Digital Handpands – Oval, Lumen, Neotone, WavePan

Digital handpans are an exciting development in the world of electronic percussion instruments, offering a unique combination of traditional handpan aesthetics and modern technology. These innovative instruments have captured the attention of both professional musicians and amateur enthusiasts alike. In this article, we’ll get into the world of the best digital handpans around, exploring their history, functionality, available models, and practical applications.

Introduction to Handpans

Before discussing digital handpans, it’s essential to understand the origin of the handpan itself. Handpans are a relatively recent percussion instrument, with the first models appearing in the early 2000s. They were inspired by the steelpan, a Caribbean musical instrument, and the Hang drum, created by the Swiss company PANArt.

Handpans are constructed from two steel hemispheres, which are fused together to form a convex shell. The top shell, known as the “ding,” contains a central note surrounded by a series of smaller, tuned notes. The bottom shell, or “gu,” is typically hollow and resonant. When played, handpans produce a rich, melodic sound with a distinctive timbre.

The Emergence of Digital Handpans

Digital handpans began to emerge as a result of advancements in electronic music technology and the increasing popularity of the handpan. Musicians sought a more portable, versatile, and accessible version of the handpan that could integrate with modern music production tools. It’s a similar route as from acoustic guitar to electric guitar.

The development of digital handpans aimed to replicate the tactile experience and unique sound of traditional handpans while offering additional features such as MIDI compatibility, customizable sounds, and built-in effects. The first digital handpans appeared in the late 2010s and have since grown in popularity, with several companies now producing their own versions of this innovative instrument.

How Digital Handpans Work

Digital handpans use sensors to detect when a player strikes the instrument, and the resulting signal is processed to generate a synthesized sound. The sound is then amplified through the instrument’s built-in speakers or output via a headphone jack or external sound system.

There are several types of sensors used in digital handpans, including capacitive, piezoelectric, and pressure-sensitive sensors. Each type of sensor has its own characteristics, affecting the instrument’s responsiveness, accuracy, and overall playability.

Many digital handpans also incorporate MIDI technology, allowing the instrument to communicate with digital audio workstations (DAWs), software synthesizers, and other electronic music gear. This feature provides musicians with virtually unlimited creative possibilities, enabling them to layer and manipulate the handpan’s sound in new and innovative ways.

Handpan alternative – tongue drum

Before we get into digital handpans, it’s important to know they’re very expensive. Analog handpans start from $500 and digital ones are much more expensive. If you’re interested in handpan and hang instruments, it’s worth checking out a great, cheap alternative – tongue drum.

Steel Tongue Drum – HOPWELL 12 Inches 13 Notes – Percussion Instruments – Hand Pan Drum with Music Book, Drum Mallets and Carry Bag, C Major (Navy Blue)
  • CHARMING SOUNDS: The tone is beautiful, clear, and melodic. It’s very relaxing and enjoyable, C Major. Good sound and a break from electronics
  • HIGH QUALITY: Hopwell steel tongue drums are hand crafted by our master artisans, the surfaces are painted with paint which is pollution-free and does not fade
  • EASY TO LEARN: Hopwell steel tongue drum is perfectly tuned to produce a clear and delightful sound experience. They are designed so that a total beginner – even people don’t have any musical ability or sense of rhythm – can quickly produce beautiful sounds
  • PACKAGE INCLUDED: Steel drum, travel bag, wooden mallets, two music books in English, notes sticker
  • GREAT GIFT IDEA: This instrument will inspire others to take an interest in music and produce clean, vibrant sounds everyone adores. Beautifully finished and very sturdy, each drum comes with its own elegant and practical carrying case

Tongue Drum can be considered a great alternative to digital handpans for several reasons:

