Posted by Paul Evans on 7 May 2014 | 1 Comments
I have been using the original EZdrummer and the big brother Superior Drummer for the last few years so I was excited to get the opportunity to review this brand new release – EZdrummer 2.
As a professional drummer working in live drum sessions as well as programming, I was hoping that EZdrummer 2 would be better in three ways. The first was to hear the sonic difference, secondly; how many new kits will there be and thirdly, will it improve my workflow.
But first an overview....
Toontrack’s EZdrummer 2 is a drum sample software instrument available for PC and Mac, which can be used within any digital audio workstation that supports VST, Audio Units, RTAS or AAX plugins. You will need at least 1 GB of free HD space and a DVD drive. You can use any midi instrument to record the sounds into your DAW with the perfect solution for drummers being an electronic drum kit. The onboard sounds can be used by either a drummer who would like better sounds instead of what comes with their drum module or for songwriters and musicians to create drum parts for the songs.
The original EZdrummer was released 8 years ago by Toontrack. Over the years, they have added many expansion libraries covering musical genres from Jazz all the way to metal. These expansion kits, called “EZX's” include a drum kit recorded specifically for the genre with complimentary midi performances to use. EZdrummer 2 builds on this superb foundation with some notable differences. The first of these are the new drum kits that come with it. An incredible modern collection including kits by Yamaha, Gretsch and DW and a vintage library with two vintage Ludwig drum kits; one of which is a John Bonham style Vistalite kit that was a personal favourite. Both kits have been recorded at the British Grove Studios in London owned by guitarist Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. The audio engine has been redesigned, running at 18bit rather than 16bit. It has also taken a few of the Superior Drummer humanizing functions such as the multiple hits emulation for smoother sequenced hits and a greater number of individual hits per velocity layer.
Midi, midi and more midi
The most notable change is the EZkeys style song arranger window at the bottom of the plugin. Here you can drag in your own midi or midi from the built in library and put together an entire drum part without going into your DAW when operating in standalone mode. There is also a new search window with a handy “tap to find” feature, enabling you to tap in the rhythm via the drum kit or attached midi device and EZdrummer 2 then presents you a list of midi parts most closely matching the rhythm. You can then drag these straight into the arranger window. At first I was sceptical of this feature partly because I’m a drummer and can play what I need and partly because I'm averse to change! But for a songwriter, who has an idea for what they need to hear, but not a drummer to play it, this feature delivers a great solution, played expertly by a real drummer, but taken from a ‘best fit’ library of midifiles. In many cases, using these files which are recorded with the velocity changes and feel of a real drummer will allow you to end up with a much more ‘real’ sound and therefore a better recording.
Once you have the midi in the song arrangement window, another handy feature is the ability to double click on the midi and it brings up another version of the drums window. (See below.)
This window allows you to manipulate the midi further. Using the new ‘power hand’ feature you can change from leading with the hi-hat to ride, floor tom, crash or any other drum part. The power hand by default hovers over whichever drum part the midi has leading the groove and you simply move the power hand icon over the other parts of your kit while the track is playing to hear the emphasis change in real time. In the same way you can change the opening hit of the groove with the obviously titled ‘Opening Hit’ icon; simply drag to whichever part of the kit you wish and change the opening crash to whatever you'd like. It really is easy to do. There is also an icon in the middle of the screen called ‘Amount’ and in real time this can add either more or less drum hits to the drum part. It’s based around a magical algorithm which analyses the other midi in the library and will add the most likely variations that a drummer would play in real life, you can either add this to individual drums, cymbals or the whole kit...... as well as all this within this mode you can change the dynamics of the midi as well! What’s helpful about all these features is that they are written into the midi in real time so once you are done you can drag the completed midi part into your DAW and either edit or further or send to a collaborator to edit further or use with other software instruments.
Embarrassingly when I was asked what I liked the most when I initially started using it, my answer was that I liked that the cymbals moved graphically when they were hit! Even a couple of weeks later I still really like it. I know it’s completely aesthetic but a lot of the time it’s those little things that inspire you – and to get real time feedback on the screen certainly adds vibe and a sense of action when playing the drums for sessions. In mentioning about aesthetics, the look of the drum kits have also been updated as eventually all the EZX’s will be too. The modern EZdrummer 2 kit is huge, having numerous toms and cymbals and conversely the vintage kit just has two toms and a couple of cymbals. Within these two kits you can change the individual parts of the kits not just with the sounds within the selected library but from any EZX you may have on your computer. This is helpful for finding the right sound for each song whether you just want to swap out the kick or snare or want to go crazy and have a heavy metal kick drum with a jazz snare and an electronic hi-hat. The choice is yours but I'd urge restraint.
In listening to the change in the sample sound, I noticed the change to 18bit even on the EZXs. It’s slightly more open and punchy, the drums are recorded exceptionally well as well as being premixed which makes things quicker in finding sounds and therefore improves the pace of workflow. I personally don't like spending a huge amount of time tweaking sounds so this speed to find sounds that are ready to use is excellent. One of the other features that I think may go unnoticed in all the changes is the addition of the ‘multiple hits emulation’ previously only available in Superior. Historically when you have had multiple hits of one of the samples, then you can easily create a ‘machine gun’ style effect where there is a lack of subtle change in each hit. This new feature in EZdrummer 2 smoothes out the drums in a natural way taking away this machine gun effect that drum software is often plagued by!
I'm a user of the EZdrummer line and I think they have fulfilled the hopes I had at the beginning of this review. EZdrummer 2 does sound better, it has more great sounding kits and it definitely has improved my workflow. For the drummers who use these sounds live then it’s a worthwhile investment. For songwriters looking to add drum parts that sound ‘human’ and that may enhance your recording with professionally played midifiles, then EZdrummer 2 is an excellent solution. There are a few things I would like to have seen such as the ability to stack samples; putting a sample from another library alongside the original snare not just replacing it and having more control of the humanising options. But maybe that’s just greedy, because what you get really is very good.
Reviewed by Paul Evans: drummer for artists including Delirious, Cathy Burton and Brenton Brown. Contact Paul here
Special thanks to Time+Space. For more details and to get your copy of EZ Drummer 2 - click here.