If you missed Podcast 112 then you would have not heard us talking about this email from community member El Sidius.
“Thanks for inspiring me over the last 2 years in getting more deeply in love with what I already love and that is music production. Without you I would have never finished my degree in audio technology.
Drumbank’s Top 5 Drum Virtual Instruments
It’s every bands dream to have a reliable, hardworking and committed drummer who doesn’t turn up late to every rehearsal session usually hungover and stinking of whiskey and cigarettes. While this is a very broad stereotype, in some cases it’s not far from the truth. Add to the fact that hiring one to play for you is even more of a pain in the backside, let alone recording one. “What’s a condenser?…Who’s Glyn John?…Why does his snare sound like a tin cat?”
Fortunately, If you really cant be bothered to find the answers to these questions, help is at hand by means of drum sampling software instruments. Sampling drums is nothing new. In fact if you listen to the song ‘Amen Brother’ by The Winstons and fast forward to about 1:26 you’ll instantly recognise the “famous loop” used on hundreds of early hip hop, drum-and-bass and Jungle music that inspired a youthful generation for decades to come. So what am I actually going on about I hear you ask? Fast forward about twenty years and you will see that it’s all in the software.
At it’s heart, drum samplers are powered by the individual sampled sounds of the drum and cymbal hits mostly at different velocities. It’s these velocities that adds realism to your beats. A real drummer would never hit the same drum at the same force, power and attack more than once. While this is the basis of any drum sampling software instrument, they also offer the songwriter and producer the ability to “go in deep” and shape/contour the sound suitable for your mix. Modern drum samplers offer monolithic mixing options. Anything from controlling the room /ambient microphones to even mixing in/out the “bleed” and spill on each individual drum, like you would in a real drum recording session.
Naturally, it’s these artefacts that make the overall drums sound more realistic and organic. Add these to your drum programming ability and humanization skills and you’ve got yourself a “real” drummer in your music without any actual human contact. Of course, extensive sample libraries exist that can be used with sampler plug-ins like Kontakt and others sample players but they do not offer an all in one solution like dedicated drum virtual instruments offer. While these features are expected by today’s top producers and professional songwriters, software manufacturers are quite forgiving to most of us bedroom musicians by offering presets and templates for us to quickly load up without losing focus on the actual song we’re writing. The recorded samples in most drum samplers come pretty much pre-mixed and sometimes you don’t even have to do a lot to have yourself a decent sounding drum kit. While these features are a given, CPU power isn’t and most samplers are very RAM hungry, so the way this is overcome is by software manufactures offering RAM saving features that help your computer deal with all the sample stress without having to upgrade to the latest tech. Although most modern DAW’s include a drum sampler built-in, it never feels as satisfying to use as a dedicated third party drum sampler. In this article, we run down five of our favourite Drum VI’s. They are in no particular order as each one is different and suited to a particular user.
First up is Ezdrummer built by Toontrack, the guys behind the legendary Drumkit From Hell. At it’s core EZdrummer features over 7,000 built-in drum samples recorded at 16-bit 44.1kHz. The user interface and GUI is quite graphical but easy on the eyes and very simple. In the kit view of EZdrummer you are welcomed by a graphical representation of the drum kit (which looks different depending on the kit) with each kit piece loadable by clicking on a small arrow on the drum pieces. This makes it very easy to quickly load up a kit. In the mixer view, there are simple controls to adjust each individual kit piece microphone to blend the desired overall sound and panning controls for stereo placement of the kit pieces.
While there is no built in groove matrix, EZdrummer comes with over 8,000 MIDI drumloops that can be dragged into your DAW making it effortless to get going straight away. EZdrummer is primarily aimed at less experienced producers but offers a great solution to those who do not want to spend too much time mixing drums.
The samples themselves have been meticulously recorded and sound great straight out of the box so you can focus more time on making your tracks. There are over a dozen expansion packs available based on different styles of music, so if you feel you need that certain kit sound you can purchase the expansions. Toontrack recently announced EZdrummer 2, their follow up to ezdrummer packing a lot more new features and they are offering a discounted upgrade for those who own or buy EZdrummer before the release date. If you want a simple drum sampler without the hassle of knowing how to mix drums and want to get going straight away, consider trying out EZdrummer.
