The Others: Less Well Known Drum Software
This article hopes to show people how to venture beyond the much used-and-abused, and sometimes overhyped, usual drum kit players and to show the wide variety the market has to offer.
by Suleiman Ali, July 2014
This article is written in the hope that people will venture beyond the much used-and-abused, and in some cases overhyped, products (AD2/EZ2/SD/SSD4/BFD3/ARD etc.) and see the wide variety the market has to offer. I am using or have used all of the below mentioned (amongst others) and would like to share my experiences in this area. And no, there is no such thing as too many drum plug-ins!
1. These are all software packages that I purchased (or used publicly shared free versions), not NFR copies, and I’m describing my experiences as a regular user.
2.It goes without saying that I have included only the ones where the developers/company is responsive to user queries and prompt in technical support (which to me is the first thing to be evaluated when buying online).
3. All of the below are purchase-and-download and feature simple, straightforward installations and licensing/security without any dongle BS. Furthermore they are PayPal friendly.
4. Also just for the record I used all of them on 64-bit/Win 8 with Reaper 64-bit (v 4.62), and all of them except Drumcore 3 have 64-bit versions. Furthermore, I found all of them to be 100 % crash free with the exception of Jamstix 3 and Adam Monroe Beats which are more like 95 % crash free. But Adam Monroe Beats can also be treated like a great collection open drum sample WAV files and MIDI loops.
5. The prices are given in USD and were updated on 08-Jun-2014 given above from the developer’s/company’s websites and are shown for the standard version. There may be deluxe or XL versions that are considerably more expensive. There also may be cheaper lite versions.
6. These are just overviews based on a single use case (my music making endeavors) and many of your questions may be better answered by either visiting the website, reading the FAQ or manuals, contacting the developer or checking out the demos (if available).
7. There’s a reasonable shootout provided at the end of this article, to let the reader hear what I’m talking about. It’s a zip file containing stereo stems for almost all of the reviewed software playing the same MIDI test file and is around 80 MB.
The Good Stuff
Drumasonic Luxury ($ 138) & Drumasonic 2 ($ 221):
These are easily the best/most-detailed drum plug-ins in the category of that which does not break the bank. The library has immaculately detailed sampling (22,000 plus samples in Luxury). With the built in sound shaping options the included couple of kits are essentially all you will ever need and you can get hundreds of completely different kits from all the sound shaping and mic options. There are three selectable beater types and many mic positions leading to even more variety. Combine this with the included top-notch processing FX and routing possibilities allows you a huge amount of control on the sound. A pretty nice groove player with a lot of MIDI is included. This groove player allows to audition the MIDI grooves (and fills) and also modify them by changing the length, the time (including triplets and /3 signatures) as well as per instrument track based lag or lead. Then you can drag and drop the MIDI into your DAW. The MIDI mapping is configurable and includes mappings for most common programs / formats. This works with Kontakt Player 5 (no need for full Kontakt). I cannot stress enough as to how amazing and realistic the drums sound in these plug-ins.
Volko Alaturka Drums ($ 39 / $ 119):
These are four very nice (and very warm sounding) kits with tons and tons of exotic/ progressive/odd/Eastern MIDI rhythms (and fills) for dragging and dropping to your DAW. There is an aesthetically pleasing interface and a fast engine. At least ten velocity layers and round-robins are there for each kit so you end up with a very realistic performance when used with the included Eastern MIDI grooves. The evaluation is fully functional (a Reaper tradition). The two prices mentioned are non-commercial and commercial licenses , another Reaper tradition. Seriously, the discounted license is a straight no-brainer!
