It’s been a long time coming, but the follow up to XLN’s Addictive Drums was worth the wait.
There are plenty of virtual drum instruments to choose from, offering highly detailed, top-of-the-range drum kits lovingly recorded in expensive studios. Some people use them solely as a demoing or songwriting tool, others see them as a valid alternative to real drums and put a lot of time and effort into making them an important and featured part of their music. Whatever your persuasion, it’s factors such as cost, sound quality, the level of detailed realism, expandability and ease of use that affect the decision to gravitate towards one virtual drum instrument rather than another.
Since 2006, Addictive Drums (herein referred to as AD) has proven very popular, delivering on all these fronts. Whilst perhaps not as minutely adjustable or customisable as, say, FXpansion’s BFD or Toontrack’s Superior Drummer, it’s XLN Audio’s ‘everything you need and nothing you don’t’ philosophy that has made it so easy to get great results with the minimum of fuss. Their constantly expanding library embraces many kits from the 1960s to the present day, all eminently tweakable — beyond recognition if desired — using well-designed effects and a very attractive and usable interface. Mindful of the constant demand for newer and better features, Addictive Drums 2 (AD2) addresses some of the limitations of the original version, and benefits from improvements and additions across the board. You can check out the review of the original version here: www.soundonsound.com/sos/jul07/articles/addictivedrums.htm.
Installation of all XLN products now requires you to use their proprietary online installer, first introduced with Addictive Keys. Once the online installer application is running and you’ve logged into your account, your existing AD libraries (if any) are scanned and checked for available updates. These and any AD2 products you’ve just purchased will show up as ‘update available’ or ‘install’ as appropriate. You can choose to download and install items one at a time, or everything in one go — it’s up to you and how much you enjoy watching progress bars!
AD2’s GUI adopts the same approach as Addictive Keys, using picture-based galleries to navigate through the content. Each kit has two Explorer menus; the Kit menu offers a selection of ‘bread and butter’ presets generally biased towards more natural drum sounds, whilst those in the Selections menu tend to be more processed, often demonstrating how radically the kits can be transformed away from the raw material. Depending on what you have installed, the presets’ audition buttons will show either an arrow (the kit is installed and a short MIDI loop plays) or a headphone icon (the kit is not installed and the same loop plays as an audio demo). The latter gives a taste of what you could have — it’s a useful demo tool, as well as a shrewd ‘carrot on a stick’ sales technique!
The Kit page gives an overview of all loaded kitpieces. Visually it’s less cluttered than before, and rather easier on the eye. There are now 18 kitpiece slots as opposed to AD’s 12, a welcome expansion providing six cymbal slots and two ride slots, a vast improvement on the three cymbals and one ride of the earlier version, which was always a frustration. Additionally, three new Flexi slots accept any kind of kitpiece, so you can add extra toms, cymbals or anything else as the situation demands. These Flexi slots replace the Xtra slot in AD, which was rather limited in its usefulness. The kick drum and snare can each be linked to any number of other kitpieces, of any kind. Simply click on either drum’s link icon and drag it to the target kitpiece. Making up a composite dual snare sound is as easy as loading your second snare to a Flexi slot and linking the two together. Flexis also host a number of additional useful ‘trigger’ sounds (sine waves, white noise and uncredited ‘drum machine’ kick and snare samples) designed to be used as layering textures, or indeed used in their own right. The larger complement of kitpiece slots has also caused the mixer to grow in size; there are 10 channels compared to the eight of AD.
Turning to the Edit page, every mixer channel now has two MultiFX inserts; one pre-EQ and one post-EQ. Joining the original Compressor/Distortion effects module are three new effects, beginning with a Noise module for those who don’t like things to be too clean. Eight types of noise including tube hiss, 7ips and 15ips tape hiss, and even Fairfax Studio’s air conditioner noise, can be mixed in and shaped with a variable decay envelope. Tape and Shape are, respectively, a tape simulator and a transient shaper, the latter being a particularly effective tool for controlling the ‘snappiness’ and sustain characteristics of individual AD2 channels and/or its master output. These share the same effects module as the Saturation Limiter (also found in AD) and each effect within the module can be enabled individually. Both pre and post effects modules can be toggled between either Tape/Shape/Saturation or Compressor/Distortion options, so the order in which processes occur is up to you. The only difference in structure is found in the Bus and Master channels, where the Noise module is placed after the post-EQ effect module, as opposed to being first in the chain on all other channels. The EQ module has also been upgraded to four bands; the two middle bands are peak boost/cut with variable Q, whilst the lowest and highest bands are shelving types.
