Over the years, Pro Sound News has reviewed all sorts of audio equipment: stunning mixing consoles, venue-shaking PAs, top-shelf microphones, boutique studio monitors, amplifiers, plug-ins, outboard gear and plenty more. I can safely say, however, that this is the first time we’ve reviewed a t-shirt with a built-in drum machine.
Produced by the goofy web destination, ThinkGeek, the Electronic Drum Machine Shirt ($29) is exactly what the name implies—a shirt with a flexible, eight-pad drum plate across the chest. Drummers have always been stereotyped as the Cavemen of Rock, and this shirt won’t change anyone’s mind on that score; play it long enough and you’ll wind up beating your chest like a gorilla.
Considering that the shirt is a goof, it’s actually surprisingly flexible—literally and figuratively—providing nine different drum kits: Rock Drums, Retro 808 (simulating the traditional Roland TR-808 drum machine), Discotek, Techno Punk, Classic Jazz, Bass Invaderz (electronica synth sounds), Chiptune (8-bit videogame sounds), Zaph Dingbeats (whips and other audio oddities) and Scratchy (vinyl scratching).
The pad allows you to record beats up to 3 minutes long. Beats can be looped and layered on top of each other, and you can use any of the drum kits on those additional layers. One notable drawback: There’s a roughly 1/10 second silence when it returns to the beginning of a loop, which throws off maintaining a continuous beat. Users (wearers?) can work around it by timing the end of a loop just so, but it takes practice. If you were expecting quantization, it bears remembering that we’re talking about a t-shirt here.
The shirt comes with a small 3×4” beltpack loudspeaker (4 AAA batteries required) that attaches to the drum pad plate via a cord worn under the shirt. The speaker goes to 11 (nice touch) and is loud enough to grab the attention of anyone in the room. A button on the speaker controls the looper; when you turn the speaker off, your loop is erased. The speaker includes a 1/8” audio output but the speaker stays on when the jack is in use. Headphones didn’t work with the audio out, but I was able to record directly into a Zoom Handy Recorder H2 just fine.
Like any self-respecting audio gear, the shirt only comes in black, and is available in sizes S through XXL. The drum plate and assorted electronics can all be removed for shirt maintenance (a spin ’round the washing machine). ThinkGeek recommends it for ages 14 and up, and I’m guessing that’s not due to complexity, since my seven-year-old had a blast with it. Rather, I suspect the age suggestion has to do with maintaining the sanity of anyone within earshot, because as previously noted, my seven-year-old had a blast with it.
In summary, is the shirt a lot of fun? Yes. Will it displace your trusty Alesis SR-16? No. Will it get you arrested for disturbing the peace? Possibly. For a novelty item, though, this t-shirt clearly had a lot of thought put into it, so all things considered, it’s pretty cool.