Next-Generation Direct Source Pickup Adds Versatility
by Dendy Jarrett
Cymbals. Most drummers are fascinated by them—the variety of sounds that different lathing and hammering can produce. The advantage of electronic cymbals is that they’re quieter than standard cymbals, which opens up more possible venues for playing but also makes it easy to process the cymbal sound and record it. Yet many electronic cymbals provide a less-than-satisfactory playing experience; so naturally, I was skeptical when asked to review “an electronic cymbal.”
My first foray into telectronic drums came in the early 1980s when touring with a major act. I was “forced” to use an electronic kit in the latter part of the tour in order to cut down on volume (both deciBel and size). Perhaps my negativity came from being “forced”—but in the early days of electronic drums, the technology was far from perfect. That has all changed, and for the better
I first viewed the Gen16 cymbals almost two years ago when they released and was more than impressed, so I was very curious as to what the “new and improved” version would bring.
When the cymbals arrived and I broke into the box, I really loved the packaging. It was compact with little wasted space, and the graphics were both striking and informative.
The package contained an 18” crash/ride, 13” hi-hats, DCP (digital cymbal processor) with mount and power supply, cable snake, two Direct Source Pickups, and all mounting accessories in a single, lightweight package. This particular collection is called the G16AEBS3DS or Gen16 AE Cymbal Box Set 38DS, and is exclusive to Guitar Center and Musician’s Friend.
NOT WHAT YOU EXPECT
The next surprise—they’re real cymbals, not the electronic “pads” you’ve grown accustomed to with electronic kits. These feel, look, play, and sound like cymbals because that’s what they are. What’s more, the articulation is fantastic.
These are real cymbals, with thousands of holes drilled in a hole pattern that is found throughout nature in plants and insects which removes mass, while keeping the tone signature intact. The removal of the mass also reduces the overall sound level. So while they sound like cymbals, they also sound like they’re off in the distance.
UNPLUGGED AND PLUGGED
While technically these are not designed for playing “unplugged,” I play a lot of unplugged sets in small venues. I would not hesitate to use these cymbals without the electronics, as these would be perfect for that application. But plug them in—and prepare to be amazed. This is not some sort of electronic gizmo that adds lots of distortion and compression in an attempt to give an electronic “resemblance” of a cymbal. Rather, these are real cymbals that are processed with real effects that allow for a huge palette of tonal possibilities.
NON-INTIMIDATING AND INTUITIVE
I am not an electronic gear-head wizard, and am intimidated when dealing with studio or P.A. gear. So, I was dreading the thought of putting all the parts together to make these things work. “Take a deep breath, Dendy...”
These kits come with their own cymbal felts that are somewhat softer than real felts. You simply drop the AE Cymbal Light Ring on the stand first, add the sleeve and felt (provided), drop on the cymbals, and you’re ready to play (much like mounting regular cymbals.)
The pickup is designed to be pretty universal; however, with the cymbal stands I use, I had a small challenge with all pieces fitting on the stand. You may need to be a little industrious depending on the brand of stand you use, but ultimately I was able to make it work with little fuss.
The directions and assembly are very intuitive, and there’s a helpful web site as well as YouTube tutorials. The DCP (Digital Cymbal Processor) unit is a small, five-channel processor with an aux in, headphone jack, five-channel snake (included), color-coded ports for easy hookup, a USB 2.0 port, and two input channels for mixing in your electronic drums. I was up and running in ten minutes (quicker the second time). Also note that Mac/Windows DCP editing software is available which can check for updates, upgrade the DCP firmware, and even lets you upload new cymbal and reverb presets.
The DCP has a magnetic mount that’s useble with most multi clamps, and is simple and fast to set up. Just be careful where you mount it, so that accidentally bumping the DCP forcefully on an upswing doesn’t dislodge it from the mount. I have been informed that while this unit was a prototype board that the new units will ship with two thumb screws to secure this magnetic plate to prevent it from being knocked off the mount.
When powered-on, the pickups have a whitish-blue LED light band around them that cast an attention-getting yet eerie glow under the cymbals. This furthers the cool quotient! And you can also set it to stay constant, strobe when struck, or strobe constantly—that raises the lighting to über-cool.
THE GIST OF IT
So what happens when you “plug” them in? Let’s just focus on what the system does to one cymbal. The DCP allows you to take the regular (if you will) cymbal and pitch-shift its tonal quality. You can make the 18” crash/ride sound like a Dark Hand-Hammered Crash, or an A Custom or even get something bordering on an electronic sound by simply changing the presets. There are 20 preset tone changes.
You can also add reverb if you’re playing a huge ballad and need that big-bucket crash sound. The DCP makes your cymbals become transformers in no uncertain terms, allowing wide tonal choices. The stereo pan places the cymbal anywhere in the stereo field—stage left, right, or stereo.
THE DIRECT SOURCE PICKUP
The original pickup was housed in the “light ring.” These worked great when the cymbals were used with electronic drums, but as the popularity of these hybrid cymbals have grown, drummers are integrating them with acoustic cymbals on acoustic sets (or replacing their acoustic cymbals altogether on an acoustic setup). This created a problem with live sound applications due to bleeding.
This new direct source pickup is designed with live sound close monitoring situations in mind, and yes, they work great. The mic screws through one of the holes on the cymbals and has small isolation “o”-rings that keep that pickup isolated from the cymbals themselves. That mic has a small short cable that plugs into the light ring. The snake runs from the light ring back to the DCP—a clean, tidy setup. They also give you an option for a light show! The new Direct Source Pickup has 11 different color options with 6 different light patterns and a "strike burst" option that changes the light color when you strike the cymbal. You can also choose to run the system without the lights.
OPEN YOUR MIND
It’s true—things are changing with electronics these days. If you think about the development of the Hybrid Electric automobile in our everyday lives, you can see where the Gen16 will have its place for us drummers.
The possibilities are limitless. These cymbals are tremendous plugged-in in any setting where volume is a consideration, and as mentioned before, are even useable “unplugged.” They allow you choices whether used as a complete set of cymbals with your typical gig setup, added into a regular acoustic cymbal setup to provide a useful element of effects, or as a tremendous alternative with your electronic drum set. If I may quote Russ Miller: “Once you play these—you’ll never go back to an electric pad cymbal again!”
I should point out that I reviewed these on our church drum set. The church Music Director loved these so much, that we had to have them. Gen16 and Zildjian have done an outstanding job of merging the two technologies of acoustic and electronics, so now I’m convinced—the hybrid world is not just reality, but a better reality.
Gen 16: AE Cymbals/Box Set 38DS (G16AEBS3DS) Features and Specs
Close Up of the Direct Souce Pickup:
Dendy Jarrett is the Editorial Director and Director of Communities for Harmony Central. He has been heavily involved at the executive level in many aspects of the drum and percussion industry for over 25 years and has been a professional player since he was 16. His articles and product reviews have been featured in InTune Monthly, Gig Magazine, DRUM! and Modern Drummer Magazines.