The Mandala is a drum pad that synthesises countless drum sounds. The basic package consists of a single drum pad, two drum sticks, a USB link between the pad and your computer, and a single CD from which you upload the Virtual Brain software through which the drum pad runs. It's a simple enough set up.
For many a producer, branching out to incorporate live instrumentals into both production and performance as part of the music making process is something which can begin and end with a midi keyboard or synth. Even the usage of such hardware has become easily available in the format of software. What the Mandala brings to the table that I like is it's relation to both artists comfortable with production software and those who've experience playing an instrument.
The key to this is the simplicity of the actual setup. If you've ever sat down to a drum or drum kit and had a playful shot at the snare or kick pedal, and maybe even a comedy attempt at a sweeping drum solo, it is fun for a minute. Yet in reality, the physical setup of even the most basic drum kit can be technically daunting as it takes a time to develop from a beginner into a competent player, software, comparatively can be instantaneously rewarding.
The Mandala's single pad brings into effect the playful element of having a single drum to experiment with, alongside the endless possibilities that come from using software. Through Virtual Brain this experimentation with a single pad opens up to an array of music making processes, enabling you to build drum kits and put together drum beats without requiring a great deal of prior practice.
First off, the Virtual Brain user interface splits the pad, giving you 6 zones to adjust and manipulate – Centre, mid-in, mid-out, edge, Rim and x-stick. All of the zones can have effects applied to them and furthermore, their parameters adjusted to fine tune the sound you are getting from the Mandala. Each zone can be set up differently, which can essentially mean putting together and entire kit on one pad. Additionally the zones can be interchanged as you play along, a highly useful option when regarding the Mandala's capabilities in live performance.
With regards to the sample library, the Mandala provides users with a vast range of unique and diverse sounds, an amazing range of different drum options, i.e. alternative types of snares, rides, and crashes. The drum pad caters for a versatile array of sounds to be accessed, from a regular rock styled kits, to ambient and exotic drums, making it a useful tool for any musician of any genre.
The tones and samples available to the pad are not only useful in a studio environment but also able to be incorporated in a live setting, creating atmospheric sounds, with options such as wall E and Fleetwood settings there is a multitude of sounds to use with the pad on the one setting. On top of this you can expand the sample library.
The overall appearance of Virtual Brain allows the user to gain a quick understanding of how to use the pad within minutes of running the software. The layout of the interface allows you to explore and experiment with different sounds without it being too complex or confusing.
As electronic musicians are more frequently branching from DJing into the live performance, the Mandala can slot well into... The pad is very precise where you hit it and the sonics are very realistic and of a high quality. The setup would be enhanced by coupling with another pad, which is possible.
The only real criticism I have is that when altering the parameters in Virtual Brain, it is hard to make exact, it would be made easier if you could type in or have a slider option. I find this important as some laptops have poor drivers for their mouse touch pads causing a lag. If you are frequently altering levels over time it becomes fairly tedious.
All in all, it's an interesting tool to play about with, and it can be used for both production and live performance.
Words: James Paterson
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