Toontrack should be a company you are familiar with if you are in any way interested in producing music on your computer. Developers of the ‘EZ’ line of products such as EZmix and EZkeys, today we’re taking a close look at EZdrummer 2, the latest incarnation of the popular drum instrument VST plugin. EZdrummer 2 can be run as a VSTi plugin from any popular DAW or as a standalone instrument using Toontrack’s ‘Solo’ player.
Gone are the days of wiring up hardware drum machine that offer digital representations of analog sounds. now we have hyper-realistic, fully sample-recorded drum libraries available, often captured in multi-million dollar studios using incredible recording equipment and engineers.
Amougnst many things, Toontrack have two core sampled drum libraries, both offering the same high-quality sounds, but each focused on differant workflows. EZdrummer 2 and Superior Drummer 2 will both deliver outstanding results, it just depends on what workflow is more important to you.
From a pricing point of view, Superior Drummer 2 is the flagship of the range. It also offers more flexiblity and control over EZdrummer, at the expense of a higher learning curve and more CPU requirements. EZdrummer 2 features the same high sound quality, but with reduced focus on tweaking and an emphasis on song creation.
EZdrummer 2 is no slimmed-down, ‘lite’ version by any means. The main difference is the interface. They both use the same pristine, live recorded samples recorded through million-dollar consoles with the best mics and engineers you can get – but Superior Drummer 2 is raw, unprocessed samples with an interface designed to mix from scratch, as if you were there in the studio on the day of the recording. EZdrummer 2 offers pre-mixed and processed drum sound-sets ready to roll, with integrated tools to aid in groove and song creation.
EZdrummer 2 comes with a selection of 5 drum kits to choose from, arranged in ‘Modern’ or ‘Vintage’ variations. The defaul modern variation inclues a Drum Workshop kit, Gretsch USA Custom and Yamaha 9000. The vintage series includes a Ludwig ’60s’ kit and a Ludwig Vistalite. Each variation includes extra kick and snare options from Sonor, Brady Jarrah Block and Tama. In addition you have auxilary instrumnts like tambourine, finger snaps, shaker and maraca’s.
These default kits are totally interchangable, so no problem to start with a Yamaha 9000 kit for the dry, pop sound – then swap out the snare for a Ludgig 400 Chrome for that huge 60’s tone, and chuck in a Sabian Artisan ride from the DW kit for a bit of modern shimmer.
You can’t, however, change the mics, placement or basic sample characteristics. The rudimentary mixer allows you to mix the levels of each of the drum elements, control the bleed (on or off), turn off and on the room mics and mono ambient mic levels – some kits have a few more options to mix, but everything is kept fairly simple here. You have no control over what tyoe of compressor is used, or the kind of reverb, just how much is applied.
This might sound rather limiting, but in practice its fast and intuitive. There’s just enough customization available to tailor a perfect drum mix without getting bogged down in messing with hi-hat mic EQing and stupid stuff like that. Each of the kit elements have been expertly mixed and processed by top engineers using equipment you couldn’t afford – and it really shows, all of the kits sound amazing.
The mixer can be routed out directly to your DAW for multi-track mixing there, however, the sound has the factory processing built in, meaning you can only add to the signal with your 3rd party plugins, not start with unprocessed samples.
Though EZdrummer 2 feels targeted at songwriters, there is a good amount of input …. to let producers feel confident in creating unique performances here……
The edge EZdrummer 2 has over the competition is with the song creator feature. The basic idea is to use EZdrummer as a container to build your song drum grooves within. You start by using the browser to find a MIDI groove that closet fits your drum performance. There is a massive collection of included MIDI grooves to parouse through, with many more expantion packs available to purchase seperatly. If you are struggling to find the right groove Toontrack’s have included a handy search database whcih seperates out grooves by genre, play style, time signature etc. There is a tap-2-find feature that allows you to play in the feel you’re looking for, then the software offers the best match with a strength indicator.
