The thing is…
You need a real drummer if you don’t know how to play the drums and get that vibe.
You must agree that…
Even the best drum VST plugins cannot make you a professional drummer.
There is a highly kept secret:
A human only uses four limbs, so you must think like a drummer when programming your drum grooves
The good news is,
Most quality drum software have this humanized restriction build into their presets.
Having that soul and grooviness in your beats is a crucial point for authentic drumming.
Looking for quality drum samples & software?
THE DEFINITE LIST: DRUM VST PLUGINS
ToonTrack EZ Drummer 2.0
OS: Windows 7+ / MAC OSX 10.6+ | HDD: 4 GB Free | Version: Stand-alone, AU, VST, RTAS, AAX
ToonTrack said it originally wanted to be a studio that creates background music for cartoons and other animation, hence the name. They wanted to be like an outsourcing service for animation studios.
He asks them to develop a drum ROMpler that records his hits, which he would then use for the Meshuggah commercially-successful album “Catch-33”.
From then on, Haake’s “Drumkit from Hell” has become the preset drumkit for ToonTrack’s first commercial product EZ Drummer 1.
Now, we’ve got EZ Drummer 2 with the success of Haake’s insane project proposal!
The first EZ drummer was made for Haake alone and that in itself was impressive.
It sounded real enough but many bedroom producers wanted to do more with the samples.
Unfortunately, The ToonTrack EZ brand was designed for beginners who wanted a great drum sound without much trouble tweaking for their demos.
Realism is okay with the standard DFH preset.
You could download extra kits if needed. Each kit is about 4-6GB.
I know you’re asking me “you said these were project-effective samples in your list, why include EZ drummer when it’s also stiff?”
The new engine, designed for mass consumption, now includes articulation and pattern flexibility.
It has around robin that rounds out the hypersamples in all the drum instruments.
Why is it 4-6GB anyway?
Well, you’ve got three samples for the hits in the highest velocity rate and for each tier of velocity (about four-to-five as I recall).
So that’s 3×4 or 3×5 making each part of the instrument, including the microphone for the ambient parts of the studio, have 12 or 15 samples each.
That’s a lot of HD power going on. It’s realistic enough without much tweaking, to be honest.
EZ drummer focuses on making the experience of drum ROMpler usage not a pain in the neck.
You’ve got mix presets straight from the pros at ToonTrack, capable, or so they claim, to work with any kind of audio situation.
In my case, I needed to place some rock drums on my punk rock alternative guitar track.
I’ve got the bass laid down with the guitars and I had a MIDI drum pattern to follow during that time.
I replaced the drum pattern with the EZ drummer.
Check also our article about the best bass VST Guitar plugins in the world.
With a little bit of preset library searching, I can quickly find the sound I need.
It is that quick.
It took less than three minutes.
If you want to hear more, it can take six minutes of browsing and just about half a second to make your decision.
Just like instant noodles.
EZ drummer’s expansion sets come in different genres.
You could go all modern rock, metal, alternative, like the British Grove Studios drum and percussion library, and other jazz-based expansion kits.
Versatility depends on which sample library you’re using.
With the British Grove Studios, for example, you have a mild, alternative warm sound perfect for acoustic rock or a bit of grunge.
If you could set your velocity right, you could make it sound perfect for ballads (I tried).
You could also mix and match drum kit pieces from the expansion sets.
However, returning to your jazz friend, this lacks some serious brush kits and sticks, so I’d say this sticks with pop, modern rock, metal and anything else that involves punchy to aggressive drums.
The high quality samples in EZ drummer 2.0 is ToonTrack’s pride.
If it worked for a high-energy metal performance from Meshuggah’s album, then it’ll work for almost any aggressive genre. Every preset is guaranteed to cut through any demo you have.
The velocity swings are excellent and drive realism if you diligently work on your velocity patterns.
They work excellently when used with a highly accurate electronic drum set.
During live performances, they also cut through effectively especially if every instrument in the band runs through a PA system.
But if you need more from sound design or you don’t like the preset mixes, it’s time to move on to…
ToonTrack Superior Drummer 2.0
Surely, with the success of EZ drummer, ToonTrack didn’t want to disappoint hardcore audio engineers from renowned studios worldwide. They have listened to bedroom and home-based studio producers and their suggestions.
