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Review: FXPansion BFD2 2.0.5 (Mac/Win)

July 1, 2008
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When it was introduced, BFD shattered the previous standards for authentic emulation of acoustic drums with its ultradetailed sampling, unprecedented Velocity layering captured with multiple microphones, and integrated mixing environment and MIDI groove engine. FXpansion continued to develop and expand the product, releasing regular updates through version 1.5 as well as several sound-library expansion packages making crucial use of new features.

But eventually there was only so much that could be squeezed into the original BFD interface. Drum-note mapping and the groove engine were stepping on each other's toes. More articulations, kit pieces, and editing options were added, but they were scattered in windows throughout the interface. The team went back into the studio to emerge with an entirely new product: BFD2 (see Fig. 1).

How Do You Like Me Now?

BFD2 not only addresses all BFD issues, but also kicks things up several notches. It features a new user interface, redesigned from the ground up, and an all-new mixing environment and groove engine, yet it manages to maintain backward compatibility with previous content and expansion libraries. Replacing the original BFD's mere 9 GB of drum library content are 50 GB of entirely new sample data including rare, vintage, and classic drum kits, all captured with even more meticulous detail. On top of this, FXpansion has added built-in effects plug-ins and kit presets that exploit them; thousands of new groove patterns; various work-flow enhancements; user sample import; and expanded support for easier mapping of controllers and electronic drum kits.

The new user interface is a leap beyond BFD's, ergonomically. Parameters are now organized and readily accessible in all screens despite what may be the most advanced and customizable drum-production environment ever created. There are a multitude of ways to tweak the sound and response of your drums and often several different places you can adjust the same parameters.

Buttons along the top navigate through five main pages: Kit, Mixer, Grooves, Keymapping/Automation, and Preferences. The Kit page lets you work with 10-, 18-, or even 32-piece drum kits. Selecting your kit size calls up a graphic display of a white drum set representing the current kit layout, and a grid below it where you load kit pieces. Clicking on a kit-piece slot changes the Kit-piece Inspector pane to the right, which contains all the main controls you need to mix and customize that piece (see Fig. 2). Four master faders appear in a minimixer to the lower right, which offers Direct, Overhead, Room, and Ambience (which replaces BFD's PMZ fader) preset channel strips.

BF Kits and Pieces

The 50 GB of samples make up ten drum kits, as well as a hefty helping of extra snares and cymbals, some basic percussion, and even a few electronic hits ported over from FXpansion's 8-Bit Kit library. The sampling sessions were done at London's AIR Studios, the recording studio of Beatles producer George Martin, using a custom Neve console.

Up to 96 Velocity layers were captured at 24-bit resolution, and each layer of each kit-piece articulation includes 12 different mic channels. Snares include five different articulations: Hit, Rim, Sidestick, Drag, and a new Half Edge sample in place of BFD's Flam articulation. Hi-hats include up to 11 different articulations, and new to BFD2 are 3-way-articulation cymbals (Hit, Bell, Edge). All this detail blends together to form a highly organic experience of the sound characteristics of a real drum set.

The ten kits cover a range of modern, vintage, and custom sets from Ludwig, DW, Pearl, Rogers, Gretsch, and others. Of special note are two historic kits: a Ludwig Vistalite kit once owned by Led Zeppelin's John Bonham; and one of Ringo Starr's Ludwig Black Oyster kits from 1964. Both kits sound absolutely stellar and are certainly among the best-sounding material FXpansion has ever offered (see Web Clips 1 and 2). If you're looking for instant access to classic '60s and '70s rock drums, this is it. The rest of the kits are equally impressive and cover a full palette of tonal colors, from loose and deep to damped and crisp, and from pingy and resonant to beefy and punchy.

The kit-slot interface makes it easy to mix and match snares, cymbals, or any kit piece to build your own custom kit. I was delighted to find that FXpansion really delivered in the snare department this time around. Snares are the most critical component of any kit, yet in most drum libraries, including some of FXpansion's own earlier offerings, I've found myself struggling to find one or two decent snares. In BFD2, though, I'd be hard-pressed to find a single bad one. Sixteen snares are included (and an electronic one), and I'm happy to report that every one of them is A-list, first-call quality. In fact, I could say the same thing about the kicks and toms.

