I wanted to write my review after I have spent some time with my EXS-5, so now after owning it for 4 months here is what I think of it.
I am playing/learning drums for 2 years, keys have been my main instrument for years. I had a small ekit at the beginning which I kept upgrading and finally decided to get a new one that would not need upgrades (I have to stress that!!) and at a "normal" price that I could justify to myself for an ekit. At first I considered an acoustic conversion but decided it would be equally expensive when starting from scratch (single components such as cymbals are very expensive) and I would need to spend some time building it right.
So after much research I decided to go with the EXS-5 as I wanted a ekit similar in size to an acoustic that I can learn drums on (acoustic is not an option) and avoid my practice time get wasted. Since this seemed to be the closest to my needs and in my price range I went for it. In this respect it truely delivers! Fast crosshands that I practiced on this kit, I could play exactly the same way on my teacher's acoustic kit as it felt the same size to me. All the exersices I need to practice, I play them the same way on the acoustic. When I cannot play something during practice, now I know it is me and not the limitation of the kit. So in this respect it has been a perfect choice! Of course the difference in rebound inherent to all mesh heads is there, but that's where technology is at today.
Cymbal sizes: The HiHat is the same size as an acoustic and mounts on a real stand. On the ride I can do bell/bow exerises since it is not too small. The crashes are big enough for landing safely on after a fill. The feel of the stick on the cymbals might be the best there is on the market today. Nothing more to ask for in this area.
Snare: Plays wonderfully and sitting on a real snare afterwards seems the same size which is very important to me.
Toms: Sizes are very good for practicing and almost as an acoustic kit. Dynamics in playing are translated very well.
Kick: Out of the box the rebound is too much because of the mesh head. I added a couple of sponges inside (had to remove the head) to absorve some impact energy and allow for some "sink-in" of the beater, adjusted mesh tension and now the rebound is very good. My kick practicing translates on my teacher's acoustic kick so I am satisfied now.
The hardware is excellent!!
The tom mounts provide extensive adjustability. In engineering terms, there are many degrees of freedom! I didn't realise that until I set up the kit and was pleasantly surprised. It made me look closer at the smaller EXS kits and the tom mounts are the standard fare, not like these ones! Then I checked other brands with kits in this price range and they don't have such tom mounts either! You can set them very high if you need to.
The cymbal arms allow for a lot of adjustbility as well.
The whole mounting system gave me a top tier product impression, not something cheap that will just to do the job! For the snare I chose to use a snare stand to make it like an acoustic setup. The whole thing is very sturdy when played, doesn't wobble at all.
Soundwise, the cymbals are phenomenal and clearly the best thing in the module. The sound is just so good! The playability is also excellent thanks to how the cymbal pads feel under the sticks and the relatively big sizes. I think there is hardly anything better even at much higher price ranges.
The rest of the sounds are good. I have downloaded all 18 kits and there are gems in there, only that I cannot mix and match to taste. However there has been a recent announcement that creating custom kits will be possible in the future via their online store. This will be a great and much needed new feature! I will not comment on the lack of sound editing as this module is clearly marketed as plug and play with the best posiible sounds out of the box. It is a matter of individual taste and application. For learning how to play drums, it is all you need and provides a very pleasing experience!
The only cons I would like to address are:
- the lack of setting MIDI note numbers (very important if you want to drive a synth with drum sounds or want to use your old module at the same time for additional inputs in a DAW + VST)
- the lack of Local Off (very important when recodring your MIDI performance in a DAW and want to use the onboard sounds).
Not a deal breaker but extremely usefull and cannot see why they have been omitted since there is both USB and 5pin MIDI connectivity. I find these trivial MIDI settings for everybody and not something that would differtiate product tiers. I hope they would unlock these settings in a future firmware.
Playing VSTs: Excellent! Very dynamic and excellent triggering. This goes for both pads and cymbals. Note however that ATV modules don't support dual zone toms, either with onboard sounds or MIDI, though the toms themselves are dual zone as far as hardware is concerned. Would have been nice to be able to add percussion sounds on the rims through MIDI, but you don't have that on acoustic drums either so...
As a final verdict after 4 months of extensive use, it's a kit I love looking at, have a lot fun with, no trouble with, can practice on and I am not afraid of breaking something no matter how hard I hit :-)