They wanted an EZ drummer that gave full freedom to creative sound design while retaining the quality of drum samples, articulations and other instruments included.
People wanted an EZ drummer where it isn’t just the levels of microphones they could control. The EZ drummer they wanted should also allow them to control the bleed levels of microphones.
Then ToonTrack bore Superior Drummer 2.0.
EZ drummer’s hypersampling engine had encourage many that the future of electronic drumming is upon the world about eight years ago, and they were right. ToonTrack felt the same upon developing the Superior Drummer 2.0.
However, it wasn’t the DFH that they sampled this time (although it’s an available expansion set). They walked inside the New York Avatar Studios and had Neil Dorfsman and Pat Thrall work with Drummer Nir Z to create a sample library of about seven snares, three bass drums, two sets of toms and three to four sets of cymbals and hats.
That costs about 60GB and when you hear it, you feel the woody, warm but fierce sound of the instruments in the tuned studio.
It’s magical, I tell you, it is.
If you’ve used EZ drummer before, you have that huge play button underneath to play patterns. It also plays MIDI patterns dragged on its lane.
The drumkit is displayed on-screen in the industry- standard layout that has a separate drumkit and mixer view, a long-shot from the combined screen from EZ drummer.
Each drumkit has a pull-down menu where you could preview each snare, kick, tom and cymbals there is.
Open the mixer menu and you have three microphones assigned for your kick and snare, one per tom, one overhead microphone, three ambient microphones and a special “bullet” microphone that features a distorted drum tone.
You could then assign your instruments to different microphones although there’s a preset. You could then route them to busses or different outs, which can route from your VST to actual audio lanes in your DAW for external VST plugin editing.
Wow. You might say there’s so many things happening, but all of this can be done in a zilch. Trust me.
Superior Drummer 2.0, just like EZ drummer, has expansion sets. It may cost a fee but it guarantees versatility with your kit.
For example, the Allaire kit is sutiable for jazz to alternative rock genres, while the Avatar can work with almost any genre given it has brush sticks for jazz and about more than 50 samples per instrument and microphone, which explains that humungous 60GB library (that they expertly converted and shrunk to 20GB)
The brush sounds for jazz? Yep, as real as they can get. Though it’s a bit difficult to work with an electronic drumset, a little velocity editing should help.
Using the internal plugins Superior Drummer 2.0 already has (compressor, transient editor, gate, eq, filter) you can get some pretty great sounds already. But the magic is in the mixer.
Every drum channel has a Bleed Control interface where you could edit the bleed of the other instruments in the microphone. If you wanted to rid the snare sound from your toms, you could do that.
The Edit button calls up a mini mixer that has every kit piece with a volume slider. Now you could simulate a real studio where you are using some audio blocking, dampening or others to achieve the perfect drum sound you need. Marvelous.
I know it’s amazing, but ToonTrack’s Superior Drummer 2.0 isn’t the only God Drum ROMpler romping around the digital age, we’ve also got…
Yes, I know. I can’t stop spazzing about ToonTrack’s Superior Drummer 2.0 that I don’t want to go through this list anymore.
While I know some friends who had stayed faithful to the old gal (SD 2.0’s about five years old, I think), there are more drum ROMpler galaxies in this universe that need exploring.
Sure, SD 2.0 has it all. EZ drummer makes it easy to make demos sound interesting.
Then XLN Audio‘s Addictive Drums 2 comes in and stuns you with a Tone Designer. Kapow!
That interesting bit of a Tone Designer got my attention when a friend of mine first booted this up in her DAW. One thing I noticed though, it didn’t have its preset library. It also has less than 2GB occupying the hard drive.
What sorcery is this, right?
Well, it’s because it’s like a synth drum instrument, except it sounds realistic because it’s sampled from real instruments.
Notable mentions include the Tama Bell Brass, the DAW Craviotto, which I personally love, and the Ludwig Supraphonic 402, which plays almost any genre.
Each of them sounds realistic and powerful.
