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Brady Spec - August 8 2020 at 15:00
Some readers may know that I have long run a new music blog, but it may come as a surprise that I am also a fully trained drummer, having played with a number of bands and jazz ensembles over the years. And so when I heard about the development of Senstroke, that claims to let you play the drums on any surface anywhere, I was very keen to try them out.
Now, before we get started with the review I should explain that I have a mixed relationship with electronic drums. The idea is great – they take up much less room than my main kit and make a lot lot less noise, but the physical feedback you get from hitting a rubber pad has never been a good replacement for hitting skins or cymbals and playing them is just less fun that smashing round on a real acoustic kit. Nonetheless, I live in London and my neighbours would never forgive me for using my real kit and so compromises have to be made.
The question with the Senstroke is therefore less about how it compares to playing an acoustic kit, but more as to whether it could replace an electronic kit in a home setup.
Look & feel
The Senstroke kit comes in a small box and is essentially four little Bluetooth sensors – one for each drum stick and one for each foot. The stick snesors fit snugly over some 7A sticks, and the feet snesors (for the bass drum and hi-hat pedal) come with elastic straps to slip over your shoes.
Each sensor is about the size of your thumb and they are made of a white plastic – not much to look at, but they don’t add too much weight to the sticks and they are small enough to easily put away in a drawer or backpack when not in use.
The setup was pretty straight forward. You need to download the free Sentroke app to your phone (iOS / Android), switch on the sensors on and then follow the on-screen guide to setup which sensor corresponds to which stick or foot (left or right). Once you’ve done that you can get down to playing a basic kit, or spend a bit more time customising your kit to the sound (or voice if you remember the days of MIDI drums) you want and where around you each drum or cymbal is situated.
I found the virtual drums a lot of fun to play. The sensors picked up my strokes well, but do note that they work best when playing on a relatively hard surface like a rubber practice mat or even a table-top – despite someone playing a hi-hat on a cushion in a promo video I found cushions to have a mixed hit-rate throughout my tests.
A single practice pad will give you good practice for your rudiments and far more fun than just hitting a dead rubber pad, but to really get the most out of the virtual kit you will need to set up a variety of surfaces at different heights around you to mimic a real kit – then you can jam along to your favourite tracks, playing not just the beat but the fills as well. It took me a bit of trial and error to setup the kit how I wanted and to calibrate it to how I play, but once I had done so it was great to be able to play the drums sitting at my kitchen table without without deafening my neighbours.
The added ability to connect the sensors to record your drums directly in Reaper or Cubase via MIDI is a great addition, with the virtual kit far more fun to play with than a drum machine!
As I put at the top, these are never going to replace the joy of playing an acoustic kit with all the different surface feedback and nuance that comes with that, but I could happily see myself using these to jam along to my favourite tunes at home or if I needed to practice my rudiments. The virtual kits replicate the sounds of the bass-drum, snare, and toms pretty well, but just like when playing a full electronic kit I found playing the cymbals with Senstroke lacking in nuance – possibly because the stroke feels very different when hitting a rubber pad rather than a crashing cymbal and partly because of the variation in sounds you can get out of a cymbal that it is just too difficult to fully virtually replicate.