Rock Band Portable Drum Kit - Review

MadCatz Rock Band Portable Drum Kit - £44.93 delivered

Review by Will Templeton

When the Rock Band Portable Drum Kit arrived at my door, I was pleasantly surprised at the build quality of the contents - the four pads are exactly the same size as the full Rock Band drum set, and made of good-quality rubber. The drumsticks unscrew for easy transport, and have rubberised ends to dampen sounds. The pedal looks flimsy but feels sturdy, and is mounted with a couple of removable carpet grips to keep it from slipping. It's clear that MadCatz have put a lot of thought into the failings of the original drum kit and piped those into the design of this portable version - the pedal especially is much upgraded from the rubberised one they initially announced.


After booting up my 360 and connecting the main body of the controller (essentially a hub with ports for each input), it occurs to me that this little thing is just a controller with a d-pad and four buttons. I can load up and play N+ no problem. After wasting an hour or so on that I remembered what I was originally going to do, and hooked up the pads and pedal. Shifting my keyboard to one side, I placed the pads on my desk and popped the pedal under it.

As I quickly found out, my desk is a little too high for drumming. I paused, dragged a table in from the lounge and set myself up, a little lower than I would have liked, and resumed. While it was a slight adjustment in play, I found that I was able to play through and beat the set with little difficulty.

There were a few occasions where I missed some notes I felt I should have hit. Most notably, the pedal works in a vastly different manner to the stock Rock Band pedal.

At this early stage I'm having trouble deciding whether these little issues are the set itself or just me playing it incorrectly. I seem to remember having issues like this with the pack-in Rock Band drum set when I first started playing, and now I have no problems at all as my play style fits that set.


Today I brought my 360 and my Rock Band gear around to a friend's, as we do every now and again on a weekend. Granted, it's only the house next door, but the portability of this kit made it a single trip instead of an unwieldy two-trip exercise. After a test few songs we adjusted the coffee table and swapped out the couch for a straight-backed chair, and proceeded to play for a few hours. I tried out a few songs which I knew very well and sight-read a couple of new downloads, and I really got a feel for the new pads. There's a little more bounce than usual, and so I'm finding it impossible to pull off rolls with any kind of regularity. Double kicks are also very difficult without the springy pedal from the original kit, but I can already see myself adjusting to the shallower pedal.

One thing I did notice after prolonged play is that the sticks vibrate more than regular wooden drumsticks. As the sticks screw together, they can sometimes loosen slightly during prolonged play.While this can be fixed with a quick tightening between songs, it's very hard to do in the middle of a song and if it's left unchecked it could at possibly damage the sticks and at worst damage your hands. My wrists were aching a lot more than after extended drumming with the regular kit.


I left the gear at my friend's overnight and popped back today for a full day of Rock Band. Somehow, after returning, I found a really good placement for the pads - I was even pulling off rolls and double-kicks easier than with the regular kit, with no no pain at all. It now feels like the ability to place the individual pads wherever you like is a great advantage for the Portable Drum Kit, whereas yesterday it felt like a frustrating hindrance.
I downloaded Hey Baby. Drumming without ever seeing the note chart or knowing anything except the chorus was fun times.

Tomorrow I'm taking a short train journey to go home. Hopefully we'll see how portable these drums really are.


I travelled by train for roughly an hour today with the Portable Drum Kit. There's not much to say except that it definitely lives up to its name. The drumsticks, as mentioned earlier, unscrew for easier portability but I really don't see why this is necessary except to keep the size of the original package down - it's not as if drumsticks are not portable enough to begin with. I actually had more trouble trying not to stab people with the end of my Xplorer than transporting the kit, which is definitely not something I could have said of my original drums, which took up an entire rucksack when I bought them.

Today's outcome is definitely positive.


My nephew got Guitar Hero: World Tour for Christmas, so I brought my Xplorer and the portable drums to his house to give it a go, only to find out that he had the entire instrument set, including a second guitar. After a few rounds on the drums, I decided that the pedal on the GHWT drums wasn't for me, and swapped it out for the pedal in the portable kit. Bad idea - the pedal didn't work and we almost failed the song as a result. The next song we swapped out the whole set for the entire portable set, and again, the pedal was not compatible, although World Tour recognised it as a four-pad set. Worried that it had been damaged in transit, I set up Rock Band to test it. It worked perfectly.

This, in my eyes, is a serious black mark against the Portable Drum Kit - if you are carrying your kit around with you to other people's setups then it's quite likely that they have a different game. Playing at my nephew's also brought up the issue of placement once more - the only table that was accessible for the drums was a table tennis table in the same room as the console. I had to stand to play them and my nephew had to stand on a chair.


Today the whole family came round to our house. We set up the 360 and the Rock Band equipment, my nephew bringing a guitar and mic so we could have a full set. The great new experience of playing Rock Band with my extended family (my grandma singing was a particular high point) was slightly marred by the fact that, again, we didn't have an ideal place to set up the Portable Drum Kit.

Initially I grabbed a cardboard box of about the right size, but this left no place for a pedal and kept wobbling. After some discussion about whether or not there was a suitable board in the garage to lay over some chairs (and finding there wasn't), we settled on placing the pads over two chairs. After playing one song the pads were drifting away from me due to the slightly curved cushions on the chairs, and the pedal was skittering all over the place - this was solved by removing the carpet grips from the pedal, which allows rubberised feet to grip a hardwood floor. We did continue to play Rock Band until the end of the night, but after each song the drums had to be readjusted. Rather ironically, with the chair set-up in the lounge, they took up rather more space than the standard kit, and were a little unwieldy to walk around when one of the four people not playing wanted to get a drink or whatever.

The key thing about these drums is compromise. If you have a conveniently-sized table then they will no doubt work very well for you, and they stack away neatly in a box a fraction of the size of the original Rock Band drums. They are also vastly easier to take round to a friend's house for band play, as I've experienced. When you get there, the experience you have could vary wildly. The ability to place the pads wherever you like is both excellent and frustrating depending on where you're able to place them, and while being quieter, the sticks aren't the most ideal (and regular drum sticks are actually louder when used with the Portable Drum Kit).

It's fifteen quid cheaper than the regular kit. I'm not entirely convinced it's worth the savings, but that of course depends on your circumstances and whether or not you play Rock Band away from home a lot. If you plan on buying this just for the ability to store it neatly, I can't recommend it. This kit thrives on its portability. But would I consider the extra hassle of setting up a few chairs a reasonable sacrifice for not having to lug the full set on the train? Absolutely.

And if you have a Les Paul or other detachable guitar the whole set will fit into a satchel.

MadCatz Rock Band Portable Drum Kit - £44.93 delivered


Anonymous said...

awesome review! thanks for the advice!