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Review: Toontrack EZdrummer sample plugin

It is very difficult to review the EZdrummer drum sampler from Toontrack properly. This is because I just can’t get over how fascinating the technology is. I’m completely distracted by the fact that you can just draw MIDI commands in an editor, add a plugin and have them sound like a real drumkit played by a real drummer! I grew up in the 80s and am too well aware of how obvious (and boring) drum machines can be, and for many years, the difficulty of getting a good live drum sound on a home recording has been one of the dealbreakers for me. Not any longer!

EZdrummer has a built-in humanizer function, and if that isn’t enough in itself, you can probably access something similar in your recording software. (I have a humanizing feature in Reaper.) I have found that the plugin works well for regular drum patterns, but if you have long sections with even eighth-notes on the hi-hats or ride, you should probably randomize the dynamics quite a bit to make it sound less mechanical. Same thing to fatten up metal-style tom-and-kick fills. The coolest thing is that the plugin triggers different samples depending on the MIDI velocity, so if your virtual drummer holds back, it will not sound like a drumkit mixed lower, but like a real guy or gal playing softly on real drums. If you don’t want to bother with constructing your own drum patterns, there are hundreds available in the accompanying software, and you can just click-and-drag to your recording software for instant drumming.

The vanilla EZdrummer 2 comes with two kits: modern and vintage. If you want to experiment, there are additional drums and cymbals in the package along with ready-made profiles with gating, EQ and compression, for instance if you want to make the drums ring more for 70s style rock, or if you want something tighter and clickier for modern metal. This is a quite welcome change from the rather dull-sounding kit of EZdrummer 1. (Which, on the other hand, made for quite a nostalgia trip since it sounds just like the kind of drumkit you would find in the music room of an average Swedish high school.)

There is less incentive to get an expansion in EZdrummer 2 than it was in 1, but you will probably want to check out the expansions, and soon. These come in many flavors: everything from electronic drums via Latin percussion to big, heavy rock drums and tight metal kits. I obviously prefer the ones with “metal” and “rock” in the titles, but I also recommend the Latin Percussion expansion for a very varied sample palette.

If you’re already running version 1 of EZD and are debating whether or not to upgrade: do it. Go for it! I’d say the sample loading times alone are worth the upgrade cost. In EZD1, if you had two or three kits in a project, it could take upwards of five minutes to get each and every sample loaded. Now, I’d say everything is up and running in about 20 seconds for really heavy projects, and in 5 seconds for one-kit projects. But that’s not all. Another great selling-point of EZD2 is that you can mix and match parts from many kits. If you’re satisfied with e.g. Drumkit from Hell as a whole, but you would want a bigger bass drum, let’s say the one from Rock Solid, just load the Rock Solid kick into DFH! Is it too loud – turn down the volume! You can even re-pitch drums to make a five-tom kit out of three basic samples.

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Posted by on 16 November, 2014 in review, software

 

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Review: Reaper recording software

I was surprised to find that Cockos’ Reaper is actually an acronym. It stands for Rapid Environment for Audio Production, Engineering and Recording. People in the know refer to such a program as a DAW, for Digital Audio Workstation. Myself, I call it a recording program.

Can Reaper do everything that Cubase, Logic or Pro Tools can? Honestly, I don’t know. Without extensive fact-checking, I can only assume that you get what you pay for. But for my purposes, I don’t see what the big, established, big-name applications could offer that I don’t already get in Reaper. I repeat: for my purposes. The sounds I record are those coming from my guitar and bass, and the MIDI capability I use for drum programming. Sometimes, I add vocals to the former and keyboard sounds to the latter. Reaper is more than enough for this sort of thing. It does exactly what I need it to do. It doesn’t come stuffed to the brim with synthesizers, but you can find free VST plugins easily enough through a simple Google search. And the built-in effects were more than enough to enable me to produce an entire album of instrumental guitar rock.

The amazing part is that you get all of this in a sub-10-megabyte download, and with a post-installation footprint that doesn’t even top 50 megabytes. It is a fast, agile and mostly stable program, it has an uncluttered interface that even made it possible for someone like me to get going and produce a finished song in one evening. Reaper is updated frequently – it seems as if though there is an upgrade available just about every other time I use the software, and the upgrades always seem to address any issues I might have with stability and/or usability. The best part is that the non-professional license costs 60 dollars, allowing you to spend your recording budget on other things. But even the evaluation version is quite usable. All you get is a nag screen that counts down for five seconds, and there are no limitations to session time or save cycles.

 
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Posted by on 15 November, 2014 in review, software

 

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