IK Multimedia UNO Drum
By Phil O'Keefe |
Is this drum machine analog or digital? Yes!
If you like drum machines, the past 40 years or so has been quite a roller coaster. At first there was practically nothing available in terms of programmable beat boxes, then the late 70s and early 80s saw several classic analog based drum machines released, followed quickly by the first PCM sample-based models. Expensive at first, prices quickly fell to where average musicians could afford them. Throughout the 80s and 90s drum machines were essential tools for everyone from musicians practicing at home to songwriters working on demos, to live acts who used them on stage, as well as for producers and engineers who used them on major albums. But then the DAW revolution occurred, and people started using different methods and tools to create drum parts, such as loops and drum replacement software, and the drum machine began to go into a period of decline, with relatively few models offered for sale. It looked like they might even be on their way out… but then Hip Hop and electronic music genres began to explode in popularity and suddenly drum machines were once again popular. But unlike the earlier days when people seemed to seek ever more realism from their drum machines and manufacturers tried to make them sound more and more like “real drums”, today’s musicians embrace analog sounds as readily if not more so than digital ones. But why should you have to choose? IK Multimedia’s new UNO Drum offers you both.
What You Need To Know
- UNO Drum is a hybrid drum machine that offers both analog drum synthesis and digital sample playback of prerecorded, onboard sounds.
- The dimensions of UNO Drum are 10.1” W x 8.9” D x 1.93” H - which is exactly the same as the UNO Synth that I reviewed previously. https://www.harmonycentral.com/expert-reviews/modules-and-midi/ik-multimedia-uno-synth-r661/
- The housing has the same angled shape too, which makes it easier to see the front panel when it’s sitting flat on a table.
- In fact, with the exception of the UNO Drum’s white body, from a distance the two units look very similar. There are seven knobs across the top of each, and the rest of the user interface of both units is made up of a capacitive touch surface with various “buttons” outlined. These shouldn’t be compared with old-fashioned membrane switches - as with modern phones and tablets that also use capacitive touch interfaces, there’s nothing that actually gets “depressed,” so there’s nothing to wear out.
- One notable difference in appearance is the color of the LED displays on the two units - UNO Synth has a red LED display, while UNO Drum’s three-digit display uses orange LEDs.
- As with UNO Synth, UNO Drum was designed in partnership with Italian boutique synth manufacturer SoundMachines, and is made in Italy.
- UNO Drum can be powered with four alkaline batteries (a set is included) or through its micro b USB port, which is mounted on the rear of the drum machine. MIDI over USB is supported (but not audio), or you can use the two hardware MIDI jacks if you prefer. The UNO Drum sends and will sync to incoming MIDI clock, and it’s easy to sync it up with UNO Synth.
- The three-position power switch is located next to the USB port, with settings for selecting battery or USB power, or for turning the unit off completely.
- MIDI in and out jacks are on 2.5 mm TRS jacks. Two short 2.5 mm TRS to 5-pin DIN breakout cables are included for connecting to standard MIDI ports on other MIDI hardware.
- The Input jack can accept signal from external devices (such as a UNO Synth) and will sum that signal with the internal sounds from UNO Drum and present both at the output jack. The input and output jacks are both TRS, but the signals are summed to mono for both the inputs and outputs.
- Unlike UNO Synth, which only sums and passes along signals that are received at the input jack, UNO Drum’s onboard compressor can be used to process signals from external devices.
- The IK Multimedia UNO Drum is 11 note polyphonic. It has a total of twelve capacitive touch “drum pads” on the top panel - one for each of its 12 “drum elements.” So why only 11 voices of polyphony? The two hi hats (open and closed) share a voice, which makes sense, and 11 voice polyphony on a device like this is actually rather impressive.
- The twelve elements consist of Kick 1, Kick 2, Snare, Closed Hi Hat, Open High Hat, Clap, Tom 1, Tom 2, Rim, Cowbell, Ride and Cymbal. Each element has its own drum pad, and each has five different sounds available, and any one of the five can be assigned as the active sound for its associated capacitive touch “pad.”
- Analog-generated sounds are available for Kick 1, Kick 2, Snare, Closed Hi Hat, Open High Hat and Clap. In addition to their analog options, each of these kit elements has an additional four PCM sounds that can be assigned to the pad instead, if you prefer.
- All the other kit elements are PCM-only, with five different sample options per kit element to choose from.
