And the Beat Kept Rolling : RealiDrums 2 and DrumCore 4
We look at two new drum software titles with more choices than ever before.
by Suleiman Ali, Nov. 2016
This is your loyal correspondent Suleiman reporting back with more great reviews from the frontier of Drumland. This time our adventures lead us to very different but equally useful products: RealiDrums 2.0 and DrumCore 4.0 (Prime). The testing was done in 64 bit Reaper 5.26 on Windows 10. For DrumCore 4.0 I switched to VSTHost because of some VST3 related GUI issues after which it worked much better (though not seamlessly). Before we get into the details, please do visit the site links below as there is an interesting walkthrough video for RealiDrums (as well as specifications) and other details (especially for Drumcore 4 which is available in various versions, as per the size of your wallet).
RealiDrums 2.0 (Kontakt Player): U$ 199.95 – http://realitone.com/realidrums/
3.4 GB of content including multi-sampled : 42 different Snares, 7 different kicks, 11 hi hats, 24 rides, 33 crash cymbals, plus sidesticks and percussion elements and the MIDI Styles (hard to enumerate with the variety of the complexity sliders). 30 day refund policy.
DrumCore 4 Prime (VST3, AU, AAX): U$ 249 – http://www.sonomawireworks.com/drumcore/
20 GB of content, including 160 GrooveSets (10,000 audio loops and 2,000 MIDI loops) by 17 drummers, and 100 multi-velocity sampled kits.
The installation for both of these drum software titles was quite straightforward. RealiDrums followed the standard model for Kontakt instruments (don’t worry, it works just fine in the free Kontakt Player). You download, extract, activate via Service Center and voila – you are ready to go! DrumCore has a download for an installer followed by activation, but that is where the similarity ends. All the loop content is downloaded while you are browsing the plug-in and involves waiting for loops to download (although the kits themselves are ready to go from the get-go). This is further complicated by the “eye” icon that shows extras you can preview but need to buy. Having said that, the number of well-known drummers here who provide both stereo WAV loops as well as MIDI grooves is astounding and feature some pretty well-known names.
Once you get going, RealiDrums provides a clear interface that includes the now standard virtual drum kit representation where you can select the piece and quickly browse through available kit pieces on offer. There are four mixes available for all the pieces (so no mic fader fiddling). The four mixes should cover sufficient ground to keep most users satisfied, and there are numerous kit pieces available for each drum and cymbal type, so you could be trying out various combinations for hours. There are a number of MIDI grooves available in various styles, as well as a huge number of fills available for each. The MIDI Mapping basics are clear on the main screen, but detailed tweaking can be done for each.
After that basic introduction, it gets insanely addictive really quickly – I am not kidding. Each of these MIDI grooves can be modified using the fantastically implemented complexity sliders (overall, as well as for each kit element). Furthermore, you can turn off the hi hats, turn on the toms, get some cowbell going, simplify the beat and add tambourine or whatever else takes your fancy. So each of the MIDI grooves is not really one groove – it’s more like a whole song or album worth of drum tracks right there. Seriously, I was playing around for days. Also, since each kit piece has a few velocity layers and round robins, they load really quickly (seamlessly, to be honest), so you can have a demo of all the pieces on the fly with your MIDI keyboard. The key switch implementation allows you switch between the pieces, the grooves (styles to be more accurate) and implement fills on the fly. The only nit to pick is that I found no way to play the complexity slider with a MIDI Controller, which would have completely eliminated mouse use.
Another useful aspect is the fill implementation, which are mapped to keys, and whenever triggered, come into play exactly at that point to fit the beat till the beginning of the next bar. The best way to experience the overall ease of use is with the two demos below. Demo 1 gives an example how one of the MIDI grooves can be modified with the complexity sliders, and with the triggered fills makes for a complete track out of just one groove. Demo 2 gives a good example of how the kit pieces are easily swapped on the fly (in this case, the snares). You can play around with a loop including fills, and the resultant performance can be dragged and dropped as MIDI timeline, as can the individual loops and fills.
I want to quote the developer, Mike, here on the complexity slider implementation (ingenious) and the possibility of applying the same to user MIDI loops:
Importing MIDI grooves is something I’d like to do, but I can’t promise it. It’s a very complicated proposition, at least if we want to include the ability to use the complexity sliders, as well as add ride cymbal or toms to a beat that is hi-hat based. I have some ideas on how to do it, but the devil will be in the details.
The complicating factor is that the way our beats are made is a very complicated process. I had a live drummer (Tyler Timpe) playing beats on his Roland V-Drums kit, but for each beat, he played a hi-hat version, a ride version, and a toms version. And for each of those, he did a simple version, a medium version, and a complex version.
