Buyers' Guides

What is Positional Sensing on Electronic Drums?

We learn what positional sensing is on electronic drums, including a look at the pros and cons, what you need to make it work, and what drum modules support it.

Positional sensing, also known as strike location detection, is an electronic drum technology that allows the drum module to respond to hits on a drum or cymbal pad differently depending on where your drumstick lands on the playing surface.

Positional sensing allows for more realistic electronic drumming. Acoustic drums respond differently depending on where you strike them on the head. For example, striking the drum right in the centre of the head provides a more full-bodied sound than striking it more towards the edge, where you might hear more ring or different overtones.

The same is true of playing a ride cymbal – playing the bow closer to the edge results in a more washy sound than playing it closer to the bell, though not quite as washy as if you played it on the edge. Positional sensing allows electronic drums and cymbals to respond in the same way.

Below, we look into the pros and cons of positional sensing, what pads you need, and what drum modules support it.

What are the pros and cons of positional sensing?

Electronic drums and cymbals behave more realisticallyPositional sensing is not supported on all drum modules
Ability to create more distinct sounds from each padUsually requires drum pads with centrally mounted triggers, which can cause hotspot issues

How does positional sensing work?

Positional sensing requires a drum head with two sensors – a head sensor mounted directly in the middle of the drum head, and a rim sensor. Positional sensing works by measuring the distance of where you hit the drum between those two sensors. If the strike is closer to the middle, the drum module knows to play a full bodied sound to reflect this. If it detects a strike towards the edge of the drum, then an edge sound is triggered to reflect this.

The same is true on cymbals that support positional sensing. Electronic ride cymbals will have sensors at the bow and bell zones, which are used to detect where your stick hits the pad.

From a technical point of view, positional sensing makes use of the Continuous Controller feature of the MIDI spec. Continuous Controller (CC) is a MIDI message that can transmit a range of values between 0 and 127. The drum module will interpret the distance of your strike between the rim and the trigger sensor as a number, and play the appropriate sound based on that distance.

This is the same as how your electronic hi-hat works, where a MIDI CC value is used to describe how open or closed the hi-hat pedal is. In turn, this triggers different hi-hat samples to match the hi-hat position as closely as possible.

Meanwhile, positional sensing on toms for newer Roland modules like the TD-30, TD-27 and TD-50 is used for rimshots. Here, positional sensing detects how deep your stick is on the drum when playing a rimshot, varying the rimshot sound accordingly. This reflects how you would play an acoustic tom drum, where typically you would want a full-bodied sound by playing in the middle of the drum, whereas playing on the rim in different ways can add expressiveness.

What is hotspotting on eDrums?

A hotspot on a mesh electronic drum pad refers to when striking the pad directly above the trigger cone causes the input level to spike, even when playing with a constant strength. Imagine playing a drum roll with consistent dynamics and one of your strokes lands directly over the trigger cone. Hotspotting is when that strike would cause the drum module to respond with a much louder drum sound than your other strokes.

Hotspotting is the main downside of positional sensing on eDrums. Because positional sensing requires a trigger cone right in the middle of the drum pad, it can be very easy to strike it accidentally.

Typically, drum pads that come with modules that don’t support positional sensing use side-mounted triggers, which are out of the way and unlikely to be struck.

If you want to use positional sensing on your eDrum, there are a few strategies you can use to avoid hotspotting:

  • Tighten the mesh head
  • Remove the mesh head and ensure the trigger cone is in good condition
  • Adjust the trigger sensitivity in your drum module
  • Experiment with changing the trigger curve on your module’s pad settings
  • Strike the drum pads in a slightly offset position to avoid hitting the trigger cone directly

What drum pads do I need for positional sensing?

Positional sensing on Roland modules require a drum pad with a centre-mounted head trigger and a rim trigger. The Pearl Mimic Pro can also support it on heads with triple-cone triggers after a 2022 software update.

Here’s a list of Roland pads with positional sensing support:

Pad NamePad TypePad SizeYear Available
CY-12R/CCrash/Ride12 inches2001+
CY-13R*Ride13 inches2011+
CY-15RRide15 inches2000+
CY-16R-TCrash/Ride16 inches2020+
PD-7Rubber Pad7 inches1992
PD-8Rubber Pad8 inches2003+
PD-9Rubber Pad10 inches1994
PD-80Mesh8 inches1999-2003
PD-80RMesh8 inches1999-2003
PD-85Mesh8 inches2003+
PD-105/PD-105XMesh10 inches2003+ / 2008-2012
PD-108Mesh10 inches2012+
PD-120Mesh12 inches1997-2003
PD-125/PD-125XMesh12 inches2003+ / 2008-2012
PD-128Mesh12 inches2012+
PDX-100Mesh10 inches2012+

*Positional sensing on the CY-13R is only available on the TD-50, TD-30 and TD-25

Source: Wikipedia

Positional sensing is also possible on DIY drum pads, as long as you use centre-mounted triggers. By contrast, side mounted triggers like the Jobeky side trigger will not work with positional sensing.

Which Roland drum modules support positional sensing?

Positional sensing is available on some of the best Roland eDrum kits. The table below shows which roland drum modules have positional sensing and which do not.

ModulePositional Sensing SupportAvailability
TD-8Yes (snare only)1999-2005
TD-6 / TD-6VNo2001-2008
TD-4 KPNo2012-2016
TD-20 / TD-20XYes2004-2012
TD-25Yes (snare only)2015-2020
TD-50 / TD-50XYes2016+

Does Pearl Mimic Pro have positional sensing?

The Pearl Mimic Pro is another drum module that supports positional sensing, following a September 2022 software update. This even supports multi-trigger pads, such as ATV or EF-note pads which use multiple sensors for the drum head. Find out more about the Mimic Pro software update and positional sensing here.

By Seb Atkinson

Seb has been a drummer since 2004 and an eDrummer since 2008. He founded eDrumHub to provide information on electronic drums for other drummers who can't justify an acoustic drum kit for practice at home.