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Electro-Harmonix Super Space Drum

The return of EHX's analog drum synthesizers, Pt. 1


by Phil O'Keefe

 



Journey back in time with me to 1979. Disco is still all over the air waves, and New Wave is making a splash. One exciting and relatively new instrument commonly used in both genres was the synthesizer, including drum synths like the original Electro-Harmonix Super Space Drum. The Super Space Drum was one of a handful of analog drum synths that EHX first introduced in 1979 (For more on the pedals in this vintage line, see the resources section below). Relatively rare and commanding serious wampum on the usual auction sites when they do turn up, these percussion synth pedals have long been discontinued and are difficult to find.

 

But all of that changes with the reintroduction of the Super Space Drum and Crash Pad analog drum synths. We'll look at both, starting with the Super Space Drum. How does it stand up to its famous predecessor? Is it a smashing success? Let's find out. 

 



What You Need To Know

  • The Super Space Drum (SSD for short) is a reissue of a previous EHX pedal; the original Super Space Drum first debuted in 1979. The new version comes in a slightly smaller enclosure that measures 4.0" W x 4.75" L x 2.25" H.

  • The SSD is a true analog synth, with a modulated oscillator at its core that feeds a gated volume amplifier. This combination can create a wide variety of different analog drum and synth drum sounds, from deep kicks to short blips and "dropping" electronic tom sounds to fluttering sci-fi sweeps and ray gun blasts. 

 

  • The FREQ Start and Stop knobs set the beginning and ending frequencies for the oscillator; triggering the Super Space Drum causes the pitch to sweep from one to the other. The FREQ Start and Stop knobs have a range from 20 Hz (knob fully counter-clockwise) to 4 kHz when the knob is turned up all the way.

  • If you set the FREQ Start knob higher (further right) and the FREQ Stop knob lower, the pitch will drop. Reversing the knobs gives you a note with an upward pitch sweep. To generate notes that stay at one pitch for their entire duration, you can also set the knobs to similar levels.  

  • The Time knob determines how the sweep speed from the pitch determined by the FREQ Start to the FREQ Stop settings, and how long each note lasts. There's considerable range here, and note lengths and sweeps can happen nearly instantly (perfect for short, clicky type sounds) or take several seconds to complete.

  • The knob labeled SENS adjusts the SSD's sensitivity to external triggers; with higher setting, the SSD being more sensitive to softer hits.

  • The Volume knob sets the SSD's overall output level.

  • There are three modulation controls. A Mod Switch turns the modulation section on or off. The Depth knob controls how strong the modulation effect will be on the sound, and has a center detent. Turning this knob clockwise from center gives you positive depth with a rising sawtooth waveform. As it's turned counter-clockwise from center you get negative depth and, according to the manual, a "falling sawtooth that produces sharper-sounding modulation at lower Rate settings."

  • The Rate knob controls the modulation speed. The minimum speed is a leisurely 10 Hz, and it has a very high maximum speed of 1.5 kHz - fast enough to generate clangy and metallic ring-modulated sounds.

  • Power can be supplied with either a 9V battery or from an external 9V power supply via the pedal's 2.1mm center negative jack located at the top of the pedal. A 9V DC power adapter is included. The Super Space Drum draws 25mA at 9V DC, and the manual warns you not to use the wrong adapter or to exceed 12V DC at the power jack.
  • The battery compartment is accessed by removing four screws and the bottom plate. Outside of the battery clip, nothing is user-adjustable.



  • The SSD has a single 1/4" output jack. The output impedance varies from 100 Ohm to 25 kOhm. Plugging into the output jack turns the power to the synth on when using a battery, so always disconnect the output when you won't be using the pedal for a while to conserve battery life.  



  • A red LED serves double duty by illuminating when the pedal is powered up, and flashing briefly upon receiving a trigger from the pushbutton trigger switch or Ext. TRIG jack.

  • If a new trigger comes in while the SSD is sweeping and playing a note, it stops the current sweep and retriggers a new note that sweeps from the beginning of the cycle.

  • The new SSD does not include the leather strike pad on its top face like the original (cork was used on some versions), and it's not intended to be hit directly with a drum stick or your hand like you'd hit a bongo. Instead you'll find that the new pedal has graphics that look vaguely similar to the strike pad of its predecessor, but there's a pushbutton trigger located at the center that you can push with your finger to trigger the Super Space Drum's oscillator.

  • All is not lost for those who really want to hit something - the Super Space Drum has a EXT. TRIG. input jack mounted on the side panel so you can easily hook up a non-MIDI electronic drum trigger or pad and use it to trigger the SSD.

  • This trigger input can work with other pedals, such as the Electro Harmonix Clockworks rhythm generator and 8 Step Program. The SSD accepts positive-going pulses and the working trigger range is from 3V to 15V for unipolar signals, and +/-3V to +/-8V for bipolar signals, so clock signals from vintage sequencers and drum machines, synth Gate outputs and all sorts of things can trigger the SSD.



  • An Aux In jack lets you process external audio signals with the SSD's gated amplifier, so every time you trigger the SSD, the signal at the Aux In will pass through to the SSD's output. Further, this signal is controlled and can be manipulated with the SSD's Time knob, adjusting its decay time and allowing for cool rhythmic gated effects as you trigger the Super Space drum via the Ext Trig jack or the built-in trigger switch.  



Limitations

  • There's no MIDI. If you wish to trigger the Super Space Drum from a MIDI controller, you'll need a MIDI to CV/Gate converter box.

  • Those who want historical accuracy in all respects from a reissued pedal will be disappointed with the different case and missing cork/leather strike pad of the original. Most people probably won't care.

  • An Expression Pedal input jack that controlled the modulation rate or depth would be a nice addition.



Conclusions

Let the Good Times Roll - this is a very fun little noisemaker! You'll be surprised by how many different sounds you can coax from an analog drum synth with just a basic oscillator, a gated volume amplifier and modulation. This surprisingly capable little pedal works great for short or long kick and tom sounds, bleeps and blips, metallic ring mod tones, and retro-future pitch swept drops and rises that you can use with or without fluttering modulation. It's especially nice when paired with a few drum pads, some other SSDs and/or with one or more EHX Crash Pad analog drum synths. For those who like to try patching things together in various ways and experimenting, adding a EHX Clockworks for rhythmic sequencing and triggering, an Electro Harmonix 8 Step Program to sequence filter sweep patterns on the Crash Pads, and maybe a few other pedals for modifying and manipulating the drum synth sounds guarantees hours of fun.

Vintage snobs may miss the old folded metal case format, but the new Super Space Drum is otherwise very similar to the originals, and every bit as fun. How does the SSD compare to the EHX Crash Pad? For the answer to that question, you'll have to stay tuned (or click here!) for when we cover all the details about Electro Harmonix's other recently reissued drum synth.



Resources

Electro Harmonix Super Space Drum ($156.70 MSRP, $117.50 "street")

Electro Harmonix product web page    


You can purchase the Electro Harmonix Super Space Drum from:

Musician's Friend    

B& H Photo Video    

Guitar Center    







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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