So we took all that MIDI, and had to sync it up, but had to be careful to keep the “feel.” In other words, we didn’t want to quantize at all. Just find the money pocket for each beat, and slide everything in sync to it. That all had to be done by ear and took an hour or two per beat. Then I wrote an app that compiled all that data and made a master array for each beat, and also allowed for complexity for many levels, not just the three that were played. So these aren’t MIDI files, they’re huge arrays that say exactly when each drum should play at any given slider position.
There is also a basic mixer page that works as expected, providing faders for each kit piece as well as tweaking for the two included basic reverbs, three-channel equalizer, compressor/transient and effect (crush / mangle) sends. Given that you have four pre-mixed versions available for each kit component, there is understandably no microphone control at all.
A simpler non-drum GUI is presented in the Rack tab, allowing for quick tweaking of the entire drum kit minus the complexity sliders or drum kit picture. Again, ease of use is king here.
The settings tab allows you to set up the two reverbs as well as a few other options, and allows access to the key-switches tab discussed below.
The mappings / key switches tab is another nicely laid out tab, clearly showing what your MIDI keyboard can do, and further allowing you to customize each key’s action.
DrumCore Nitty Gritty
I fell in love with the DrumCore3 plug-in when it was first released back in the day. The simplicity of use combined with the variety of drum loops (audio and MIDI) and kits was a clear winner. DrumCore 4 is the successor, but a lot has changed in the interim. The story of the development for DC4 is a saga unto itself, which some of you may be familiar with from various forums (including Sonoma’s own).
With DrumCore 4 Prime (which is the flagship middle tier version I was provided), you are immediately greeted by an updated and quite modern, slick looking interface. The variety here is in the massive number of grooves and fills available. Each drummer has a unique style and provides various song elements (each containing MIDI grooves, stereo WAV loops as well as fills) ready to dragged and dropped to your DAW timeline. So you can mix and match the WAV loops and MIDI grooves into your own track.
There is a song timeline provided in DrumCore that easily allows to mix and match various grooves (audio and MIDI) in the interface’s timeline as well, so a song can easily be constructed right there in the plug-in and then rendered for use in the DAW. The amount of grooves and fills in various styles will have you playing around for a while. I did notice that using the same drummer and loop type allows for cohesion as mixing and matching audio and midi loops from different drummers will need you to tweak the drum kit considerably to sound close to the audio loops, a problem that is non-existent if you use the MIDI loops exclusively. All of the loops are rendered on the fly, at the specified location (defined in the Settings tab).
DrumCore features a mixer page that provides a separate fader for each kit piece. These are pretty standard and allow for basic mixing right in the plugin. It further allows for four effects right here (compression, EQ, delay and crush) to be set up here as well as a similar option (no crush though) in the MasterFX tab. Again, as was the case with RealiDrums 2, these are premixed samples, so no microphone control exists.
Furthermore, in the kit tab you can easily switch to editor mode and easily tweak the velocity layers of the kit itself. Furthermore, you can add your own samples or mix and match the large number of kits given to make your own custom kits. So you could build your own kit from scratch, using your own as well as the provided samples. The pads themselves can be renamed accordingly.
The best bit of news is that the developers are quite responsive to bugs, as I reported a few and an update was released within the week to counter these issues. Furthermore, one of the best features of DrumCore 3 missing here, the Gabrielizer, will be added in an update in version 4, bringing an extra layer of fun to an already great software.
My main criticism is with the download-as-you-go model itself, which basically forces you to be connected to the internet continuously and wait while the groove that you want to test or use is downloaded. I have a decent net connection, but it still involved a lot of waiting. A better option would be the ability to download all your purchased content in one go, with a progress bar (like most of the competition). The other criticism is the occasional stability issues, which will hopefully be ironed out in the next few updates.
I would say both of these software titles fulfil a niche of their own. RealiDrums 2 is more for quick and dirty drums that work for jamming and recorded songs, and does it fast. DrumCore 4 works more as a one stop acoustic groove solution, where you after more control and a lot signature styles in the loops themselves. Both could be improved as mentioned above, but as it stands, it will be your requirements that will dictate which of the two tickles your fancy more. There certainly is stiff competition with a lot of great drum software out there, but the celebrity drummer audio loops aspect of DrumCore 4 makes it considerably unique, while RealiDrums’ complexity sliders also reduce the competition significantly. Note: The level of sampling detail is similar for both titles, and could have benefited from quadruple the number of velocity layers and round robins, but I may actually be mad in that regard and am getting myself diagnosed.