What they’re not telling you!
So, I’ve owned the Roland Hand Sonic HPD-20 for almost a month now, and it’s taken me this long to gather my thoughts and opinions on the uber ‘must be nice’ hand percussion instrument.
For those who haven’t heard of the Roland Hand Sonic HPD-20 before, it is a digital percussion instrument, played like bongos with your hands. There are 13 silicon touch pads when struck, produce a different sound depending on which kit you have selected. The Hand sonic boasts of over 800 different percussion sounds, grouped into 150+ kits, and you can expand this number by uploading your own MIDI sounds, and creating your own custom kits. Imagine pulling together the wildest assortment of percussion instruments into a corner of your home and banging away at it- but with Hand sonic your percussion corner sits on your desk taking up 1 foot by 1.5 feet, and with headphones in, you don’t disturb anyone in your household!
Priced at $1,849, it is definitely a luxury item, which some people can’t justify as it can be deemed a bit of a novelty item. Prior to pulling the trigger and buying it, I rarely found a YouTube clip of someone actually playing it like an instrument. All reviews just showed someone tapping at the pads, making some sounds for the camera, before toggling over to the next kit and doing the same all over again. And I was that guy as well, for the first couple of weeks of ownership, as there are so many instruments, it’s quite hard to find a starting point to make proper music.
What they’re not telling you!
But this isn’t a conventional product review, as the jury is still out on the value of this device. But I’m going to cover off what they’re not telling you about the Hand sonic, either from sellers or reviewers of the product.
What they’re not telling you 1.
It doesn’t make any sound! The biggest fact that they’re not telling you, is that the Hand Sonic itself does not have any speakers, to broadcast the music that you’re making! From all the videos, the reviewers never explain how they had set-up their instrument for sound, but the only way I worked it out was by first downloading and reading the Hand sonic PDF manual, and even in there they just briefly touch on the topic. So, if you want to broadcast your music making, you first need to have external speakers or an amp to plug into. For me, I’m fortunate that I have a Bluetooth speaker which also has a 3.5mm headphone port, so I was able to plug a 3.5mm male to 3.5mm male cable from the Hand Sonic to my speaker to project my sound. But the sound is still very mono, and it could be much better. Not to mention, all the ports in the back of the Roland are 6.3mm ports, so you need to buy a 6.3mm male to 3.5mm female adaptor.
If you don’t mind, you can also plug headphones into the Hand sonic, I’ve got a pair of DJ headphones with a 6.3mm male jack, so most of the time I end up using that. As the sound quality and the stereo sound is much better than the external speakers. But in the perfect world, it would have been nice if the Hand Sonic had its own built-in speakers.
What they’re not telling you 2.
Ability to play music tracks through the Hand sonic! this is a good ‘They’re not telling you’, and frankly I’m so surprised that no one has made a YouTube clip filming themselves do this. And Googling around, I haven’t found a blog, video or any official Roland content which states that this could be done.
But on the Hand sonic, there is an auxiliary in port, which I’ve used to plug my phone to, and with Spotify on my phone I can bring up any song I like, press play, and the music is then piped through the Hand Sonic. And when I start bashing away at the percussion pads, I’m freakin’ drumming along with the track! It’s awesome! Absolutely awesome! Something I’d been dreaming to do for years! And again, I’m so surprised that no one is talking about how this could be done on the Hand sonic. After you make some adjustments to the sound levels, so that the Hand sonic instruments are at the same volume levels as the track, it’s almost impossible to tell what sounds are coming from the original track, and which sounds are your creations! And with the ability to record through the Hand Sonic, you can capture your drum remix to be shared with the world! Now this is one great ‘they’re not telling you’, which I discovered, and has given the Roland some much needed used cases in how you can actually use the Roland in real scenarios.
What they’re not telling you 3.
The placement of your instrument is critical for user ergonomics! For most people, you’re not going to fork out another couple hundred dollars for the Hand Sonic stand. Even I’m not that stupid to do that. So, you’re going to probably just place it on any free flat surface around your home. But where you place it, you need to place some thought into it. As if it’s too low, after 30 minutes or so, you’re going to get wrist pain. And any higher…… I’m not sure, perhaps higher is what you want. But for me, I’ve got it sitting on a standard office desk (occupies a corner of my home office desk ATM), and even for me, this set up is too low. Although I’m not tall (5’7), I’m finding that the Hand Sonic is not at the optimal height, so when I’m striking it like a bongo, my wrists are bending back at an unnatural angle, so I’m finding I’m getting wrist pain, thus needing to ration how much time I spend on the Hand sonic per week. Perhaps sliding some thick textbooks under it might help, but it doesn’t help the aesthetics though.
What they’re not telling you 4.
Don’t toggle past the last instrument kit! This problem is only unique to me, as I’m blind. And I have to say I’m so thankful that all the buttons and nobs are tangible physical buttons, not some flat touch screen. But there is a toggle nob which you twist, to scroll through the hundreds of different instrument kits. A little notch in the twist, lets you know that you’ve toggled to the next set. But what I didn’t know was that the final 150+ kits were currently unassigned, so for the first few days I was just testing out each kit. Playing on each for a couple of minutes to learn what sounds were out there, then twisting the nob to the right, to bring up the next kit. And then I got myself into the unassigned kits, and it would just play kit 1, no matter how you twist it. For a week I thought I had broken it, saved this kit for ever, or had gotten into some weird menu loop. For days I was pressing all the buttons, trying to reverse what I had done. And it wasn’t until I got some sighted assistance, when my wife saw that I was into the 200s kit, that were unassigned, and until she was able to get me back to kit one, that was when I could finally use the various instruments again. Would be nice if the device just went back to kit 1, when you shut down.
What they’re not telling you 5.
Novelty++. Obviously, it’s not a selling point to tell potential buyers that 99% of instrument kits are useless. Ok, I’m probably offending people by saying that their cultures percussion instruments are useless. But the majority of instruments are cultural, and although they sound nice, and its fun to bang away at it. But as an actual instrument which you would use to play real songs and at gigs? There are actually only a handful of kits you’d actually would use from the Hand Sonic. In my humble opinion, it is the stock drum kit, and the bongos. Everything else is just novel.
So, if I had a chance to do over, would I buy the Hand Sonic again? If it wasn’t a pandemic and we weren’t stuck at home and have all this unused disposable cash to throw around. I wouldn’t buy it. But the reality is, we’re stuck at home, looking for things to entertain ourselves? So, I guess the Roland Hand Sonic HPD-20 serves its purpose.