Alesis DM5 vs Addictive Drums vs Groove Agent

Hi Robert and fellow students. Robert I have to tell you that your efforts on the website and the lessons are great!
First a little about the setup and myself to help explain my questions.

I built my system in the 90s so I have quite a bit of outboard gear using a MOTU MIDI express 128 as my main midi interface.
I’ve been writing/composing music since I was 10 (1981) and have progressed quite a bit since then. After an 18 year hiatus I have gotten back into music pulling all of my archived songs out of the DAW attic(from Cakewalk, Logic, Nuendo and others) and finally starting to get these songs done, copyrighted and will soon be releasing them on the streaming platforms soon and Taxi.

After finishing two of the 10 songs for the album I began to look at my studio and methods and started to really evaluate any weak spots in my setup and/or playing. I’m a piano/keyboard player and have quite a bit of practice emulating instruments on keys. Strings, brass, woodwinds and other instruments including saxophone with a breath controller, etc. When it comes to drums I would play my Alesis DM5 triggered by a General Music S2 turbo keyboard. Although this was decent enough for basic drum tracks, when I got to more intricate songs that required more detailed drumming, I was forced to break out the analog trigger pads to hook up to the DM5 and play with sticks. This analog trigger pads themselves are good quality but the analog trigger system in the DM-5 are terrible. TONS of fault triggers and ghost triggering…nightmare! The last time I used this method was in 1999 on the song that I just finished. Never again! JUNK!

In my evaluation, drums were on the list to improve my method and get a better result. Since I’ve been finger drumming on tables, countertops, washing machine and kitchen sinks for near 28 years I was thinking I would make a custom trigger system…but then I stumble on QFG site, Robert and his videos! My skills were pretty good in terms of holding a beat and playing with music even with demanding stuff…BUT my method really isn’t supported by any of the current pad controllers on the market. I have always played the kick drum with the heel of my right hand…that doesn’t seem to work on any pad controller…so I’m having to relearn everything…and wow is this embarrassing how bad I am right now on a pad controller. I just purchased a Nektar Aruba wicked cheap ($119) as it was brand new but an open box product from Guitar center. I followed Roberts setup tips for this controller and it plays very well.

I set it up without the USB simply using the midi out to my midi express 128. It plays well with zero latency because I have a Behringer XR18 digital mixer so I’m monitoring everything in real time. This is great…BUT the DM has some issues. For one it’s rather noisy. So noisy that after recording the drums in a five track format (kick, snare, hi-hat, toms and overheads) then bounce it to audio I have to manually edit each of these tracks to remove the noise between hits. That’s problem 1. Problem 2 is when it comes to more advanced drumming the DM5 isn’t good at this. As an example, in the last song I finished it had three crescendo cymbal parts that I needed to recreate from my old midi recordings. Out of all the crash cymbals only two out of about 30 would allow for the playability that would sound convincing. The rest sound like crap when trying to hit the pad/keys to make this sound. The cymbal patches would almost like cut each hit off before starting the next hit. There’s a setting in the DM5 to change this but the setting was already enabled. The same happens when trying to use hi-hats in a sixteen beat pattern. When I listen to Robert play Addictive Drums it sounds the way it should. I also tried Groove Agent in Cubase and it also sounds great when triggering sounds quickly to create a crescendo or a hi-hat in sixteen notes. I just can’t seem to get this to happen with the DM-5.

So I’m considering looking into AD2 or 3 but I didn’t realize there was so many versions available. What version is Robert using? They aren’t cheap that’s for sure but like I said this is one of the weak spots of my music…both in playing and in the sounds themselves. The DM-5 drums do sound good…but not when it comes to the stuff I mentioned above.

It’s a bit depressing learning this new technique on a pad controller but I’m sure with practice I’ll get it hopefully soon than later…otherwise I’ll have to make a kick drum pad for the heel of my right hand!

Anyway, any advice and information you have regarding AD version, etc. would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks guys!

Hi Chris,

nice story and nice to hear your’re getting into this again!

I think Robert uses the latest version of Addictive Drums 2: Addictive Drums 2 - XLN Audio

There’s no version 3. In fact, AD2 hasn’t been updated for quite a while, so version 2 is there since a long while. It’s still quite decent imho! When it’s on sale, you may get it ~50% off.

Hey Chris,

I believe you sent me an email a couple days back. I answered, but did not hear back from you. Maybe you did not receive it?

