Since most recording and music composition has moved in the box,we’ve seen a revolution in all things plugin. Drum machines, plugins and all things midi still seem to have an aura of mistique as often they are hard to grasp or are too complicated for what the average users are looking to achieve. Quite often recordists can’t or won’t deal with learning yet another program and want a quick, simple and good sounding drum track. EZDrummer caters to those folks.According to Toontrack, “EZdrummer was designed to give you optimum drum-sample quality presented in a compact, affordable plug-in format that's as easy to use as it is to mix”. In the following review we'll see if their software delivers on these claims.
- 7000 sound files at 16-bit/44.1kHz equivalent to 5GB of uncompressed
- Instant access to more than 8000 MIDI drum patterns with pre-
listening, quick browsing, and drag-n-drop functionality
- Same extensive layer depth on all drums and cymbals as in EZdrummer's
big brother - Superior Drummer
- Ranges from entry level usability to pro handling
- Features multiple microphone control
- TPC II reduces system requirements to a minimum
- Operates in general MIDI
- Internal mixer allows stereo and multitrack routing into the host
through one single plug-in
- Preset mix modes for quick sound changes
- Interface visualizes the drums loaded and combines auditioning and
- Drums recorded at Avatar Studios, New York by world-class drummers
- The humanizer function combines drum hit randomizing and non-cycling
- Velocity sweep allows instant changes to MIDI data, extending groove
- Possibilities for the user to add their own MIDI files to the library
Users have an option to either download the software or order a
retail box, each at $179.00 at the time of writing. Installation from
the CD or the download consists of running a file and registering the
software via an automated challenge/response on the Toontrack site.
The software runs on Windows XP SP3 and higher (although I installed it fine on XP SP2 before realizing) with Pentium 4 or Athlon processor with 512 MB RAM. On Mac it works with OS 10.5 or higher with G5 or Intel processor with 512 MB RAM. EZDrummer works on both 32 and 64bit flavors of Windows and runs as VST, Audio Units, or RTAS plugin.
I installed EZDrummer on my XP system (dual Athlon 4.2 Ghz with 4GB RAM) and tested it with Sonar, Cubase and Studio One. The program comes with a challenge/response validation and users have to register with Toontrack in order to unlock the software. The user can install on up to two computers at a time, when a new install on a new PC is needed due to whatever reason, one of the computers has to be dropped and the new one validated. Overall the registration process and validation took less than five minutes and was straightforward enough not to cause any confusion.
EZdrummer ran reliably on Sonar, Cubase and Studio One, but for the most part this review is based on my experiences on Presonus Studio One. Adding EZDrummer to a StudioOne project is a piece of cake - create a new instrument track and drag the EZdrummer vst plugin into the track at which point you are greeted by the programs screen which is dominated by a miked drum kit graphic. EZDrummer needs a bit of time to load its drum sounds into memory, a process, which is indicated by a moving bar reading the sample size loaded in memory (in mb) and a bar underneath showing it loading. If you are playing while the bar is still loading, some parts of the drum performance might be missing. The premise of the program is that the user selects pre-recorded performances what Toontrack calls the EZX selector which loads the particular drum pack. In the case of the default program, this pack is labelled as Pop/Rock. The top left part of the program control then loads the available kits, in this case Default Kit, Tight Kit, Ambient Kit, and a Basic Kit. These kits then can be modified to a point by clicking on a corner of the drum graphics, which brings the available choices within a drum pack. Sounds from other packs can’t be substituted which limits the available options. Clicking on the mixer graphic or selecting “Open Mixer” from the menu brings up a mixer which allows the user to control the levels of each drum, overheads, spillage and so forth. In the bottom center the user is presented with a selection menu which has an Open Grooves button underneath it. With this menu the user can navigate inside the pre-recorded midi samples and audition them with the play button on the right. There is also an option to “humanize” the performance and change its velocity. Humanizing adds a bit of randomness and slack to the performance, making it more akin to a real drummer’s take. Velocity controls the hits velocity. By clicking Open Grooves, the user is presented with a selection of libraries of midi performances, which can also include midi performances loaded by the user. The selection of these goes from left to right. On the first column one picks the EZX Library (in this case Pop/Rock), then the beats or fills based on BPM and meter and style, then the groove variations in the next two columns. By dragging the last column selection into the midi file, the program places the selected midi file into the project. The midi file then is named somewhat cryptically but based on the pattern user. For example “4/4 Straight 50-140BPM Pop/Rock Groove 01 / 01. Hats 4th Hard Closed” is called “EP_P_G01_01H”. It is somewhat confusing, especially when mix/matching several different sample midi libraries. Considering the nature of the files, being midi, I am not sure if anything short of a patch list could’ve been done to simplify the naming convention.
The sounds are superb, with most performances and variety of options
rendering enough live and human feel to make the package more fun for
composition than the regular bread and butter drum machine. These
samples and recording are very close to the real thing and with the
proper care they could be almost unrecognizable compared to a live
recorded drum track. If I would have any complaints on this pack, it would be the fact that it is missing a few staples of rock percussion, such as tambourine, cowbell (I can hear the jokes already!) and so on. Even if these were not recorded in the drum samples, they would be very useful when the user imports his/her midi tracks. The users’ midi libraries could also be added to the Grooves menu, which also saves a few steps when the user wants to bring their own samples in the project.
There are a few other limitations, such as the limited number of
channels (stereo) in which these performances can be rendered, as
well as the limited control over the individual sound effects. Some
of these limitations can be bypassed by duplicating the track and
only rendering in audio the one particular part of interest, for example for most engineers this would be kick or snare. EZDrummer’s big brother, Superior drummer offers all these choices and more, but still I can hear those complaints already.
EZDrummer is one of the few software packages that actually lives up
to its name. It is truly easy to operate and for the most part, I
found it way more intuitive and pleasant to work with than my
hardware drum machines (Alesis SR-16, Boss 880) as well as some of
the other drum programs such as BFD, Battery and some of the samplers that I use to get drum sounds. The sound separation proved to be my main complaint, due to the fact that I like to do effect treatment to some parts of a kit. Being able to use the program’s built-in mixer usually was enough and the samples are so well recorded that I rarely felt like I wanted to touch much, but there were a few instances when I wanted to have that option.
I used the software on some demo material that I was working on and
there was plenty of variety in the rock genre to make the track
interesting. The samples are also easy to edit in the DAW and I
needed a few instances where I joined parts of several drum parts.
The easy part is that the performances are standard midi, so changes could be done quickly. I also really enjoyed previewing the samples in the tempo that I needed. It was simple matter of placing the cursor in Studio One in the part of the song that I was working on and then switching to EZDrummer and auditioning the tracks. They were at the right tempo, which made picking the correct feel for the piece a lot simpler.
The pre-recorded grooves also offer a starting basis or even complete
ideas that are easy to implement. Compared to some other drum
samplers (hello NI Battery!), I didn’t experience any crashes of this
program even after running several instances of it in the same
project. The software felt very robust and well written, and also
very simple and easy to use.With that in mind, I was able to generate some wonderful live tracks,
with lots of impact and personality. I would personally recommend this software to the producer or home
recordist that wants good results with the least amount of tweaking.
For those that want more hands-on approach, there is Superior Drummer. To make upgrading easy - Superior Drummer loads EZDrummer libraries.