Once you’ve found something close, you drag and drop the MIDI track into the ‘MIDI Drop Zone’ in which he software will create a collection of song elements for you to choose from. You then choose the song structure and then drag and drop elements from the verse, chorus, bridge etc to create your song.
It takes a few minutes to get the basics sorted, but once you do you’ll find creating simple or complex drum performances a snap. Each of the elements can be further edited or even dragged out into your DAW for even more editing.
The supplied MIDI performances in EZdrummer 2 are better excellent, the tracks have great feel and overall sound very human. Toontrack wisely left the original performances alone without quantizing them, so you will see tiny mistakes and timing errors in the tracks that make them sound so natural. EZdrummer MIDI tracks aren’t computer generated – they’re actually guys, playing real drums with the performances recorded as MIDI data. The session drummers used are incredible, and its great they didn’t mess with the performances. Technically, you’re working with the actual recorded MIDI performances of these guys, warts ‘n all. Just hiring one of these musicians for a single session would far outweigh the cost of the software.
There are plenty of add-on MIDI performance packs you can purchase separately, though the included grooves are more then enough to get any project started, especially when teamed up with the song creator. Unless you’re doing extreme stuff, these should work for most applications.
If you already own EZdrummer 1, all of those sampled kits are upgraded to work seamlessly with EZdrummer 2, giving you a few more kit choices.
There are many mix preset available, from basic standards through to quite extreme. As mentioned earlier, you can’t modify the basic mixing techniques, only the levels, but I feel there is enough here to work with and haven’t needed to export anything to my DAW for further processing yet. This might be a deal breaker for some, and its really where the road splits for people wanting to follow the more flexible Superior Drummer path.
EZdrummer 2 loads quickly, considering the amount of computing power at work here, though each individual kit choice requres more loading time. Once you’ve loaded and settled on the mix, everything performs exremely well, with no detectble lag or delay in playing through a controller. Even when routing out to my DAW with some hefty BUS processing applied, I was able to perform with my Akai pad controller in real time with zero latency.
Dialing up a unique tone is a breeze
Though I have a few other drum libraries installed, EZdrummer remains my go-to for a few good reasons. Firstly the sound is very dependable and 99% of the time sits well with my projects. And secondly, and most importantly to me, out of the box everything is mixes well enough to basically final mix with. More times then I should admit I have bounced master tracks with no drum processing at all, left totally in the box, so to speak.
With EZdrummer 2 I don’t have the extra time demands on writing drum tracks, tweaking mic’s and mixes. I can quite easily pull up my favorite preset kit, tap in a drum groove and have the software write me a pretty decent drum performance in under 5 minutes.
If you’re considering this or Superior Drummerthe choice is quite simple really – do you prefer to spend time crafting up custom drum mixes, or would you rather move on get on to other instruments in your song.
EZdrummer 2 is a wonderful piece of software. It’s well designed and sounds fantastic. The basic concept might be a little too simplistic for some producers looking for a high-end solution, but for those people value can be found with the great groove construction tools provided. For songwriters this is a no-brainer, really – theres nothing else on the market as easy to use and with such a polished sound right out of the box.
For more information and to purchase, skip over to Toontrack.
Recommended machine specs:
4 GB of free hard disk space. Windows 7 or newer, Pentium 4 or Athlon processor with 2 GB RAM.
Mac OS X 10.6 or higher, Intel-based Mac with 2 GB RAM.
Core i7 920 12gig RAM. Windows8. Tascam DM4800 interface (ASIO drivers). Yamaha MOTIF and Akai MPD218 controller.
$139 Euro ($240 NZD)
Addictive Drums 2
A much more simplistic and cheaper option over EZdrummer 2. Yet to be reviewed by AudioFreek, though reports are the sound quality is excellent.
More expensive complicated, closer to Superior Drummer 2. Out of the box BFD is more clinical sounding. Requires more processing power to run. BFD offers a lot more custom kit elements and mixing options.