About the only thing I found less impressive was the ride cymbals. Of the nine rides, two are “crash rides” that sound like crashes, not rides. You get exotic, trashy rides like a Bosphorus, but a straight-ahead ride with a nice stick attack and not too many overtones was harder to find in the lot. You'll find better ride options in one of the many available expansion packs.

Mixer's Delight

One of the biggest changes in BFD2 is a new full-featured mixing environment that includes an extensive suite of effects-processing plug-ins (see Fig. 3). You get a channel strip with four effects inserts and four sends for every mic channel, along with aux busing, sidechaining, submixing, the works. Effects include models of classic analog gear, including an 1176-style channel compressor, and a bus compressor and EQ based on the SSL G series. The modeled effects use FXpansion's DCAM (Discrete Component Analogue Modeling) technology, which allows the company to make extremely accurate re-creations of analog circuits down to the diode level. If more-radical drum processing is your thing, you'll also find a flanger, chorus, bit crusher, delay, and ring modulator — 15 effects in all (see Web Clips 3 and 4).

One of the most exciting new mixing options is the Audio Export panel, which enables you to export multichannel mixes from BFD2 as discrete WAV files. In BFD, rendering your performance as separate audio tracks could involve all sorts of routing hassles; in BFD2, Audio Export greatly streamlines the task. Multitrack audio can also be exported from the Groove window faster than in real time.

BF Grooves

The new Groove window provides a comprehensive drum-sequencing, editing, and composition engine that goes way beyond BFD (see Fig. 4). An editor grid with access to individual articulations, along with groove processing such as quantization, swing, and humanization, gives you options rivaling those of many host sequencers' MIDI drum editors. Though you can't use the Groove window to create tempo or meter changes, grooves will follow and track host tempo and meter changes.

BFD2 includes more than 5,000 groove patterns and fills in a variety of styles. The grooves are assigned to 128 slots across a virtual MIDI keyboard that BFD2 calls the Palette. Previously, BFD used MIDI files as its groove file format. In BFD2, grooves function like MIDI files but are in BFD2's own proprietary format. This was necessary so that the MIDI Note Numbers assigned to grooves could function independently of note mappings assigned to kits. However, in practice, the proprietary format is largely invisible. Grooves can still be dragged into a MIDI track in your host sequencer, where they become MIDI files, and any Standard MIDI File can be dragged into BFD2, where it is instantly translated into the groove format.

One thing I didn't like about the groove interface is that user positioning of the playback-position wiper in the Drum Track is not straightforward. I wished I could simply drag it wherever I wanted, but instead I found I had to click on the Drum Track ruler to set a Start Marker and then hit rewind. This quickly became tedious, especially when trying to do things like audition the transitions between grooves.

BFD-lightful

BFD2 is truly a work of art. It is also a work in progress with room for improvement. But if FXpansion's past record of constant updates is any indication, the program is well on its way to becoming a masterpiece. With so many options and features, however, it does run the risk of collapsing under its own weight, and it can present the new user with a lot to absorb.

From the new Kit-piece Inspector to the improved mixing and groove environments to the well-written 180-page PDF manual, FXpansion has done an excellent job of balancing maximum drum-processing power with the need for plug-and-play immediacy. The sheer sonic quality of the drum samples alone is enough to win me over. On top of that, you get the most comprehensive and advanced drum-production features ever assembled in a plug-in or standalone platform. If you're looking for a serious tool for creating the best-sounding desktop drum tracks possible, BFD2 should be at the top of your list.


Babz is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, and music-technology writer in New York City.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

virtual drum machine $399
upgrade from BFD 1.5 $199

PROS: Outstanding-quality drum samples. Cutting-edge drum-engineering and composing features. Many work-flow enhancements to streamline tasks.

CONS: Ride cymbals lean more toward unusual than traditional. Playback-position wiper cannot be dragged. Capable of eating serious CPU resources.

FEATURES 1 2 3 4 5
EASE OF USE 1 2 3 4 5
QUALITY OF SOUNDS 1 2 3 4 5
VALUE 1 2 3 4 5

FXpansion
fxpansion.com

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