New features are found in the Edit page’s upper ‘sampler’ section too. Velocity response of each kitpiece can be adjusted to access a narrower range of velocity layers, whilst still giving the full scope of velocity to volume response. The adjoining Filter knob, when set above zero, controls the amount of low-pass filter applied to lower velocities, effectively ‘darkening’ quieter hits.
Adjacent to the Pitch control, and available only to the kick and snare drums, is the Tone Designer (toggled as an alternative to the Pitch Envelope module). This clever gizmo appears to act as a frequency-specific envelope-shaper that controls the amplitude decay curve of a predetermined frequency range. Every kick and snare kitpiece has its own signature frequencies; these have been predetermined by XLN, and if you load drums in succession you can see the frequency graphic is different for each one. For example, if the decay length of a particular snare is right, but you feel its metallic ring goes on too long, the Tone Designer can shorten the envelope of those ringing frequencies whilst leaving the overall envelope and volume of the snare untouched. Conversely, if you want more ring you can push Tone Designer’s envelope to the ceiling and really bring that character to the fore. It’s often more effective than EQ or a general envelope adjustment, both of which might compromise the rest of the drum sound.
Based on those featured in Addictive Keys, FX1 and FX2 are two identical send effects modules, referred to as Delerbs; essentially, delay and reverb combined into one effect. A ‘blend’ slider mixes from delay at one end to reverb at the other, and anything in between. The delay can be tempo-sync’ed to one of 11 note values, or set in milliseconds, with control over feedback, swing and ping-pong width. The reverb has ambience, room, hall and plate algorithms, with pre-delay, decay time, damping, and a ‘swirl’ parameter — basically a chorus for thickening the reverb. Both effects modules are followed by two-band parametric EQ and a choice of pre or post Master fader routings.
AD2 again borrows its Preset Browser from Addictive Keys, with useful tools for filtering presets by category; you can choose to browse by product, by author (ie. you or XLN), by type, or any combination of these. Within your search terms, an optional ‘Sound Ideal’ filter activates a slidable bar that further categorises your search results into ‘Natural’ at one end of the scale to ‘Extreme’ at the other. If you own the full range of AD2 products, the number of Presets is huge, so these filters can speed up your search for the perfect kit considerably. As with Addictive Keys, your own Presets are continually updated to XLN’s Cloud storage (as long as you’re online, you don’t need to be logged in). Your Presets are therefore safe even in the event of the dreaded disk crash; when AD2 is re-installed, it automatically retrieves and reinstates all your Presets. Owners of AD who wish to port their AD Presets over to AD2 will be pleased to know that AD presets can be dragged from their folder and dropped straight onto AD2, and they load perfectly.
AD2 comes pre-installed with a selection of MIDI drum grooves drawn from XLN’s range of MIDIpaks. Searching for a suitable beat could be time-consuming, so various search tools help to narrow down the choices. You can search by Library, Category, Tempo or Time signature; you can also type in a keyword.
The Grid Search provides a fun and useful way to customise the beats brought up by a regular search. It works by presenting a three-lane step sequencer, each lane representing the hi-hat, snare and kick of the currently selected beat. Ticked orange circles show where each instruments’ beats fall; click on any step to add or remove hits, and the search list updates to show any grooves that share this change. If the hits you’ve added are unticked, it means there are no grooves in the library that share this characteristic, in which case clicking Replace for that lane plays the line you’ve created. You can then drag and drop this modified MIDI groove to your DAW.