Now that you have a Nektar Aruba device you might not be interested in other options but I’m just gonna put them here for you to have a look at:

I have not used this myself but have you heard of the Roland Handsonic? That does seem to more or less be what you are looking for. >> Roland - HandSonic HPD-20 | Digital Hand Percussion

Another option could be asking the guy from Zendrum to make you a controller. Those are custom built so you can get yourself some larger pads in combination with smaller ones. I own a Zendrum and it’s a quality device. Only downside is the hard plastic the triggers are made out of. Kinda hurts my fingers and you cannot make them soft because the system works with piezo pickups that react to actual sound. >>

Hope this helps a bit!

Hey Thanks Fannon for the input. For some reason I thought there was an AD3…hmmm. I stand corrected. It’s amazing how important the behavior of the drum sound source is. If I didn’t have Groove Agent to compare to the DM5 I would have thought I was just not playing it right…but nope - 16 beat drum grooves sounds like I’m hitting a trash can lid with a wet loaf of bread!
Thanks Fannon!

Hey Robert! Yes that was me. I thought I did reply. I’m sorry about that. I’ll revisit that message. I haven’t heard of even seen the Handsonic…looks very interesting. I’ll have to look for reviews on this. The pads look like they are made out of concrete! So you never got the chance to test/review this product then…bummer.
Zendrum. Wow looks like a quality product for sure. I’m sure my finger will hurt too but I think it’s worth looking into. Thank you.

Question for you Robert. Right now I tend to stay in the MIDI domain until everything is as good as I can make it then I bounce everything to audio. However if I’m using say…AD as a plugin, now latency is going to play a roll because the audio is coming from the PC not an external source like the rest of my midi gear. Because of this the audio isn’t passing through the digital mixer, which means I can no longer monitor in real-time if I use AD. Am I correct on this?

Do you feel this is going to be a problem? I’m not sure what to expect when it comes to latency.
Thank you!

Hey Chris,

With a relatively modern computer and audio interface latency is no problem anymore when running something like Addictive Drums. I think that about 8 years ago I could record a single Addictive Drums track without any audible latency. Things have only gotten faster since.

Just make sure the buffer size of the audio interface is as low as it can go, and don’t open up too many tracks with heavy plugins on them when recording. Also don’t put any effects on the drum track (or master bus, or any track that the drums also pass trough). No effects except for the Addictive drums plugin that is.

It could be that you need some sort of newer audio interface, but it doesn’t have to be much. Something like this already works fine nowadays: PreSonus | Wherever sound takes you.

I use an RME Babyface Pro, but that is overkill if you just want to play some midi drums.

Hi Robert,
No problems here with the audio interface. I have a new XR-18 digital mixer by Behringer. Because I have lots of external midi gear I also needed lots of audio inputs. This interface officers zero latency because the monitoring is being done directly through the XR-18. I forgot that this goes for things like plugins too because I’m monitoring these by the DAW return coming back in through the XR-18. Originally I was thinking that only external devices are latency free but it’s everything. Thank you very much for replying. I truly apprecate it. Oh this is the XR18:

Thanks for the information Robert. I just checked again. Since I have the XR18 digital mixer (it’s not a mixing console) it’s designed for latency free monitoring and recording. My computer is a fairly heavy hitter so that’s not an issue either.

Wow that Zendrum is very impressive! Really expensive but any instrument of that caliber is expensive. Beautiful design though. I’m surprised not to see you with one of those. I’ve been messing around now using Groove Agent (for now) because it’s much better than the Alesis DM-5 when it comes to…well just about everything. AD I’m sure is even better and worth making the switch for sure. I was messing around with the pad layout, trying to see if your layout works for me. I’m sure you’ve spent a lot of time working out the pad layout you used…and I’m going to try and make it work for me too. After watching that Zendrum video it got me thinking about this stuff.

Please watch this video:

In this video he has cymbals chokes setup and some other useful things. I think because the Zendrum has so many pads that it allows for “extra” stuff like that. With 16 pad how are you doing stuff like that? Right now I’m not that familiar with Groove Agent and really don’t want to be familiar with it. If I’m going to learn something new I would rather use AD2. This is A LOT to take on right now for me. I’m trying to learn something completely new while I’m trying to finished eight more songs for release…wow…overwhelming to say the very least. Lots of variables that I’m trying to sort out right now. Including the pad layout. My thought is that I was trying to take what I’ve been doing for years and apply it to the pads but so far I haven’t really able to do that. That’s why I was messing with the pad layout. Maybe I should just stick to what you recommend but I do feel like I’m starting from zero right now. Yikes! I guess I should just keep going and practicing. I hope things “click” soon.

In that Zendrum video I see he has two of almost everything…including the toms. I’m curious why you don’t feel that you need that as well. Obviously you don’t…because your playing is great but this is new to me and a bit overwhelming. I guess I’m just trying to discover if I could benefit from a different layout…my guess is “not likely” but this is a lot to take on because it’s almost like my years of experience in rhythm is not helping me much right now. I’ll just keep watching your lessons and press on.

