Keith McMillen Instruments (KMI) is a California-based company that focuses on developing innovative hardware and software that allows musicians to incorporate computers and tablets into their performances with incredible levels of nuance and control. The primary technology that the company developed to unlock such advanced expressivity is called Smart Fabric, which features a layer of sensors beneath each pad that interprets subtle changes in velocity, pressure, and strike position with realistic accuracy. KMI’s first foray into the electronic drum market is the super-slim yet highly durable and versatile four-zone BopPad ($199). Let’s check it out.

What Is It?

The BopPad is a 10″ drum pad with an 8″ playing surface that’s divided into four quadrants. Each quadrant can transmit a variety of MIDI data based on how hard you strike, where you strike, and how much pressure you apply. Each zone can also send up to six different MIDI notes and five additional MIDI messages to control various parameters, such as pitch bend, channel pressure, polyphonic aftertouch, and continuous controllers for panning, modulation, effects, and so on.

The .5″-deep BopPad has a super-slim profile, so it can be stored easily in a laptop bag, drum case, or cymbal sleeve without adding any noticeable bulk or weight. The sole connector on the BopPad is a USB port that’s used to interface the pad with a laptop or tablet equipped with MIDI instruments and a digital audio workstation. KMI also offers a simple, durable aluminum mount that features four rubber-tipped arms and a threaded receiver that fits onto a cymbal stand.

How Does It Work?

If you want to use the BopPad as a simple four-pad trigger, simply plug it in to your computer or tablet with the supplied USB cable. (An adapter will be required for most tablets.) Then open up a MIDI instrument in your DAW of choice, assign the sounds you want to trigger to the MIDI notes assigned to each quadrant of the BopPad, and start playing. The BopPad is designed to respond accurately to all dynamics and playing styles, whether you strike it with your hands, sticks, mallets, or other implements. It also has less than 3 milliseconds of latency, so there’s no discernable delay from when you strike to when you hear sounds (as long as your computer or tablet is up to spec). It only took me a few seconds to configure a basic drumkit in Ableton Live to get the BopPad to play the sounds I wanted.

Because the BopPad has an extremely wide dynamic range, you may need to adjust the gain and sensitivity of the sensors to prevent double triggers. Those changes are made within KMI’s free BopPad Editor software. The software is simple and easy to navigate. In addition to adjusting gain, sensitivity, and stroke density in the editor, you can also add, change, and layer MIDI note assignments for each quadrant and save an unlimited number of setups. (The BopPad itself can hold up to four presets at a time.)

When you’re ready to progress beyond a simple four-pad trigger device, which the BopPad does as well as any controller we’ve ever tested, then you’ll want to dig into the Modlines section of the editing software to unlock this pad’s full creative potential. This is where you can define and edit MIDI control data to make the BopPad respond to changes in pressure, velocity, and strike location with things like pitch bend and other MIDI effects.

KMI provides four factory presets for you to get a feel for what the BopPad can do. The Universal preset assigns standard General MIDI notes for hi-hat, kick, snare, and low tom to the four quadrants, while a controller for modulation wheel (aka vibrato) is set up to be applied as you move from center to edge. Preset 2 (Unison) has all four quadrants assigned to the MIDI note for a snare. The vibrato is controlled by how much pressure you push into the pad, and a second controller responds to edge versus center strikes. (The center-to-edge controller can be assigned to pitch change, panning, and other effects.) The remaining two presets are configured for playing the BopPad with sticks (#3) or hands (#4).

During our testing period, we barely scratched the surface of what the BopPad can do. I found a lot of cool and inspiring ideas by using the pad like a hand drum and using the pressure sensitivity feature to change the pitch of the triggered sounds by pressing into the fabric with one hand while playing patterns on it with the other. It was also a lot of fun playing the BopPad with sticks and creating multidimensional sounds that responded organically with different controls and effects as I struck the pad softer or louder, closer or further from center, or with different degrees of pressure.

It’s ultimately up to users to determine how far they want to dig into the BopPad’s advanced capabilities. Check out some of the demo videos the company posted to its website, and also take a look at how visionary artists like electronica wizard Zach Danziger are utilizing the open-ended functionality of KMI’s products within their own innovative hybrid electronic/acoustic drumming. If you’re unsure of whether or not the BopPad is for you, we suggest you just get your hands on one and start experimenting. There’s a whole new universe of creative possibilities here just waiting to be explored.