Recently, Steven and the team at Steven Slate Drums released the latest version of SSD, Steven Slate Drums 5. Now what I could do is give you a blow by blow, page by page walk through of the new and improved user interface, which is very nice by the way. Or, I could tell you how wonderful the samples are and how low the CPU usage is, but no, there are plenty of other folk out there in “internet land” who are going to be doing that. What I’m going to do is let you listen to how I have been using SSD 5 in a real world session. I’ll tell you about a couple of the tweaks I have made to the setting in the new Deluxe 2 kits to make the drums sound a little more to my taste and I’ll let you listen to a basic rock band mix with some of the different kits I really like.
Steven Slate Drums 5
SSD 5 is an all new drum sampler rebuilt from the ground up. Well that’s what I’m told. Truth be told, SSD 5 might be new on the inside, but the basic layout of the GUI is a nice familiar place to be. The basic functionality is the same, which means I was able to get up and running quickly.
SSD 5 does give us new stuff though. The new Deluxe 2 kits are very nice. SSD 5 loads fast and is not all that heavy on CPU or RAM usage. There are plenty of new and original drums to choose from and in total we get 77 Snares, 84 Kicks, 58 Toms, 11 Hi-Hats, 14 Crashes, 6 Rides, 4 Splashes, 3 Chinas, 9 Percussion Instruments including 1 Clap, 1 Tambourine and the all important Cowbell. Everything a growing audio professional could need.
In the main Construct Kit window (seen below) we can either choose to load an entire kit or build it up one instrument at a time. In the session that I recorded for this article I used 3 of the new kits. Au Natural and Fast Fast Rock from the Rock Kits category and Rocky Metal from the Metal Kits category.
One of the best features of SSD 5 is the Edit Instrument Window. Here we have access to all the tweakable stuff for each drum or cymbal. Special note goes to the TUNE control. I like there to be a good interval between my Tom Toms, not to tricky you would not think, but tuning the drum more than 10% in some drum samplers causes nasty artefacts in the tail and fall off of the drum. Not so in SSD 5, so I am able to tune the drums as I want them. I am not stuck to the pitched they were sampled at.
SSD 5’s built in mixer is very handy. I can get my levels setup just fine with enough control to keep me happy. This is also the main audio routing page so, if I want to output all the drums to their own DAW or mixer channel I can do very quickly and easily.
It’s All In The Listening
Below are 4 mixes of a song specially recorded for this article. It’s a small power trio track with Drums, Bass, Guitar and Lead Vocal. The first 3 mixes are my 3 favourite kits from the new SSD 5 Deluxe 2 set (Au Natural, Fast Fat Rock and Rocky Metal). The 4th mix is something different. Take a listen and see what you think. This is not a test of which is best, it’s more about listening to the subtle differences between drums and cymbals and how changing one element of a kit, the snare drum for example can totally change the way that kit fits, or does not fit in the mix.
Up Front & In Your Face!
If you want a big fat drum sound fast then SSD 5 is not going to disappoint you. Right out of the gate the drums sound big and powerful and in a Rock or Metal track they are going to sit in just fine after a little tweaking. For my tastes however I found all the kits to be a little over processed. There might be a time when you don’t want the crack of the Snare drum to leap out and smack you around the face on beats 2 and 4. Just pulling the fader back is not going to change the fact that all the SSD 5 drums are very up front even when played back at a lower dynamic (MIDI note on level). Even the Au Natural kit, which I was hoping would be totally unprocessed felt quite compressed. It sounds great but it might be nice to be able to dial that back a little more. But hey, you would not book Lars Ulrich of Metallica to play drums on your traditional Jazz album, so who would you ask a sample set that is so obviously built to rock to do it either?
As I mentioned before CPU load and RAM usage with SSD 5 are very good. This package is not going to bring your computer to it’s knees every time you swap kits of change cymbals.
There is no question that the Hi Hat is the most tricky instrument on a “virtual kit” to get right as it has so many variations and playing options that a drummer has to deal with. Drums are simple, hit it in the middle of the drum and be able to change the velocity we hit it at. The Hi Hat has options like how hard we hit, where we hit it, how hard our foot is on the pedal, how much “slosh” we are allowing the hat to have. I found the SSD 5 Hats to be a little too “sloshy” for my liking. It was quite difficult to get a super tight Hat groove. The combination of foot down note on articulation with a closed Hat hit should be enough to indicate a closed Hi Hat, but almost all the samples had too much “slosh”. Once again, in a full on pumping metal track, “slosh” might be all you need.
OK did you notice? Did I fool you? The 4th mix of the track (Jivey Special) was me playing real drums and not SSD 5. This was the track on which I used Steven Slate Trigger to extract the MIDI parts to play back using SSD 5. And no, this was not something I did to trick you, far from it in fact. I did it so you can hear just how good the SSD 5 drum samples and processing really are. If you are not a drummer, or you don’t have the space or facility to record real drums then SSD 5 is worth a serious look and listen. And if you did spot my rouse a mile off. Well done.