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The Akai XR20 looks much like any other drum machine. It has all the standard bits—pad grid, various function buttons and transport controls, and a data-entry wheel, and at the back of the unit, a pair of unbalanced main audio outputs, a stereo aux output, a headphone port, a couple of footswitch inputs, and MIDI In and Out.
It also includes a quarter inch mic input, in case you wish to perform using only drums and a voice, but the manual says very little about microphone, besides, “the input signal will be mixed with the audio,” and I couldn’t find a way to change the input from the audio. The feet on my unit didn’t sit quite flat on the floor, giving the whole machine an undesirable wobble, but aside from that, the unit looked typical and robust. When the unit is turned on, however, it reveals itself to be way ahead of other drum machines. The lighting system of the pads, which is a bright blue, is set up to be both useful and cool looking.
During pattern playback the lights go out, turning back on as the pad is triggered by hand or by the programmed pattern. It also has a distinctively large display screen, which aspect it shares with the Alesis SR18. The XR20 can accommodate 200 patterns—100 preset and 100 programmed by the user.
The type of drum line this machine is built for is easily determined by listening to the preset patterns. The first two patterns feature vocal hits, and the first four are called, respectively, Addidaz, Brooklyn, Killa and Blunt. The BPMS center around 90. There are one hundred preset kits provided, their audio drawn from the 720 samples which are on-board. 414 of these samples are categorized as typical drums, and the rest are called “One Shots,” which are composed of a mixture of percussion sounds and other effects.
The effects can be anything from scratches and needle drops to vocal phrases, Rhodes chords and string stabs. Using the indicated button, you move the pads between two banks of twelve sounds, which represent drum and one shot layers provided for each kit.
The sounds show up across different MIDI notes on channel 10 when the XR20 is used as an external sound module. Synth, which is a completely different, third layer, allows one of the synth sounds to be chromatically played by using the pads, or via MIDI channel 1 from an external source.
You can choose from any of 64 synth sounds, mostly synth leads and basses, but with the occasional piano or string included for completeness. Such sounds will probably not feature heavily in popular songs, but they are sometimes helpful when laying out ideas, or they can add a little kick to your sound.
Since the XR20 is a closed system, you better be certain you like the preprogrammed sounds, because you won’t be able to add new ones. The chosen sounds, however, are for the most part good, solid sounds, and creating your own kits is quick and easy. Just initiate drum set mode, choose a pad, then work your way through the edit pages to choose a sample, tune and pan it, set filter and envelope parameters, and et cetera. The stored pattern will then be saved with a specific kit.
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This is a stereo digital recorder from Tascam, the company that wrote the book on do it yourself recording. This digital recorder features an adjustable stereo pair of condenser microphones that configure in either an XY or AB pattern, and two xlr ¼” combo jacks, allowing you to use both the mics and the inputs simultaneously for four track recording! You can record to either MP3 or WAV formats on the included 2 GB SD card (and use up to a 32gb card), and transfer your audio to computer via USB 2.0. There’s a great overdub feature to record narration, singing, or instruments over your existing recording. Other features include a switchable low cut filter, both manual and automatic gain control, and an analog limiter.
Recording your performances is so important these days. Besides listening back to critique your performance so you can pinpoint where you need to improve, content is king, and you need to be able to regularly post recordings on your social media. You can use the onboard condenser microphones, or the XLR ¼” combo jacks to record from another sound source like the front of house soundboard at your next gig. Using external condenser mics? No worries, the DR-40 supplies phantom power. There’s also an auto gain control and an analog limiter so you don’t have to worry about setting the level or going too hot and ruining the recording. There’s even built in EQ and reverb so you can craft a mix on the fly all from the DR-40. Brilliant!