Drums XD solves the problems of drums on the iPad

The App Store is lousy with drum apps, most of them not worth the time they take to download.  There are a lot of challenges when playing drums on an iPad.  Drums XD solves the most common problems, and does so in the most musical way.

Problem #1: Placement

Drummers in the physical world make painstaking micro-adjustments to the height, position, and tilt of their equipment. Drums XD lets you do the same on the iPad.

Most drum apps use a standard kit as the model for their display.  But your 10 fingers are lot different in placement and capabilities than four limbs.  Drums XD allows you to drag and drop your drums, cymbals and percussion instruments anywhere on the screen.  You can quickly re-size each piece with pinch-to-zoom, and rotate as desired.

I find it much more natural to play a descending fill by drumming the fingers on my right hand from right to left (ring, middle, index, and thumb) than to move right to left as on a traditional kit.  Try it.  Drums XD makes these adjustments simple — below is a setup optimized for the “Bonham Burp“.

If you want to play intricate figures on your high-hat, why not make it bigger than your ride cymbal?

Problem #2: Sounds

First, put on your headphones.  While kick drums on other apps may output a passable “thump”, the low frequencies of the XD kicks won’t make it through the iPad’s anemic speakers.  Instead, you’ll hear just the higher frequencies, which may sound more like a low-pitched snare drum.

Headphones will let you hear the bottom of the bass drum, the resonance of the toms, the click of a stick on the ride cymbal.  They sound good.

Problem #3: Playability & Dynamics

This is where things get interesting.  There are other apps out there with placement options and decent sounds.  But how do you translate the idiomatic elements of creating a drum part with hands, feet, bronze, oil, and wood onto a single pane of Gorilla Glass that you tap with your fingers?

Drums XD does it with a set of techniques and touch-sensitive settings that respond to pressure, swipes, rolls, strums, and flicks.  Here are some of the features:

  • realPlay settings control the responsiveness to touch for dynamics and changes in pitch when different parts of the instrument are played
  • Drums will sound tighter when played near the edge, and provide different sounds when struck on the rim
  • Control over pitch, pan, and volume for individual instruments
  • Auto-Pan adjusts left and right output based on screen location
  • Cymbals have bell zones and can be choked by tapping with two fingers
  • Rolls will respond dynamically to speed, and can be enabled with single, double, or triple paradiddles

Misc. D

The user interface is fairly intuitive, response is fast, and latency is low.  There is a good range of kits, and collections of  percussion instruments, snares, kicks, toms, cymbals and gongs.  It’s easy to build your own set with pieces from the individual kits and collections.  You can record your own sessions, or play over a background track from your music library.   Drums XD is CoreMIDI compatible, and supports Sonoma AudioPaste and Intua’s iOS pasteboard for importing custom sounds.

There are a few opportunities for improvement. There is a serviceable cross-stick in the acoustic set, but striking the rim never produced an acceptable rim shot (sounds more like a timbale to me).  The polyphonic instruments can get noisy when too many notes are are sounding at once.  For example, the steel drum sounds great, and you can roll three notes with no problems. But rolling four or more notes can produce noticeable distortion.

Most bothersome, the instruments in many of the collections all look exactly the same.  There are no labels or numbers to keep track of what you like as you scroll through them.

"Uhhh, which one of the 50 snares had the wicked crack?"

There is a free version available, and the full version is only $4.99, so these are minor quibbles considering what you get for your money.  Of course, if you long for the old days, you can pick up a vintage Roland TR-909 analog drum machine for just $2,499!  Take a look at the introductory video below while you think it over.

Drums XD - Squeegees