A lot of the music tech industry involves incremental improvements and fairly routine hardware. Amidst the crowd, certain devices are special. They might not even appear so to a general audience, but they have a special place in someone’s music making.

For whatever reason, some Roland percussion controllers fit in that category. As electronic musicians ponder how to make live performance work, the handful with adept percussion skills can pick up one of these boxes and play hard.

So, while it was overlooked by most folks, I think one of the stars of the new gear announced this week at NAMM may well prove to be the Octapad SPD-30. It’s a long-awaited improvement on the SPD-20. (As it happens, I was just talking to an SPD-20 owner about how he wanted a new version.) Specs on the new model:

  • Updated triggers, based on the current-gen V-Drums. These really are quite amazing, in the ballpark of the kind of response you get from high-end, custom hardware, but in a pretty affordable box.
  • New phrase looping features that turn this into a real performance instrument. The previous Octapad worked as a controller and a sound source, but now it can be a self-contained performance tool, which could also nicely complement a laptop setup. And as you can see in the demo, it can loop effects changes as well as notes, getting you into Korg KAOSS category — only with a serious percussion instrument.
  • USB for MIDI, backup connectivity. Standard on newer Roland hardware, but new to the Octapad.

I normally hate demos, but the Roland rep demoing the SPD-30 was great:

And this is in addition to layering features and drum trigger inputs familiar from the Octapad. It all makes me want to practice my percussion chops. Also, unlike the original Octapad – and updated from the most recent SPD-20 – you get a bunch of internal sounds on this instrument, too. Now, that said, I’m not a seasoned Octapad/SPD owner, so I’ll be curious to hear from SPD-20 (or earlier) models if this addresses what you wanted out of a newer year — or not. Be honest and tell us what you really thi– uh, okay, judging by recent comments, that shouldn’t be a problem.

It’s easy to complain about the iterative nature of gear shown at NAMM, but some hardware is worth revising over time.

Pricing: Already seeing US$699 from a couple of outlets.

SPD-30 Product Info [Roland]