My pad layout works well on a 4x4 grid. If you want to know my reasoning behind it I suggest watching the full video in the Pad Layout lesson in the beginner course. Finger Drumming Pad Layout - The Quest for Groove

I also explain in that lesson that changes can be made to suit personal playing needs and in the end I also explain why I think the pad layout is less important than you might think in order to get some good sounding drum parts.

You also must understand that my motivations as a teacher are different from just playing drums. For me it is not that interesting to go get some custom built expensive device like the Zendrum and focus all my efforts on learning that thing. Then I have to go tell all of my students to go and get something custom built and pay a couple thousand bucks. That will raise the barrier to entry too much.

That, and the fact that it seems to hurt my fingers a little too much if I play it the way I play a regular pad controller with rubber pads.

I think your personal finger drumming needs will probably be at least a little different from mine. Your pad layout and/or the controller you use might have change at some point in order to suit your needs better.

The problem is defining what your needs are and also to avoid the trap of “changing things up” whenever something is a little hard to play. Sometimes you will need some persistence and push through difficulty in order to grow as a musician, sometimes a certain way of doing things just really does not “vibe” with you and you should do things differently and follow your own path.

This is always a difficult tightrope to walk.

Thanks Robert. Well I think you are right about a lot of things. I’m just going to have to stick to this because even if I did need something else (controller or just a different pad layout) I think it’s waaay to early to tell. I’m going to follow your path as you have more experience than anyone out there and you have a very practical way of teaching as well.

I just just thinking about this a bit and came to the conclusion that the drum sounds are more than sounds. Let me explain. With most instruments that are triggering a VST instrument or even a built in sound to a keyboard or external MIDI module…it’s just a sound. You might like it or not. If we are talking about a piano sound or a pad sound it’s more just a matter of preference and doesn’t really matter at all how that sound is played…BUT on drums, especially the dynamic stuff you’re playing and we all need to play as finger drummers - these sounds really matter. I’m not talking about the sound itself, I’m talking about how that “sound” functions as a percussion instrument. I never looked at it this way but this observation really does matter when it comes to playing finger drums or any electronic drums. There are limitation in many drum modules and/or machines. These limitations really do matter because it’s the difference of you being able to play that “sound” as a real instrument or hearing the limitation.

After listening to your AD2 drums and even my Groove Agent I can see how using my Alesis DM5 would actually slow down progress. Not because of the quality of the sound of the drums but the functionality of how those drums perform when doing things that are a bit more than a basic beat. When I attempted to follow along with your lessons using the DM5 if if I was as skilled as you are now it still wouldn’t sound right because the DM5 just can’t do the natural things that AD and GA can do naturally. Like a tom or snare roll or a cymbal choke or crashendo.The DM-5 would cut the sound off on each hit rather than have it ring out like it would on a real cymbal. Tom and snare drums do that too. They sound “truncated”. This is a no go for learning finger drumming because if if you’re doing this correctly it won’t sound natural because of this. So my point is, I have to not use the DM5 and use AD2 or GA because at least these VST instruments respond and behave like a percussion instrument behaves…something the DM5 doesn’t do. Otherwise I’m starting off behind the eightball from the start! There is a huge difference between how the DM5 responds to repeated hit on certain drum sounds vs how AD2/GA responds. So I’m not using the DM5 at all for this learning phase because I can see that even if I got this right in my playing it’s not going to sound right simply because the DM5 can’t do a lot of the necessary things that’s necessary to finger drum well. Like I said I’m not so much as talking about the sounds of the units just the way it behaves.

My goal is to be able to use finger drumming as a replacement for the other methods I’ve been using for my music. I think I can do that but I’m learning this method from scratch right now and it’s going to take some time and consistency.

I agree with you 100 percent when it comes to “raising the barrier or bar of entry” when it comes to equipment. You’re doing the right thing for you and your students for sure. Your approach is logical and makes a lot of sense and a lot of your choice are based on your experience. We all have to build our own experience and it’s very likely that gaining that experience we’ll find that your methods will work for all of us as well.

Ok on with my lessons! Your layout and teachings are great Rob. I think I’m just a bit overwhelmed with starting from scratch when I was thinking I would be a little bit further along than I am. There is some pressure too for me with this. I’m in the middle of recording an album with songs that I wrote 24 years ago. I have to re-record many parts over in some of these songs including drums. There is a very demanding drum track that needs to be re-recorded on this next song I’m trying to finish but I don’t think I’ll be able use use finger drumming well enough right now to make that happen so I may have to resort to my old methods for now until I can become a bit more consistent with my new will to learn finger drumming. Thanks to you I have some guidance with this.

Thank you Rob.

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