Superior Drummer 2.3 by Toontrack
Our reviewer thinks that Superior Drummer 2.3 has that “I’m happy that I’m drumming” vivid feeling and that Toontrack’s offering has that “something extra” that gives it an edge.
by A. Arsov, Mar. 2014
I have to make a confession. Some time ago I needed real drums for one of my projects, and I simply googled what should fit me the best. You know the procedure: “best vst sampled drum.” Or I wrote “real” instead of “sampled,” I can’t remember precisely. Five minutes later I got a winner mentioned on a few of the various forums: Superior Drummer 2,3. So, one “Dear Sir/Madam” letter later, I’ve got my Superior Drummer packed in a neat blue box.
What’s It All About?
What is so special that most of the people on the net advise Superior Drummer as the best real-drum substitute? After all, we all know that there are a few big competitors out there: FXpansion BFD 3, Addictive drums, Steven Slate drums and probably even more of them. I can’t tell much about those other packs as I’ve only listened to demo clips for all of those and read various manuals and explanations. I presume it may be merely a matter of taste, but the truth is that Superior Drummer somehow sounds a bit more snappy, so maybe that’s the reason why they sit so well in a mix.
The band is usually as good as the drummer is good. I’ve noticed that all other packs sound very realistic, but Superior Drummer has that “I’m happy that I’m drumming” vivid feeling which I presume is a consequence of a good programming, making all velocity curves fit right with the velocity-layered rank of drum hits for every separate part of the kit. Producing realistic sounds is merely a matter of input quality. All the brand-name companies offer top-notch drum samples, but doing this part of the job always starts at the recording stage where you have “drummers” or you have “Drummers,” then comes everything else like natural ambiance, good-quality microphones, a good recording engineer and so on. If you are a good producer, skilled in drum programming, then you can get excellent, realistic-sounding results with all the brand-name packs, with almost everything else being a matter of taste. But Superior Drummer simply has that extra “something” that makes their kit so vivid and snappy. If you add an impressive rank of controllers on the top of those facts, you can easily see why so many people mention this kit as their favorite.
What Do We Have?
A blue box with 20 GB of content packed in a nice virtual sample player / instrument that hides a bunch of additional things for shaping your drum kit, or even making your drum track with a little help from the included browser.
The main, default Construction window brings up a visual of a default drum kit where you can select every part of the currently loaded kit with a right click. At the right is a small submenu window where you can shape the envelope for the selected drum element, or to pitch it up and down, selecting the level or routing it to some other kit element. Pressing the “Mapping” submenu button at the right top of the main graphical interface gives you a similar picture where you can set the velocity curve for every part of the drum. I found this one very useful when I tried Superior Drummer with a few of my old MIDI drum tracks made before I got this pack. After you find some good balance with the Master volume, a big wheel at the bottom center of the Construction window allows you to fine-tune hits with a velocity curve in the Mapping menu, which can save you plenty of time adapting the instrument instead of adapting the MIDI track itself. A “nomen est omen” Mapping window offers to remap all the parts of the kit, adapting it to your personal needs or even to some other instrument that you have used before. I always make my drum arrangements with Jamstix from Rayzoon, as it is unbeatable for making breaks and variations on the fly, so I spent a “quality” hour remapping the kit, adapting it to the Jamstix output. All your changes could be saved as a new user kit, so getting your favorite kit is just a click away.
Actually you will not miss much any other third party software as Superior Drummer has a very handy and nicely organized browser where you can try, combine and drag various MIDI drum loops directly into the arrangement window of your sequencer while building your track, adding all sorts of variations. When you register your product on-line, you will get a link to the various updates, and among this stuff you can also find an update for your essential MIDI drum library that comes with the product. It is pretty solid one, not the biggest, but it contains more than enough basic track elements to get you started with the product and build your arrangement. For an additional €25 EUR you can buy an additional library, choosing among a big number of MIDI packs that cover all sorts of genres containing all sorts of building elements: intros, endings, breaks and various variations of a main rhythm.
Left, Right …
The mixer window is one of the main secret weapons of this plug in, as there you can get very detailed with every part of the sound. Every hit is routed to several outputs; some are for various microphone position, while others are presented as a bleed to the other drum elements. Bleed level can be increased or decreased for every element on every channel. You can also change pan position and level for every kit element, along with routing it to one of the 16 output channels. You can add one of the five effects to every channel: EQs for shaping the sound to add more character, Compressor for taming or even getting some different character out of the separated hits, Filter for cutting unwanted low ends from hats and snares, along with Gate and Transient shaper which can come in handy if you want to change the character, making it more snappy or even squashy. I’ve pressed the Play button, selecting one loop that came with the package, and then I toyed with the mixer settings until I got my perfect kit. I forgot to mention that in all windows except in Mapping, you get the same arsenal of controllers at the bottom of the page where you can start or stop preview, see the memory status, along with ability to choose some other parameters.
There is also an option that I haven’t used so much, as I discovered that Superior Drummer 2.3 is not so CPU-intensive and because, secondly, I did all the mix corrections in the Mixer section, but it is a nice option to have: We are talking about the Bounce window which allows you to bounce off-line the whole track (pressing Play and Record buttons) and then saving it in a desired location. There are plenty of options, bounce as a stereo track or as separate lanes for every elements, bleeds included or bleeds separated. So, if you have a crowded arrangement in need of an extra CPU, or if you simply want to fine-tune separate parts of the kit, adding additional effects, reverb, delay or whatever, it can be done very easily.
I must say that I’m pretty happy with my new toy. For €259 EUR or $349 USD I’ve got a few very realistic, vivid and versatile drum kits containing a few additional variations (full, brushed, basic, alt-stick kit etc…) that could be fine-tuned in almost every detail. Along with the drum kit you also get a few additional pieces of kit elements, so you can choose between various kicks, snares, cymbals and hats. There is also a nice number of pre-saved kit combinations (presets) that offer you a wide range of kit combinations. If you are still not happy with all that, you can always widen your collection with additional kits that can be bought on the Toontrack side.
It sounds like a real drummer. Cymbal rolls, snare breaks, crashes – it is really hard to spot the difference. Lately I cooperated with some Ethno musicians, and they asked me if I can use a real drummer instead of those programmed ones for a specific song. I made a track with Superior Drummer 2,3 and then sent them the end results and didn’t get back any additional questions or complaints.
Even with only the included MIDI library, it is just a ten minute task. Intro, a few breaks, a few variations, an extra ride for the chorus. That’s all what you need. A good drummer, dead or alive.
More info at the Toontrack site.