Ion Drum Rocker - 360 - Review
It was once believed that the average person wouldn’t be willing to spend $90+ for a game and music peripheral combo. That belief kept most of Konami’s music games from coming to the United States, along with various titles from other developers. But all it took was one hit game – Guitar Hero – to change that belief system. Now we’re spending well over $150 on music game packages.
If you’re reading this review, you’re likely interested in the mother of all music game peripherals: the $300 Ion Audio Drum Rocker. This “premium” drum kit, designed specifically for Rock Band 2* and for budding musicians wanting to rock outside the game, comes with four pads, two cymbals and one pedal. When connected to an amp and drum module, the Drum Rocker can be used as a real drum kit, one of many features that could help it trounce all competitors.
Over the course of this feature, I’m going to examine the Drum Rocker from every angle possible. Ion Audio did not provide a module for the purpose of this review, so I cannot tell you how it performs when used as a real drum kit. But its functionality within Rock Band 2, the quality of its materials (drum pads, cymbals and pedal), the reliability of the base and overall durability will be thoroughly examined. And for those of you wondering where the Drum Rocker can be purchased, that is covered as well.
*Also works with Rock Band 1.
One of the best things about the Drum Rocker is that it feels as good as it looks. The drum pads are velocity sensitive, allowing the kit to distinguish a light hit from a heavy one. Response times were quick and reliable – you won’t mistakenly screw up a song while jamming on these pads. The same could be said for the cymbals, which may be used to supplement specific pads while playing a song (the cymbals are colored to match the green, yellow or blue pads) or may be used to create the full drum kit sound when exploring Rock Band 2’s freestyle mode. The game automatically adjusts itself as soon as you hit one of the cymbals so that every piece produces a unique sound.
One thing that’s missing, however, is the ability to differentiate between single or double hits. You can drum roll no problem. Strike two different pads simultaneously and the kit – as well as the game – will react as it should, producing two distinct sounds. But if you hit the same pad with both sticks simultaneously, it sounds the same as if you hit it with just one. This could be a part of Rock Band 2’s limitations. Without being able to test the Drum Rocker with a module, however, there’s no way of knowing if this is a limitation of the kit itself.
Drum Pads: 9.5
Thick, sturdy, fairly quiet, and feels amazing. These pads are a blast. They’re resistant and resilient – I love drumming as hard as I can, and these pads were designed to take a beating. They have just the right amount of bounce – it’s not on par with a real, non-electronic drum set but is certainly comparable to other electronic kits.
When compared with others in the $600 to $700 range (the average for a decent kit, and the amount you’ll spend to bring home a Drum Rocker and a module), the Drum Rocker held up remarkably well. While most of the kits’ pads were covered in a quiet (and apparently rubber-based) casing, neither the Simmons SD7K nor Yamaha DXPL DTXplorer felt as good or as sturdy as the Drum Rocker. The Simmons kit sounded great – I’ll give it that. But the one I tested (at a nearby Guitar Center) was also cracked. Though you could feasibly break anything, I don’t think the Drum Rocker’s pads will crack unless you’re trying to make that happen. Normal usage – even some serious banging – will not harm these pads.
This is another area where the Drum Rocker excels. Each cymbal is a plastic sphere with a rubberized wedge (a little over 1/3 of the sphere’s size) that covers the area where you’re supposed to drum. Again, the feeling is great – not like a real cymbal but comparable to other electronic kits.
However, the cymbals are not perfect. If you hit a drum pad hard enough, there’s a good chance one of the cymbals will react slightly. When this happened, I assumed that it was because of (A) the proximity of the cymbal to the pad I was hitting, or (B) the base isn’t sturdy enough to withstand the vibration of my hit, which (via vibration) makes it way to the cymbal and causes it to react.
When bringing this up to Ion Audio, the company insisted that my unit must be defective. But when banging on the Yamaha DXPL, the exact same thing happened. That kit sells for $700. In chatting with a Guitar Center employee, I learned that cymbal reactions like this are not uncommon for low-end kits.
Comparable to a real drum pedal in size, shape, resistance and material (all metal – no cheap plastic), the Drum Rocker pedal is one more thing to love about this kit. In fact, its design mirrored the pedal sold with the Simmons kit mentioned in this review. Metal spikes (two in the front) help keep the pedal in place while Velcro strips reinforce it while playing on carpet.
One area for concern: it seems that glue is used to attach the spring to the top part of the pedal. The bottom is securely screwed down, but there are no screws on the top – just a greasy-looking brown substance. The Simmons pedal was designed the same way, and though this may be normal for electronic and/or acoustic kits, it seems a little cheap. After months or years of heavy use, the glue could break down. Screws are less likely to do so and, if necessary, could be replaced more easily.
