Rock Band 4's instruments won't reinvent the wheel, but they're darn cool

For those who preferred a set of sticks to a five-fret guitar, the cymbals were a great addition to the Rock Band series.

Like its predecessor, cymbals are a completely optional add-on and not mandatory for a standard drum kit. Even better is that old cymbals – while not as ideal as the newer version – will still work without any modifications.

Rock Band 4 controllers

So then, what is changing with the three hi-hats?

"The original cymbals used an analog signal to pass input to the microcontroller unit (MCU) inside the drum kit. Because the MCU couldn't process analog signals, we needed to include an analog-to-digital converter inside the system causing a second of input lag."

Verrey continued, "We've made major improvements to the MCU that allow it to interpret analog signals natively and results in reduced lag time and improved the rate at which inputs are successfully registered."

TL;DR: Smarter cymbals mean you'll never miss a beat. Well, as long as you're doing it right.

Rock Band 4

While Verrey and Cienfuegos couldn't talk much about the game itself, they had plenty to say about what it's been like to work with its developer, Harmonix.

"Everyone who works at Harmonix is an actual musician," Verrey said. "They've all been in actual bands for years."

It's from this practical standpoint that Harmonix has worked closely with Mad Catz to ensure that the next generation of sound equipment is closer to true musician-grade instruments than ever before.

Rock Band 4's mic will sample at 48 kHz, about 4,000 Hz more than the industry standard 44.1 kHz that you find on most compact discs. Higher sampling rates means less clipping when the singer is belting out the lyrics and more accuracy when comparing your voice to the in-game audio.

Rock Band 4 controllers

As a long-time fan of the series, I appreciate the subtle changes. The guitar will look and feel more like the Guitar Hero 2 controller I've been using for the last eight years, with reinforced plastic to make it more durable, too.

I'd say more about Mad Catz's new drums and the mic, if I ever used them in previous games. I'm more of a one-trick pony when it comes to anything with notes, melodies or rhythm.

Overall, the changes are unobtrusive. They're not something you can see on the outside or as immediately obvious as Guitar Hero's switch to a three-fret, two-button system.

But that doesn't make the upgrades any less interesting. Just as Rock Band 4 will be an iterative improvement with gobs of polish and a few new features, so are these controllers. These changes alone might be enough to see the fervent masses of plastic-toting rock gods appear in droves. Hey, it's happened before.

"People are going to be very interested in the new hardware," Verrey said. "Harmonix CEO Steve Janiak went on record the other day saying that 'they can't guarantee hardware for everyone' on launch day unless they pre-order."

"The initial reaction to this was predictable. People said that we're just trying to ramp up the price or secure pre-orders, but we're not. When Rock Band 3 came out, there were parts of Europe where you couldn't find the hardware on day 1."

"But we're working overtime to make sure that doesn't happen again," Verrey said.

Nick Pino

Nick Pino is Managing Editor, TV and AV for TechRadar's sister site, Tom's Guide. Previously, he was the Senior Editor of Home Entertainment at TechRadar, covering TVs, headphones, speakers, video games, VR and streaming devices. He's also written for GamesRadar+, Official Xbox Magazine, PC Gamer and other outlets over the last decade, and he has a degree in computer science he's not using if anyone wants it.