XLN Audio Addictive Drums
Addictive drums by XLN Audio is a step up from EZdrummer in that it offers more mixing and processing options through it’s edit and FX views. The sample library is not as extensive as EZdrummer without the addons but it offers hundreds of presets suitable for almost any song. The kit view combines both the kit pieces and the mixer, enabling the control of volume and pan for each instrument with the ability to control the overhead, room, bus and master channels. In the Edit view, you have the ability to process each kit piece with compression, EQ, distortion and pitch etc, made possible by sophisticated built-in algorithms created by XLN Audio.
There is also an FX Send option which can be routed through the desired channels and controlled in the FX page. In the FX page, you have the ability to dial in reverb and control the EQ. So if you want a nice big sounding 80’s snare hit, choose a hall reverb with a longer reverb time and dial out more of the higher frequencies. While Addictive drums does not offer an editable matrix grid for creating your own beats, there are hundreds of built in loops inside Addictive Drums so you wont feel famished for sounds.
What we like about the GUI is that when you navigate through the different pages, the mixer stays on view on every page so you can quickly make adjustments without having to go back and forth through the different views. XLN Audio offer a nice selection of expansion packs suited for most style of music so if you want more kits you can buy the expansions from their website. If you’re looking for an easy to use drum sampler with a little more sound shaping options and don’t mind mixing drums give this a try. Users of cakewalk sonar already have the pleasure of having Addictive Drums as part of the Sonar X3 Producer Edition.
Superior Drummer 2
Toontrack’s flagship product, Superior Drummmer 2 is an update to the DFH Superior drum sampler. The included ‘New York Studio Legacy’ sample library consists of a HUGE 60GB collection of drum sounds recorded at New York’s Avatar Studios in 24-bit 44.1 kHz. Toontrack’s proprietary data compression reduces the samples to 20GB once installed to save on disk space and of course you can choose the size of the installation when installing SD2. While EZdrummer and Addictive Drums are a quick solution to beat making, SD2 is a deep and powerful drum mixing VI that offers dozens of features to replicate the perfect drum sound.
If you’ve chosen the full install, you’ll be able to choose a far greater amount of sounds within SD2 such as choosing stick type (sticks, brushes, mallets and rods) and even Kick beater (wood, plastic and felt). The full install will also include microphone ‘bleeds’. These are replications of actual ‘spills’ that are produced from other microphones picking up the source signal when recording a drum kit in the real world. So, for example if you are recording a kick drum, the kick drum microphone will also pick up the snare because it is in close proximity. With SD2 you can control the amount of “bleed and spills” to get the desired amount of realism.
The ‘Construction’ view contains the kit pieces including some controls to modulate the samples such as tuning, envelope, voices and layers and a simple mixer for adjustments. There is a wealth of presets available with the ability to add kit pieces via “X-drum” so you can build you dream drum kit as far as your RAM will take it. If your computer cannot handle running the samples at 24-bit you can load them at 16-bit and limit the “Load into RAM”. SD2 will automatically calculate how many samples to load depending on your selection putting less stress on your system.
When you load a sample on a kit piece, the dry signal including bleed, room, ambient and mono channels are automatically loaded and can be adjusted according to taste in the mixer view. In this view you are able to individually route out the channels separately in to your DAW, so if you are used to mixing drums inside your DAW with your own processing plug ins, then you’ll be able to do so. Of course you can choose not to do it in this way and use the built in effects and processing that comes with SD2. You can also bounce the entire drum track or bounce separate tracks for processing later. This is a great feature for those who need to send a drum beat for mastering or mixing at another studio.
While there is still no built in matrix editor, Toontrack offer a mammoth collection of MIDI loops with hundreds built in and many more to purchase on their website. SD2 ships with Ezplayer, a small plugin that can be run separately to SD2 for organising and writing the drum loops included in SD2. Toontrack also offer their SDX line as add-on options for SD2 which consist of expansion packs designed for SD2. The EZX or EZdrummer expansion packs can also be used for SD2 baring in mind that the samples are at 16-bit rather than SDX’s 24-bit samples. Overall, if you want a deep but easy to use drum sampler and enjoy mixing drum tracks, this one is worth a look. It also works in stand-alone mode so you can use e-drums for practising and live gigs.
Native Instruments Battery 4
Anyone who produces music should have heard of Native Instruments, particularly their drum sampler instrument, Battery. Now in it’s fourth rendition after six years, Battery 4 improves on it’s features with deeper configuration and a better looking GUI. It uses a cell-based matrix drumpad system to create beats. Any sample can be loaded on to the pads and manipulated using the modulation controls at the bottom of the main view.
