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Electro Harmonix Crash Pad 

The return of EHX's analog drum synthesizers, Pt. 2



By Phil O'Keefe

 



After the release of the Super Space Drum in 1979, Electro Harmonix followed up in 1980 with another analog drum synth. Instead of replacing the previous model, the new EHX Crash Pad complemented it; while there are some similarities, each pedal has its own unique features and sound. The sounds these pedals made were new and fresh at the time and became popular with Disco and New Wave musicians, but like the other pedals in the EHX drum synth line of that era (more details on the various models can be found in the Resources section below) both pedals have long been out of production and can be difficult to find on the used market, as well as pricey when they do show up.

But now analog drum synth-loving musicians have new versions of these vintage classics available to them with the reintroduction of both models to the Electro-Harmonix lineup. We covered the EHX Super Space Drum in part one of this two-part review, and now we're back to see what the new Crash Pad has to offer, how it compares to the original model, as well as how it's different from the Super Space drum.





What You Need To Know

  • If you're familiar with the original Crash Pad, you'll immediately notice that the enclosure is different, with the new pedal being smaller. As with the Super Space Drum, it measures 4.0" W x 4.75" L x 2.25" H.

  • Like its counterpart, the Crash Pad is a true analog drum synth in a pedal-sized enclosure. While the Super Space Drum uses a modulated analog oscillator and gated volume amplifier voice architecture, the Crash Pad instead uses a white noise source that feeds a resonant filter. While there is some overlap, this gives the two synths the ability to do different types of sounds, with the Crash Pad excelling at non-pitched and noise-based sounds like analog synth snare drums, hi-hats, cymbals, steam engine sounds, as well as pitched tones from the resonant filter.

  • The Sweep controls are the heart of the Crash Pad's filter section. The Start knob sets the starting frequency, which can be anywhere from 250 Hz when fully counter-clockwise to 7.5 kHz when dimed. The Stop knob sets the filter sweep's ending frequency from 50 Hz to 7.5 kHz. Those who read my earlier EHX Super Space Drum review will note that this is a higher frequency range than the FREQ Start and Stop controls on the Super Space Drum, giving the Crash Pad a generally higher-pitched sound, although it can make some low and midrange sounds as well as bright high-pitched ones too.





  • The Time knob determines how long it will take for the filter to sweep from the Start to Stop frequencies, and has a 4ms to 4 second range.
     
  • A SENS. button changes the Crash Pad's sensitivity to external trigger signals. Sensitivity is high when this button is depressed, requiring less amplitude to trigger the Crash Pad. It's less flexible than the Super Space Drum's variable Sensitivity knob, but it works.

  • The Resonance knob changes the Q of the Crash Pad's low pass filter (LPF). Turning this knob past about 3 o'clock results in self-oscillation, which is the key to getting pitched sounds out of the Crash Pad that augment its otherwise noise-based sounds.

  • A Volume knob controls the Crash Pad's overall output level.

  • The Decay knob adjusts the amount of time it takes from the note trigger until the internal volume envelope fades out. You can adjust this for very short times for "click and blip" sounds when the knob is fully counter-clockwise, or for a six-second decay when the knob is turned up to the max, or anywhere in between.

  • There are two red LEDs on the Crash Pad. One is a power indicator, and the second is a trigger indicator that flashes whenever the Crash Pad is triggered from its onboard trigger switch, or from an external trigger signal.

  • The leather (some versions used cork) strike pad of the original pedal is gone, but the unique graphics that were printed on it have been updated for the new Crash Pad's logo artwork. No, you can't hit it quite the same any more, but there's a pushbutton trigger located at the center of the artwork that you can push with your thumb or finger to trigger the pedal's built in noise generator.

  • What if you want to use drum sticks? No problem - the Crash Pad has a 1/4" Ext. Trigger jack mounted on the side of the pedal. Input impedance is 2MOhm. Hook up a non-MIDI external drum trigger and you can play on it to trigger the Crash Pad's synth.

  • You can use the trigger input in other ways too, such as sending the audio output from the Super Space Drum into it. You'll need to crank the output level of the SSD and use a boost pedal in between the two drum synths to get the output signal hot enough to trigger the Crash Pad, but once you do, all sorts of fun ensues as you play with the triggers and various controls of both units.  

  • You can also use the trigger input to receive signals from the EHX Clockworks sequencer. The Crash Pad triggers on positive going pulses or clock signals ranging from 3V to 15V, or bipolar signals ranging from +/-3V to +/-8V.





  • There is also an Aux In jack. This lets you use the Crash Pad's resonant filter to process audio from other sources. More on that in a moment! Input impedance of the Aux In is 10MOhm.

  • Of course, there's a 1/4" Output jack to send the Crash Pad synth's signal to your amplifier or mixing board. Output impedance varies from 100 Ohm to 25 kOhm. The pedal's power on switch is built into the output jack, so don't forget to unplug it when you're not using it to conserve battery power.  





  • You also get a EXP PED jack for connecting an optional TRS-equipped expression pedal, which provides real-time control over the resonant filter's sweep. You can also connect an EHX 8 Step Program pedal to do all kinds of cool sequenced filter control tricks that can drastically change the sound of the Crash Pad from hit to hit. I tried this combination and had a lot of fun with it. The Expression Pedal jack accepts expression pedals with TRS plugs such as the Roland EV-5, EHX Expression Pedal, Moog EP-2 and EP-3, and M-Audio EX-P. You can also use it with a 1/4" TS plug to connect it to a control voltage (CV) source. Acceptable control voltage range is 0V to 5V.

