[BLOG] MTTK #001: The clinic's [drums] have gone electric!

The Music Therapy Test Kitchen (MTTK) is a blog by the therapists and interns behind the University of Louisville Music Therapy Clinic (UofL MTC) sharing ideas, interventions, and musical technology tips and tricks to support music therapists. We run gear through its paces to see how it holds up in music therapy spaces.

[BLOG] MTTK #001: The clinic's [drums] have gone electric!

Posted 07/15/2022 by Chris Millett, MM, MT-BC

Related Links:
About the UofL MT Clinic
- Other tech resources: The TECHNook
- Other MT Resource: Make More Music

Welcome to the first installment of the Music Therapy Test Kitchen! Our goal is to run music gear and other tech through it's paces and see how it holds up in music therapy spaces. Our first installment of MTTK features the Donner DED-400 electronic drum kit and Donner DA-35 drum / keyboard amplifier!

The folks at Donner sent us these items to review and we've had them installed for about two weeks now. Our clinic operates from a Community Music Therapy (CoMT) model that incorporates drum set into several sessions with individuals and facilities we work with. The biggest problems we run into with drum sets are:

  1. They're way too loud for most clinical spaces
  2. They are very hard to transport and set up in a reasonable amount of time.

Because of that, we have one drum set that lives at a partner facility, two spare sets that we have available for use and transport, and one in the clinic. We found that, while we liked having the drum set in our room, it took up a significant amount of space and for some of our clinic artists with impulse control issues it could easily get into the overstimulating territory for themselves or others (aka: therapists, lol). The Donner DED-400 and the associated DA-35 is quite the answer to those problems.

Donner DED-400 drums from the clinic by the piano

Setup: It took myself and our intern, Matt, approximately an hour to an hour-and-a-half from picking up the box upstairs to completely assembled and the instructions are pretty straightforward. Right away we used the drums in our session and it served the session great! It probably takes up about 20% less space than the previous acoustic drum kit that was in it's space and it significantly quieter. What is nice though, is the amplifier has plenty of gain to get as loud as needed to keep up with the upright piano.

MTTK Review 

After playing, recording via MIDI, and using the kit and amplifier in sessions, here's our takeaways.

What we liked:

  • The responsiveness of the drums - the features like the choke on the cymbals, being able to rim tap on the snare
  • The programmability - the ability to create user presets, edit the built in reverb effects, mixing and matching the kits and the sounds, and most importantly changing the sensitivity of each individual drum. Out of the gate, the drums felt much louder than the cymbals but with sensitivity, volume, and voice controls this was something we were able to fix to our liking with some tweaking.
  • The MIDI output - our clinic coordinator was immediately able to use the USB MIDI out of the drum controller to trigger VST drums easily in GarageBand. We love that this can also be used to trigger high quality drum VSTs like Steven Slate Drums, etc. 
MIDI drum notation in GarageBand

Quick Snapshot of programming each drum individually in GarageBand via MIDI

What we didn't like as much:

  • Needs a decent amplifier - It definitely needs to be paired with a full frequency amplifier / monitor - because of the wide frequency response of the kit, it needs a more encapsulating speaker system. The DA-35 amplifier pairs perfectly.
  • Not-so portable for the MT on the go - It is technically portable and easily maneuvered by 1-2 individuals, but it's mostly the size of a full kit and when assembled wouldn't fit into a car without some disassembly. Definitely more suited to a clinic type space where it doesn't have to be moved frequently, as it also requires electrical outlets.
  • Getting used to digital drums - If you're not used to digital drums, they definitely lack that touch of acoustic drums. Not necessarily a draw back but more of a limitation.
  • Manual diving - Adjusting sounds / saving presets wasn't exceptionally difficult but did take a bit of manual diving.

 Where it shines for therapy:

  • Learning the drums - whether for musical development of the therapist or of a client, the coach / training program tools including the metronome, easy aux sync, and headphones port make this a great way to practice and learn the drum set.
  • Controlling volume & space saving - great alternative to a traditional kit that requires a bit more space and can be too loud for many clinical spaces. This is a lot less likely to irritate other professionals if the therapy space is adjacent to others that might be disturbed.
  • Creative uses & novelty - the kit looks inviting and special. Not to mention this makes programming MIDI, playing VSTs, and triggering samples super fun.

Overall, this is a great piece of equipment that is definitely affordable either with advanced planning or using approved budget. Though not cheap, it is significantly more affordable than many competitors and it solves many problems (primarily noise related) that come with acoustic drum kits. If I were a therapist who had a place this could be regularly parked, I'd highly considering adding the DED-400 and the DA-35 to your equipment.

But wait... there's more!

The DA-35 Drum Amplifier - great multi-purpose amplifier

 Though I'm sure people would be annoyed to need another piece of equipment to go with their drum (well technically only if it needed to be amplified live because it has headphones, MIDI, and 1/4" outputs), this amplifier would be great on its own. It has dual 1/4" inputs which is perfect for the DED-400 two outputs. It does a great job balancing the highs and lows of the signal, offers a 3-band EQ, offers MIC / LINE LEVEL switch that makes this dual purpose for MTs, and has a headphone, aux in, and bluetooth in function for audio. This 35 watts is loud enough for most music therapy applications and offers a DI out to external speakers if you need more juice. Overall, this is a great companion to the DED-400 or a great keyboard / mic + instrument / drum amplifier / bluetooth & aux accessory / etc.

Get details on overall specs and links below.

Test Kitchen Results: We're Cookin' with the DED-400 & DA-35

Thanks for checking out the inaugural MTTK! Reach out to me () if you have any questions on this kit or suggestions for future MTTK topics. Below we'll have the specs, links, and other resources for the tech-savvy MT.

Specs: DED-400 Electronic Drum Kit

  • Retail: $599.99 US
  • Audio Features: Two 1/4" instrument cables out, headphones out, aux in for "coach mode"
  • Hardware Features: 5 drum pads (optional tom expansion), 3 cymbals (optional cymbal expansion), mounting equipment, drum controller system, kick foot pedal, hi-hat pedal, runs on included 9VDC power supply
  • Accessories (includes): Tools for assembly, drum throne, a pair of drum sticks, headphones, power cable, instrument cable, drum connection cables.
  • Link to learn more: DED-400 on Donner Website

Specs: DA-35 Drum / Keyboard Amplifier

  • Retail: $179.99 US
  • Features: 35 watt solid state amplifier, dual 1/4" inputs, 1/8" aux or bluetooth input, mic / line level input switch, 3 band EQ, two speaker (tweeter & woofer design), 1/8" headphone out, DI out (for external speakers or recording), wedge design, comes with 24V power supply.
  • Link to learn more: DA-35 Amplifier on Amazon