Superior Drummer 2.0
When you are recording songs and instrumentals one of the most important elements for success is a vibrant drum track. Fortunately nowadays musicians are spoilt for choice with a range of excellent technology products. One of the companies leading the way has been Toontrack who, some four years ago, released their original dfh Superior drum player to great acclaim. This was followed by the hugely popular EZDrummer which, as its name suggests, is a simple application designed to achieve a great drum sound with minimum fuss. Next Toontrack launched a series of EZDrummer expansion packs, including ‘Latin Percussion’, ‘Vintage Rock’, ‘Nashville’ and ‘Claustrophobic’, designed to produce the ideal drum sounds for different musical genres. Now they have launched their totally redesigned premier drum sampler as dfh Superior Drummer 2.0 which I am reviewing.
Superior Drummer 2.0 operates from within practically any virtual instrument host sequencer such as Cubase, Sonar or Logic and requires a reasonably fast computer with either Windows XP or Vista or Apple Mac OS X 10.4 or higher. The product comes on a set of four DVDs allowing you to choose from four different custom installations ranging from the basic 4 GB version to the full 20 GB installation. Initial install takes some time since there are so many samples to copy onto your hard disc. Next you need to through the straightforward registration and authorization of the product with Toontrack which also enables you to keep up to date with any future changes and updates to the product.
The Drum Instrument Sounds
When you call up Superior 2.0 you see a full graphic representation of the drum-kit where you can construct your personal choices from a wide range of different kick drums, snares, toms and cymbals and clicking instrument plays back the sound. You can also call up the ‘Tools’ setting to specify drumsticks, brushes, rods or felt mallets. You can even choose between felt or plastic beater for your bass drum. In addition the X-drums feature enables you to extend your kit with additional sounds from any Toontrack sound libraries. Since the drum kit samples were painstakingly recorded at New York’s famous Avatar Studios and played by drummer NirZ the sounds are astonishingly convincing and a genuine full-bodied acoustic drum-kit leaps from your speakers. Naturally you can operate all the sounds from a MIDI keyboard and record your own drum tracks or, even better, play the sounds from a MIDI drum-kit. Alternatively of course you can use the superb sounds to output your MIDI drum grooves and Superior 2.0 comes supplied with a generous selection of grooves. The software also includes the excellent MIDI organizer EZPlayer Pro and ‘Toontrack Solo’ which enables you to operate Superior 2.0 as a stand alone product without requiring a host sequencer.
Mixer, Controls and Effects
At the bottom of the Superior 2.0 window there are essential functions always on view. ‘Memory and Status’ indicates how much RAM has been used and there is the option to switch from standard 24-bit to 16-bit to save RAM usage. There is also the ‘EZMixer’ which is a simplified mixer with quick access to a single microphone for volume level adjustment, panning and overall bleed setting. Next is a ‘Master Volume’ section which controls the overall sampler volume output and a ‘Voices and Layers’ section dedicated to optimising the sampler’s demand on computer resources. Finally there is the ‘Instruments’ section where the relative volumes of each instrument from the drum-kit can be adjusted and also where MIDI mapping may be user specified if desired. To the right of the window there are controls for ‘X-Drums’ selection, an envelope shaper and a pitch control which allows you to alter the instrument’s original pitch in real time and apply changes. Finally there is a ‘Humaniser’ section with controls specifying how even a single instrument responds by varying and adjusting as if played by a real human drummer. The Superior 2.0 samples have been recorded at numerous different velocities since the drum timbre changes along with the loudness. The ‘humanise’ feature replicates the way that a real drummer never hits a drum exactly the same way twice and this results in a supremely natural sound.
As you can see without even opening the full mixer within Superior 2.0 you already have an amazing level of control over the sound output. However when you do open the full mixer window you see just how much more control is available. Superior Drummer 2.0 is a microphone-based instrument as you would expect from a sampled drum-kit recorded in a professional studio. This mixer enables you not only to control the sound of each microphone per instrument but also the degree that any other instruments may bleed into that microphone. When you apply a series of microphones to record a drum-kit each microphone will obviously pick up aspects of the other drums as well as the one it is most closely attached to. This sound ‘bleeding’ is a crucial part of what makes a great and natural-sounding drum-kit recording. In Superior 2.0 you have the same type of control as the recording engineer in the professional studio. Another essential feature in Superior 2.0 is the ‘Inserts’ section where you can insert any of the integrated effects included in the program. These effects include a 5-band equalizer, Hi/Lo pass filter, a noise gate, a compressor and transient modeler. Using these effects you can alter your overall drum production sounds with great attention to detail.
This excellent MIDI groove player is also available separately to purchase from Toontrack but is included with Superior 2.0. It is essentially a MIDI organiser capable of driving any sound source that can be controlled by MIDI including drum samplers like Superior 2.0 and EZDrummer. Once set up all your MIDI groove libraries can easily be called up and auditioned and you can quickly arrange a drum track directly into your sequencer’s arrangement window. Also if you have tempo changes within your song then the loops always fit as the tempo is controlled by the sequencer master tempo. EZPlayer Pro is both simple to operate and sophisticated allowing you to create multi-layer rhythms and polyrhythms if you so desire.
Toontrack Superior 2.0 is a brilliant drum product and is just like having a real professional drummer at your disposal. Even though it is possible to tweak all the settings to your heart’s desire the product sounds just great straight out of the box and for many people the default settings are likely to be fine.