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Freedrum is a virtual drumming kit that has taken the drumming world by storm. Users get a feel of playing real drums when they are actually just air-drumming – something that we were all admittedly guilty of loving when we were kids.
Freedrum has created what it calls the “most affordable way to learn the drums anytime, anywhere.” It’s an invisible drum kit that only comes to life once it’s hooked to its linked app. This is a great option for drummers who are looking for a silent, affordable, and compact option to work on their chops and rudiments, whenever and wherever they want.
We love playing drums, but let’s face it… this hobby can quickly turn into a money pit. A simple 4-piece acoustic drum kit from a renowned brand will easily step over the $1000 mark before you even get to the accessories. Not to mention, acoustic drum kits can get excruciatingly loud without proper direction from a seasoned drummer.
Most studio musicians and multi-instrumentalists are on the hunt for versatile instruments that can be utilized on multiple projects. The smaller the gear is in size and weight, the easier it is to lug around the studio and set up for recording. This is another reason that invoked the minds behind Freedrum to come up with this innovative drumming technology.
Before I get into how capable this invisible drum kit is, let’s take a look at what lies behind the veil of virtual drumming. The way we approach songwriting and recording music has been radically shifting thanks to virtual instruments and digital tools like MIDI controllers. If you are planning on entering the world of drumming in 2022, you should definitely be looking into these new technologies and tools.
My Bottom Line Up Front: While this is no replacement for a real-deal acoustic drum kit, the Freedrum Air Drum kit is a fantastic alternative at a fraction of the price. Of all the virtual drumming kits I’ve tried out (such as the Senstroke and AeroBand PocketDrum), I believe that this one is the best on the market.
Virtual Drumming: What You Should Know
Virtual drum kits, like other virtual instruments, are used to create sounds using a computer. This can be done by imitating another real instrument, a software sampler, or an analog synthesizer. These instruments represent a fundamental shift from conventional instruments to software-centered musical setups that exploit the processing power of computers.
The software makes use of digital samples to create music that is either synthesized internally by the system or extracted from a real instrument. MIDI, which is short for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, is the technology that allows virtual instruments to interact with each other and the computer.
Freedrum is by far one of the most sophisticated virtual drumming setups which makes use of physical sensors to capture MIDI signals that trigger sound samples from its digital sound library. It has not only changed the way we look at drums but the process of songwriting and recording in its entirety.
That being said, if you are looking to tap into the world of virtual drumming, there are lots of factors to consider before you make your first purchase. Let’s take a gander at a short list of expert tips that should ease the pressure of buying a new virtual drum kit by helping you prioritize your needs.
My Expert Decision-Making Tips
- Keep in mind that, unless you are ready to shell out big bucks, there are always some compromises to be made. Whether you want to give up on ease of access, playability, sound, or the build quality, it’s completely up to you. Most people opt for a larger sound library and extra recording utilities when they go for a virtual drum kit.
- It is wise to consider your playstyle when choosing virtual music production gear so you don’t end up with something that impacts your performance negatively. If you prefer playing fast, consider purchasing sensors that can keep up with your pace. If you prefer a more generic or moderate speed of drumming, then you can get away with almost any virtual drum kit on the market right now.
- If you’re looking for a virtual drum kit to record with or use as a sound journal, then you should definitely factor latency into your decision-making process. Audio latency’s impact on people’s ability to play virtual instruments is a highly subjective topic. Some people can work with audio latency up to 15 ms, but anything beyond that is not recommended by experts.
- If you are looking for a compact drumming solution and don’t have much room to spare in your bedroom, a virtual drum kit like the Freedrum can do wonders for you. On the other hand, if you don’t wish to sacrifice the feel and sound of real drums, do take a look at electronic drum kits.
I think a lot of you will agree that, although beautiful, acoustic drum sets can become a liability sometimes. Some of you might be looking for a practice kit to work on your chops at home, which begs the question: is an acoustic kit really practical for you at that point?
Freedrum has come up with the most advanced solution for those looking to get their hands on the most compact and lightweight drum set. A bunch of tiny sensors and an app is all that it takes for this kit to do its job as a drum kit. To find out more about what you get inside the Freedrum package, let’s take a look at the content list.
What’s Included in the Kit?
Depending on the model of your selection, you may have received either two or four sensors. The full package comes with four sensors, two for the drumsticks and two for your feet. I’d highly recommend the one with four sensors if you are looking for a complete drumming experience.
The two sensors for the feet act as triggers for the bass drum and hi-hat. As you may have already figured out, the sensors on your drum sticks can be used to trigger snare and toms. The best part is that all the sensors can be configured to trigger functions other than the pre-assigned ones, which we will get to in a later section.
