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PAR Picks 6: Must-Try Drum Production Tools

Featuring Avid, FXpansion, Massey, Slate Digital, Sonoma, Spectrasonics and Toontrack

When it comes to drum and rhythm software, there are a few different ways to go. There are programs that allow drum replacement with acoustic samples; create/play MIDI grooves; triggers from keyboards or MIDI kits; and/or streamed, pre-programmed loops. Today’s modern producer should have a variety of the tools mentioned above to get the job done.

Avid Strike

Strike is an RTAS drum and percussion performance tool with some serious human feel. It stores over 30 GB of data in 5.6 GB of space and has 12 different drum kits and over 1,500 patterns. There are a nice variety of grooves, fills and stop times in each style — for instance, Cajun Blues, anyone? And don’t forget that you can also trigger your own .WAV and .AIFF files.

In use, what I do is put Strike into full automation mode, replay the “performance,” then adjust the Intensity and Complexity sliders in real time. Then I’ll do another pass and adjust the Feel, Timing and Hit Var (variation) knobs. When I’m done, it can probably fool even a golden ear. Also available are options to adjust Close, Overhead, Room and Talkback Mics as well as control over Tuning, Timbre, Snare, Hi Hat, Ride, Groove and more. I just wish we had even more grooves!

Price: $299 (full version)

Contact: Avid |

Avid Strike FXpansion BFD2

FXpansion BFD2

BFD2 features 55 GB of drum kits recorded at AIR Studios in London and offers a redesigned interface from the original version. It has flexible routing, effects and humanization features. The 10-, 18- or 32-piece kits can be fully customized with tuning, damping, velocity and ambience, plus you can import your own samples for additional layering. I do like the new Overloud Breverb (included in the mixer) and the PSP Vintage Warmer, as well as the inclusion of two top snare mics. It’s also quite easy to map the entire program out to an electronic kit.

Years ago, BFD was the first software drum kit that blew my mind with its realism; today, it’s just as fun and effective to use as it was back then.

Note that BFD Eco is also available, which is simply a streamlined version of BFD.

Price: $299, $99 (BFD2 full version and BFD Eco, respectively)

Contact: FXpansion |

Massey DRT

An AudioSuite plug-in for Pro Tools users, it easily converts an audio drum track into MIDI notes; all the detected MIDI notes can be edited along with velocities, from which you can then trigger your drum sampler.

Massey DRT

Simply select the track you want to convert (for example, a snare), choose DRT from the AudioSuite menu, the select Analyze Selection. You will then adjust the loudness and sensitivity sliders until only the desired trigger points (the snare hits) are marked in the histogram. Next, grab MIDI Drag & Drop and drag your file into a Pro Tools MIDI channel. It’s automatically lined up with your audio snare. Finally, assign it to the snare note of your desired drum plug-in. That’s it. You’re done.

I use DRT to layer snares and kicks within my mixes, although you can do much more with it, of course. It doesn’t get any easier to use, and can certainly help punch up any drum recording.

Price: $69

Contact: Massey |

Steven Slate Drums 4.0

A full update to Version 3.5, it features an all-new SSD 4 player where you load, customize and mix the various kits and individual pieces. You can also listen to MIDI grooves, customize the MIDI mapping and route the audio to your workstation.

It includes kits for Rock, Metal, Vintage, Indie, Funk and Jazz/ Brushes (all of which are quite nice, by the way). Then there are “Signature Kits,” those named after bands including AC/DC, Mötley Crüe and Led Zeppelin. It also provides tasty boutique-grade Soultone cymbal samples and some nice Urban/Dance/House/Electro kits. I like the detailed options such as the ability to control individual levels over Hi-Hat Tip Closed, quarter open, two-quarters open, threequarters open and fully open. You can layer in any of the individual drums, and they will automatically appear in the mixer for easy blending.

Slate Drums v4.0 will run VST/RTAS/AU and comes as Platinum (with over 100 kits) and EX (with 25 kits) packages. The new interface is a much-welcomed upgrade from Version 3.5 and the sounds speak for themselves.

Price: $299, $99 (Platinum and EX, respectively)

Contact: Steven Slate Drums |

Steven Slate Drums 4.0 Toontrack Superior Drummer

Toontrack Superior Drummer

Another easy-to-use drum sampler, Superior Drummer features extensive customization over kits, mixes, routing, MIDI and individual pieces. There are separate tabs for Construct (to build the kit), Mixer, Grooves (for MIDI grooves), Mapping, Bounce (to render audio files from the MIDI kits) and Settings.

I turn to the Mixer page quite a bit, which allows me to add effects to each drum using the FX Insert, bus them with the Bus Send, and control the bleed of each, as well as adjust levels and pans. Some of the kits include additional options such as Ambience Close, Mid, Far, Mono, Reverb and even Bullet faders. I’m a big fan of the Metal Machine kit, even on non-metal tunes. Of course, you can change individual drums in the Construct window, stack them using X-Drum, humanize them, and drag and drop a wide selection of MIDI grooves directly into your DAW host.

What I like about Superior is that it’s expandable, with a wide variety of SDX packs that include the likes of New York and Nashville studios style/sound categories, custom and Vintage tonalities, etc. There are also a lot of inexpensive MIDI packs such as Blues, Fills and Odd Meter, Jazz, Metal Machine and the Songwriter’s Drumpack. Superior Drummer has a humble little brother named EZdrummer, which is simply a “feature-lite” version of Superior Drummer. Either way, you’ll be delivered to tasty drum tracks.

Price: $349

Contact: Toontrack |

Sonoma Wire Works DrumCore 3

This one’s a little different in that you’re actually triggering real drum performances. The RTAS/VST/AU DrumCore 3 plugin features audio loops and MIDI grooves from the likes of Terry Bozzio, Matt Cameron, Luis Conte, Sly Dunbar, Matt Sorum, Alan White, and more. Standouts are among Urban and basic beats, and you can even import REX2, ACID, .AIFF and .WAV loop libraries.

With DrumCore 3, it’s nice to pick a style (from a healthy helping of varieties), then drag and drop real audio performances from real drummers. You can stretch the BPMs far from the natural range of the original recording; it’ll warn you if you are going too far. DC3 allows quick and easy full drum track builds via badass players.

Price: $249

Contact: Sonoma |

Sonoma Wire Works DrumCore 3 Spectrasonics Stylus RMX

Spectrasonics Stylus RMX

OK, so this is a #7 in a “PAR Picks 6,” but I just had to include it because it’s so damn useful. Stylus is an RTAS/VST/AU “groove module” with a 7.4 GB core library of loops and sounds. It’s not a closed platform though, as you can also load in the company’s SAGE Xpanders, Groove Control CD-ROMS, and even REX files. It’s got built in FX, multiple stereo outputs, an 8-channel mixer and a cool Chaos Designer, which introduces randomness into the loops.

Stylus is loaded with a ton of high-energy grooves, and I use it to drive a lot of TV tracks. I’ve also layered its loops underneath MIDI/triggered/live drums with great success, and consider it a “must have” tool in the arsenal.

Price: $399

Contact: Spectrasonics |

Rich Tozzoli is a producer/engineer and the software editor for PAR.