  • An internal Expression Pedal Fixed Volume DIP switch (shown with a red arrow in the picture), when set to the On position, turns off the Crash Pad's volume envelope when you plug an expression pedal into the EXP PED input jack. This lets the Crash Pad sent the output of the resonant filter to the output jack continuously, instead of requiring a trigger signal. This is set to Off from the factory. This very cool feature lets you use the Crash Pad along with an expression pedal as a foot-controllable resonant filter  for processing other audio signals.





  • The Crash Pad can be powered by a 9V battery or from the included 9V DC power adapter. The 2.1mm center-negative power jack is located at the top of the pedal, and the manual cautions you to not feed the Crash Pad more than 10V DC. The Crash Pad draws 22mA at 9V DC.



Limitations

  • No MIDI. If you want to integrate it with your MIDI equipment, you'll need a MIDI to CV/Gate converter box.

  • Vintage accuracy freaks may be unhappy that it uses a different-sized case and is missing the cork / leather strike pad of the original Crash Pad, but it does add a useful pushbutton trigger switch, and everyone else will appreciate the more compact size.

  • It would be great if Electro-Harmonix made a Super Duper Crashing Space Drum that incorporated the noise generator and resonant filter of the Crash Pad with the oscillator and modulation of the Super Space Drum, and maybe added some additional user-adjustable envelope controls.



Conclusions

What's old is new again, and many of today's musicians really appreciate the immediacy, retro cool factor, and undeniable fun of simple analog synths. The Electro Harmonix Crash Pad is an excellent example of just such a synth. Compared to the Super Space Drum's modulated oscillator and gated volume amplifier configuration, the Crash Pad offers a white noise generator that can be driven to create pitched tones too, with its resonant filter. Like the SSD, it can be triggered from all sorts of external sources, and you can even run external audio signals into it for processing and rhythmic triggering, with an interior switch giving you the option of just processing the signal with the Crash Pad's filter, without needing to trigger it. Purists may wish for the original pad and case, but most users will appreciate the smaller size and built-in trigger switch of the new models.

 

So how do the Crash Pad and Super Space Drum compare?

Like the original, the new Crash Pad is great at creating electronic noise bursts, analog cymbals, hi hats and snare drum sounds, as well as resonant filter electronic drum sweeps. The Super Space Drum can also do pitch sweeps with its oscillator, but lacks the Crash Pad's noise generator. Its frequency range for its oscillator start and stop points extends lower (although not as high) than the Crash Pad's filter sweep range, and it's better suited to lower-pitched sounds like electronic toms and kick drums. Of course, the Crash Pad has a white noise generator and that cool resonant filter and expression pedal jack, both of which the Super Space Drum lacks and which are great for processing all kinds of external signals. Either synth is great for triggering from your DAW with analog pulses and clock signals. Ideally, you're going to want both units - in fact, I'd recommend at least a pair of each. Add in a Clockworks and an 8 Step Program, a delay pedal and boost and a few other fun pedals and you've got a electronic drum synth and sequencing rig that will keep you musically occupied for countless hours.


Resources

 

Join the discussion on Harmony Central's Effects Forum

 

Electro Harmonix Crash Pad analog drum synth ($156.70 MSRP, $117.50 "street")



Electro Harmonix product web page    


You can purchase the Electro Harmonix Crash Pad from:

B&H Photo Video












Original late '70s / early '80s EHX Drum Synth "pedals":

EH-5300 Space Drum. Classic disco "pitch-dropping" synth drum sounds. Big Muff Pi sized "folded" metal case. Sensitivity plus Start FREQ and Stop FREQ  knobs, Decay switch, Ext Trig input and output jacks, cork or leather striking pad (as all the other units listed here also had), battery power.

 

EH-5310 Panic Button. Siren effect. BMP sized, Sens, Rise Time and Fall Time knobs, fast/slow switch, Ext Trigger In and Output jacks.

 

EH-5320 Sonic Boomer. Tunable electronic drum. BMP sized, Ext Trig In and Output jacks, Sens, Pitch and Resonance knobs, Low/Hi pitch range switch.

 

EH-5330 Rolling Thunder. Analog kick drum and thunder / explosion sound generator. BMP sized, Sens., Decay and Tone knobs, Hi-Low pitch switch, Ext Trig input and Output jacks.

 

EH-5350 Super Space Drum. Deluxe Memory Man sized case, AC power. Adds modulation to the Space Drum with additional Modulation Rate and Depth knobs. COORD. In Jack for triggering external sound sources with the pad, Long-Short or Resonance switch, depending on version.

 

EH-5360 Crash Pad. Excels at simulating surf and generating electronic noise bursts, cymbals, hi hats and snare drum sounds, as well as resonant filter electronic drum sweeps. DMM sized case, AC power, Ext Trig, Aux In, Rev Noise Output and Output jacks, Sweep Start, Sweep Stop, Sweep Time, Resonance, and Decay Time knobs, Sens. Hi switch.

 

EH-5370 Clap Track. Creates classic synth style handclap sounds. DMM sized case, AC power, Trig In, Aux In and Output jacks, Sensitivity, Clap Volume, Noise Volume, Noise Decay and Noise Attack knobs, 3X Track switch.

 




__________________________________________________

 


Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.  

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