While the grooves allow you to find something that provides a rhythmic fit to your project, the Song Track enables your bass line to follow the harmonic (chord sequence) structure. The top-most lane within the Song Track allows you to define song sections (verse, chorus, etc). The middle lane is where your chord sequences are entered. There is a comprehensive toolset available for adding chord slots, adjusting their length and for copy/paste operations. Once you select a chord box within the lane, double-clicking opens a chord wheel (similar to that found in EZkeys, but without the more complex chord voicings) to define each chord, with major, minor and bass note inversions supported.
As with EZkeys, defining your full chord sequence is the one element of the EZbass workflow that can take some time. Thankfully, you can copy/paste entire song sections to speed up your overall workflow. Rather wonderfully, you can also drag and drop MIDI clips directly into the Song Track. This includes the option to drag and drop from EZkeys' own pattern browser and EZbass will attempt to pick out the chordal structure in whatever is dragged and dropped, although the piano MIDI data added into the bottom lane will subsequently need replacing with something more bass-friendly. This doesn't currently include all the chord extensions but, in my own testing at least, it did a pretty good job with major and minor chord roots and any lowest note inversions. Incidentally, dragging and dropping from EZbass to EZkeys is possible, but I would guess that this cross-instrument communication might well be something that Toontrack will aim to enhance in subsequent updates to all of the SD/EZ line.
The bottom lane of the Song Track is where your EZbass grooves are placed. When you drag from the Groove tab, you get two options upon dropping. If you hover over the song section/chord lanes, all three lanes are highlighted and, when you drop, you get a new song section (overwriting anything beneath it), a new chord sequence (many of the grooves have a chord structure embedded within them) and the bass groove itself in the lower lane. However, if you hover over the bottom lane before dropping, the current song structure and chord data is retained and just the new bass groove is dropped, at which point, its note pitches are automatically adjusted to fit the chord sequence. This is really very neat and makes it easy to experiment with different grooves as you build a full performance.
These top-level editing features of the Song Track are impressive enough, but it's the additional, more detailed, editing tools that really emphasise just how well thought out and powerful EZbass is from the 'virtual performer' perspective. There are three key elements to this: the Transition options, the Play Style controls and the Grid Editor.
The Transition options are available top-centre of the Song Track panel. When applied, EZbass adds passing notes to help the chord changes flow. There is an excellent range of transition styles, from short to long and including swung, triplets and slides. What's more, transitions can be applied as a single operation to whatever events you have selected within the Song Track, be that a single chord, a whole song section, or multiple song sections. It's a brilliant feature and instantly adds additional character to the performance.
You can add further 'human' via the Edit Play Style panel. Once opened, you can adjust the octave, velocity (velocity is scaled), the amount of notes (more or less), damping (degree of finger/palm muting) and length (MIDI note lengths are adjusted). Again, all these controls can be applied to whatever level of Song Track content is currently selected. As a means of adding dynamics and expression to a performance, it's powerful, flexible and very easy to use.
While the Transition and Play Style controls are 'macro' in operation, the Grid Editor provides all the nitty-gritty MIDI editing your bass-playing heart might desire. Much of the functionality here — editing note pitches and length, quantising and adjusting velocity, for example — mimics what you would find in your DAW's own MIDI editing environment. However, it's also here that you can define performance articulations for any selected notes and apply different styles of slides between notes.
If you do eventually drag and drop MIDI data from the Song Track to your DAW, all the performance data is preserved (as keyswitch notes within the MIDI) but editing is going to be nowhere near as slick as within the EZbass — and its well-featured Grid Editor — itself. In terms of workflow, leaving your bass line MIDI data within EZbass and letting playback sync with your DAW is a much better workflow.
Finally, it's worth noting that, if you want to try variations before committing to a final bass performance, you can create multiple tracks within the Song Track, with whichever one is currently in focus taking precedence on playback. Data can be copied/pasted between tracks as required.
Oh, and one final point: the price. I did a complete double-take when I saw just where Toontrack had pitched this product; it is an absolute no-brainer bargain.
As noted earlier, EZbass's groove library is impressive and will, I'm sure, soon be expanded upon. However, if you have pre-existing MIDI or audio performance data in a project, and want to encourage EZbass to follow this, then the Drum & Keys and Audio Tracker tabs can be used to explore this possibility.
