Audio News Room
Beatstation is the latest software-instrument from the sampling pioneers at Toontrack. This new product expands the companys lineup of straightforward drum romplers, adding to the fold innovative user sampling functions as well as bass and lead instruments.
Beatstation is a cross-platform standalone application and RTAS plug-in for Mac and Windows, as well as an AU(OSX) or VST (Windows) instrument. The package includes a 1.3 GB library of sounds, grooves, and patches.
Immediately, it struck me that Beatstation is so easy to use that there is practically no learning curve for anyone already familiar with any other “one shot” sampler. The display features a contextual browser panel on the left and a series of pad-style sample slots on the right. The pad layout is customizable and can be shown as a grid of rows and columns. The GUI also features a simple transport and effects level control knobs.
Beatstation includes a library of sounds – from lo-fi bit-reduced samples to pristine acoustic hits.
Also included are bass and lead instruments – from sampled electric basses to synthesizer arpeggios. I started my experimenting by pulling up an instrument set called “Drive.” I then pressed the play button on the transport, and was greeted with a hybrid/electro groove featuring acoustic drums, bass guitar, and synth lead.
Reaching for the sample pads, I found it easy to browse and audition different sounds across the kit, simply by dragging samples from the browser right onto a pad. The default pad behavior layers all samples on a given pad. In any pad with multiple samples loaded, the effect and filtering parameters of each sample can be independently adjusted.
Right-clicking on a pad brings up the Pad Properties window for that particular sample. Here, I found it easy to tweak and stack sounds. In this view, the user is presented with familiar volume, mute, and solo controls. There are also two master effect sends that can be routed to a variety of dynamic, modulation, distortion, and filter effects. Each sample loaded into a pad has independently adjustable ADSR, trim, pan, and reverse controls. This feature allowed me to create some really interesting layered sounds - a Ludwig kicks attack rolling into the decay of a synthesized kick, for example. Pads can also load external wave, mp3, and REX files via drag and drop.
Core Content and Expandability
Beatstation is much more than a drum sampler. There are integrated bass and lead instruments covering a wide range of sounds and styles. The sounds are remarkably good and useful, with everything from nicely detailed electric bass to Nintendo chip lo-fi aural experiments. I was impressed that these sampled instruments have tweak-able parameters just like the drum pads. The instruments, together with MIDI grooves, are organized into the browser pane in an intuitive manner that lets you start from a preset ensemble of Drum, Bass, and Lead sounds or mix-and-match your own palette of sound.
Beatstations Core Content is expandable with Toontracks existing EZX and SDX libraries. This means that users of Ezdrummer and Superior Drummer will now get the sought-after ability to mix kit pieces from different expansion libraries as they like. According to the Toontrack site, the company will soon roll out BDX expansion libraries specifically for Beatstation.
Perhaps the most fresh idea in Beatstation is the built-in sample recorder. Designed to capture live sounds from your computer mic, this feature really sets Beatstation apart from the rest of the drum sampler pack. Around my studio, I have a nice, padded piano bench Ive always thought had a nice “thud” when inadvertently struck, so I thought I would see how it would do in place of a hand clap. Miked with a condenser, it was easy for me to simply click “Show Sample Recorder” in Beatstation and start recording. The sample window allowed me to cut the sample down to the precise length of the hit. I then loaded that sample by simply dragging the waveform onto a Hand Clap pad. The process of tracking an external sound and integrating it into a kit could not be easier. These samples work just like those included from Toontrack, with the same FX routing and ADSR filtering options per sample.
Note: the built-in sampler is only available using Beatstation as standalone. Using it in your DAW as plug-in, you need to drag and drop audio files from other tracks into Beatstations window.
Beatstation runs like a charm on my 2 GHz Lenovo laptop. The standalone plays nicely with my ASIO sound card while the VST plug-in runs well under Reaper. One notable inconvenience is the lack of multiple outputs from the VST. This means that creating stemmed tracks with individual kick, snares, overheads, toms, leads, and basses is not currently an option. I certainly hope to see this feature in a future update.
Also, it is worth mentioning that while I found Beatstation simple and intuitive to use, the user manual is virtually non-existent. Though Ive been using computer drum samplers since their inception, I could easily see novices needing a bit more instruction than what is provided by the two page quick-start guide included with the program. There is, however, a selectable “Tool Tips” option which does help the user identify useful features. Still, all things considered, I cannot stress enough how simple Beatstation is to use.
Beatstation is a fresh, innovative piece of software that is both fun to use and powerful. Its sampling ability is robust yet easy to grasp. The included sounds are useful, plentiful and better yet, expandable. The clean user interface is intuitive and skin-able. The bass and lead instruments are high quality and tweak-able. While other similar applications seem to tackle one specific clientele, I can see Beatstation as being useful for styles ranging from hip hop to heavy metal, and everything in between.
At a value of $129 (USD), Beatstation succeeds at bringing to the table all the features of its competitors and then some - for less money. I would love to see an update bring multi-out VST compatibility as well as a more detailed manual. Even as is, Beatstation is immediately useful for both novices and professionals alike, right out of the box. Toontrack also deserves credit for seamlessly integrating real-time sample capture and for answering user desire to mix-and-match kit pieces from existing libraries and external samples.
Beatstation is $129 (USD) for either the download or boxed versions. The program can be purchased directly from Toontrack.
* Powerful and easy to use
* Integrated (and fun) sample recording
* Useful sound content included
* Fairly priced
Love It or Hate It
* Beatstation is unquestionably good at what it does. As long as you can live (for now) without multiple outs, its well worth the price.
* No multi-output
* Needs a proper manual
* Some of the fx sound a bit too "digitally" harsh
* Built-in sampler not available using the plug-in
* Some effects parameters hidden, not user editable
by Daniel T. Spear
Daniel T. Spear is a musician, writer, and engineer from Georgia. His website can be found here.