This is one of a series of drum performance libraries from UK-based company Drumdrops. As with other titles in their range, A Fistful Of Drummers is available in two formats; either as a single DVD of 16-bit loops or as a three-DVD set containing 24-bit multitrack performances. The collections are based around some 40 performances, covering tempos of 70-147bpm. While the single DVD is based around loops (mostly two, four, and eight bars in length), the multitrack set provides complete performances, mostly running between three and four minutes. Each performance includes the kick, snare, hi-hat, tom, overhead, and room microphones — with all the usual leakage between the various mics, but suitable for mixing from scratch. Very usefully, Drumdrops provide Digidesign Pro Tools, Apple Logic, and Steinberg Cubase session files for each performance, and these include tempo maps to exactly match the natural variations within the drumming. These are really useful, as they enable accurate quantising of any MIDI tracks added to the project.
Drumdrops also make a great play of the recording methods used. All their material is recorded to tape using analogue equipment, including a 1970s Neve console, vintage mics, Pultec equalisers, and Fairchild compressors. If you are after a 'classic' drum sound, then all the right ingredients ought to be here.
The styles represented here have their origins in the 1960s and 1970s — funk, soul, and rock dominate, but there is also a smattering of material that is aimed at early hip-hop. I get the impression that the producers sometimes had very specific tracks in mind. For example, amongst the collection was a classic Motown-style performance with a very funky Shaft vibe. There were also a number of performances that paid a clear homage to John Bonham — great for that classic rock feel. The loops were very easy to work with (for example, within Sony Acid Pro 5), but I had the most fun working with the multitrack versions. For those without access to a good live room and a stockpile of vintage recording gear (that would be most of us then!), mixing these multitrack performances is both a pleasure and an educational experience. Of course, sections of the full performances can be sliced and diced in the usual way in order to customise the arrangement — but just make sure you take the tempo information with the audio data if you do rearrange, so that any MIDI data stays tightly in sync.
However, perhaps the most noticeable thing about this collection is the sound — the vintage all-analogue recording approach results in performances that really do sound like they could have been recorded in the '60s and '70s. The character of the drums also seems right, in particular the kick drums, which are well rounded and lacking the somewhat clinical sound found on many modern recordings. This distinctive character will certainly not suit a lot of modern productions, but equally, given the vogue for a retro sound in some current guitar-based rock, the cool vibe will certainly appeal to others. I think the multitrack versions offer slightly more bang for the buck, but the loops still represent decent value for those that prefer the simplicity offered by that format. If that classic analogue character is what you are looking for in your drum samples, then listen to the MP3 demos on the Drumdrops web site and you might be in for a treat. John Walden
16-bit Apple Loops, REX 2, and WAV DVD-ROM, £75; 24-bit multitrack AIFF 3-DVD-ROM set, £99. Prices include VAT.
Drumdrops +44 (0)1273 553106.
Black Grand 's forerunner White Grand was reviewed in SOS May 2004. Both pianos incorporate an impressive 36 stereo samples per note (16 dynamic layers for pedal up, 16 for pedal down, and four dynamics of release samples), but where the white instrument (a Malmsjo nine-foot grand) was recorded only on the white keys, the new contender (a Steinway D, Hamburg model) has been sampled on all 88 notes. The Black Grand recordings were made from three different listening perspectives, rocketing the number of multisamples up to around 9500!
The installation of the 16-bit Giga 2 version consumes 11.7GB of disk space. A clearly written booklet is included, along with a PDF file containing photos — these helpfully show the three mic placements and the recording location (the modern-looking Orebro concert hall in Sweden). In the Ambient perspective (mics set up on the front of the stage) the hall acoustic, though not overwhelmingly reverberant, imparts a sense of space and location; this more open, slightly classical sound would sit well in an orchestral arrangement. For pop and jazz, most players would favour the Close miking, which is more intimate, cutting, and in your face, producing a wide stereo image from low to high notes. Different mics were used for the three perspectives, resulting in subtle differences of tone — the Medium Ambience set has noticeably less 'zing' than the other two.
Gigastudio performance files (GSPs) provide a choice of ten different dynamic styles ranging from clangorous fortissimo to soft, sensitive timbres. If you want to sound like Elton John and Beverly Craven rolled into one (God help you), performance number one combines all 16 velocities in one all-purpose, dynamically neutral patch. Unfortunately, the GSPs didn't work on my review copy — there's a fix on Sampletekk's web site, or you could do what I did and ask for a replacement copy! Surprisingly, the Black Grand is tuned a little sharp of standard concert pitch ('A' at 440Hz) which produces a somewhat fruity effect when the piano is layered with other keyboards. This is something Sampletekk should consider rectifying in a programming fix.