For each sample you can control the saturation, filter/EQ, compression, tuning and a LoFi module which is used to decrease the resolution and sample of rate of the loaded samples enabling users to create unearthly sounds. Battery is a deep drum sampler and will suit those who are more into creating beats and sounds for electronic music and sound design.
The samples can be found easily through the new tagging system and the ability to create custom kits and assigning them to a midi controller is a very nice feature. It also features drag and drop routing for processing groups making it easy to assign processing to a group of cells. If you like the look and feel of battery and produce modern dance records give this one a try.
The first rendition of BFD (dont ask me what it stands for because even they don’t know) by FXpansion set a new standard for organic drum sampling. It was actually the first virtual instrument to try and fully replicate the nuances of a real drum kit. Three versions later and BFD3 is definitely still not a toy. Producers who are clinical with their drum sounds and want total control will choose BFD. This drum sampler contains a vast amount of new features which have been improved upon since BFD2. The GUI is slicker and more refined but don’t let the simple looks fool you. BFD3 goes deep, way deep.
The new “cymbal swell” and “tom resonance” feature will add more realism to your drum beats. The cymbal swell feature smoothens the cymbal transients so if you have a repetitive pattern hitting on a particular cymbal or hi-hat you can select the different available algorithms based on type of cymbal to smoothen out the hits. The tom resonance feature lets you add or subtract more or less of the tom resonance particularly when hitting the snare or kick. In a real recording situation the vibrations from hitting the snare or the kick will resonate the toms so FXpansion has worked really hard to emulate this in BFD3.
The mammoth 160GB library of samples is compressed down to 50GB with a new proprietary compression technology developed by Fxpansion so disk space is not an issue here. The interface itself has been improved and rolled into just one window never letting your eyes off the VI. There is a huge amount of presets, kits and drum pieces to choose from so building the perfect kit is very simple. The wealth of mixing options almost spoils the user with tuning, trim, dampening and ambient mic sends etc.
As well as the full mixer view you also get a mini mixer view to oversee the whole mix. If this wasn’t enough you get a ‘tweak’ view which lets you tweak the mix of the kit pieces in a more broad and general way without having to go back in to the full mixer that could potentially affect other kit pieces. Effects and sends are a standard in BFD3. There is a huge amount of built in effect and processors inside BFD so you can build a kit, write the beat and mix the drum sounds all without ever leaving the program.
Out of all the mentioned drum VI’s in this article BFD3 is the only one with a groove editor and much is improved over the last rendition. As well as your common groove making tools, you get a ‘Rudiment Paint Brush’ tool to quickly draw a drum rudiment which is selectable in the rudiment drop down menu which in itself is a drumming lecture. You can audition the rudiments before you apply them. This tool makes it incredibly easy to write drum rolls and fills very quickly adding to the organic sound.
Just like BFD2 you can create groove palettes and groove tracks and save them for later use and drag-and-drop them into your sessions. You can even drag-and-drop the midi beats into an audio track in your DAW and if the audio export option is selected, BFD3 will automatically convert them into audio. The groove FX palette at the bottom of the interface has several controls for quantizing, humanizing, swing and simplifying etc. When used smartly along with velocity levels and off beat nodes on the matrix, your beats will sound very human indeed. One neat feature of BFD3 is that you can pre-listen to a certain kit piece sample while the beat is playing when choosing kit pieces before you actually load them. This saves time when auditioning drum samples.
The bouncing feature lets you choose which tracks to bounce in several different formats for processing later and of course you can route out the mixer to different channels on your DAW if you prefer realtime processing with your own plug ins. Importing keymaps has been made easy so if you are used to a particular VI you can import their corresponding keymaps. If you are very serious about drum mixing and have the time to get a realistic sounding drum piece for your songs then I recommend giving this one a try. As well as the built in samples there are many more expansions and midi loops available to purchase from Fxpansion so you can have the ultimate dream kit at your fingertips.
Drumbank’s Top 5 Drum Virtual Instruments - Conclusion
So, there you have it. Five great drum samplers that will appeal to different type of users. If you want the simplicity and out of the box drum sounds and dont have the time to dig deep into mixing drums, go for something like EZdrummer or Addictive Drums. If you produce electronic music, design sound or anything else in that field, I suggest having a look at Battery. If you’re serious about drum mixing and very clinical about getting the right drum sound then go with Superior Drummer or BFD3. The choice is yours.
Drum Virtual Instruments - Reviews
At Pro Tools Expert we’ve reviewed many of these drum VIs, check the reviews out below;
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