You get a couple of straps to attach the sensors to your drumsticks and feet. The straps are flexible and will stretch to accommodate your feet even if you are wearing socks or shoes.
USB Charging Cables
Your sensors run on rechargeable batteries so you will be needing a micro-USB cable to charge them. The kit comes with a complimentary USB charging cable for the sensors. I’d recommend you charge the sensors for at least an hour before starting your sessions.
Freedrum gives you two options for drum sticks. You can get either natural hickory or black color sticks. There is no difference between the two sticks apart from their color, so feel free to get the one you prefer.
The Key Features of Freedrum
Using the Drumsticks
With the two sensors mounted on the drumsticks, you will be able to play snare and toms just like you would on a real drum kit. Freedrum will pick up your strokes based on the angle of your drumsticks, so you want to make sure that their placement is correct.
Try not to make exaggerated swings or flare your drum sticks around too much if you don’t want the sensor to miss notes or create unwanted sounds. You should keep your elbows close to your chest and move your drumsticks while keeping them in place.
If you are using toms or cymbals on the secondary layer, you will need to move your drumsticks upwards to hit them. Freedrum has placed all the drums in the second layer on a vertical plane so they can only be triggered by upward strokes.
Using Your Feet for Hi-Hat and Double Bass Drums
The two sensors for your feet can be programmed to play hi-hat or double bass drums, but not at the same time. Another fact worth mentioning is that you can only use the heel down approach to playing with the Freedrum sensors. Heel-up approach optimization may be coming in a future update, so keep an eye out for that.
In the default configuration, your right foot will play the bass drum, whereas the left foot will be triggering either a hi-hat or another bass drum. This is undoubtedly some great news for double bass players who are looking for a neat option to work on their feet action.
You will need to angle your left foot to the left to play the hi-hat. If you were to move your foot towards the middle, this is the region that triggers the second bass drum. As you can imagine, the right foot should be angled to the right to strike the main bass drum.
One of the most lucrative features that have drummers eying the Freedrum is its MIDI compatibility. You can directly connect all the sensors to your computer via Bluetooth and control virtual drum kits. The Freedrum sends MIDI signals to the DAW when connected via a computer, which can then be used to run samples through popular VSTs, like Superior Drummer.
This is an extremely beneficial utility for bedroom musicians who are looking to write and record on the fly. In addition to standard MIDI, the device also transfers CC messages, so if that’s something you like playing around with, you should definitely look into this kit.
How Freedrum Works
In order to set up your kit for the first time, follow the below steps, with a few expert tips included:
- Strap the sensors to your drumsticks and feet. If needed, add some extra cushion or padding so the sensors don’t come off easily when you make sudden movements.
- Calibrate the sensors. You can do this by placing your drumsticks right in front of you and pressing each of the buttons once. This will help Freedrum decide the proper orientation of the drum kit based on the direction you’re facing. Do the same with the sensors on your feet.
- Open to the free drum app. It can be downloaded from the App Store or the Google Play Store. This will enable the sensors to communicate via Bluetooth to your phone. So make sure to turn on Bluetooth as well.
- Go to the “connections” tab. This will show you the generic layout of your drum kit. Each of your free drum sensors will show up on this screen.
- Press on each sensor to connect it. Double-check if the sensors are correctly assigned to your feet and drum sticks.
- Assign the placement of your drums and cymbals on the app. If it’s your first time using it, feel free to just leave this on the default settings. You can update it later, when you finally get the hang of playing Freedrum.
- That’s it! You’re all set, so now simply start playing. I recommend that you strap your sensors properly and grip the sticks tightly when playing to make sure the sensors don’t turn around or slip. This happens more often than you may think, so just be sure to stay on your toes.
- The freedom of movement and expression you get with Freedrum is currently unmatched in the market.
- The ability to play double bass drums is a great feature for both advanced and new players.
- The kit is absolutely quiet, which is the biggest advantage Freedrum has over any other drum kit.
- MIDI compatibility takes this virtual drum kit to a whole new level by allowing you to record and play with a few simple steps.
- The company is dedicated to improving user experience and other firmware-related issues and releases timely updates to address them.
- Heel-up is currently not supported by Freedrum, which can be a deal-breaker for some drummers.
- Freedrum’s online sound library is quite limited which forces you to hunt for third-party solutions.
- Very fast movements are still not supported by Freedrums’s sensors. So if you are looking to play lightning fast double bass or master your epic solo, then you may be left disappointed.
- Latency is another factor that takes a toll on my opinion of this kit. As you are working with Bluetooth technology, expect to encounter some latency with your hardware.
