Electronic Drum Set Reviews

KAT Percussion MalletKAT Express Review

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Back when I was touring with my band Vinyl Theatre, I wanted to help my keyboard player out by playing additional synth and keyboard parts from the studio. There wasn’t an easy way to do this, outside of using backing tracks. The MalletKat Express was the perfect choice and was easy to integrate into our Ableton Live setup.

What is a MalletKat?

The MalletKAT is the best MIDI marimba on the market. You can have the flexibility to play the marimba, vibraphone, chimes, or even a synthesizer! It’s a pitched percussion MIDI controller. The MalletKat functions like an electronic xylophone. Using your sticks or mallets, you can play the pads that are laid out like a keyboard.

These types of instruments are very similar to electronic drum pads, but are different because they feature the chromatic scale rather than just a grid of pads. They also work very well with any sustain pedal.

The malletKAT comes standard with MIDI in and out, so you can connect to any MIDI keyboard/sound module to play sounds from it, or connect to a computer with a DAW to play virtual instruments. There is no USB output on the model I had, and it’s surprising they still haven’t implemented it on the new models.

MalletKat Front

You do have the option to buy a MalletKat with internal sounds, but I recommend using the MalletKAT with a computer to play sounds. You will have WAY more options later on.

As of September of 2018, the Kurzweil Sound Card will no longer be made with the malletKat. Alternate Mode is reportedly working with IK Multimedia for the next gen of controllers.

Choosing your MalletKat

You have quite a few options when it comes to purchasing your MalletKAT. You can choose to buy just the MIDI controller without sounds or you can buy one with built-in internal sounds from Kurzweil Music Systems. The MalletKat ships standard in the following options: Express, Pro, and Grand.

For Those with No Internal Sounds

If you use Ableton Live for playing gigs, you can use the MalletKat to your benefit. Any note on the MalletKat can be programmed to any parameter inside of Ableton Live. Footswitches and pedals also have MIDI capability.

Famous drummer Neil Peart from Rush has used a MalletKAT in his touring drum set for many years and is included in many of his drum solos for melodic parts and is also used to trigger various samples during the live show. I’ll be honest, this was one of the reasons I wanted to get one.

Neil Peart Drums

If you get the one with internal sounds, you can navigate the menu with the left and right pads near the top right of the instrument—it’s clunky, as hitting the high Bb note is right next to it, so you have to be pretty deliberate. It’s easy to just use your fingers to navigate. And the menu system is pretty terrible and convoluted. It’s one of the reasons I opted to use Ableton Live for samples, along with wanting to use custom patches.

The MalletKat “Grand”

For those looking for a five-octave marimba experience, the Grand might be the option worth looking at. While I only own the Express, I can imagine playing the Grand would be an awesome experience.

The MalletKat Grand comes standard with four octaves, but with the expander, you can have a five-octave marimba for a fraction of the cost!

Sometimes you can find a used malletKat for sale, but I highly recommend you buy new as there can be issues with buying things secondhand, no matter what the product is!

The back portion of the MalletKAT contains all the I/O you will use. MalletKAT offers two sustain pedal inputs, two-foot control inputs, MIDI in/out (2), and two expander inputs.

If you plan to extend the size of your malletKat, these are the inputs you will use to get more octaves.

malletkat IO

The Edit FTSW is used to control every parameter on the MalletKat. You use a sustain pedal in this input to make changes to MIDI information, octave settings, sustain and hold modes, and much more.

It can be a little tricky to understand at first, but it’s less complicated than it seems.

If you decide to get a MalletKAT and do not want to spend the extra money on the internal sounds, you will need a dedicated computer to play virtual instruments from.

For this to work, you will need the MalletKAT, a MIDI to USB cable that connects to your computer, a Macbook Pro (or a PC, but Macs seems to be very reliable when it comes to music), and a copy of Ableton Live.

Alternatives to the MalletKat

Alternate Mode is not the only instrument maker out making MIDI percussion. A few years back, Pearl released their own instrument called the malletSTATION.

Here are some other options to check out:

Unfortunately, there aren’t many companies making MIDI percussion controllers, as the demand isn’t that great.

Protecting your malletKat

If you have already purchased a MalletKAT and are in need of a great ATA case for it, consider checking out this case from Roadie Products.

These cases are made EXACTLY to your specifications, so you know it will fit your MalletKAT, no matter how many octaves you may have. The build quality is incredible and will last for many years to come.

Wrapping up

I love my MalletKAT. I was lucky enough to find a used seller on eBay and I scored a great deal on it. It’s been reliable through many tours in small clubs and venues.

I wish the foot switch system was a little more intuitive, but it still works fine. Triggering has always been reliable and I’ve never had an issue with it yet.

My MalletKAT does have the internal sounds from Kurzweil, but I never use them. I always thought they sounded pretty poor, honestly.

Nick Cesarz

Nick is a drummer, percussionist, and blogger from Milwaukee, WI. He toured extensively with Vinyl Theatre, opening up for acts like twenty one pilots, Panic! at the Disco, and more. Now no longer touring, his passion lies in gear and playing the kit as much as time allows.

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  1. I am planning on owning a MalletKat 8 Express starting out and add the Expander module later. Alternate Mode has a new internal sound card called the GS. It’s quite expensive. Only thing about using a 🖥 are the potential crashes.

  2. I have a MalletKat but I never use it beyond tinkering. Why? The reasons are many.

    It doesn’t feel like a real instrument. The pads are a bouncy foam rubber. Playing on that feels entirely different than the wood of a Marimba or the metal of a vibraphone. The rebound is crazy and I absolutely hate the feel. I can’t get used to it.

    Dampening. While the MalletKat DOES in theory support dampening of bars (a typical vibraphone technique), it only works 75% of the time. Other times it seems to get confused and thinks I’m rapidly hitting the bar, or it doesn’t work at all. Not good.

    Sensitivity. No matter how much I play with the sensitivity settings and velocity curves, I cannot get a consistent sound out of the instrument. I’ll be playing with a similar mallet velocity but MalletKat says HEY THAT SOUNDS LIKE A FORTISSIMO TO ME!!! out of nowhere.

    It’s so damn frustrating.

    I also own a Xylosynth from from Wernik. It has actual wooden bars, so playing on it feels much more natural. It seems to handle different velocities much better and more consistently, too. It’s a far superior product – BUT they don’t have the ability to dampen bars. For much of what I play that’s okay, but for other things I really need that feature.

    If I could have the feel / sensitivity of the Xylosynth with the dampening capability of the MalletKat (and have it work consistently), I would be a happy guy. Sadly, I can’t have that. So I’m not a happy guy. Lots of money for expensive products that, quite frankly, do not deliver.

    If you primarily want to do marimba / xylophone / glock work, or vibraphone work without per-bar dampening, then the Xylosynth is a superior product in every way. And it looks amazing, too. The MalletKat looks like a toy.


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