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Steinberg LM4

24-bit VST Drum Module By Martin Walker
Published July 2000

LM4 has a clean and simple user interface, although drum set editing is not amongst its built‑in capabilities (this must be carried out in a separate utility).LM4 has a clean and simple user interface, although drum set editing is not amongst its built‑in capabilities (this must be carried out in a separate utility).

Effectively a drum machine in plug‑in form, Steinberg's new LM4 offers the seamless integration with Cubase that is the boon of all VST instruments, as well as claiming far better timing than any MIDI device. Martin Walker pounds the PC beat, while Paul Ward delivers the Mac perspective.

VST instruments are a fast‑growing area of interest for many hi‑tech musicians this year, as regular readers of SOS will already be aware (see the reviews of Steinberg's Model E and Native Instruments' Pro Five in SOS April 2000, and last month's PC Musician featu re for more details). Made possible by the expansion of the VST plug‑in standard for software studio plug‑ins to version 2.0, which allows plug‑ins to receive and transmit MIDI data, VST Instruments run inside Cubase and are therefore conveniently integrated with your music production software. They also offer sample‑accurate timing, as there's no need to send sluggish MIDI data down creaky old bits of wire outside your PC to trigger them. If you think about it, this makes a drum machine an ideal candidate for conversion into a VST instrument, so it should come as no surprise that this is exactly what Steinberg have done in creating the LM4 plug‑in. It's essentially an 18‑pad drum module stuffed full of 16‑bit and 24‑bit sampled drum and percussion sounds. Samples can be velocity‑layered with no restrictions, so with enough memory you could theoretically have up to 128 sounds per pad!

There are 10 supplied 16‑bit drum sets, comprising Real, Eighties, Electro 1 and 2, Heavy, Jazz, Power, Soul, Reggae, and FX. All but the FX set have standard GM mapping, which makes them straightforward to use, and the kit sizes range from a couple of hundred kilobytes for the Electro 2 to 1.6Mb for Real. However, those who want to use the supplied 24‑bit Wizoo kits will need more RAM and hard disk space, even if they still run Cubase in its 16‑bit mode. Again, there are 10 kits supplied, but this time in both economy and 'XXL' versions, and comprising basic, acid jazz, ambience, ballad, drum and bass, hip‑hop, latin, R&B, soul, and straight rock. Most of the sounds used in the XXL versions have four velocity layers and use 30 to 50Mb of RAM, while the Eco versions use less or no velocity layering, and take between 10Mb and 20Mb of RAM. During installation you can install just the VST Instrument, or transfer either or both of the standard and Wizoo kits to your hard drive to save loading time every time you use them. However, opting to install the lot takes up a hefty 382Mb.

LM4's programming window is divided into four sections. At the bottom left are the 18 pads in two rows of nine, and these let you trigger each drum in the currently loaded set with a fixed MIDI velocity of 96. An LED above each pad glows yellow when the pad is selected, and green when MIDI data is received, while unselected pads glow red when MIDI data is received.

Above each pad there are two sliders with which you set pad volume and tuning (ie. the pitch of the sample). The output routing and pan position for the currently selected pad are set at the bottom right of the screen. Thereis a single stereo output labelled 'St' and four additional mono ones labelled 3, 4, 5, and 6. These channels all appear in the normal Cubase VST channel mixer, and provide a useful way to add individual EQ, compression, reverb or other effects to specific sounds in your LM4 kit. You can also send multiple pads to any of the outputs if you want to set up sub‑mixes, and if you ever need more outputs then you could open another instance of the LM4 module — up to eight, in fact! The only downside to this is that it potentially increases the amount of memory required to hold the drum sets, but if you design your sets to avoid duplication between your multiple LM4s, it shouldn't be too much of a problem. The two final controls are at top right, and set overall volume of the kit and velocity sensitivity. All of these controls can be automated, although the process of recording real‑time changes is rather different to how you do it with plug‑in effects; LM4 generates SysEx data rather than MIDI controller data. Of course, you can record SysEx into a Cubase MIDI track, but editing is not as straightforward.

Using LM4 is extremely easy, and I was certainly impressed by the larger 24‑bit Wizoo kits, which came to life when played from a MIDI keyboard with suitable velocity control. It proved remarkably easy to perform realistic press rolls on the snare, while the combination of closed, pedal and open hi‑hats were thoroughly convincing, and the kick drums and toms exhibited exactly the right amounts of extra 'thwack' and skin tension as you played harder.

However, favourite drum sounds are a very personal thing, and other people may not like the largely natural‑sounding kits on offer here. Steinberg have already announced more LM4 drum sounds — the XXL Compilation from BitBeats contains 36 high‑quality kits recorded with up to eight velocity layers at a bargain £39. Of course,a drum sample player should really have a means of importing your own sounds to assemble your own kits, but LM4 has no built‑in editing facilities. Steinberg have instead provided a freeware Mac and PC drum kit editor on their web site (follow the links to the Download section from the Support page). I downloaded the PC version twice, but on both occasions the utility crashed the moment it was launched. However, the file defining each kit is text‑based, so you can copy and modify existing ones using a text editor if you prefer (see the 'Set Pieces' box for more on this).

