Review: ION Drum Rocker

drumrockerBefore we begin, one thing must be accepted as an absolute truth: The ION Drum Rocker is not for everyone. With an asking price of $300, you could purchase a brand new Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 Slim. You could even invest in a full menagerie of fab instruments with The Beatles: Rock Band bundle. And if Snuggies are your thing, well, you're looking at a couple weeks' worth of cuddly, cost-efficient warmth.

With its authentic, professional-grade electronic drum pads and cymbals that can be rearranged to the drummer's every whim, even a casual Rock Band player will find his or her attention seized by the sheer spectacle of the Drum Rocker. But is it the kit for you?

The answer is simple! Just take our three-step quiz:

  1. If you don't own a Rock Band game: Please don't waste another second living under that rock. Kindly redirect your browser here and pick up the Rock Band 1 bundle along with Rock Band 2 and the AC/DC Live Track Pack for a mere $80. Those Rock Band 1 drums will get you acquainted with the basics.
  2. If you're a light to moderate Rock Band or Guitar Hero player: You're better served spending your money on expanding your song or instrument library in a less extravagant fashion. There's not a single expert drum song that can't be passed on the stock Rock Band or Guitar Hero drum set, so don't panic.
  3. If you're a super-big Rock Band geek with naïve aspirations of learning how to play a real drum kit (kind of like Neil Peart but without the tragic history and freaky Objectivist lyrics): Oh thank goodness. I'm not alone. You should keep reading this article.

If piecing together your dinky little Rock Band drum controller was a pain, assembling your Drum Rocker will feel like the aftermath of a debilitating Ikea binge. With seven tubes, six drums, dozens of screws and one controller to attach and fine-tune to your liking, building a Drum Rocker is nothing short of an afternoon project. Fortunately, the folks at ION were courteous enough to include a simple wrench for tightening and loosening the myriad screws that are attached to the drum kit's various components. While a little frustrating at first, it eventually proves to be a pretty elegant solution; the screws keep things from moving around, but individual components can easily be manipulated by loosening a wing nut or a screw or two.

Once everything is assembled, the drum kit is ready to be plugged in and thrashed upon to your heart's content. However, most drummers will probably experience a frustrating learning curve in adapting from Harmonix's stock drum kit to the larger, flexible design of the Drum Rocker. The cymbals in particular can be challenging to learn how to calibrate and play well, but they seem to take a little breaking-in before they respond to reasonably light hits. Even so, here's a brief tip: Consider tightening the large plastic screws on top of each cymbal until they can't turn any further (but don't snap anything!), and then loosen them by about a quarter-turn counterclockwise. Unlike on a real drum kit, electronic cymbals aren't meant to bounce or rock back-and-forth on their supports.

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The amount of patience and persistence the Drum Rocker demands in its assembly and arrangement stage is more than a little off-putting. If the price tag wasn't enough to ward off most potential buyers, the sheer amount of trial-and-error involved in arriving at the perfect drum setup will frustrate all but the most dedicated. But if you're willing to stick it out and take the time to tweak the kit a few dozen times, the payoff is tremendous. All the equipment is relentlessly durable and highly reliable; you won't notice any dropped hits or accidental double-hits while playing a well-assembled Drum Rocker. For the score-minded player, this means you'll probably see a significant increase in song performance in the long run. But for the Rock Band lover with dreams of becoming a master of a real drum kit, the Drum Rocker is an absolute thrill to play.

A standard Rock Band kit will teach you the basics of arm-leg coordination and how to keep a beat, but the Drum Rocker is a massive leap closer to the real deal. Drums can easily be placed in a realistic fashion, which means the snare can rest between your legs and the hi-hat, ride and/or crash cymbals (the Drum Rocker unfortunately only comes with two of three possible cymbals) can be positioned at all manner of angles and heights. It teaches you to think of drumming in a three-dimensional space rather than a row of identical practice pads, which helped immensely when I began transitioning over to learning how to play a real drum kit.

One last note: The Drum Rocker comes with an all-metal kick pedal that's hefty, solid and durable. There's just one problem -- it doesn't feel a thing like a real kick pedal. For the player whose drumming experience is solely confined to Rock Band or Guitar Hero, you probably won't notice or care. After all, it's perfectly capable of pulling off double-and-triple hits with ease after you spend a little time recalibrating your legs. But for players craving a bit more feedback, authenticity and precision, there's no substitute for the Rock Pedal. But that's a whole other major investment, so we'll save that debate for a future review.

Recommended for:

  • Aspiring drummers looking for a bridge between Rock Band and Real-Life Band
  • Rock Band aficionados who pop the game disc in every day to download the latest songs and compete for scores among their friends

Not Recommended for:

  • Anyone with anything less than a burning passion for drumming in Rock Band
  • Guitar Hero fans seeking a more realistic drum kit; although the Drum Rocker works with Guitar Hero World Tour and its spinoffs, it only presents notes on the simplified four-note track instead of Guitar Hero's default five-note track, making the cymbals almost redundant
  • Would-be drummers looking for a solid first kit; although it's relatively affordable, a drum brain is separate and similarly expensive. If you're not a Rock Band fan as well, you'd be better off looking elsewhere.

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