So going back to the Tone Designer, the interface showed the sample’s frequency and it has an envelope that allows you to shape the decay of overtones, the sharpness of bass and low mids to shaping the highs and buzzes of the snare. What sorcery, yes?
Now who needs a large sample library for that?
“AD 2 is as simple as it gets”
The first row has the three tone generating areas of the ROMpler. So here, you can select the drum kit piece you need.
Next is the Kitpiece Controls with the Volume and velocity response control, a pitch and overhead bleed knob, the legendary Tone Designer and a volume envelope for your decay.
You could alter the special property of your drum kitpiece in the first module of the second row. So, if you’re playing the snare, you could adjust the snare buzz. A noise generator that has a selection of different kinds of tubes and transistors can give your instrument saturation.
Next is the dynamics, including compression and distortion. More saturation for tape and waveform shaping is by the end of this row.
The third is well, your mixer.
Versatility depends on which kitpieces you’ve bought with AD2.
It has no large library but it depends on additive synthesis with limited options that work very well with its kitpieces.
Or you could enlarge that library by buying the kitpieces suitable for your music. For example, you might want that Tama Bell Brass over that DW. You could buy the Carviotto if you don’t have it.
You could say it’s a bit of a monetization thing, but hey, if you really need the snare, why not buy it anyway?
Sound is amazing especially when you engage the Tone Designer.
Heck, you could even get some experimental sounds if you set the starting point too early and the end point a bit early with the volume envelope extended to almost towards infinity.
The only thing I found weak with versatility is the lack of brush sticks and other hit instruments for the shells. But what the hey, you’ve got enough to play with here!
The Tone Designer, coupled with an excellent post-processing second row, ensures you have the right dynamics for your drum instrument.
You could even do some tweaking during live performances. The samples themselves don’t cut in the mix immediately, but with simple settings, especially playing a bit with the Tone Designer, gives you an idea where you’re going to put your kick sounds.
AD2 has so much power that it’s unbelievably smaller than SD 2.0 or EZ Drummer. But it’s only a ROMpler because of the instrument sampling feature.
Everything else, it’s a new kind of synthesis that I’d like to see developed to its full potential with AD 3.
For amazing synth sounds check out this article: The Best Synth VST Plugins On The Market
Native Instruments Battery 4
Native Instruments is a company on the same level as ToonTrack in the DJ and electronic music world. Its aim is to guarantee the relationship between humans and computers work very well for music.
Battery 4 is one of these diplomatic projects. A powerhouse in itself, I was intimidated with its GUI at first.
But once I understood what was behind everything, I figured even my mom can use it. And of course, so would you!
When it comes to realism, NI does not disappoint. Because it’s a ROMpler, NI’s engineers have taken great care to emulate the drum kit piece acoustic samples and they’ve achieved a great, roomy and realistic sound. It’s not meant to be punchy, but it was meant to sound real.
While even at this time it would be impossible to know the actual hardware (microphone, preamp and all) used in recording, the sounds are satisfying enough to be used in actual songs.
Battery 4 uses some effective Transient Designs and compressors that do without much complication. Saturation is a simple knob that you turn where you could push warmth to give some life into your instruments. Nice!
The GUI is color-coded. Every preset kitpiece has a corresponding color:
- Kick- Red
The waveform in the second row also exhibits the same color of the kitpiece you’re editing.
Each pad has its own effects, modulation, waveform editor and master channel.
Lots of options, easy to use. You would even forget there’s a kit selector on the left that’s really large.
You have an acoustic, analog and electronic section for your kitpieces. Using the large left browser, you could audition kitpieces as you build your own drumkit. Drag the samples into the cells and voila, you’ve made your first pad.
The acoustic samples are satisfying enough to emulate a realistic drumkit. You have an excellent selection of instruments with different velocity hits and attacks. It’s not disappointing, but it has limited applications.
But NI is focusing on almost every genre, so the analog kits give you some old-school drum machine sounds. Electronic kitpieces include some great techno to dubstep-based sounds.
But nope, your jazz drummer can do better here. If you’ve got other projects you don’t need your jazz drummer and need more sounds though, Battery 4 is your best friend.
As expected from the high quality samples, it cuts right through the mix. Though I could spot some analog and electronic samples already compressed or transient-edited, they are still quite useful if you need much more aggressive sounds.
