The Jambé takes bits of electronic drums, hand bangers and finger tappers and mashes them all up into one traditional-looking percussive instrument. Its makers say that a special combination of materials and sensors allow it to read every playing nuance, transforming the mighty wallop of a drum stick into thunderous sounds or a gentle tinkle from light finger taps with the help of an iPad or iPhone processing brain.
"SensorPoint was founded around the idea of developing products that integrated advanced electronics with everyday objects," the company's John Worthington told us. "Essentially trying to bridge the gap between the maker world and professional production. We were approached about consulting on the design of an electronic musical instrument. Mark Bain, my co-founder, and I have a background in music, so this seemed perfect. Unfortunately, companies can be fickle and the project went nowhere. But by that point, we had done a lot of thinking about what we wanted in an electronic instrument. We decided we to start with a drum."
That drum is called the Jambé, a digital instrument designed to look and feel like a traditional drum and one that allows accomplished percussionists to put their skills to good use straight away or start from scratch to create brand new playing techniques. The aim was to create a playing surface that was mechanically resilient, could efficiently transfer force to the sensors underneath it and had a good bounce for use with sticks but was also easy on the hands. Worthington reckons that "based on the feedback we've received, I think we got it exactly right."
Within a sustainable hardwood rim sits a 10 geometric play zone interface which transforms actions registered by its thin multilayer membrane with force-sensing resistors into dynamic sounds via proprietary software running on an iOS device.
"When the pressure on the sensor increases, there's a proportional change in the resistance," explained Worthington. "There's one sensor per pad. We digitize the state of the sensor at 10-bits and pass that back to the iOS application. We have algorithms in the app that recognize playing gestures based on the result. The sensor is mounted beneath a foam playing surface. The unique feel of the instrument is a result of the foam, the substrate the sensor is mounted to and how that substrate is supported."
The design team reckons that each sensor is capable of detecting more than a thousand different pressure levels and different hits, strikes and touches can be programmed into the system allowing, for example, one sound to fire with an open hand strike and another for a closed hand hit.
Where some electronic drums might employ a gate time or default duration to specify note duration after a strike on the surface has been detected, with Jambé the player can have the sound continue until the pressure on the pad is released, similar to playing a keyboard. The SensorPoint team is currently working on adding modulation similar to polyphonic aftertouch.
The Jambé can be mounted on standard drum stands for integration into a full acoustic or digital kit, or used as a stand-alone instrument placed on a stand or on a player's lap. It features two RJ-45 connectors at the bottom, one to connect to a cable hub and the other for future expansion. These connectors don't use the Ethernet protocol, but were selected because the cables can be locked in position.
The cable hub has an input port for a 5 V mains adapter (though the instrument can be powered directly from an iOS device for portable pounding), a mini-USB port from connecting to the iPad or iPhone using an Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter and two 3.5 mm jacks for FSR-type foot pedals. Audio is output from the 3.5 mm jack of the iPad or iPhone.
"One of the things that was important is that all of our cables are off the shelf," said Worthington. "I've lost track of how many cables I've forgotten at gigs over the years. Cat-6 and mini-USB cables should be easy to find."
The hardware is described as future proof, since all developments and updates from here on in will be undertaken on the software side. "All of the intelligence is in the app," revealed Worthington. "This makes it easy to add features, new playing modes and fix bugs. We do support MIDI output. We also have an internal sampler and are looking at implementing other types of synthesis."
The app presents the user with a number of large icons that change the sounds assigned to each sensor zone. Kits and sounds can be changed in real time by tapping the screen and sounds or kits can be added to the arsenal that comes with the Jambé app from an in-app store. The app can also be used to create custom kits and adjust the instrument's sensitivity.
Players will need a smart device running at least iOS 8 to use the Jambé and, for the moment at least, the Android OS will not be supported. "Audio on Android is a mess at the moment," Worthington told us. "We continue to track this, but it's not really an option at the moment given the limitations of the OS."
Official up time stats are still to be confirmed, though Worthington did say that he ran a first gen iPad Air on battery power and a pre-production Jambé prototype from a wall socket at the NAMM Show back in January and got almost 9 hours of use before the iPad Air needed some juice. He also said that he's managed a good 4 hours running the Jambé and app from the iPad Air's battery alone.
Developed as a feature-rich yet inexpensive digital music instrument for professional players and students of music alike, the Jambé project has launched on Kickstarter. Successful funding will enable the SensorPoint team to finish hardware production tooling and testing and polish up the app (which is currently in beta) for release.
Early Bird Specials in a choice of light or dark stain for the wooden rim are still available for US$499 as of writing, which represents a saving of $300 on the expected retail price. The campaign is set to run until April 28, with shipping due to start in August if all goes to plan.
The pitch video below shows the company's pre-production prototypes in action.