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Toontrack EZDrummer

Dec 28, 2007 - by babaille
Let's go back a few years...
It was primary education time, and on your day off, you had gather the pressure-cooker, pan lids, wood spatulas, two plastic bowls and the cheese grater together.
All that stuff was balanced on wood sticks or fixed with rope. You've placed your seat in front of this paraphernalia, and there you were the King Of Drums, bashing each lid or bowl. And, to your ears, it sounded like the best drums look-alike.
Nowadays, with your computer, it's possible to feel that kind of live emotion again. And we don't speak about assembling lids again, but to rediscover the pleasure to play drums at home, with a sound that clearly competes with pro studio recording sessions.
Presentation
    Review specs
    EZDrummer 1.1.0 (Toontrack)

    Mac PPC G5 2 x 2 GHz
    OS 10.4.10
    2 GB RAM
    Pro Tools M-Powered 7.2
    M-Audio Firewire Solo
    EZDrummer is a plug-in (AU, VST and RTAS, Mac and PC), which allows to play and program drum sounds and parts, and read MIDIfiles of drum grooves in a very original, intuitive and easy to use way. The audio engine plays drum samples, which have been carefully recorded and mapped in different kits. Each drum kit is dedicated to a particular musical genre, era or style : disco, traditional, rock, jazz, etc. If you want to widen the sound palette, you have to buy EZXpansions, proprietary expansions of sounds and grooves. I've installed three of them, in addition to the included Pop/Rock and Cocktail : Drumkit from Hell, Latin Percussion and Vintage Rock.
    Kits, kits & kits
    One word about the size : Toontrack uses a proprietary lossless compression, the Toontrack Percussive Compression. You'll find more infos on their site, but TPC allows to drastically reduce the size of libraries : thus, the factory library size should be 5 GB if uncompressed (16 bit/44,1 kHz data).
    Pop/Rock
    Classic sounds, suited for modern production. Cocktail
    I really like this kit. Very sober, two drums, one tom-tom, a charley and a cymbal, perfect for jazz impros (brushes and sticks). Definitely my special favorite. Drumkit from Hell
    This is, among others, the cymbal heaven : 11 cymbals slots, 22 references. Very powerful and versatile. Latin Percussion
    Another sound palette, the percussions. Very complete, but needs a certain practise to be used. Vintage Rock
    A kind of muffled kit, ideal for vintage grooves.
    [/BLOCK] You have to wait a little while loading a kit, up to 30 seconds for the bigger sets. A progression bar shows loading state and kit size. EZDrummer uses different backdrops, changing to match the current loaded kit. You can click on drum elements to hear their sound, thus verify you've loaded the one you're looking for.
    Each element offers a drop-down menu where you can choose between numerous references, beaters, hits with brushes or sticks, kit presets (Ambient, Tight, Basic, etc.). This way you can totally customize your kit. But to my great regret, you can't mix elements from different EZXpansions and factory. Too bad...






    Clicking on the elements pictures shows their sound quality, but it's even obvious when playing them from a keyboard or a drum pad, thus you can hear the subtile velocity-dependent sound variations.
    A "question mark" button opens the manual, kit description, mapping charts, flash tutorials, online help, etc. This help section is clear, didactic, and allows to perfectly comprehend the software. Congrats to Toontrack.


Some functions
    A Humanize function adds variations to the hits, avoiding the usual and unwanted "machine gun" effect.

    Mapping correspond to the standard MIDI mapping : kick on C, snare on D, closed, pedal and open hihat on F#, G# and A#, etc. Beware, the included grooves use a more complex mapping, and will be hardly usable with another drum software.

    The Percussion kit is a bit hard to memorize, because almost all of the 128 MIDI notes are used. You'll then be grateful to the mapping chart...

    There's also a convenient Velocity parameter, which fine tune sound's response to velocity. It's helpful to adjust to one's strenght, and it's also handy to precisely set EZDrummer response to an electronic drum kit or drum pad. I've tested EZDrummer with such a kit, and the result is... striking !

    I've encountered some latency, and couldn't really find out if it cames from the Pro Tools/EZDrummer couple or from my trgigger rack. As I didn't have any latency when playing from the keyboard, I assume the problem is material related, my trigger rack being kind of a vintage piece (an Akai ME35T).
Grooves
    When you will be tired to hit your drum pads or keyboard, Grooves button will allow you to take a rest. For each kit or EZXpansions, corresponding grooves libraries are available. You simply have to navigate thru the thousands of grooves, loops and fills, then press the Play button to hear them, and find new ideas. Note that tempo can be halfed or doubled directly from the interface.

    Among other interests, the strenght of these loops relies on their MIDI format : therefore they can be edited and used with other EZDrummer kits. It's then easy to use Groove 5 from Metal library with a Cocktail or a Latin Percussion kit. The abilities are endless...



    And, it's the cherry on the cake, you can simply drag'n'drop the MIDI patterns in your favorite sequencer, to edit MIDI notes (timing, instrument change, etc.). It's that easy...
A few audio examples
    But enough talks, let's have some audio examples. I've used one of the two factory demo patterns, then drag'n'drop it on a Pro Tools track.



    We can see it's really a MIDI pattern, allowing us to freely edit it. So I've shortened its lenght for review purpose. Then I've tried different kits :

    Pop/Rock

    Cocktail

    Drumkit from Hell

    Vintage Rock

    Latin Percussion

    As regards the last one, it's everything except a usable groove. Nothing more natural, as we're now managing percussion. With a little MIDI edit, we can now have something like that :

    Latin Percussion 2

    I go back to my first kit, Pop/Rock, and edit my MIDI track, modifying some notes and quantizing to eighth notes, thus giving a "tighter" groove. Then, all I have to do is to shift back and forth some snare notes to have a more "groovy" pattern. This pattern is of course always readable by EZDrummer.

    Pop/Rock 2

    Then I can export my MIDI track (named here mon-groove.mid) in the EZDrummer My Midifiles folder :



    Now, it appears in EZDrummer library :

Mixing
    The Mixer button opens a mixing console, where you can adjust independent levels, pan, Mute, Solo, etc. The number of channels may vary depending on the loaded kit, from six (Cocktail) to 14 (Latin Percussion). There's usually all instrument channels, plus Room, Overhead and sometimes Comp Mix (parallel compression). You can choose between Drummer (behind the drum kit) or Audience perspective (in front of drum kit).



    You can group elements to modify their settings simultaneously. Let's see different mix presets on my kit. There's usually four factory presets :

    Roomy, which emphasize the sound of the drum room.

    Roomy

    Dry and Semi-Dry deliver a proximity sound, with or without mike bleeding.

    Dry

    Flat, which set all faders to 0 dB.

    Flat

    If you want that kind of "clean" sound used on some productions, you could choose to de-activate the bleeding between microphones, for the B mike on the Snare, or the Overhead.


    When used as a plugin, EZDrummer can be set in stereo or multichannel mode. This last mode offers 8 stereo Out, and each mixer channel can be independently assigned to one or the other Out, to mix with external plugs (EQ, compression, reverb, etc.), for instance.

In conclusion
    This plug is one of the easiest to use and it offers an excellent sound quality. Kits are well detailed, complete and original, even if it's a bit annoying to wait for long seconds while they are loading.

    It's power relies in its simplicity, its ergonomy, in the sound quality and versatility of the drum kits, in its expansion abilities and the possibility to use its MIDI patterns as starting points in our favorite sequencer.

    EZDrummer, simple, efficient, intuitive and elegant. It's worth a try !

    Babaille
    translation by sleepless

    EZ Drummer is a Toontrack product
About the author: babaille
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