Is it a drum loop player? Is it a drum sampler? Auddict try to do both, and more...
When it comes to cinematic drums and percussion, media composers are spoilt for choice. In terms of functionality most products tend to fall into one of two categories: collections of deeply sampled instruments allowing you to program your own performances or collections of tempo-matching performance loops ready to use out of the box. Of course, some products do blur this boundary and one of the more interesting recent arrivals that attempts to do just that is Auddict's PercX. So, if you are looking for a fresh hit for your cinematic drum and percussion habit, is PercX a serious contender?
PercX comes in two flavours; Core and Pro. Both versions ship with the same PercX engine but differ in the bundled collections of drum sounds. These collections are supplied as themed expansion packs with the current titles being Core Kits (a broad collection of drum sounds), Cinematic Rhythms (for film-oriented sounds), Producer Essentials (more rock/pop friendly), Hybrid Pulse (some less conventional and special effects sounds) and Traditional X (a stronger ethnic influence). Within each of these collections, the drums are organised into preset 'kits' of up to eight different instruments but you are free to mix and match sounds between kits and between collections.
When you load one of these preset kits (and you have two independent slots; A and B), at first glance the waveform-style display within the UI might suggest that you are loading a set of audio loops and that some sort of time-stretching is applied to ensure playback tempo-matches with your host project. That's actually not the case; each 'loop' within a kit is actually built from multi-sampled (for both round-robin and dynamics) sources. The waveform display is generated by PercX for a specific instrument based upon these multi-samples and an underlying MIDI sequencer for each of the (up to) eight lanes; if you change the sequence, the waveform display is automatically updated. PercX might look like a loop-based drum/percussion instrument (and, at one level, offers that simplicity of operation), but it is also a detailed multi-sampled library with some pretty impressive sequencing features.
The engine's feature list includes various ways to trigger the different instruments in a kit, comprehensive options for recording and editing your sequences, mixing options, a range of effects (you get a chain each for kit A and B and a master chain), modulation options, a really useful dynamics control for varying the performance intensity and, added as part of the v.1.1 update that landed during the course of this review, an impressive suite of randomisation tools for generating new kit groupings and rhythmic ideas. On paper at least, PercX has a lot to offer under the hood.
The UI is split vertically into four main areas; a top-most control strip, the main Mix/Edit panel, the kit browser panel (which can be toggled to show various other controls including the kit generation system), and the virtual keyboard that shows the kit/instrument trigger mapping for kit A (in blue) and kit B (in pink). The latter lets you trigger a whole kit (A or B or both), groups of instruments in a kit, or any combination of individual instruments. Whether you have one kit loaded or two, it's possible to create plenty of rhythmic variety form a single instance of PercX.
In Mix (A or B) mode, the upper panel shows the (up to) eight 'waveforms' for the currently loaded kit. You also get pan, volume, three possible effects slots and (at the far right), the option to send any instrument to its own output for separate processing within your host DAW. You can also toggle any instrument into a more conventional multi-sampled mode for manual playing and then the display gives you visual feedback on the dynamics layers available.
Double-clicking on an instrument waveform toggles the whole display to the Edit screen. It's here that the link between the waveform display and the MIDI pattern becomes clear and, if you edit the MIDI pattern, PercX works out which of the current instrument's multi-samples are required where, and the waveform display will adjust accordingly; it's clever stuff. The MIDI editing grid displays time on the horizontal axis but the vertical axis controls sample round-robins (no machine gun effect here) rather than pitch. Impressively, you can create up to four keyswitchable pattern variations for each instrument. The bottom of the Edit screen provides all sorts of useful MIDI editing tools (for example, humanise, quantise, duplicate) and you can record your own patterns.
You can control dynamics via the MIDI velocity lane. However, each instrument also has a Dynamics knob. Adjusting this scales the MIDI velocity data for all notes while retaining the relative velocity differences. Via MIDI Learn you can link the Dynamic control for any (or all) instruments to a hardware controller and this provides superb control over the overall dynamics of the performance. There are plenty of detailed options to refine how the dynamics respond for each instrument. This is a brilliant feature and very well implemented.
Where PercX really impresses is in the creative tools it offers to exploit those sounds.
While the performance options are impressive, the v.1.1 update added a further feature that is equally so — the Kit Generator. This is accessed via the 'crossing arrows' icon located in the strip at the top of the Browser pane which then switches to provide access to the Kit Generator tools.
At one level, this is simply a randomiser function, allowing you to repeatedly 'hit and hope' until a great combination of instruments pops into the Mix window. However, dig in, and you soon realise this is a very powerful tool for generating and refining new kits based upon a set of user-defined rules. There are all sorts of neat touches here, including the ability to filter your instrument choice in various ways, 'lock' a whole track (sound and pattern), lock the sound (and find a new pattern), or lock the pattern (and find a new sound). Equally, you can also link the patterns in multiple tracks in various ways such as duplicating them, using one to accent another, or to provide a 'call and answer' between tracks. And once you have defined a set of rules in this way, you can save those as a Kit Blueprint for later re-use. The Kit Generator is a hugely creative tool, allowing you to get maximum mileage out of the sample content and capable of inspiring almost limitless new rhythmic ideas.
In a review of this length, I've barely scratched the surface of what's possible with PercX; in terms of the feature set, this is a very clever piece of design. If I had to be picky, there are elements of the UI and operation that do take a little getting used to and, personally, I'd love a full-PDF manual rather than the online documentation. However, to their credit, Auddict do have a series of detailed tutorial videos to help get new users started. Equally, while it might eat into Auddict's sales of their expansion packs, it would be great if you could import your own multi-sampled drum/percussion sounds. Maybe that's something for a future update?
These are, however, very minor grumbles. Across the five currently available kit collections, there is an impressive array of drum sounds, percussion types, hits and special effects. Sonically, PercX is on a par with some of the obvious cinematic drum library competition, without perhaps breaking any radically new ground. That said, PercX's sounds would sit quite happily in a high-profile film or TV score.
Where PercX really impresses is in the creative tools it offers to exploit those sounds. The clever combination of multi-sampled drums and MIDI sequencing tools makes this as easy to use as a tempo-sync'ed drum loop and as flexible as a multi-sampled drum and percussion instrument library. The new Kit Generator options are equally impressive. At full price, PercX might be beyond some, but Auddict do run some very competitive sales. Even at full price, though, I suspect there are a lot of serious media composers that will take the plunge. PercX is impressive stuff.
- Not a loop player or a multi-sample player; it's both and more.
- Very creative tool with plenty of performance options.
- Solid collection of sounds across the various kit collections.
- UI a little quirky in places.
- A full PDF reference manual would be nice to see.
PercX is a really clever take on the concept of a cinematic drum and percussion instrument. I suspect media composers will lap it up.
PercX Pro $299, PercX Core $199. Prices include VAT.
PercX Pro $299, PercX Core $199.