Drum kits are by far the most fun instrument to play, but I would say that, I’m a drummer. At the same time, they’re also the biggest, bulkiest, and hardest to cart around. Wouldn’t life be so much easier if there was something out there as much fun to play as a drum set and as easy to transport and set up as a guitar?
Welcome to the present, where life really is that great! Yes, electronic drum pads or multi-pads have been available for years as additions to, or completely replacing, a full drum kit. And in our Roland Octapad SPD-30 review, we’ll get down and dirty with one of the best electric drum pads out there.
So, let’s get straight to it…
A Brief History of the Octapad
Leading electronic instrument maker Roland came out with their first electronic drum pad in 1985. That was the PAD-8, and it’s the grandpappy of the SPD-30. That instrument was an 8-pad drumming machine that held only four patches (instrument sounds). But it could still be synched via MIDI to external drum machines to use their patches.
Things have come a long way since then…
The Octapad-II added stick velocity control and the ability to assign multiple MIDI notes to each pad. Onboard memory was increased so that more patches could be stored onboard. Basic sequencing was also introduced.
Through the 90s and the noughties, memory and functionality increased tremendously as computing power and memory went through the roof. But that’s enough history; let’s dive into our Octapad SPD-30 Review…
Octapad – Overview
First, let’s start with the stats. The Octapad SPD-30 is essentially a flat box with eight rubberized pad triggers on board, an LCD display, and editing and programming controls. It measures 21 5/16” wide and 10 ¾” deep, and it stands 3 ½” tall. That’s about the size of a briefcase.
And at only eight pounds seven ounces, it weighs about the same as a newborn baby. That’s light enough to cart around just about anywhere, and the bonus is that it doesn’t cry or wet itself. It also means this is one of the best portable electric drum pads available.
A beautiful mind…
The onboard module now comes with the Version 2 software pre-installed. This brings the number of unique instrument voices to nearly 600 spread over 99 pre-programmed drum kits.
Three user kits are available for your own programming as well. A multi-effects editor can help you further expand the range of sounds you can create. It can also be used to sample phrases and loop them. Therefore, you have one of the most versatile drum pads on the market.
This is one very powerful machine that stands alone confidently. But also makes a great addition to an acoustic or an electronic drum kit.
First, let’s talk about playability. Roland has built its V-drum technology into this machine, and it shows. Velocity control and multiple voicings introduced in the early Octapad-II have been perfected here. The feel of the trigger surfaces is great. It’s responsive to your stick weight and reacts as though you’re playing an acoustic kit.
Over 560 voices are represented here in 99 kits. You’re getting everything in the standard drum kit zone. Rock, jazz, fusion, classic and retro sounds are all represented, of course, but there’s so much more here.
You’ve got club sounds, melodic percussion and synth kits, Latin percussion, orchestral percussion, and traditional percussion and melodic instruments from all over the world.
If that wasn’t enough, there’s a host of weird and wonderful effects to let you play in any and every genre. Essentially, the whole music industry is packed into this one machine.
But the sounds don’t stop there…
As we mentioned, there is a powerful multi-effect editor onboard as well. This unit allows you to customize all of the onboard sounds. You can adjust attack, pitch sweep, vibrato, muffle, tuning, and a lot more. There’s no real limit to the sounds you can make on this machine – you barely need anything else to compose your own full tracks!
The Phrase Loop…
Probably the best feature on the SPD-30 has got to be the Phrase Loop function. This editor comes ready with 50-pre-programmed phrases that you can mix and sequence. But creating your own phrases is made easy here as well. It’s no wonder this ranks among the best drum loop pads you can buy.
Without getting too deep into the details, phrases can be composed by selecting the phrase length (up to 16 bars), the tempo, and the drum kit. Likewise, you can mix up to three kits together to make a single phrase.
These phrases can be triggered from the pads and even live-edited. With lights outside of each pad, you can easily see which pad is involved in a phrase and quickly add sounds on that pad or mute it with the push of a button and a single strike. It might take some practice, but live phrase loop editing can really add a spontaneous and fun element to your playing.