Alternative Options That I’d Recommend
The virtual drum market is fairly new at the moment and you don’t have much variety of gear to choose from. Senstroke and AeroBand Pocket drums are the only two contenders to Freedrum on the market right now. These are all rechargeable devices that let you play virtual drum kits either via their dedicated app or MIDI over Bluetooth.
Surprisingly, all three brands approach virtual drumming in their own fashion and are putting a large number of options for drummers on the table. Aside from the fact that they all use sensors for picking on drum strokes, there are almost no similarities when it comes to how they feel and sound while playing.
My two favorite contenders are:
- AeroBand Pocket Drum
For each of these kits, you have an option to buy just the sticks or the sticks and foot sensors as a pair.
There are more similarities between the Freedrum and AeroBand, since they’re both air-drumming products, while Senstroke requires you to actually hit something. This is a better option for drummers in my opinion who are looking to play. Senstroke is excellent at picking up subtle strokes, like ghost notes, double stroke rolls, and others.
The sensors that come with Senstroke offer more sensitivity and are certainly more accurate because you are hitting a surface. In my experience, I struggled a bit to set up the kit in the beginning. However, once I was able to align the drums in their right position, it was smooth sailing from that point onwards.
Senstroke will only let you manually pick and assign foot sensors to control the hi-hat and bass drum. In terms of versatility and user-friendliness, this app sits somewhere between AeroBand and Freedrum in my opinion. I felt the user interface could use some more guided features for beginners.
You do get some awkwardly timed pop-up guides that help you with the basic setup, but if I had to be totally honest, the app can use some polish work and optimization. A feature worth mentioning about the Senstroke is that you can configure it to play left-handed. I did notice that the layout of drums did not change on the app when I switched it to left-handed orientation, which will hopefully get addressed in a future update.
Overall, I think Senstroke is a great option for players who are looking to add some feedback to their air-drumming. The iOS and Android apps are certainly usable, but they still lack some pressing features which are covered by the other two brands.
- A good option for playing fast double bass and subtle accents
- Includes both freestyle drumming and a “guitar hero” style game
- The UI of apps feels clunky and lacks some basic features
- The sensors are still plagued by angle drift issues
AeroBand Pocket Drum
AeroBand is somewhat similar to Freedrum, but they seem to have put a lot more focus on improving the user experience. The app is a bit more gamified than Senstoke and Freedrum which I believe is aimed at attracting a wider audience.
This is the only kit out of the three which features extra lights on the sticks and provides vibrational feedback to your playing. It’s safe to say that the tactile vibrations are a cool feature to have but they don’t offer any practical benefits. Like the other two options, AeroBand also connects to your phone via Bluetooth. Its dedicated app can be downloaded from the Apple or Android app store.
If I had to draw a comparison between sensors of all three virtual drum kits, I’d say the AeroBand and Freedrum are very close to each other in terms of sensitivity and performance. AeroBand sensors are slightly better at picking up faster strokes compared to the Freedrum kit, but the dynamics were nonetheless notably lacking.
Fast fills and drum rolls are where this kit starts to show its weak points. I felt that some of the strokes were drastically louder than others, which led me to believe it wasn’t registering the velocity of strokes properly. This is a practical limitation of the technology which will improve with future updates and firmware changes.
AeroBand currently doesn’t support an option for double bass playing. The vertical orientation of toms and cymbals also strikes as a bit strange to many players who are not accustomed to such drum layout. You have to raise your hands quite high to trigger these drums, which unfortunately also makes room for all kinds of errors.
The AeroBand app is the best out of the three, and you can clearly notice the effort they’ve put into making this an educational app for drummers. With one touch, you can recalibrate the sensors and load as many instructional videos as you want. The app also comes with a “guitar hero” style game, which works fairly well, in my opinion.
The only downside to this kit is that you cannot change the positions of drums through the app. That being said, you won’t be able to play left-handed drums with the AeroBand.
- Climbing the ropes of drumming becomes easier with tactile feedback and game mode.
- Sensors respond to faster drumming and embellishments impressively well
- The app is quite interactive and educational
- No option to change drum orientation
- Not suitable for left-handed players
- The drum sounds are dull and unrealistic
Frequently Asked Questions
Answer: When Freedrum was initially launched, the company had locked all the MIDI features behind a paywall. This decision was reversed fairly quickly after some pressure from the customers. Today you can use your DAW of choice to play Freedrum 1 or Freedrum 2 regardless of your subscription to use MIDI with Freedrum.
There’s a catch, however. You need to make sure that the DAW supports MIDI over Bluetooth if you want it to work with the Freedrum kit. There are plenty of DAWs out there currently that support this technology, so feel free to explore your options.