The Shortlist tab over to the right provides a very handy way of assembling in one place all the beats you’ve found and/or created. These methods alone are a good way to customise the grooves on offer, but the Transform tab takes things much further. Here, you can alter the dynamic range not only of the entire groove, but of the individual instruments within. Using the Accent controls, it’s possible to increase or reduce dynamics on an eighth- or 16th-note basis, and to add dynamics to otherwise ‘undynamic’ hits. You can also invert the dynamics to completely alter the feel of the groove. Ride, toms, hi-hat and snare can be reassigned to alternative articulations as well, and timing and velocities can be randomised. Grooves can be run at half or double time, 75 percent or 133 percent of normal speed, 4/4 can be changed to 6/8 and vice versa; there’s an incredible number of ways to make new grooves from the presets. Two more features cap off the Beats page: firstly, your own MIDI drum performances can be recorded straight into AD2 and saved as MIDI files in its browser. Lastly, anything you play in AD2, whether it’s a real-time performance, a MIDI drum part playing in your DAW, a single hit or a groove pattern, can be dragged straight into your DAW as an audio file of up to 15 seconds in length.
There’s much in AD2 to make the upgrade decision a no-brainer: the additional kitpiece slots, kitpiece linking, the new insert effects (especially the Transient Shaper) and compatibility with older AD Presets did it for me, and many are sure to find the massively improved Beats page inspirational as well. XLN’s pricing structure is sensible, allowing for newcomers to add kits as and when they can afford to, rather than paying for a huge core library they might never make use of. And the most important bit? It sounds bloody marvellous.
Toontrack Superior Drummer and EZdrummer 2, FXpansion BFD3, Drumasonic, Native Instruments’ Drummer Series and Steven Slate Drums all provide detailed, natural-sounding virtual drum kits recorded to a high standard, each with their own signature sound and features. AD2 is not unique in these respects, so it’s a case of try before you buy, compare sounds, features and ease of use, and let your instincts decide for you.
A handy snapshot feature allows up to four snapshots of the current state of AD2; subsequent snapshots can be taken, but these push the earliest one off the list, so it’s always the most recent four that you can toggle between. This obviates having to save edits in progress before making further major adjustments — you can always go back to a previous snapshot if those recent changes don’t work out.
To coincide with the release of AD2, XLN introduced a new ADpak, Fairfax Vol 1. This Gretsch Stop Sign kit was recorded in the legendary Fairfax Studio A (formerly known as Sound City) in Los Angeles, famous as the recording venue of many seminal albums. Fairfax Vol 1 does indeed sound very ‘American’, with a sound XLN describe as ‘beefy, punchy and muscular’. I’d go along with that description, and add that the kit is eminently malleable to suit most rock genres. As such it would make a good choice as a starter kit for newcomers to Addictive Drums. An American Rock MIDIpak is also available to complement the Fairfax kit.
At the time of writing, existing owners of AD can upgrade to AD2 for €79.95; the cost includes free upgrades of all your existing content to AD2 format. Installing AD2 doesn’t in any way affect your original AD installation — you can still run projects that used AD as before. Bear in mind though that your upgraded kits will need to be downloaded again in the new format (as I’ve mentioned in the ‘Installation’ section). New owners are offered an attractive deal: €129.95 gets you AD2 plus any ADpak of your choice — that’s effectively an ADpak for just €50.00 instead of the usual price of €89.95. Artist, Producer, XXL Studio and Solo bundles are also available with associated cash savings. The original AD ADpaks that comprised multiple kits are now broken up into individual products, giving a total of 16 ADpaks, eight individual kitpieces and 27 MIDIpaks.
- Excellent range of superbly recorded, stylistically themed ADpaks available.
- Twice the number of insert effects, including an excellent Transient Shaper and one of the best compressors (for drums) I know of.
- Eighteen kitpiece slots, with kitpiece linking.
- Beats page has many ways to creatively customise MIDI grooves.
- It didn’t come out sooner.
AD2 is a worthy upgrade that addresses the limitations of the original version, whilst adding some valuable new features. The insert effect chain has been greatly enhanced, there’s better EQ, greater control over velocity response, and numerous ways to indulge in serious drum sound design. For those that use MIDI grooves, the Beats page is now capable of genuine creativity. Oh, and it looks lovely, too.