One more area where the SPD-30 shines. The back of this machine is loaded with ports and jacks, so let’s examine them from left to right.
We start with MIDI and memory ports for storage and inputting to your computing devices. You can use standard USB here to download your saved loops and edited sounds for manipulation with a software and recording package. The result is one of the best midi electric drum pads you will find.
Next, the ¼” headphone jack allows you to play with headphones and keep the noise down. However, when you need to crank things up loud for a performance, the standard Left and Right output jacks are up next to carry your sound to a standard amplifier or soundboard.
Mix In allows you to connect to any audio device. This is great for practice as you can crank MP3s through this port and play along to all your favorite tracks.
Ports for external electronic drums…
You’ve got four ports here for hi-hat, ride, snare, and kick, plus a hi-hat foot pedal control. This takes your Octapad to another level. By connecting these other four electronic drum pieces, you can play a virtual full drum kit with the Octapad set up as the ultimate tom rack.
These are followed by a footswitch input. This switch can be used to trigger loops, mute the whole unit, and much more – all hands-free. The final connections are the MIDI In/Out ports. These can connect your Octapad to other electronic instruments for seamless triggering and easy synchronization.
As we mentioned, this instrument can stand alone if need be. It’s tough and durable enough to be placed anywhere, plugged into AC power, and battered. In a tightly confined setting like a small club or even a coffee shop, it’s easy enough to just pop it onto a stool or low table.
If you want to play this multi-pad like a piece in a drum kit, however, consider a mounting plate and stand. The SPD-30 easily screws into a mounting plate on the bottom, and then this plate can be connected to a rack or single stand system.
So far, we’ve been positively glowing in our review of the Octapad SPD-30. But that doesn’t mean it’s without its faults. There are a couple of cons to discuss to balance the pros we’ve already been through.
The first and most obvious downside of this multi-pad is the cost. We’ve seen the price for this machine increase over the years, and at this point, it’s getting pretty expensive. For comparison, the SPD-30 costs the same as an average quality 5-piece acoustic drum kit.
It could easily be argued that you’re getting 99 drum kits for the price of one, and that’s one way to look at it. It is, after all, a well-built and durable machine that has an incredible range of sounds and effects. At the same time, the current price might put it out of reach for many musicians looking to simply add some electronic sounds and effects to their current kits.
If you just want a hand-triggered loop pad for some extra sounds, there’s no reason why you would shell out this kind of cash. But if you’re going to be playing this as a main component, or by its lonesome, it’s still very much worth it.
While the range of sounds on the SPD-30 is nothing short of staggering, and the editing power is extensive, there’s no way to input your own custom sounds.
You can’t input .wav files into this machine to add in sounds that you’ve already created elsewhere. For some people, that will be a serious drawback, but for most drummers, there is way more than enough to work with on this machine already.
Likewise, this Octapad is not a custom sample creator. Sure, you could run it to a computer through MIDI and use the pads to trigger your custom samples that way, but it’s not ideal.
Roland Octapad SPD-30 Review – Pros and Cons
- Great selection of quality sounds.
- Very simple to use and tweak.
- Phrase-looping function is easy to use and very creatively rewarding.
- Can not import external samples.
- Footswitch is sold separately.
Looking for Something Else?
When it comes to drums, we got you covered. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Beginner Drum Set, the Best Snare Drums, the Best Drum Practice Pads, the Best Electronic Drum Amps, and the Best Jazz Drum Sets you can buy in 2021.
Roland Octapad SPD-30 Review – Final Thoughts
With a huge array of sounds and loads of editing functionality, this is way more than just a drum pad. It’s easy to imagine composers writing full tracks with only this single machine. It plays with tremendous responsiveness and can be combined with four outboard pieces to feel just like a real full drum kit but with way more versatility.
Though the price of this machine isn’t low, the quality, playability, and programmability make it an incredible piece of equipment that’s worth the money. In short, if you don’t love the Octapad SPD-30, you must not love drumming.
Until next time, may the music make you merry.