- The 54 PCM digital / sampled sounds were sourced from IK Multimedia’s own SampleTank 4. Don’t expect modern high-fidelity 24 bit sound quality here - all of the sampled sounds are either based on classic vintage drum sounds (including samples of analog sounds) or have a lower-bit sound with some grunge to them - even the more “realistic” sounds are a bit rough around the edges. Don’t take that as a criticism - the PCM sounds really do work well with the analog sounds of the unit. UNO Drum is a drum machine with some character to its sound, and that’s a very good thing!
- The various sounds are only available for use with their own specific elements. In other words, you can’t assign a cowbell sample to the clap pad.
- Editing drum sounds is handled by the 4x3 Drum / Global matrix and the four continuous controller knobs located in the upper-left side of the top panel. Select a kit element by pressing on the appropriate pad, then select the Drum key to the left of the grid, then use the four knobs to adjust the various editable parameters. The continuous controllers are new, and an improvement over UNO Synth’s standard pots.
- You’re fairly limited in what you can edit, although each editable function can be adjusted over a pretty broad range. Level, Tune, Snap and Decay controls are provided, and all of these work with all of the kit elements, whether analog or PCM, with the exception of the Snap control, which only works with the analog drum kit elements.
- Holding down the Drum key for 1.5 seconds causes the LED to flash and gives you access to additional editing options for the Analog Snare’s low-pass filter, and Kick 1’s FM Tune, FM Amount, and Sweep Time. Pressing it again exits from the alternative menu options and returns to the standard Level, Tune, Snap and Decay controls.
- Selecting the next row down in the matrix section allows you to adjust the onboard FX, with controls for the onboard Compressor and Drive effects. These impact all of the kit elements simultaneously, and can’t be assigned different values for each kit element. The Drive isn’t too over the top, but it does do a good job of letting you grunge the samples up even more. The Compressor is nice for gluing the various kit elements together and punching things up a bit, and it is also added to any incoming signals received on the UNO Drum’s audio input jack, although the distortion from the Drive only applies to internally generated sounds.
- The third and final row in the matrix section is where you can adjust Sequencer parameters. Swing percentage (from 50-70%), Division (3/4, 6/8, 16 and 32) and Humanize can all be edited by the user. Even better? Up to eight different parameters can be edited per sequencer step, giving you the ability to drastically change the sounds on the fly.
- Like UNO Synth, UNO Drum has three additional knobs on the upper-right side, but owners of both will immediately notice a difference: where the UNO Synth has Cutoff, Tempo and Volume controls, UNO Drum replaces the filter Cutoff control (since it doesn’t have a user-editable filter) with a dedicated Data knob. The Data control on UNO Drum is another continuously variable control, and is much easier and quicker to use for data entry than the increment / decrement buttons on the UNO Synth.
- Tempo can be set from 30 - 299 BPM, which is a pretty wide range. The UNO Drum’s Tempo and Volume controls are the only knobs on it that use regular style pots, as opposed to continuous controllers.
- The area below the Data, Tempo and Volume knobs is called the Master Section, and consists of a variety of virtual buttons for selecting the desired drum kit, drum sound, drum pattern, as well as for adjusting the number of steps in a pattern’s length. In addition, this part of the user interface contains Select, Select All, Mute and Tap Tempo buttons that work in conjunction with the sequencer.
- You’ll also find a two-button set of transport controls located here. Play is also used to stop the playback - just press it a second time. One thing I really like is that you can switch out of record mode without stopping playback - which is an important tool for live improvisation.
- There are a total of 100 patterns, and a total of 100 drum kits. Drum patterns and drum kits are independent. You can load in the kit of your choice and then audition a variety of different drum patterns without yet another new kit being loaded with each new pattern.
- The drum sequencer is significantly improved over the basic 16 step sequencer found on the UNO Synth. You can set it up to use up to 64 steps. These are shown in up to four banks of 16 steps at the very bottom of the front panel display. Notes can be step-entered, in a familiar x0x-style editor format, by selecting the drum kit element you want and then using the 16 buttons and the bank button to enter in where you want the hits to occur. Alternatively, you can record elements in while the pattern is running, and yes, you can also use the pads in real time to “play” along in real time with whatever pattern is playing, without recording the extra performance data.
- You also get Song Mode that allows you to chain sequence patterns together. A maximum of 64 patterns can be chained to form a song, but unfortunately there’s only one song available with the onboard memory. IK Multimedia has said that a UNO Drum editor is in the works, and hopefully it will allow you to store and recall additional songs.
