Build a custom, sample-based, MIDI-controlled drum sound module using the Alesis QSR synthesizer. Create your own drum kit Programs and Mixes with QS Edit Pro and Sound Bridge software.

Just do it yourself.

If you want to build your own electronic drum synthesizer, you have come to the right place. Find a used Alesis QSR and use the QSR Drum Synthesizer Manual to create a professional-sounding drum synthesizer—at a substantially lower cost than comparable systems available on the market.

The Alesis QSR (Quadrasynth rackmount) is a vintage, sample-based synthesizer from the 1990s. While best known as a keyboard synthesizer, the QSR actually makes a great drum synthesizer sound module. And this piece of vintage gear can be found online at very reasonable prices (used QSRs are frequently found for under $200).

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Why use the QSR?

After playing acoustic drums for over 30 years, I started experimenting with electronic drums as a complement to my traditional drum set. In 2013 I set out to build an all-electronic drum synthesizer system. After researching several options, I decided to base my system on the Alesis QSR synthesizer.

Like other vintage gear, the QSR is no longer supported by the manufacturer. This lack of support makes learning to program the synthesizer difficult. I eventually found enough documentation on the web to get my system up and running. I had to work through many issues before successfully programming the QSR using custom samples. The process was frustrating, but the results exceeded my expectations.

I found that the QSR makes a great drum sound module choice because of its:
  • high sound quality,
  • low latency,
  • expandability,
  • editing and programming features,
  • supporting software, and
  • built-in effects.
My QSR Drum Synthesizer has proven to be a powerful, high-quality system. It easily accepts custom samples, giving me the flexibility to produce almost any drum or percussion sound. The QSR is a great choice for musicians, producers, songwriters, and others involved in electronic music who want a low-cost drum synthesizer solution, especially those who want to use their own drum samples.

I created the QSR Drum Synthesizer Manual (the "Manual") so others can benefit from my knowledge and experience, save themselves time and money, and avoid a lot of frustration. If you are willing to spend time gathering the system components and learning to operate and program the QSR, you will be rewarded with an excellent drum synthesizer.

Pros and Cons of Electronic Drums

Electronic drums have gained popularity for a number of reasons, but they do have drawbacks. The table below summarizes the advantages of electronic drums.

Table 1. Comparison of Electronic and Acoustic Drums
Electronic Drums Acoustic Drums
Electronic drum synthesizers can be programmed to accurately produce the sounds from a wide variety of drum kits, with very high sound quality and repeatability. Acoustic drum kits produce a limited range of sounds, are often difficult to tune, and in many situations drummers have trouble getting the sound they are looking for.
Sounds can be pre-processed with effects, simplifying the playback system. Acoustic drums require microphones and external processing gear to get a professional sound.
Eliminate the need for a professional sound man to control sound quality or apply effects. A sound man is often required to get the right sound to the audience.
Provide continuous volume control, allowing use in all venues, or practicing with headphones at any time of day. Acoustic drums are often too loud for small rooms. Practice must be limited to certain times to avoid offending neighbors.
Electronic drum kits are smaller, lighter, and easier to set up. Acoustic kits are larger, heavier, and take longer to set up and adjust.

I should mention some of the downsides to electronic drums. First, programming an electronic drum system can take a lot of time, depending on how much customization you need. Second, many low-cost systems provide limited functionality, forcing users to pay more to get the results they want. For example, most low cost drum sound modules do not allow you to use your own samples, or sound files. The QSR, however, gives drummers an extraordinary amount of capability in a low-cost, rackmount package. It also allows you to use any compatible sample file you want.

Electronic drum synthesizers often produce low-quality cymbal sounds. This is one area where acoustic drums outperform. Many drum synthesizers cannot reproduce the subtle nuances of live cymbals. Cymbal samples with long decays consume a lot of storage space. And each drum synthesizer manufacturer approaches hi hat cymbal controls in different ways. Personally, I prefer a hybrid kit, made up of acoustic drums and cymbals, with triggers on the drums. I blend the acoustic and synthesized sounds using a mixer.

Benefits of an Open Architecture

As the popularity of electronic drums has increased, drum manufacturers have expanded their product offerings with all-electronic kits, hybrid kits, and electronic percussion accessories. But the trend is toward largely "closed" systems. A closed architecture uses proprietary system interfaces and processing, making it difficult to mix and match components from different manufacturers.

Manufacturers benefit from a closed architecture. Proprietary systems give the manufacturer more control over the system design, allowing them to create new features without constraints. Manufacturers also like the fact that a closed architecture locks customers into their line of products. However, this is at odds with users who want the freedom to configure a system using components from different companies.

The QSR drum synthesizer uses a MIDI interface, an open standard that supports interoperability. An open architecture allows users to configure their system configuration using the best components they can afford, even if from different manufacturers. The QSR's MIDI compatibility means you can use any pads, triggers, and controllers you want. You can start with a simple system and add components as your budget permits. The MIDI standard also simplifies upgrading individual components over time.

What about cost?

If you have looked at electronic drum kit options from companies like Roland, Yamaha, Pearl, and Alesis, then you have probably experienced some level of sticker shock. Top-of-the line electronic drum kits cost thousands of dollars. To keep the cost down you have to sacrifice features or quality. Drummers who cannot afford the most expensive systems typically compromise to stay within their budget. Once you invest, upgrades are expensive. Results are often disappointing.

Low-cost electronic kits have fewer features than high-end solutions. One important feature not found in low-cost systems is the ability to add custom sound samples. The user is limited to the drum sounds that come with the system unless it supports the use of custom sample files. This makes it hard to distinguish your sound from other users of the same equipment or to replace poor quality sounds that were included with the sound module.

Only the most expensive systems provide the ability to load custom samples. But even with high-end sound modules, the abilities to blend, edit or add effects to those samples vary from system to system. The ability to fully exploit custom samples is one of the most powerful features of the QSR, especially for drummers who want to make their sound unique.

Purpose and Intended Audience

The Manual documents the hardware and software used to create my QSR Drum Synthesizer. It also describes the Programming Strategy I developed. It is written to help others wanting to build their own sample-based drum synthesizer. The Manual serves as an educational tool for users new to electronic synthesis, as a reference for experienced users, and a source for useful downloads, tips, and techniques.

Using the QSR as a drum sound module was not easy. I ran into many problems along the way. I had to integrate several hardware and software components from different manufacturers, including equipment that is no longer supported. Fortunately, I found useful websites with documentation and downloads. I identified software for editing the QSR, which was critical to the success of the project.

The Manual provides step-by-step procedures that will help you use the QSR as the sound module in an electronic drum kit. It is not intended to be a reference for all features of the QSR or its associated software applications, particularly those features that are specific to traditional keyboard synthesizers.

The Manual assumes that readers have basic knowledge of MIDI and general audio engineering concepts. References are provided for those who need additional knowledge in specific areas.

If your are searching for a powerful, low-cost drum synthesizer and are ready to build your own QSR Drum Synthesizer then let's get started!