Not too long ago, I made a YouTube video detailing the differences between Alternate Mode’s malletKAT and the new Pearl malletSTATION. It sure is interesting that the same type of product from two different companies is stylized in the exact same way.
Pearl EM1 Mallet Station 3.0 Adjustable Range Electronic Controller, Platinum Gray
  • USB powered MIDI mallet keyboard controller
  • Universal compatibility through phone/Tablet/laptop
  • Tech-Forward Design featuring KMI Smart Fabric Sensors
  • Low note, adjustable, user defined 3.0 octave range
  • Natural feeling 1.75" x 5" soft Silicone keys.
Pearl Drums was founded by Katsumi Yanagisawa in 1946. The company first began as a music stand manufacturer, but soon began making drum kits, marching drums, timpani, Latin percussion, cymbals, stands, and accessories. In 1957, the company first began exporting instruments worldwide to meet the demand for drum sets following the big splash rock and roll music had made on Western culture. Today, Pearl’s Taiwanese five factories supply the entire worldwide market for Pearl products. My first drum kit was made by Pearl: it was an Export Select Series in Cherry Red Wine. I’ve refinished it twice now and it still sounds great for a drum set from the late 1990s. I have no doubt in my mind for Pearl’s quality standards when it comes to making great products.

Overview of the malletSTATION

On November 8, 2017, Pearl uploaded a video to their YouTube channel announcing the Pearl malletSTATION. The model EM1 is a full-sized three-octave mallet controller designed for players of all genres and of all skill levels. This product is intended to directly compete with Alternate Mode’s malletKAT.
Pearl malletSTATION

The malletSTATION is the Next-Gen Mobile Mallet Percussion Controller

The Keith McMillan-powered Pearl EM1 malletSTATION is a MIDI Marimba that is USB bus-powered that works in conjunction with your phone, tablet, or laptop. It boasts an all-weather silicone playing surface; perfect for marching band pits when playing outdoors. This is a solid feature, one that can’t be said about Alternate Mode’s MalletKat. In terms of I/O, there are three expression pedal ports, giving you control over sustain, expression, and MIDI control changes. The malletSTATION features a rugged aluminum steel chassis and works both with a traditional keyboard stand as well as a concert stand.

There are no internal sounds

The big issue I see here is that the malletSTATION does not contain internal sounds, something the malletSTATION potentially can win on here, depending if you bought the correct one. I don’t see that being a total game changer, but I could see kids in marching band not wanting to use their iPhone or Android for the malletSTATION outside on the field. It will drain their batteries, limit the use of their phones, and isn’t as convenient as just plugging a cable into an amp. Something about the design is off-putting to me. Maybe I am biased because I actually own a malletKAT. Mine includes the internal sounds, but I find myself using virtual instruments inside my DAW way more. The malletSTATION is much more affordable than the ma. It also seems like it will be easier to program since there are multiple buttons on the front panel. With the malletKAT, you have to plug in a sustain pedal to one of the back inputs, and program it with a tiny display. It’s actually infuriating. I feel like you may be limited with the Pearl, but it’s a great entry-level option for something like this. Serious players will still use the malletKAT at the pro level, but finally, there are more companies actually pursuing the idea of electronic keyboard percussion.

No traditional MIDI in / out

Another bummer with the malletSTATION for me, at least from what I can tell, is the lack of traditional MDI inputs and outputs. I understand that we are now in a USB world, but it would have been awesome if I could have linked this to say, my SPD-SX and then from there I hit my DAW. This now means I have to use two USB cables going to my DAW rather than just one MIDI cable like with my malletKAT and SPD-SX.

Wrapping up

I am very much contemplating selling my malletKAT in exchange for the malletSTATION. Why? My mallet controller is old. Alternate Mode isn’t making any innovations to their products, so they are aging. By using the Pearl malletSTATION, I could eliminate one power cable, which doesn’t sound like much, but trust me, everything makes a difference live when setting up. I was originally a little cynical about this product, but as the weeks have gone on, I’ve realized that this is a strong competitor to Alternate Mode and that this is the future of mallet controllers. If they want to stay in business, they should take a lesson from Pearl. This is the most affordable entry into MIDI mallet controllers, so I think it will be a successful venture for Pearl. What do you think? Leave a comment below and share the article if you enjoyed reading it!