MT Power Drumkit 2 ($ 50):
One single kit but what a great kit! With the included bread and butter MIDI’s (grooves and fills), you can built a whole song in short time in the arrangement area and then drag the resulting MIDI into your DAW. That in itself is a very useful feature (that has since been ripped off by some others). Plus the MIDI mapping is fully customizable including templates for most common drum programs so it can drive others or can be layered. It has an overall nice GUI and a fast engine. I don’t know the sampling details , but there are plenty of dynamics and no machine gun effect so I’m guessing its deep enough. Plus the webiste mentions that they took a different approach to sampling to get better expression (letting the drummer play grooves at different intensities and snipping the samples) and it definitely worked. The kit is pre-processed and ready to mix. If you are looking for a fast, cheap, efficient solution to use in modern rock projects this should be your first choice.
Adam Monroe’s Beats ($ 50):
This one is the new kid on the block, but it’s getting there with constant bug fixes and improvements based on user feedback in the VSTI. Plus all the WAV files are open (a much appreciated fact) as are all the included 500-plus MIDI grooves and at the ridiculously cheap price that’s a bargain in itself. Sampling has at least ten velocity layers plus at least two to three round robins. The interface allows swapping kit pieces and assigning each to any MIDI note you wish. The price is a steal just for the included WAV samples (30 freaking kits!) and the MIDI grooves plus fills. I hope Adam keeps developing this further, as this has great potential.
Drumcore 3 ($ 199):
A slightly different plug-in, this has very nice sounding kits and MIDI grooves (and fills). The difference is that it includes stereo wav files for each groove, and the MIDI grooves (as well as the audio grooves) are played by various celebrity drummers. It’s a nice and fast interface that allows dragging and dropping to the DAW in a heartbeat. You can mangle the audio or the MIDI using a Grabielizer function, save up to four mangled snap shots and drag and drop those to your DAW (instant fills and breaks!). Sampling is detailed plus you can mix in the provided audio loop files for more dynamics. You can even mix and match kits and add your own multi-velocity samples and loops (which is what many big name drum software packages lack). Many expansion packs are available. There’s a kid brother of this called Kitcore which is the essentially everything without the audio loops. Free version works perfectly but has only two kits and limited grooves with no possibility of adding your own kits or loops. Version 4 is coming out soon (with 64 bit support) and I can’t wait to see what it features.
Drummix ( Rock / Metal $ 30 each):
Two small single kits are available separately in rock or metal styles with nice sound signature and sufficient sampling detail. No grooves are provided though. Round-robin is implemented in a different manner as articulations are mapped to alternate MIDI notes. The sound is very nice but needs definite post-processing. There is also an older beta (not as good as the commercial ones) which is a free option.
Jamstix 3 ($ 99):
Known for its amazing AI and the initially baffling controls, this is the ultimate virtual drummer but takes some getting used to. It is also a challenge to sometimes get it to do exactly what you want. But the manual, the videos and the forum (where the support is quite active) do help. The included kits (which sound good and realistic but I’m not sure about the sampling depth) and the expansion packs are very nice as is the ability to output MIDI to drive any other drum plugin.
Meldadrummer 5 ($ 135 intro price):
This is what all AI based drum plugins should aim for. Superbly designed by Melda Productions, this is the mother of generative drum software. With the video tutorials, help files and now a PDF manual, this can get you up and running within half an hour. It has a huge amount of quite good electronic and acoustic content included, and can drive other drum software as well as load your own multi-layered samples. That last bit needs to restated since its quite rare: it can load your own multi-velocity samples! This is now my go to drum software, sometimes using onboard sounds and sometimes driving one of the other plug-ins mentioned above, when I’m doing any song that goes beyond stock rock grooves. It can get you from zero to “drums are done” in five minutes including the fantastic range of built in effects. You can verify with the Mdrummer Small Free and the demo for Mdrummer Large that I am not kidding!
There are many more interesting options which I have not had the chance to test since my GAS led to bankruptcy! It’s a wide and wonderful new frontier with a lot of possibilities and you will be surprised at what you can find. For starters check out these websites and their products:
Comparison and Test
I have done a sample shootout for most of the plug-ins reviewed above, by playing a MIDI test file through each of them and rendering the results. No tweaking and post processing was done, except for some volume level matching.
Let me know which sounds the best to your ears.