- In addition to the compressor and drive, there are a few other performance oriented effects include a Roll function (with 8th note, 8th note triplet, 16th note and 32nd note options), a Stutter effect, as well as Random pattern creation for individual kit elements.
- The output is limited to a single mono out. There is no stereo, no panning for individual kit elements, and no multi-outputs like you’ll find on many other drum machines. The mono-only output is going to be a real disappointment for some users.
- There are no velocity sensitive pads, so entering in a variety of different volume levels for different hits isn’t an on-the-fly operation, although the UNO Drum does respond to velocity when received over MIDI, so you can connect an external keyboard or pad controller to get around this limitation, or you can use the dual-zone feature of the pads to quickly enter in two different velocities.
- Battery life is rather short - I was unable to get a full two hours of use out of UNO Drum before I had to put in new batteries. USB powering is recommended whenever possible, and while a USB cable is included, no USB power supply is provided; for at-home use I’d recommend using a standard USB charger, and for mobile use, I’d recommend using an external USB power bank to power UNO Drum instead of AA batteries.
- There is no way to sample your own sounds, or to add different sounds to the UNO Drum. To be fair, at this price point, I really wasn’t expecting that capability. It’s clear that IK Multimedia put their emphasis elsewhere - this wasn’t designed to be a sampler.
- While UNO Drum offers a good number of patterns, you can only chain them together in one “song.” Being able to create multiple songs would come in handy for live use. Hopefully you’ll be able to use a computer and load in different songs using the UNO Drum editor that IK Multimedia has said is in the works, but that app was not available at the time this review was written.
The UNO Drum is an interesting new product from IK Multimedia, and a cool addition to their UNO line. The combination of both analog and PCM sounds is really ideal, and while the number of samples available are somewhat limited, it still manages to provide a wide variety of different sounds that would be suitable for a fairly broad range of musical genres.
Price-wise, there are a few different products that directly compete with UNO Drum, from the somewhat less expensive Volca percussion synths to the slightly more expensive Drumbrute Impact, and the UNO Drum sits right in between them in terms of not only price, but in some respects in terms of features too. It has some really good drum sounds (both analog and digital) - more than the Volcas offer, but it also lacks the velocity sensitive pads and the multiple outputs of the Drumbrute Impact, although it offers PCM samples that the Arturia doesn’t provide, along with better portability.
The 64 step sequencer is vastly improved over the basic 16 step unit found on the UNO Synth. The main thing IK Multimedia can do to improve things in this regard would be to get an editor / librarian finished and released - especially if it allows for storage and recall of additional songs - the single song of the UNO Drum is the main limitation of the improved sequencer. On the plus side, the ability to automate up to 8 parameters per step offers tremendous flexibility.
While UNO Drum can be battery powered, the battery life is pretty short, so I’d recommend using USB powering (via a wall wart or battery pack) whenever possible. On a positive note, it’s very compact and portable, and the selection of sounds is good, if a bit limited by traditional drum machine sound sets, which often included hundreds of different samples and the ability to assign them to any pad. Speaking of the pads, I do appreciate the ability to divide the pads into two sections, with different velocities for each; it’s not as flexible as fully velocity sensitive pads, but if you need that, UNO Drum does respond to velocity information sent from a DAW or external controller.
At the end of the day, UNO Drum will probably live or die in the minds of musicians by the quality of its sounds. And the sounds are definitely appealing - in particular, its analog sounds are very impressive. But it’s 2019, and you really shouldn’t have to pick between PCM or analog sound generation on a single drum machine. Fortunately, with UNO Drum, you can have both, and that wider selection of sounds is bound to make it a popular choice for musicians working across a wide range of musical styles. -HC-
Want to discuss the IK Multimedia UNO Drum or have questions or comments about this review? Then head over to this thread in the Drums & Percussion forum right here on Harmony Central and join the discussion!
IK Multimedia UNO Drum ($249.99 "street")
IK Multimedia’s product web page.
You can purchase the IK Multimedia UNO Drum from:
UNO Drum and UNO Synth performance.
UNO Drum features overview
UNO Drum tutorial - editing section
UNO Drum tutorial - master section
UNO Drum tutorial - play / program section
UNO Drum stutter effects
UNO Drum - create patterns
UNO Drum - copy & paste
Finger drumming with UNO Drum by Edward Bocanegra
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.