Rating: 5/5 Stars
If you are looking for an ‘easy’ virtual acoustic drum instrument, for those prepared to think beyond the obvious, GoranGrooves’ Handy Drums provide an interesting alternative. There are 15 individual virtual drum kit instruments within the current range, each providing a sample‑based sound set from a specific style of drum kit. The ethos is to provide great sounds (with plenty of dynamic layers and multiple round‑robin samples) while keeping the UI ultra‑simple (there is virtually no learning curve). Each individual instrument is competitively priced and offers both standalone and plug‑in (VST or AU) operation.
The current range includes conventional kits such as the Studio Standard, Rock Standard and Jazz Standard, more genre‑style flavoured options such as the Ballad Rock, Metal Standard, Pop Brushes or John Bonham Style, and a few percussion‑based options such as the World Percussion, Latin Percussion & Drums and Flamenco Percussion titles. Each title is fairly compact (for example, the Rock Standard kit is just under 700MB) and, as a consequence, not too demanding of your host’s resources. They might, therefore, make an excellent choice for a mobile, laptop‑based, music production system.
For this review, I had access to the Producer Collection (all 15 of the current kits). The download and authorisation process was suitably painless. Once installed, mastering the UI is equally painless; it’s essentially a simple fader for each kit piece. All the conventional drum kits also include some basic percussion (cowbell, shaker, tambourine and handclaps) but some, such as the Studio Standard kit, have an additional tab with more detailed percussion options.
Setting levels for each kit piece aside, you get no other controls within the user interface. With a couple of exceptions, the kits are presented reasonably dry, and the sound is very much like you are listening to the drums within a beautifully treated, compact studio room. There are no overhead or room mic samples to blend in with the individual kit piece channels but, as described below, if you want more control over the ambience, your DAW can provide it. I’ll say more about some of the specific kits in a minute but, whether you see the minimalist control set as a positive (no option paralysis to worry about; just make music) or a negative (no built‑in sound shaping such as EQ, compression or reverb), without exception, the kits sound really good; this is mix‑ready stuff with a minimum of fuss.
There are a few settings options you can access via the icons at the base of the UI. You can open a panel to adjust the MIDI mapping and, in the standalone versions, configure your audio/MIDI settings. The instruments played nicely with my Roland e‑kit and the hi‑hat mapping is nicely done, providing plenty of control over the degree of closed/open status of the cymbals. I could easily imagine a Handy Drums instrument making a no‑fuss sound module, whether in the studio or live. However, if you do want to process individual kit pieces, multiple audio outputs to your DAW are supported. This worked perfectly for me, allowing me to use the Cubase mixing options to add EQ, compression or reverb to individual drums.
In terms of the kits themselves, the Studio Standard would make for an obvious first choice on two fronts. First, it sounds great, but is neutral enough to suit a very wide range of musical styles. Second, it includes an impressive range of additional percussion. Also impressive was the John Bonham Style kit. No, it’s not quite ‘When The Levee Breaks’, but it has a more ambient sound and makes a great rock choice. I also liked the Reggae Standard kit. However, the various percussion kits are worth particular attention. All offer some very interesting options and, individually, they are an absolute steal given just how good they sound. These could complement any conventional virtual drum instrument, whether it’s GoranGrooves’ Handy Drums or one of the obvious competitors.
As most readers will have surmised by now, given the minimalist approach to the feature set, your DAW’s MIDI editor is required for drum sequencing duties. That’s not to say that GoranGrooves can’t help you out on that front, though, as they also have a collection of Handy Grooves MIDI drum groove packs. There are 10 of these at present and there is something suitable to work with all of the Handy Drums instruments including the percussion‑based titles.
Each of the MIDI packs contains several hundred individual MIDI grooves covering beats and fills of varying complexity or intensity. Yes, they are supplied as individual MIDI files, and you have to drag and drop them into your DAW to audition and then assemble a drum performance, but the grooves are very usable, the MIDI obviously editable, and the price pretty modest given what’s on offer. Unless you are a dab hand at programming your own drum parts, these are a great complement to the instruments themselves.
I have to say that I’m impressed by the core drum sounds... In summary, great value, great sounds and great usability.
If you are attracted by the minimalist design ethos adopted here, then the pricing makes dipping your toe into the GoranGrooves virtual drum and MIDI groove world very accessible. I have to say that I’m impressed by the core drum sounds and, if you are happy to do any sonic tweaking via your DAW’s mixer, you could cover a lot of musical ground with a carefully selected Handy Drums instrument or two. The percussion instruments are also well worth checking out even if you are already covered for acoustic drum kit sounds. In summary, great value, great sounds and great usability.
From $20 each, Producer Collection $249.
From $20 each, Producer Collection $249.