  1. Affordability: Steel Tongue Drums are generally more affordable than digital handpans, making them more accessible to a wider range of musicians and enthusiasts.
  2. Simplicity: Steel Tongue Drums are easy to learn and play, making them suitable for beginners and those who may not have extensive musical experience. They are designed with a limited number of notes, which can be easily played by striking the tuned metal tongues with your fingers or mallets.
  3. Portability: Steel Tongue Drums are smaller and lighter than most handpans, making them more convenient to transport and play in various settings.
  4. Durability: Made from high-quality steel, Steel Tongue Drums are quite durable and can withstand a reasonable amount of wear and tear.
  5. Versatility: Steel Tongue Drums can be used for various purposes, such as music therapy, meditation, relaxation, and personal enjoyment, in addition to live performances and recording sessions.
  6. Distinct Sound: Although the sound of a Steel Tongue Drum is different from that of a digital handpan, it still produces beautiful, resonant, and melodic tones that many people find appealing.
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However, it’s essential to note that the Steel Tongue Drum’s sound and playing experience differ from a digital handpan. A digital handpan offers more versatility in terms of tuning, sound manipulation, and connectivity with other digital devices, which may be preferred by some musicians or performers. Ultimately, the choice between a Steel Tongue Drum and a digital handpan will depend on personal preference, budget, and desired features.

Available Digital Handpan Models

Several companies have entered the digital handpan market, each offering unique features and designs. Some of the most popular digital handpan models include:

Oval Handpan

ovalsound

The Oval digital handpan, designed by Ovalsound, was one of the first digital handpans on the market. This innovative instrument combines the captivating sounds of the traditional handpan with advanced technology, allowing musicians to create a variety of sounds, effects, and customizations.

Oval handpan started as a Kickstarter project in 2015 and raised €348,018 from backers. The company delivered, but unfortunately on December 31, 2017 the company announced it’s closing down. The handpan is only available to be bought in second-hand market, on eBay or Reddit.

Features

  • Bluetooth MIDI connectivity for integration with music production software and MIDI devices
  • A built-in synthesizer with an extensive library of sounds and effects
  • Up to 12 customizable touch-sensitive pads
  • Velocity and pressure-sensitive pads for dynamic playing
  • Compatibility with iOS and Android devices via the Oval app

Pros

  • Lightweight and portable design
  • Wide range of sounds and customization options
  • Seamless integration with music production software and devices
  • High-quality build and materials

Cons

  • The learning curve for using the Oval app and MIDI features
  • Limited availability and relatively high price

Lumen Handpan

lumen deepocean backpack 1

The Lumen Handpan is another electronic handpan that perfectly combines cutting-edge technology with traditional sound. It comes pre-loaded with 5 professionally sampled handpan and percussion instruments, providing a wide range of sonic possibilities right out of the box.

One of its standout features is the ability to change instruments, keys, and scales on the fly with just the touch of a finger, enabling musicians to adapt and explore various musical landscapes effortlessly. The Lumen Handpan boasts 9 pressure-sensitive FSR (Force Sensitive Resistor) pads, offering great responsiveness for a truly expressive playing experience.

It’s also a self-contained unit, equipped with a built-in speaker and batteries, making it a portable and convenient choice for performers on the go. For those seeking versatility in sound output, the Lumen Handpan does not disappoint; it presents multiple audio output options, including stereo audio and MIDI, facilitating a wide range of performance and recording setups.

Pros

  • All sounds recorded to perfection by Soniccouture, replicating the original instruments
  • More samples and sounds available for purchase and download on the website
  • Each pad has 9 zones for a wider array of expression
  • Traditional Layout – shaped like an original handpan on a rounded playing surface
  • Stereo out with standard ¼” TRS jack output
  • MIDI out with 5 pin DIN (out) and USB (In/Out)

Cons

  • Relatively new to the market, with no retail (physical shop) availability for testing/demo
  • Limited global availability due to shipping restrictions

Learn more about Lumen handpands in this dedicated article.

Neotone

Neotone hang drum review

Neotone is another digital handpan that has gained popularity among musicians. It is designed for both professional musicians and beginners, offering an easy-to-play interface and a range of customizable features.

Features

  • 9 customizable touch-sensitive pads
  • MIDI connectivity via USB or Bluetooth
  • A built-in sound library with various handpan, percussion, and electronic sounds
  • Compatibility with DAWs and music production software
  • Rechargeable battery with up to 8 hours of playtime

Pros

  • Beginner-friendly interface and design
  • Extensive sound library and customization options
  • Long battery life
  • High-quality build and materials

Cons

  • Limited availability and relatively high price
  • May require additional MIDI hardware for full functionality

WavePan

The WavePan digital handpan is a newer addition to the digital handpan market, offering a unique design and feature set that sets it apart from its competitors.

