Review – BIG F*CKING DRUMS 3! Now with Horsepower!
FXpansion has got a lot of goodwill associated with the brand name every new product is usually a cause for excitement. BFD3 is no exception – find out why.
by Suleiman Ali, May 2016
Note : This was originally supposed to be a review of the new Horsepower expansion pack from FXpansion for BFD3. It has now turned into a full review of BFD3.
Before proceeding, let me state this as clearly as possible, if you are a BFD3 user and occasionally work on country, folk, garage rock, rockabilly, blues or punk, the Horsepower expansion is pretty much a no-brainer. The download is a big one (it installs to 48 GB!), but once you hear those snares and the cymbals you will be hooked. I completely respect the company for keeping the standard high. These are some of the highest quality drums of this sort in the market today, and the combination of 30 to 50 velocity layers with the anti-machine gun algorithm works wonders for realistic drums. There are stick and brush kits each in 3 versions (natural and two processed flavors) for a Gretsch USA Custom kit with three toms, Sabian hats, Zildjian cymbals, Gretsch snare (with snares on/off) and character mics for mixing flexibility.
FXpansion has got a lot of goodwill associated with the brand name at this point, and subsequently a lot to live up to. BFD , BFD 2, BFD Eco, Geist and the DCAM Synths all have left indelible marks on the computer music landscape, and every new product is usually a cause for excitement. BFD3, even more so, because it promised a complete revamp of the GUI as well as better recorded and programmed samples. My exposure till now has been limited, with BFD Eco being a part of my toolkit for a while, before the frankly sub-par sounds caused me to look elsewhere. On occasion, I heard similar comments about some of the BFD2 kits from other users. Despite all this, some of the BFD2 expansions were the absolute pinnacle of sampled acoustic drums at the time (I am looking at you, Platinum Samples). I can safely and completely say that all that is a thing of the past because this is one stop DRUMS, period.
First of all, the preliminaries: I used Windows 10 – 64 Bit with Reaper 5.17 – 64 Bit to test BFD 3 as a VSTi, but also used it as a standalone which works pretty well in the “guy with a guitar” scenario, where you can save the kit, settings and the whole song’s drum patterns and open a finished drum track in your DAW later. Pretty nifty, yeah, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Before drum nirvana hits, you have to pass the dreaded gates of download purgatory where a HUGE amount of data awaits. Thankfully it ships as well, because without a proper unlimited broadband, it is nigh impossible. And I do not mean just the core content. Even a single expansion, such as the fantastic sounding Horsepower which was this case, needs that kind of connection.
It did download, install and authorize without any headaches or dramas, but again the sheer scope of the content ensures that it is a LONG installation.
For BFD 2 users, the biggest shock will be the new interface: less cluttered, more ergonomic and sleek with drums represented as they would appear to T2000. The second biggest shock may be the groove editor, which has been beautifully implemented in terms of looks and functionality. It really takes the software to the next level.
The best way to describe the new GUI is that it has a left side and a right side. Each of these sides has four to five options/tabs, with left side taking care of included content (kits, grooves, drums, presets etc) while the right side is more concerned with the individual tweaking and fine tuning of each element (not surprisingly this includes the mixer/faders, drum tech/model , groove editor, effect chains etc). It really works together marvellously, and once you get to the grips with the different aspects, the quality of the sounds and the effect chains ensure the temptation to just stereo-out this as a VSTi in your DAW. Not that you don’t have the option to multi-out every kit piece to a separate stereo or mono out.
The real substance, as always, is the new samples. There is indeed something inherently musical about them, definitely a lot more so than the BFD2 stock library. There is plenty of variety for all kit pieces, and plenty of ready kits to choose from. There are also presets that combine kit, effects, grooves, etc. for a thematically linked overall vibe, easily deducible from the names.
The breadth of the included content can be guessed at when the core content caters to the most organic and loose jazz dynamics as easily as it does to clickity-click triplet technical metal grooves. The only lack is the included percussion in the core library. This is easily rectified with an expansion (at additional expense), but when we are talking of 55 GB of data a few more options (percussion pieces and relevant grooves) wouldn’t be remiss to truly make the core BFD3 the ultimate tool it tries so hard to be. Also, unlike two of its biggest competitors (though not even close in content quality for sure) in the ultimate drum software stakes, there is no way to search the included grooves by kick/snare and hat patterns. Both EZ Drummer 2 and Addictive Drums 2 feature a groove finder functionality that speeds up the composition and arrangement process considerably. The lack of this feature becomes glaringly obvious when you use the standalone application to write a track with your guitar from scratch. The detailed groove editor goes a long way in this case, which is something those two do not have at all.
The groove editor provides a simple and intuitive interface for quickly editing or creating any kind of groove quickly and painlessly. The quantize and velocity options give more general control, and the simplify knob is a work of wonder. It works like a reverse version of the complexity knobs/sliders in EZ Drummer 2 or Realitone’s Realidrums. So if you feel there are too many ghost snares or extra hat flicks in the groove, the simplify knob will eliminate the extra hits based on the quantize/grid settings. I must say that this is a better implementation than complexity because it keeps things musical. Also, you need to see and use the rudiment painting tool to believe it: instant and completely human fills and grooves which can be painted into the grid.
The effects are all top-notch and help to sculpt the sounds to the mix and your own aesthetic preferences in an efficient manner. Every whim and drum production effect is catered to, leading to one of the most complete drum effect centers in recent history (only rivalled by MDrummer’s ridiculous effect rack, which is essentially every Melda FX plugin ever).
Plenty of routing and bus options as well as two great comp channels keep things interesting mix wise, while the mic controls puts you right in the studio. ). Plenty of routing and bus options as well as two great comp channels keep things interesting mix wise, while the mic controls puts you right in the studio. Then there’s the recreation of desired recording artifacts like bleeds and tom resonance as well as a intelligent algorithms like cymbal swell emulation which all contributes to giving the user as much (or as little) control on the key elements of sound as possible.
This started as a review and ended up with me being a fan. That should tell you all you need to know.
Priced at $ 349 and available both in shipping and download varieties, straight from:
There’s a demo for windows and macs (and it does not expire, but rather works for half hour only and restricts exports or saving). So you really have nothing to lose in checking it out.
Competitors: We have a lovely amount of competition, but with BFD3 having the upper hand in the actual sample quality and groove editor implementation. It’s the usual litany of suspects, EZD2, AD2, SD2, SSD4, Drumcore 3/4, MDrummer, Groove Agent 4, Realidrums, Jamstix 3.6, Shreddage Drums, Martin France Drums etc. In price, it’s on the higher side, but the number of kits, grooves, articulations, mics, comp buses ,effects and sheer depth of sampling makes it worth it in every way.