Meanwhile, the acoustic drums sound excellent when paired with Transient Design, Compression and Saturation. Tone shaping is quite easy and you could add your own reverb and delay to the mix. Nice!
No jazz here, but you’ve got…
To be honest, before ToonTrack was FXpansion with the first version of BFD. The sound quality was great for its time and the interface couldn’t be more awesome than how it markets itself.
Sadly though, ToonTrack surpassed it (quite properly so, I should say), but it does not mean FXpansion sucked.
In fact, FXpansion just improved its new and improved BFD3.
Now with new features that are not a direct copy of Superior Drummer or any ToonTrack product, it holds against everything else on its own.
Just like the original BFD, the samples are downright amazing for today’s era of ROMplers. Hypersampled, articulated, layered and with a sound that’s an experience to hear (that Porkpie snare, yes!), FXpansion had outdone itself once again.
Ambient sounds give more authenticity to the shells. You have a huge selection of cymbals (about 10 or so, I believe) and you could use about six at a time.
Yes, six. Each of them also sound great, which makes BFD3 a great follow-up and challenger to Superior Drummer 2.0.
Upon first sight, you have six tabs in the first column. These show you the drum kits available and you could load them immediately. The middle area is your drumkit area where you’re shown a birds-eye-view of your current drum kit. Underneath the blueprint-ish drumkit is the mixer and on the right are some parameters you could tweak to get the best sound from the kit pieces.
The kit properties area feature an easy-to-follow tuning-compression-bleed and EQ area. Very intuitive, I should say.
While it might not have brushes or other hit instruments, you could always find samples of rolls, diddles, flams, drags and other drum sounds you could use in different areas of any genre.
In short, it could emulate your jazz-drumming friend, but not in the way you’d expect.
Overall, this drum kit works well with pop, RnB, metal, rock and a bit of jazz.
Plenty-percussive jazz, though, not so much. But then, who would put conga on their drumsets?
Cymbals sound definitely authentic. Shells sound powerful and convincing. That pork pie snare sound though, it’s really amazing.
Presets sound great inside the studio and when mixing. Sometimes, you don’t need to tweak too much. To be honest, I really didn’t have to do anything. I just loaded up a preset and when on with the program.
It’s no EZ drummer but it could be if you need it to be.
Speaking of which…
Steven Slate Drums 4.0
You probably know Steven Slate as that guy who peddles his drum ROMpler for metal. The sound was especially aggressive and nice. But again, the first Steven Slate Drums was intended to rock hard.
Now, Steven wants to spread his ROMpler towards other musicians in need of an effective percussion section.
Meet the SSD4
Realism is something you won’t expect from a person who names his company after himself because he does everything by himself. Steven Slate records all the samples from his studio.
Yes, everything you’re hearing, including the ambient microphones, bleeds and everything else, had come from his studio.
Everything sounds realistic and believable. I couldn’t believe myself that that snare is not real. Add more ambience and you get something from the 70’s.
I can’t believe how awesome ambient Slate’s studio is!
Before, Slate used the free Kontakt player from NI to load the SSDs.
Now, he developed the Trigger Engine. As a programmer, he step-by-step developed the application to make sure he maximizes the overall sound quality of his drum ROMpler while loading it fast enough for users to load presets and samples.
Now, his Trigger engine loads a preset kit quickly. Then, you could mix the kit pieces and assign them to external outputs if you load the ROMpler as a multi-out.
You get a volume and pitch control for each drum piece. You also get to volume up or down certain elements of certain instruments. Now, even the toms have three microphones. Nice!
Versatility is fine because the SSD4 has an expanded tonal range. Now, aside from metal and pop, the drums could do some more grunge, alternative and maybe a bit of jazz.
While rolls and flams ar recorded well, I can say it could do a little jazz, but not jazzy enough, probably.
In a mix, the sounds cut through with enough definition to be recognized and also enough hiding that it does not sound like it’s played from a computer at all. If you’ve heard recordings by modern rock bands during the year 2000, that is how warm and clear the SSD4 really is.
Slate’s studio does sound awesome. It is warm, full, yet has enough clarity to cut through the heaviest of guitars to the lightest of piano riffs.