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Features

  • 8 touch-sensitive pads with customizable tunings
  • Wireless connectivity via Bluetooth MIDI
  • Built-in sound library with various handpan, percussion, and electronic sounds
  • Compatibility with DAWs and music production software
  • Rechargeable battery with up to 6 hours of playtime

Pros

  • Unique and visually appealing design
  • High-quality build and materials
  • Wide range of sounds and customization options
  • Seamless integration with music production software and devices

Cons

  • Limited availability and relatively high price
  • May require additional MIDI hardware for full functionality

Oval MIDI Controller

The Oval MIDI Controller, developed by the Spanish company Ovalsound, was one of the first digital handpans to gain widespread attention. It features a sleek, futuristic design, with 12 touch-sensitive pads arranged in a circular layout. The Oval is compatible with both iOS and desktop devices and comes with its own dedicated app for sound customization and MIDI mapping. The instrument also features Bluetooth connectivity, allowing for wireless integration with other devices.

Guda Audio Double

Guda Audio, a Ukrainian company, has developed the Double, a dual-sided handpan that offers a unique playing experience. The Double features two playing surfaces with different sound presets and MIDI capabilities, allowing players to switch between sounds and scales quickly. The instrument’s built-in sensors provide a highly responsive and dynamic playing experience, while its compact design makes it a portable and convenient option for musicians on the go.

Applications of Digital Handpans

Digital handpans offer several advantages over their acoustic counterparts, making them an appealing option for a variety of musical applications. Some of the most common uses for digital handpans include:

Music Production

The MIDI capabilities of digital handpans make them an invaluable tool for music producers, allowing them to integrate the handpan’s unique sound into their compositions. By connecting a digital handpan to a DAW, producers can access an extensive range of software synthesizers, samplers, and effects, enabling them to create complex, layered arrangements.

Live Performance

Digital handpans are well-suited for live performances, offering musicians the ability to switch between different scales and sound presets seamlessly. Their built-in amplification systems also eliminate the need for microphones, simplifying stage setups and reducing feedback issues. Furthermore, their compatibility with other MIDI devices and controllers allows performers to integrate digital handpans into their existing live setups easily.

Music Education

Digital handpans are an excellent tool for music educators, providing a visually engaging and tactile way to teach musical concepts such as scales, rhythm, and melody. Their customizable sound options and built-in metronomes also make them a valuable practice tool for students of all levels.

Music Therapy

The soothing, meditative quality of handpan music makes digital handpans an ideal instrument for music therapy sessions. Their portability and ease of use allow therapists to incorporate the handpan’s unique sound into various therapeutic settings, such as relaxation exercises, group therapy sessions, and one-on-one counseling.

Handpan or Hang drum?

Although the terms “Handpan,” “Hang,” “Hang Drum,” “Pantam,” “metal drum,” and “Space Drum” are often used interchangeably, there are subtle differences between some of these instruments. The primary distinction is between the Hang and the other variations, such as Handpan, Pantam, and Space Drum.

Hang Drum

The Hang Drum, or Hang, was the original instrument created by Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer of PANArt in Switzerland in 2000. The Hang was crafted from a combination of steel, nickel, and other metals, which created its distinct sound. The Hang has a central “ding” note in the middle and seven to eight surrounding notes, forming a unique scale. The Hang Drum is played with the hands and fingers, producing melodic, ethereal tones.

Handpan

Following the success and popularity of the Hang Drum, other manufacturers and artisans began creating similar instruments, giving rise to the term “Handpan.” Handpans are essentially the broader category of instruments that include the Hang and its various iterations. They are also made from a combination of metals and have a central “ding” note surrounded by seven to eight additional notes. Handpans can vary in shape, size, material, and scale, depending on the manufacturer or artisan who creates them.

Pantam, Metal Drum, and Space Drum

Pantam, Metal Drum, and Space Drum are other names that have been used to describe instruments similar to the Hang and Handpan. These terms might refer to specific brands or models created by various manufacturers or artisans or serve as general descriptions of these types of instruments.

Digital handpans are a fascinating evolution of the traditional handpan, offering musicians and enthusiasts a versatile and accessible means of exploring the unique sound of this modern percussion instrument. With advancements in sensor technology and MIDI integration, digital handpans continue to push the boundaries of electronic music, providing new creative possibilities for producers, performers, and music lovers alike. As the digital handpan market continues to grow and develop, we can expect to see even more innovative models and features, further expanding the reach and influence of this captivating instrument.

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