Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Virtual Drummer VSTI Shootout

Realistic drum plugins are some of my favorite types of audio software. Not that I dislike a human drummer, it's the production of an acoustic drum kit that throws the stick in my spokes. I've done many acoustic kits and it's completely possible for home studio users to produce professional drum tracks that way, but it takes a lot of time, high end microphones and tons of experience to know how to get the right sound.

Enter the virtual drum instrument for your daw of choice. The cool thing about using a vsti drum plugin is that you can create drum tracks in multiple ways.

  1. Use the built in patters to build a track
  2. Download midi files from the net and import them into the daw
  3. Use your mouse to input notes and adjust everything from velocity to swing.
  4. Play a midi controller such as a keyboard or control surface
  5. Use an E-Drum kit to play drums as you would on an acoustic kit, but you're getting the sounds from the vsti.
I have primarily used methods 3 and 5 above since I am not much of a keyboard player but I can mouse and I can drum.
What this gives me is near perfectly recorded and tuned drums to mix with. Not only that but perfect timing, none of that pesky human tempo straying ;-)

Here's a video of a song which a human drummer played an E-Kit using Superior Drummer 2 from Toontrack.
To my professional ear, there's nothing "fake" about that, it's a real drummer and real drums.
FYI: That entire recording above was done in Mixcraft by Acoustica

So if you are in the market for a great virtual drum instrument but don't know which is best for you and your budget, I've just so happened to sum up a few of the more popular ones below.

Here's the accompanying video if you want to watch it instead of, or before reading the reviews below.

BFD3 by FXpansion

BFD3 has nice sounding drums and a decent but a bit confusing interface. It doesn't show a complete drum kit for that familiar look, but that is not a necessity, just a convenience.

There are tons of drum kits, drum components to choose from to build your own kit, and effects so customizing is a big part of this plugin.

The mixer is functional but not as comprehensive as some of the others. It's got your basic mute, solo, etc. The mixer also allows you to send any instrument to an output track of your choice. Giving you the ability to mix each on a separate track in your daw.

Look and feel: 6/10
Sound: 8/10
Tools and effects: 9/10
Mixer: 6/10
Ease of use: 5/10
Price: $349.00
Addictive Drums 2 is similar to BFD3 in that you can add/remove/alter kit components in a similar
fashion to create your custom drum kit. You can also use the presets or existing kits. The mixer is fairly basic and I did notice that though it does allow you to send each instrument to a separate output, it does NOT allow you to choose the output. It will put them in order as shown in it's mixer. Not a huge deal breaker but I like to have more control than that.

There are not as many effects available in this one as I would like to see for a complete package, but then again I never use them anyway. I like to use the effects that I am used to in my daw, which is why I send each drum out to it's own track.

The sound is great and you've got lots of customization options.


Look and feel: 8/10
Sound: 8/10
Tools and effects: 7/10
Mixer: 5/10
Ease of use: 7/10
Price: from $99.95
This one is probably the most well known and popular virtual drummers out there. It sounds great and comes with lots of customization options including expandability by purchasing additional drum kits and components. The mixer and effects are pretty basic but are plenty for a home studio user.

I really like the look and feel of this plugin interface, it makes me feel like I am rocking! This plugin has one of the coolest drum kits around called "Drumkit From Hell" which is quite popular with the metal crowd.

As with the other plugins, EZDrummer 2 comes with what they call "grooves" which are pre-recorded midi drum loops and sections. You can use these to build complete songs or use them as templates to alter in your daw. The Toontrack plugins have loads of these, which is a nice feature.

Look and feel: 10/10
Sound: 9/10
Tools and effects: 5/10
Mixer: 7/10
Ease of use: 9/10
Price: $179.00
Studio Drummer runs inside the Kotakt Player, which is free. Kotakt is a host for other virtual instruments and it works great. Studio Drummer only has three available kits but you can tune the drums, customize the ring, attack, decay and more. Each kit has multiple versions, such as a garage
kit, arena kit, etc.

The interface has that familiar look but is a bit more complex than a few others. The mixer is nice and has excellent effects such as compression, gate, reverb. Routing each drum to it's own track in the daw is possible but a little more complex than others. One feature this one has that others don't is that it allows you to change the midi mapping to match common formats, making it work with your controller more easily.

For me, this one sounds the best out of all I've used. I do like that large arena rock sound though, which might not be what you need, so check the others out as well.

Look and feel: 9/10
Sound: 10/10
Tools and effects: 9/10
Mixer: 8/10
Ease of use: 6/10
Price: $149.00
MT Power Drums is one of the Internet's best kept secrets. It's a FREE drum instrument with multi-output capability and it sounds really good. It's only got one kit and you cannot change the way it
sounds, but for free waddaya want?

The mixer is basic with pan, level, solo and a compressor (sort of). You can assign outputs to any sub track in the daw as well.
It also comes with a library of grooves to build songs or use for starting points.
The nice looking interface and the fact that it is free, allow me to give this high marks.

Look and feel: 8/10
Sound: 7/10
Tools and effects: 4/10
Mixer: 5/10
Ease of use: 10/10
Price: Free
The first thing I will tell you is that this one is my goto for most projects. The reasons are that it sounds awesome, is more comprehensive and customizable than it's little brother 9EZDrummer 2)

I love the look of it and love working with the kit pieces as a familiar looking drum set. Switching
pieces is easier than it was in previous versions as well. Superior Drummer 3 will also load not only it's own add-on kits, but it will load any of the EZDrummer kits you might already have.

The mixer is very usable with lots of functionality, along with output track routing. There are loads of effects such as compression, reverb, gate, delay, filters and many more. They bill this plugin as a complete drum production studio, which it is. You literally do not have to do anything in your daw other than load it onto a track, if that is how you wish to use it. Personally, I use the daw for everything outside of assigning the kit components.

The same impressive array of grooves make this one great for non-drummers as well.

Look and feel: 10/10
Sound: 9/10
Tools and effects: 10/10
Mixer: 10/10
Ease of use: 8/10
Price: $209.00 - $419.00

I hope I've helped you make an informed decision on which of these is right for you.