 'giving' response when the beater meets the new fabric head of the kick pad contributes a nice organic feel to each stroke - it's one of those marginal little things that helps makes the best electronic kits feel like instruments rather than data-input devices.
The addition of the KD-9 along with the new cymbal pads and use of all-mesh heads on the TD-9K2 makes it an extremely desirable and significantly enhanced set-up. The original was fab, but the pimping here adds enormously to its appeal.
And of course it's not just the TD-9K2 hardware that's received a First Class upgrade. The module's additional kits (there are now 90, up from 49 originally) means more scope for getting a kit that's close to your requirements from the off.
Predictably, there's nothing that falls short of Roland's sterling reputation for lifelike, sensory tones and muscular electronic sounds. It's all good stuff. As is the new ability to playalong with MP3 files, delivered by USB stick, in addition to WAV files. Another example of the not-earth-shattering-but-jolly-nice tweakery that makes the TD-9K2 a very fine kit indeed.
The playalong tracks in the TD-9 have always been pretty much my favourite when it comes to instant groove gratification out of the box, steering well clear of cheese-tastic synth guitars and General MIDI parping. But adding comprehensive access to more file types is great and adds extra flexibility with no fuss.
So do the new K2 versions of the TD-9 and TD-4 kits do enough to silence the cynics? Pretty much. Certainly as far as the TD-9K2 is concerned the kick and cymbal upgrades and the improved sonic selection of the module amounts to more than a token update.