Looking for the essence of the '70s sound? Vintage drum kits recorded at the world's most famous studio might be a good place to start...
Abbey Road 70s Drums is a sequel to NI's Abbey Road 60s Drums (reviewed in the April issue of SOS) and is a Kontakt Player‑based sample library centred around two vintage 1970s drum kits, recordings of which were made in Abbey Road's Studio Two, using appropriately classic vintage equipment. As the library's interface is very similar to that of the 60s Drums library, I'll concentrate mainly on the 70s kits and their sound in this review.
The first kit is the 'Open Kit', a Ludwig Vistalite Tequila Sunrise from 1972 featuring a 26‑inch kick drum, 14‑inch rack tom and both 16‑ and 18‑inch floor toms. The second kit, entitled 'Tight Kit', is a 1970s Premier set with a 22‑inch kick drum, 13‑inch rack tom and 14‑inch and 16‑inch floor toms. The Tight Kit was recorded with acoustic baffles around it, to give a drier, tighter sound, and there are full and 'light' versions of both kits. An additional treat is a four‑mic 'Glyn Johns‑style' recording of the Ludwig, using two overheads plus a snare- and a kick-drum microphone. LIke the 60s Drums, this sample library is massive (over 12Gb after being decompressed), with up to 30 velocity levels available and up to six 'round robin' alternative hits provided. A full version of either kit can take a couple of minutes to load, but the 'light' versions load much faster.
For the recording, a period‑correct EMI TG MkIII mixing console was teamed with a 16‑track, two‑inch tape recorder with Dolby noise reduction and Ampex 456 tape. Neumann, AKG and Beyerdynamic mics were set up around the kits and, as with the 60s Drums library, individual adjustment of levels for the close, overhead and room mics can be achieved in the Mixer page of the software.
The Kontakt window offers three page views: Drums, Mixer and Options. The Drums window has controls to the right that allow you to tune and adjust the volume envelopes of the currently selected kit item (the last item clicked on or played via MIDI). The Mixer window allows you to balance and pan the various mic feeds from the kit and to mix the close mics with the overhead and room mics. Each channel has Solo and Mute buttons. A button flips the view between drums and additional percussion (tambourine, cowbell, stick clicks, shaker and hand claps). Finally, the Options window allows adjustment of mic spill, MIDI velocity curves and so on. You can also 'humanise' the sound here, by independently randomising volume, velocity, time, pitch and EQ.
Drum sounds changed dramatically after the '60s, and while individual hits gained more definition, we still hadn't entered the era of the really deep kick sound, so by modern standards these '70s kicks sound a bit lightweight. The toms and snare have more life and presence than the '60s sounds but, again, not quite the in‑your‑face clarity of today's kits, which makes them easy to place in a mix. As a concession to the '70s, room and overhead mics are in stereo.
The Tight Kit has a noticeably more pronounced focus, due to the use of baffles (especially if you add in the overheads), but I also liked the four‑mic Ludwig kit, which sounds a little more natural than the 'close‑miked everything' version. With the Open Kit, the two different sets of overhead mics give a markedly different sound to each other, and you can still add in the room mics if you want to make everything sound bigger and more lively.
The 'light' versions of the kits miss out the alternate hits, while retaining the velocity layers, so they use less RAM and load much more quickly. In the majority of pop applications, I don't think you'd notice much, if any, difference, unless you were playing very busy tom fills.
There's a charming naivety to the sound of Abbey Road 70s Drums, and its period authenticity is right on the money. What's more, the multiple miking options and the Kontakt interface allow plenty of scope for user adjustment.
The obvious alternatives are Toontracks' EZ Drummer and FXpansion's BFD, which also offer vintage kits, but if you want that authentic Abbey Road '70s sound, this is the real deal.
- Flexible Kontakt interface.
- Authentic '70s sound.
- Plenty of user control.
- Intuitive and graphically appealing kit controls.
- Large sample sets can mean long loading times, unless you opt for the 'light' versions.
Today's 'big guns' drum instruments offer fantastic quality and lots of variety, but when it comes to capturing the right period sound, nothing gets closer than these Abbey Road kits.
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