The Steinway D really comes to life in the 'pedal down' samples. I loved the wafty, ethereal sound produced by the open strings' sympathetic resonance, and wished there had been some programs consisting of 'pedal down' samples only. (How about it, Sampletekk?) All in all, this is a very decent, versatile, and musically responsive concert piano, recorded with great precision in an agreeable acoustic space. The programming is excellent, and the sixteen dynamic layers ensure there is no tell-tale timbral stepping — a smooth ride in a sleek black machine! Dave Stewart
16/24-bit EXS24, Gigastudio 2/3, Halion 2/3, or Kontakt 3-DVD-ROM set, £109 including VAT.
Time & Space +44 (0)1837 55200.
This library apparently aims to capture 'the true essence of the 1970s'. Quite what that really was is arguable — but the 'Funk & Disco Essentials' subtitle should clue you in to the fact that this collection aspires more to the dance-floor grooves of Chic and James Brown than the chart-topping sing-alongs of The Bay City Rollers or Mud. The software front end for this collection of samples is a limited version of Native Instruments' Intakt. This playback software was discussed back in SOS February 2005, so I won't recap any of that here, except to say that this instrument is compatible with Windows XP and Mac OS X. You'll need a quick CPU and plenty of RAM to get the best results, and a DVD-ROM drive and 1.4GB of free hard disk space are required.
The emphasis in the sound library is firmly on loops and phrases. The samples are arranged into 43 different construction kits, together with a further Toolkit library consisting of various extra bits and pieces. Various Hammond B3 and Wurlitzer sounds, guitars, basses, synths, trumpets, and various drums and percussion instruments are all included. I have to say that the quality of both the construction kits and the Toolkit samples is very high throughout. Regardless of how you happen to feel about the ongoing trend for kitsch nostalgia, there's no denying that this collection is extremely convincing, both musically and in terms of production.
Funk, soul, and disco sounds predominate, although there are a couple of rockier kits thrown in as well. In each case you're given the complete kit, with all the component parts conveniently mapped out across the keyboard. If you ever need to assemble plausible-sounding retro backing tracks in a hurry, you'll find Sounds Of The '70s very useful indeed.
Equally, if you prefer to be a bit more experimental, you won't be disappointed. Native Instruments have equipped Intakt with an impressive array of sound-mangling tools, and the raw material provided by this sample library can easily be taken and twisted into something new and unusual. Sounds Of The '70s does a good job of reproducing the characteristic sounds of its chosen era, and will appeal to anybody who needs quick, easy access to a convincingly retro sound palette. And, of course, Intakt 's ability to deconstruct and deform these same sounds may endear it to producers of hip-hop, drum and bass, or related dance styles. Paul Sellars
Intakt Instrument (including VST, DXi, Audio Units, RTAS, and stand-alone versions), £169.99 including VAT.
This is the follow-up to East West's previous Percussive Adventures title, and again uses the Intakt Instrument front end. First things first: this library is enormous. In addition to the usual system requirements (a reasonably quick Mac or PC with a sensible amount of RAM), you'll also need a hefty 3.1GB of hard disk space available to store the samples.
Percussive Adventures 2 is organised into more than 70 different construction kits, each containing a complete multi-layered 'bed' with all the component parts supplied in isolation. In addition, the producers have taken various elements from the different construction kits and grouped them together under three titles, Big Hits, Ambi Ants, and Movers & Shakers. Straightaway this collection impresses, and it instantly set me thinking about different ways in which its sounds might be used. This is partly down to good production — all the construction kits are very nicely recorded and mixed, and exhibit great clarity and depth. But what really sets this library apart from many others is the sheer originality of its ideas. Whereas some libraries start out with a particular style or genre in mind and provide you with various more or less effective 'by numbers' elements to suit it, Percussive Adventures 2 offers construction kits that are more like quirky, original, miniature compositions in their own right.
As you'd expect, the construction kits are primarily percussion pieces, most of which are eight bars long or more. There are some conventional drums and cymbals, and numerous other percussive noises, a few of which sound like 'found' objects. There are also some pitched and ambient sounds thrown into the mix, adding some extra colour to the proceedings. Processing is used tastefully and to great effect throughout. In particular there are some nice resonant filter sweeps in some of the kits, which might easily have been overdone, but instead add a pleasing articulation to the phrases. Some of the construction kits have a slightly abstract, electronic dance feel, while others seem to suggest some non-specific Eastern influence. Most have plenty of atmosphere and texture about them, and all would be well suited to film or television scores.
Percussive Adventures 2 is an great piece of work, and certainly among the best sample libraries I've heard. Technically, the collection is very well put together, and offers lots of usable content with no obvious filler. If you're looking for lively, imaginative percussion elements — almost regardless of your chosen genre — you could do worse than to look here. Paul Sellars
Intakt Instrument (including VST, DXi, Audio Units, RTAS, and stand-alone versions), £249.99 including VAT.