The Drum & Keys window is conceptually straightforward in that it allows you to drag and drop MIDI data into EZbass and the software then extracts rhythmic data from it. However, drum and keyboard data is handled differently, and offers you different approaches to generating a suitable bass groove from that data. For drum data, rhythm is the key element, with four options provided for bass notes to lock into. While it doesn't offer automatic pitch variation (other than that subsequently generated by the chord lane or added via the Grid Editor), it does provide a means to lock your rhythm section together as tightly as required. For keyboard MIDI, EZbass can either follow just the left hand (the low notes) or the overall rhythm and chords. Either way, the resulting bass groove provides both timing and pitch data and, of course, you can refine this using any of the editing tools described above.
The Audio Tracker window provides a different approach. This is obviously similar to SD3's Tracker option but, instead of automatically turning drum audio into drum MIDI data, EZbass can turn a monophonic (single note, not chords) guitar or bass audio recording, or a drum audio recording, into a bass groove. Results are obviously dependent upon the source audio and, in my own experimentation, cleaner, less effects-laden, audio sources produced better outcomes. That said, this is most certainly not just a gimmick and can generate some very usable results if you are working on a riff-based musical project.
The individual elements of the feature set are impressive in their own right. However, in use, what's particularly striking is just how quickly you can go from zero to hero in terms of a complete bass part; the EZbass workflow is very smooth. While entering complex chord changes or voicings into the Song Track can take some time, the toolset does its best to assist with what is simply an inevitably repetitive process. That said, it's worth it as adding chords is a key part of getting EZbass to do its magic. In all other regards, however, the workflow is very efficient, including adding that essential 'human' character to the final performance. The results can be utterly convincing.
For many users, one compelling reason for using SD3 is that, regardless of the performance itself, they could not match the sonic quality of the drum sounds it produces in their own recording space. Recording an electric bass — whether via DI, amp or both — is perhaps a more realistic undertaking even in a modest home/project studio. However, sonically, EZbass just sounds fabulous with no DI box or amp required. Combined with SD3, you can have a killer rhythm section on your recordings, whatever the status of your physical studio space. These are virtual session musicians who can be your first call across a huge range of musical styles.
Excellent though this first iteration of EZbass is, though, I don't expect Toontrack will put their feet up just yet. EZbass is ripe for the kinds of sound and MIDI groove expansions that already exist for both SD3/EZdrummer and EZkeys. A fretless electric and an acoustic bass would be obvious sound expansions, while dedicated MIDI groove expansions from jazz ballads to metalcore will, I'm sure, be lapped up by many users. I'll happily join the queue. Oh, and surely Toontrack must have plans for an overhaul for EZkeys? It's still a powerful virtual instrument/player, but it would be great to see it benefit from the UI and feature sets that both SD3 and EZbass now offer.
In the teaser materials for EZbass, Toontrack have emphasised EZbass's role as a 'tool for songwriters'. If anything, I think this perhaps undersells its appeal. Yes, for solo songwriters looking to make release-quality recordings, EZbass will undoubtedly tick a lot of boxes. However, whether it's bedroom producers, media composers or high-flying producers who, for whatever reason, can't get access to their usual bass session player, EZbass is going to be a very attractive option.
Oh, and one final point: the price. I did a complete double-take when I saw just where Toontrack had pitched this product; it is an absolute no-brainer bargain. Toontrack have completely knocked it out the park with EZbass. It is brilliant and will sell by the bucketload.
There are plenty of alternatives when it comes to conventional sample-based electric bass instruments, with options such as IK Multimedia's impressively weighty MODO Bass or Steinberg's more compact Electric Bass spanning a range of prices. And of course there's Spectrasonics Trillian, which has been doing sterling bass duty for a decade now. However, if you want a 'player' function, then the obvious alternatives are UJAM's three Virtual Bassist instruments, originally reviewed in the July 2019 issue of SOS. These offer a very different approach to the creation of a bass performance and, as a consequence, are perhaps aimed at a somewhat different type of user than EZbass, but also combine sample-based bass sounds with a 'virtual player'.
- Both Modern and Vintage basses sound fabulous.
- Excellent workflow.
- High-quality, realistic vbass parts are easy to create.
- Incredible value for money.
- Chord sequence entry can be a bit labour–intensive.
- Limited fretless options in the core library.
- Absolutely nothing else.
Toontrack have created a virtual bass player that is on a par with their ground-breaking SD3 virtual drummer. EZbass is 'superior' in almost every way.
- Cubase Pro 10.5.12.
- Apple iMac running OS 10.13.6, 3.5GHz Intel Core i7, 32GB RAM.