Answer: There’s a fairly well-known bug that causes the kit to give an ”Remote DFU Invalid CRC” error when trying to connect. The company has already addressed this issue a while back and has also provided a simple workaround to help fix the error on their forums.
If you experience this issue, following these steps can help you get rid of the error:
Start with pressing down on the sensor’s power button. Hold it until the yellow light starts flashing. Once you see that yellow light, then it means that the sensor is now in update mode.
Open the Sensorware app on iOS or Android. You should be able to spot the sensor detected in update mode.
If the sensor is detected, press OKAY to go to the update screen, then press UPDATE.
It will take about 60-90 seconds to update the latest firmware to the sensors. Do not turn off or disturb the app while updating.
Once the update is over, restart the device and try to connect again. In case you are still facing issues with the device, contact Freedrum support, as you may be dealing with a manufacturing defect.
Answer: The technology behind Freedrum is constantly evolving, so the programmers behind the project make periodic updates to the firmware. These updates are aimed at improving the overall performance of the sensors as well as their connectivity.
Be sure to be on the latest firmware so you can get the best out of your drum kit and also to avoid running into bugs and other concerns. Freedrum Sensorware is the app that lets you update your firmware. It can be found on both Android and iOS app stores for free.
Once you have the app downloaded, follow these steps to update your sensors :
Open the Freedrum Sensorware app on your iOS, Android, or Windows device.
Turn on your Freedrum Sensors.
Select the appropriate sensor from the list in the app that you want to update.
Scroll to the bottom of the screen and select “Check for Sensorware Update”.
The app will update the sensor. This will take about 60 to 90 seconds.
Do not turn off the sensor or close the app during this time to avoid corrupting the data.
Repeat this process for all sensors.
Once updated, restart the Sensorware application to reconnect to the updated sensors.
Answer: I highly recommend that you try out your kit with various drum VSTs if you want to have a multi-sample drum library. This way you can easily switch between different drum kits and sounds on the fly. Freedrum has provided an official list of tested apps and DAWs that the kit has been optimized to work with.
Here’s the list :
Logic X Pro
Ableton Live 9
DM1 Drum Machine
EZdrummer / Superior Drummer
Reaper (macOS, Windows10)
Answer: Some users have reported facing an issue where the Freedrum sensors either stop registering the strokes altogether or play incorrect sounds. According to Freedrum, this could be happening because of one of the following reasons :
The drum kit has tilted.
The drum kit has drifted.
Sensors are fitted upside down.
Here are the troubleshooting steps to engage with this issue in a safe manner. Freedrum has assured its users that they are working on a fix that will be delivered in a later update. Meanwhile, you can do the following steps to eliminate this issue:
1. Hold your drumsticks still for a second.
From time to time, some of the higher-angled hit areas (like the ride cymbal and crash cymbal) will shift downwards. As a result, you will hear the ride cymbal sound when you are expecting to hear the floor tom sound. This can also happen if you are playing too fast.
The best way to fix this alignment error is by holding your drumsticks still for a few seconds and letting the drum kit correct itself. It’s best to do this exercise periodically while playing to make sure the sensors stay aligned properly.
If you still continue to face this issue, try modifying your playstyle a bit. If you are hitting too hard, this may be throwing the sensors off, so perhaps try playing a little softer to see if it resolves it for you.
2. Re-calibrate the sensors by pressing the buttons once.
Similar to the previous issue, the kit can start playing incorrect sounds if it has tilted to the right or left accidentally. The only difference now is that you will be hearing a hi-hat sound instead of the snare drum. This is a fairly common issue with gyroscope-based devices, and we’re expecting a solution to these problems in the near future.
To fix this alignment error, though, simply point both drumsticks in front of you and press the button once. This will recalibrate both the sensors and fix the orientation of the drum kit.
3. Fix an upside-down sensor.
A very common mistake that people make with the Freedrum kit is that they put the sensors upside down. As one can imagine, this will trigger all kinds of incorrect sounds while playing.
The easiest way to remember the correct position of sensors is by checking which direction the LEDs are facing. The LED button should always be facing you whether it is on your feet or your drum sticks.
My Final Thoughts
I was skeptical at first, but now I do strongly believe that this could be the future of drumming. If we are talking about ease of access, Freedrum really knocks it out of the park. The level of comfort and freedom of expression this kit has to offer is second to none. All things considered, this virtual drum kit comes with a few drawbacks, too.
Given that this technology is the first of its kind, I’m quite confident that it will only get better and closer to the real deal as time passes. I’d highly recommend this kit to all kinds of drummers who are looking for a lightweight, comfortable, and cheap drumming solution.