Drum Kit Base: 6
Setup and Instructions: 3
Clamp/Wing-Nut Reliability: Questionable
This is where the Drum Rocker goes from a grade-A peripheral to something consumers will really have to think about.
Before using the Drum Rocker, you will have to put it together. That sounds harmless enough, and probably would be if the instructions were anywhere near comprehensible. Their brief (and sometimes incorrect) explanations do not clearly describe the process of holding a leg in place while trying to tighten five screws to prevent the leg (or plastic clamp around the leg) from falling off.
In truth, the instructions don’t describe that scenario at all. There are 10 small photos and 11 different steps. Ex: “Step 2: Connect side supports to base supports.” That is the only direction. Based on the photo, you’d think the side supports (legs) would just slide into the base. But as you’re well aware, there’s a screwy clamp involved – pun intended. And that’s not the only setup conundrum.
While this process might seem like a cakewalk to someone used to buildings things, it may not bode well for the inexperienced builder. Is the average gamer really prepared to spend 10 – 20 frustrating minutes on this thing? It only takes a few seconds to snap together the standard Rock Band 2 kit (the one made by EA). Those who are completely inexperienced in this area (and especially those who don’t know the difference between a nut and a wing-nut) should probably ask a friend or relative for help.
Ion Audio touts the Drum Rocker for being “adjustable and configurable.” That’s likely why every image I see (from Game Informer magazine to the company’s own Web site) is different. But that doesn’t explain why the instructional setup is not optimal, nor does it convey that in order to make any significant adjustment, you have to loosen several screws, hold the arm or leg in place to prevent it from falling, and screw it back together. This is not a long process but it’s not a quick one either. It’s tedious and uninviting – I didn’t appreciate having to do this every time I wanted to make an adjustment.
Cymbals and drum pads are attached with clamps and wing-nuts. This sounds great…until one breaks down. After a few days of use, the clamp holding the Xbox 360 module (the device that connects the instruments to your console) broke off. This occurred while the wing-nut was being loosened (to make an adjustment, of course). Ion Audio assured me that this only happened because my unit was defective. But that wasn’t the only clamp that broke. Two weeks later, one of my cymbals became unusable when its wing-nut fell apart (also while being loosened).
I want to believe that if I purchased a Drum Rocker of my own that the clamps would be more reliable. But honestly, none of the ones provided with this review unit – not even the ones that stayed together – looked very sturdy. One could argue that this is not uncommon for low-end drum kits, just like the cymbal reaction problem. After all, the Simmons kit had a very similar design (complete with cheap wing-nuts). But I’m still skeptical and less satisfied than I would have liked considering the hefty price tag.
GameStop and Guitar Center are now selling the Drum Rocker, but only by mail. Consequently, you can’t walk into either retailer and try before you buy. But by ordering in store (with a $100 deposit), you can bypass the shipping costs of ordering it online. Both retailers claim it will arrive in 5 – 10 business days.
Ion Audio plans to release Wii and PlayStation 3 drum kits later this year, with the only difference being the module used to connect the instruments to each console. According to the FAQ page on DrumRocker.com, Ion Audio may also release the console modules individually, allowing gamers to use one kit with all three consoles.
An extra cymbal pack is currently available for $50. Ion Audio plans to sell replacement parts (in case something breaks) at a later date.
I want to recommend the Drum Rocker. I want to own one myself. But the setup, adjustment and reliability issues are a bit troubling. Also, without being able to test the kit with a drum module in-store, Ion Audio is asking consumers to take a leap of faith and spend about $600 ($300 for the Drum Rocker and $300+ for a decent module) without knowing how it will perform as a standalone kit. If you want it solely for the best Rock Band performance possible, this is a must-buy peripheral. But unless you can accept its flaws, the Drum Rocker is not recommended as an all-in-one drum solution.
- The whole kit feels great.
- Top-of-the-line drum pads.
- Drum pedal is sturdy and reliable.
- Cymbal design and functionality are comparable to other electronic drum kits.
- You’ll hate the setup.
- It isn’t easy to adjust.
- Cymbals occasionally react when a drum pad is struck.
- Two wing-nuts broke just by loosening them – a sign that this unit is defective or a sign of things to come!?
Drum Rocker Vs. Rock Band 2 Drum Kit
Want to know how Ion Audio’s kit compares to EA’s upgrade? Find out in our side-by-side analysis.