LM4 is first and foremost a drum machine; it is not a drum‑loop creator, and those who want more complex rhythm‑generating facilities, such as cut‑and‑paste groove template options, should look elsewhere. Those who want to create lots of kits using new sounds may also find LM4 rather unwieldy, since this process involves moving between two applications. In short, LM4 will appeal to those musicians who want a wide range of traditional kits with expression and tight timing, as well as being able to purchase more drum sets as and when required.

The Mac User's Perspective

I evaluated LM4 on a Power Mac G3 300MHz with 192Mb RAM, and had no problems using any of the features of the module, or the supplied drum sets. Certainly, anyone with enough dendrochronological rings to remember Linn drum machines will feel at home with LM4 in no time.

One great plus is that LM4's pads are polyphonic — so your efforts won't end up suffering from the 'machine‑gunning' effect created during rolls when one monophonic drum pad cuts off another — although LM4 can be made to work that way deliberately, if you want the effect for production reasons. Sounds may be grouped, to allow closed and open hi‑hats to cut each other off for instance, and maximum voice polyphony can be specified.

If you do have the RAM for them, the Wizoo‑sourced drum sets are seriously stunning. I tried some of the Wizoo kits on a few of my previously recorded MIDI drum tracks (recorded using Simmons drum pads linked to an Alesis D4 drum module's trigger inputs). I have to admit to being sceptical about the real benefits of 24‑bit recording in electronically produced music, but nevertheless the result was superb — these sets seem to breathe and pulse in sympathy with the nuances recorded from a real drummer's input.

This is all well and good, but what happens when your computer starts to run out of steam? LM4 is certainly an overhead in real‑time operation. Fortunately, the integration with Cubase allows you simply to 'print' LM4's output and free up the processing power it consumes for a few more effects and processors — you just mix down within Cubase and re‑import the audio — simple.

Steinberg make great claims for LM4's timing accuracy, with phrases such as "40 times better than any MIDI controlled device". This can be put down to the relatively slow serial nature of MIDI data throughput, compared to the sample‑frame accuracy of LM4. I performed extensive listening tests and can confirm that heavily quantised drum patterns sounded much tighter to me on LM4 than on my Alesis D4.

In fact, using LM4 is such a pleasure that it might get a few folks away from those boring drum loops and back to some real rhythm programming of their own. Well, I can dream, can't I? Paul Ward

Set Pieces — Creating Your Own Drum Sets

If I have one major criticism of LM4, it is the roundabout method of creating your own drum sets. Unlike on a 'real' drum machine this doesn't take place in LM4 itself. The sets are defined as text files, 'scripts', into which must be typed a mystical list of numbers and commas to define the set — velocity splits, MIDI key assignments, sample offsets and so on — using a text editor. It all seems very unfriendly, and can be painstaking work, even though the on‑disk help files do their best to guide you through the process. I managed to get the freeware drum kit editor from the Steinberg web site working, but found it quite hard going. The editor also has a distinct 'quick and dirty' feel to it and I noticed a couple of rough edges, so I hope refinements come along soon. For quick tinkering I suspect it may actually be easier to edit the scripts with a text editor. To get you new kit into a bank you have to remember the name you gave it and type this directly into the program name in the VST Instrument panel. Once in there, the sensible thing to do is to save as a bank. This is all a bit messy to my way of thinking.

Mind you, once I had got my head around the creation of drum sets I had a wonderful time compiling kits filled with all kinds of strangeness. Go beyond the bounds of simple drum sounds and LM4 becomes a very creative tool. I soon had it handling background textures, spotting sound effects and triggering pre‑mixed song sections to create cut‑and‑paste remix material. Paul Ward

Justifiable Whinge & Moan Corner

Switching between LM4 drum sets is achieved with the standard Cubase program up/down buttons, but if a memory‑hungry drum set is chosen, there can be a bit of a delay while LM4 loads up the sounds. To avoid frustration, Steinberg have added a slight delay from the point where the program button is pressed to when LM4 begins loading. Clicking quickly over unwanted programs avoids any delay, but I occasionally missed a click and had a long wait before I could move on again. Steinberg themselves suggest that you become familiar with the banks, or create single‑drum set banks of your own, which I feel is a bit of a cop‑out (although to be fair, I must point out that this waiting time only becomes an issue when large drum sets are in use). It would be preferable if the load process could be interrupted, but unfortunately, it can't.

While we are on the subject of irritations, I'd love to know why Cubase insists on showing all of the greyed‑out VST effects plug‑ins in the virtual instruments drop‑down list? If I'm loading a virtual instrument then the only items in the list I want to see are instruments — and Cubase can clearly determine which ones they are, or the others wouldn't be greyed out! Next update, please Steinberg? Paul Ward.


  • Seamless integration with VST 2.0 technology.
  • Quick and easy to use for playback.
  • 20 supplied kits.
  • Realistic response from larger 24‑bit kits.


  • No built‑in editing facilities.
  • Not many modern sounds on offer.
  • Can be heavy on your computer's resources.
  • Uses System Exclusive commands as automation data.


A straightforward drum module with velocity‑layering and 24‑bit capability, with extremely tight timing capabilities. There are no built‑in facilities for assembling new kits, but the Wizoo‑supplied drum sets are of very high quality — if you have enough RAM to make use of them.