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In-depth Feature:  Low-end Hi-Hats
Can a couple of bargain old-school drum machines still cut it live?
It's an intimate thing to hear the last person's programs on a used piece of gear. In this case, it was also a little painful.
Mr Sheen writes: .


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I'm doing a few live shows this summer and I decided I wanted some on-the-fly drum machines around for any special beats that needed programming quickly. I currently have my trusted and beloved Synsonics, but she's not a very steady beast,and considering that a live drummer will have to be playing along with whatever I feed to his (deafening) headphones, I decided I needed something rock-solid. And cheap.

There's really not a lot of options in the under $100 category. My first pro-drum machine (aside from my Synsonics - say what you will, it's pro to me!) had been an Alesis HR16. Rough times had caused me to sell it for peanuts several years back. But I was determined to find another. And since I love anything from Casio produced during the 'CZ years,' I opted to find an RZ-1 as well.

I spotted a few HR16's going for upwards of $150 at some of the music classified sites. Total crap money to spend, in my opinion. The HR is an enticing machine for sure, with its big chunky keys and handclap sound, but not worth $150. $100 was my limit, and being a New Yorker, I wasn't gonna spend a penny more.

Except, as it turns out, for shipping. $12, to be exact. The Alesis flew in from Texas, and was in the air at the same time as the Casio RZ-1 I bid for and won on Ebay. That one was $102.50 plus shipping. All in all, I'd spent about $225 for two pieces I wanted without having to deal with any god-awful music salespeople. Nice.

The RZ-1 is a heavy tank, strong enough to kill a small gorilla or other attacking predator. But after fudging around with it a bit, that's basically what I wanted to do to the guy who sold it to me. The right 1/4 inch jack was useless…and the presets were pretty uneventful.

I was disappointed. My first Casio letdown...until I found the sampler. I took a 909 kick sample and ran it into the RZ. FRUMPT! Good God! It was a massive 12 bit burp of a sound! I was enthralled. Visions of sampling quick sounds of an audience member and improvising a live loop of it danced in my head. And I had four of these to work with. And they were chunky pads, just the way I like them.

The Alesis arrived a day later and was easier to figure out, though the plastoid keys of this puppy were a nightmare to press - they decide pretty much in their own time when they do what they said they would, 'record' being especially fickle.

Within a few minutes I had learned the nuances of this particular machine and had a nice shuffle going on. The bass drum was beefier than I remembered and the hi-hat samples were pretty impressive too! The guy who had it before me obviously had a penchant for claps and bongo-type beats. It's an intimate thing to hear the last person's programs on a used piece of gear. In this case, it was also a little painful.

In any case, these dinosaur beatboxes are now ready for the rigors of the road. Let's hope the road is ready for them

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