Native Instruments Abbey Road Drummer
Abbey Road Studios was where legendary pop group The Beatles recorded most of their albums. Plenty of other musicians have recorded their own sessions and had come up with warm sounds straight from the studio’s powerful acoustics itself.
Now, in case anything unfortunate happens to the British studio, NI has preserved the glorifying sound of the Abbey Road studios with its Abbey Road drummer series.
The Abbey Road Drummer series is set from the 60s, when The Beatles recorded their first few albums, 70s, 80s, 90s and the modern drummer.
The sound of each set is amazing in realism. The Abbey Road ambience is the only thing consistent with the Drummer series because they used different shells in recording.
For example, in Abbey Road 60s drummer, it used several pieces of equipment during that era. So they did in the 70s, 80s and so on.
And by gosh, they sound so amazing. They sound as if they revived several famous drummers from different eras (including Ringo Star) and had them sample the instruments.
In short, if you loved a Beatles song and needed to play cover, get that 60s drummer.
Abbey Road Drummer all load into NI’s Kontakt Player. It appears and has controls mostly similar to other Kontakt-based ROMplers, with a small window for the instrument diagram where clicking the instruments will introduce you to its hit settings.
Behind the scenes, you get some bleed control, reverb control and even articulation patterns, pretty sweet.
The ease of use can be attributed to the Kontakt-based interface that only require a few clicks to get where you want to be in the VST.
Because it has multiple expansions, Abbey Road drummer’s versatility sadly depends on how many kits you’ve purchased.
The sad thing about this is you couldn’t mix and match the instruments like in Superior Drummer 2.0. But then again, you could always use external samplers or sample the instruments to combine with others.
In the mix, it’s easy to find the sweet sound for the drum kits. In fact, all of them just need a little tweaking, particularly on the dynamics side of things.
As for EQ and saturation, all sounds great with the samples, I can’t believe it myself that it is that easy to find a great sound, even with the 60s drummer.
That 60s drummer. Yes, it can replace your jazz-playing drummer friend.
So How Do I Use These ROMplers
Almost any drum ROMpler was made to be easy to use. Sometimes, the ease of use depends on the accompanying operating manual’s explanation. Sometimes, it depends on how intuitive the interface is.
The bottom line is, if you’ve got a complex drum ROMpler going on and you’re facing difficulties even after reading the manual, time to skip the bad apple and move on.
While drum machines in the early decades weren’t quite complicated, limited GUI made it difficult to adjust live when you need to edit or change some fills.
Occasionally, inserting effects would add flavor to your performance.
These drum ROMplers I’ve selected can be used effectively for live performances and be edited on the fly if you need to make some changes.
They Are All Unique
Let’s get back to your jazz-playing friend. You found a pretty good drum ROMpler, I applaud you for that.
But does your sampler have enough drum instruments to satisfy the hits, style and instruments you need for a jazz performance?
Each of these drum ROMplers have different capabilities.
They are all versatile in their own right. But each of them encourages experimentation and a bit of plugin manipulation to have them work in your favor for every genre you need.
I’ll drop some clues or two based on my experience using them to convince you.
If you don’t find my suggestions satisfying, feel free to shoot up some tips of your own in the comments box!
How It All Sounds In The Mix
Of course, no matter how many layers, how realistic the samples sound, how faithful the sound is to the emulated drum set and studio the product promotes, if it doesn’t sit well in your mix, it’s a baddie and you need to do away with it.
Each of these drum ROMplers will sound bad with some genres even if you’re a seasoned mixing and mastering veteran. But some of them will sit well immediately even without plugins.
Or maybe I didn’t try enough. I’ll tell you my story and you could share your mixing stories in the comments, yeah?
To Remind You
All seven are remarkable in their own right, but they couldn’t do everything for all genres. While versatility is high among them, it doesn’t mean SD2.0 could easily do more jazz when the ARD 60s could do so much better.
But why settle there when AD2’s drum kit pieces could do better funk than just FXpansion’s pork pie?
The choice is yours, but the secret to great percussion might be in getting all of them.
Hmm… that is a great idea though! Please Share or Comment below