Superior Drummer 2.0 – Toontrack
The popularity of multi gigabyte sized drum libraries is a comparatively recent one but the huge improvement that they have made with regard to the quality of sequenced drum sounds cannot be overstated.
Made possible, predominantly, by the serious drop in price of hard drive space during the past five years or so, these libraries elevate sampled drums to an almost unimaginable level of detail. Alongside mammoth collections of drum sounds, modern drum libraries also offer incredibly realistic dynamics that encompass everything from gentle jazz brushes to thunderous John Bonham-esque battering, guaranteeing that whatever style of music you prefer, your drum sounds will ensure the utmost realism.
Of these drum libraries, it’s probably fair to say that there are a couple which have established themselves as ‘industry standards’, Toontrack’s original DFH Superior being one of them. Superior Drums has attracted criticism from some quarters that feel this software sometimes comes across as being a bit ‘over serious’ and geeky but personally speaking I never found it difficult to use, despite its GUI (Graphical User Interface) possibly not being the most user-friendly.
Toontrack’s latest offering, Superior 2.0 (S2.0) sets out to change some of this (unfair) reputation. Featuring a whole new sample playing engine and GUI, S2.0 is a marked improvement in look, and usability over the previous version. The main screen is now dominated by a drummer’s eye view of the drum kit and a click on each drum/cymbal allows you to quickly audition the sound or change the drum in question. Despite the redesigned look and feel S2.0 loses none of its predecessor’s functionality and without resorting to the manual once I was able to find all the original features tucked away in sensible places. It is worth mentioning that S2.0 is fully compatible with all previous Superior and EZ Drummer libraries.
S2.0 runs on Macs & PCs in VST, AU or RTAS formats and the library itself can be installed in full (20GB), medium or light (4GB) sizes. But you should really aim to do the full install for maximum effect!
This library is actually smaller than the original version 1 behemoth and there is actually a significantly smaller selection of sounds. The advantages of this soon become apparent because the slightly down-sized library means that the included kits are sampled at unprecedented levels of detail and realism.
The sounds themselves (3 kicks, 5 snares, 5 toms and mountains of cymbals) were recorded at Avatar Studios in New York by the team of Pat Thrall (producer), Neil Dorfsman (engineer) and Nir Z (drummer) and whilst they may not be household names their combined credits include?: Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Bjork, Kiss, Joss Stone and John Mayer. Put very simply, these guys know exactly what they’re doing and each knows how to get the best out of their respective jobs. The sounds themselves are recorded in many different ways including spill from all the other mics (just like on a real kit). To give you the idea, the snares alone are sampled with sticks, brushes and rods; snares on or of, with three snare mics, three ambient mics, a distorted mic as well as the spill in all the other drums. On top of this the snares are hit centre, edge, and rim; with straight hits, flams, ruffs and rolls… Phew!! And all this at an obscene choice of velocities… You’ll be doing well to hear the same sample twice!
In use, the new S2.0 is a bit of a revelation. Compared to the old version the kits now load a lot quicker, there is definitely some data compression going on, but trust me you will never hear it! Even so with all these samples loading into the computer it is still possible for your RAM to run out of steam. Fortunately, Toontrack have come up with a range of techniques to progressively cut the memory usage until your computer can catch its breath. This is done by reducing bit length to 16bit and muting bleed and ambience samples. And when all your programming is done you can then render all the tracks with the full range of bleed and ambience samples at 24-bit! Brilliant!
Superior Drummer 2.0 also comes with a decent range of MIDI drum patterns played by Nir Z himself and playable from Toontrack’s own excellent EZ Player Pro which is included. So you can even have the guy playing his drums in your studio!
New to S2.0 is the mixer section which allows you to mix your virtual drum mics in the program itself. Included in the package are a suite of dedicated, high quality effects from Sonalksis (eq, compressor, transient etc). This can either give you a working monitor mix or be a dedicated drum submixer right through to the end of your project. Like previous versions you can still bypass the mixer and render the performance to a range of WAV files to import into your sequencer. Essentially, it is as if you had recorded the kit yourself and added your own chosen effects in the mix later.
You can probably tell I like S2.0 already and I haven’t mentioned the sounds yet! In a word… awesome! Even ignoring the level of detail available these drums sound wonderful, round and big and with enough scope to fit into a huge range of projects. The bleed and various ambience mics also contribute to the realism whilst adding a wonderful cohesive sound that breathes just as it would in real life. It really is just like sitting behind a mixer with a properly mic’d up drummer only, with a better sound that I have even been able to get! It turns out that the smallish range of sounds is not a problem as these well recorded drums sound so natural that they just seem to work anywhere. However those looking for more will be pleased to know that Toontrack have already released two expansion packs.
With or without these expansion packs I think Superior 2.0 now represents the best balance of sounds and features of the drum libraries I have used and heard. Its programming depth is huge but won’t scare the novice; the sounds are sublime with a wonderful level of detail but won’t make your computer fall over! Anyone into programming drums needs to check this out, one word of warning though, once you’ve tried it, you will want it!