As a drummer myself, it takes quite a bit from a drum sampler to impress me. Superior Drummer 2.1 has done exactly that. This sampler is quite complex, and although loading it up and choosing a preset will work for users looking for simplicity, it has enough depth to keep “tweakers” busy for hours on end.
The Real Deal
The thing that impresses me most about this sampler, is that it really gives me the vibe that I am working with professional drum tracks right out of a million dollar facility. For anyone who has had the opportunity to track a studio drummer in a nice facility, they will know what I mean. These sounds are fantastic! But beyond that, you get complete control of the sound by having access to every single microphone you would ever need in a high end recording. I’m talking about 22 microphones on the drum kit! 3 microphones for the kick drum, 3 microphones for the snare drum, 1 hi hat, 1 microphones for each of the 5 toms, 2 for stereo overheads, 2 for ambient close room mics, 2 for stereo ambient mid room mics, 2 for stereo far room mics, 1 ambient mono room mic, and my favorite – 1 ambient bullet mic (think overcompressed and distorted). Most “advanced” drum samplers that I am familiar with don’t have this many options. In fact, the next highest that I am aware of is BFD2 by fxpansion which has about 18 microphones depending on how many instruments you bring in. But even still, BFD doesn’t have a Sub Kick, has one less ambient pair of room mics, and is missing a bullet microphone track.
With the options to route out multiple outputs from Superior Drummer, you can either mix the drums completely inside of Superior Drummer and deal with just a stereo track in your DAW, or you can mix the drums within your DAW. I am definitely a fan of having the option to choose. When I need to add drums to a clients project right in front of them, I love the fact that I can load up a preset quickly and be ready to record great sounding drums within about 20 seconds. Superior drummer gives plenty of busses and routing flexibility to mix inside of the sampler. It also includes its own compressor, 5 band eq, filters, transient designer and gate which sound great. However, if I am working on a project with a bigger budget and I want to use my own choice of compressors, reverbs and gates, I have the option to integrate it inside of Pro Tools as much as possible. In fact, with 32 stereo outputs, you could output each of the 22 microphones to its own track inside of your DAW. With your mono tracks, you can pan right or left to the channel outputs and then route the left or right of the channel into a mono audio track in your DAW. However, you might not choose to use all 22 microphones. It also makes much more sense to group some of the microphones together as you export to your DAW. For example, your kick drum microphones might be much easier to control if you send the three of them out together through the same output. Same with your two top snare drum microphones. You might also find it easier to blend your room microphones to taste and use the same output.
The ability to control microphone bleed in Superior Drummer 2 is absolutely mind boggling. All of us engineers that record a lot of drums have had the situation where we later realize the hi hat is way too loud in our snare drum microphone. Or the snare drum is coming through too strong in one of the tom microphones. Wouldn’t it be awesome to have the ability to turn down or turn off the bleeding hi hat or drum? With SD2, you can. Every single microphone has its own mixer window where you can control how much of the other drums are coming through that microphone. It is important to note that the bleeding of these other drums sound as they naturally would sound coming through that microphone. For example, let’s say you want to adjust the snare drum bottom microphone. We all know that the toms and kick drum often rattles the snares. On the SD Bottom microphone, we can open up a mixer window that allows us to choose which drums and how much of each drum we want to have rattling the snares as they are picked up by the microphone. In otherwords, SD2 is not just simply turning up a regular tom sample in the microphone. Instead, it is playing back an actual recording, or simulation of what the toms would actually sound like coming through that drum (my speculation is that it is an actual sample).
As a test, I went ahead and recorded an audio clip of how the Kick drum and each tom sound coming through the SD Bottom mic. Notice that the snares rattle at different frequencies and at different amounts on different toms (just like every tom doesn’t rattle the snare the same on a real kit). I also recorded hitting the floor tom from soft to loud so that you can hear how the snares become more effected at higher velocities (harder hit notes). Although the second example isn’t completely smooth, it is still amazing to think of these tiny details that the sampler takes care of. These tiny details are what makes SD2 sound so authentic.
Here is the audio clip test of the bleed:SD Bottom Bleed
What also makes this so amazing is the fact that every single drum mic is like this allowing for many creative applications. For example, by default, I think there is too much hi hat in the overheads and room microphones. So I can go through those microphones and turn down the hi hat bleed on those microphones (there is also a master bleed control per track and on the whole kit). I can also choose to just have the Kick, Snare and Toms come through the Bullet microphone. Or you could turn of the snare bleed in all microphones except for the stereo far ambient microphones. The options are endless.
We have still just scratched the surface of what is possible. You have the opportunity to choose which type of tool to play the drums with including drumsticks, brushes, rods, or felt mallets. Each drum also has its own controls to be able to change the shape of its envelope. You also have the option to shift the pitch of each individual drum. When you make these changes, it effects how the drum sounds in all of the microphones. Each microphone has the opportunity to be able to stretch out the sustain of the drums going through it. This allows you to be able to make a drum really short on the close microphones and then lengthen out the sustain on the room microphones, or vice versa. You are also able to bring in individual drum sounds from other expansion packs by toontrack to add to your kit.
Finally, all of these parameters are able to be saved in presets. Superior Drummer 2.1 makes it possible to be able to recall all or part of a preset. So if you like your current drum sounds, but want to recall a routing preset, you can choose to just import the routing.
I spent a little bit of time playing with presets and some of the different parameters available and I was able to quickly find a drum sound that I was happy with.
Here are two examples of the variety that is possible with Superior Drummer. The first example is a demonstration of a preset I might use for a client’s project that needs real, yet big and powerful sounding drums. The second example is a demonstration of a staccato type preset I made that would work great as a techno/effect type kit.
Superior Drummer 2 is an awesome sampler. The amount of microphones available to tweak are the the most I am aware of from any current drum sampler. The ability to mix inside of the sampler or in your DAW is huge plus. The sounds are top notch and while it can be easy to load a great sounding kit quickly, it has the depth to be able tweak all day long. The drum bleeding controls on each microphone along with the ability to change parameters such as pitch and the envelope make this sampler a creative tool that inspires my production creativity. The biggest downfalls I can see is that it can eat up a ton of memory if you choose to use all microphones (duh!) and I have seen a few GUI bugs from time to time in Pro Tools 8 CS 2 that will probably be ironed out as time goes by and more updates are available. These bugs have easily disappeared by closing and reopening the sampler window. I highly recommend Superior Drummer 2 to anybody who is trying to find a drum sampler that is flexible and sounds fantastic.
My Rating 5/5