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Slate Digital Trigger Platinum (Mac/Win) Review

8/9/2010

FIG. 1: Trigger''s excellent GUI includes an intuitive dynamic waveform display (top-center of this figure) that greatly aids triggering setup.

FIG. 1: Trigger''s excellent GUI includes an intuitive dynamic waveform display (top-center of this figure) that greatly aids triggering setup.

Trigger heralds a new generation of drum-replacement plug-ins with advanced features that improve performance and enhance realism. This cross-platform (Universal Binary AU, VST, and 32- and 64-bit RTAS), iLok-protected plug-in lets you trigger multiple drum samples at once—such as those recorded with close and room mics, respectively—with accurate phase. In other words, there is no phaseyness when combining multiple samples, nor is there flamming when layering replacement samples with your original drum tracks.

Trigger includes all of the drum samples from the Steven Slate Drums Platinum sample library (31 kicks, 45 snares, and eight sets of toms) and two kicks and snares each from the company''s upcoming Deluxe library. All the drums use Slate''s proprietary .tci (Trigger Compressed Instrument) multisample format, which squeezes 6GB of 24-bit samples into 2.3GB in lossless fashion. You can also use your own custom WAV and AIFF samples in Trigger after converting them to .tci format using the included Trigger Instrument Editor, a standalone application.

Each instrument (multisampled drum) in a Trigger drum kit can have a whopping 127 articulations, 127 velocity layers, and 127 alternating samples (which precludes hearing the same sample triggered repeatedly). An innovative Leakage Suppression function prevents, for example, kick-drum hits that bled into your recorded snare track from triggering snare-replacement samples.

I reviewed the AU version of Trigger Platinum Version 1.5 in MOTU 
Digital Performer V. 7.12, using an 8-core Mac Pro running Mac OS X 10.5.4. The less-expensive Trigger EX plug-in uses the same software engine but includes only about a quarter the content of Platinum (nine kicks, 10 snares, and three tom sets).

DRUMS A LA MODE
Trigger offers two detection modes. Accurate is for use in the studio and imposes 11ms latency with DAWs that don''t offer automatic latency compensation. For the stage, the Live mode provides less-accurate velocity response but 
near-zero latency.

Using Trigger''s browser, you can load up to six instruments (six snare drums, for example) into one instance of the plug-in. Audition the sound of the instruments'' samples at each velocity layer by clicking in the plug-in''s main display with your mouse. A Mix control allows you to totally replace your original drum track with the instruments'' samples or blend the two sources together.

Where multiple instruments are loaded into one instance of Trigger, you can independently set each instrument''s volume, pan, polarity (phase-inversion setting), and pitch (tuning) using the onboard 6-channel mixer. Tweak ASR envelope controls for each instrument to shape its attack and release curves and adjust sustain time. Each instrument can also be soloed or muted.

Yet another control section adjusts a selected instrument''s dynamic range to, for example, rein in samples replacing original kick-drum hits that fluctuated in level. You can even make loud hits trigger low-level samples—great for taming behemoth drums on the stripped-down verse of your song.

All of the instruments have different articulation presets. For example, each instrument can be made to play samples from any velocity layer or just the higher layers (the latter for a more consistently aggressive sound). Snare drums go one further: They also include soft (lower-velocity layers only) and rimshot articulations. Instrument articulations can be changed using your mouse, MIDI continuous controllers, or your DAW''s automation. (Many of Trigger''s controls can be automated.) Instrument combinations and all of their control settings can be stored and recalled in presets, a dynamite shortcut for building an arsenal of at-the-ready custom drum sounds.

Several controls are provided to improve sample triggering, and a dynamic graphic display aids greatly in finding the optimal settings (see 
Fig. 1). Adjust the input level of the original drum track in the plug-in and filter it with the included adjustable highpass filter, if necessary, to improve triggering. Set the sensitivity control high enough that even quiet drum hits trigger samples in the plug-in. The Detail control determines what threshold an input signal must surpass to trigger a sample (or several samples at once if multiple instruments are loaded). The Retrigger control sets the minimum time interval between sample triggers to preclude unintentional double hits caused by bleed or sloppy playing on the track. (If you set the Retrigger control too high, then Trigger will not handle flams and rolls properly.) Once your samples are triggering properly, adjust the plug-in''s output level to taste.

WHEN MORE MUSCLE IS NEEDED
On dynamic drum tracks containing a lot of bleed, Trigger''s Leakage Suppression control can consistently trigger samples properly. Use of this control requires instantiating Trigger on the first insert of a stereo aux (or group) in your DAW. Stereo configurations of Trigger use the left channel for triggering samples and the right channel as a sidechain input. (This is true whether or not Leakage Suppression is used.) Bus the track you want to replace or layer with samples (for example, the snare drum track) to the left channel of the stereo aux, and route bleed sources (kick, toms, and hat) to the right channel. Then turn up Trigger''s Leakage Suppression control until only the intended drum (the snare) causes samples to be triggered.

Trigger also accepts a MIDI input, so a MIDI track or external controller can trigger the samples loaded into the plug-in. Using Trigger''s MIDI output controls, you can convert audio-input signals into MIDI notes to trigger sounds in a virtual instrument such as Native Instruments Kontakt or Toontrack Superior Drummer. But Trigger''s included sample library should keep your appetite sated.

Many of the Steven Slate Drums samples were recorded at NRG Recording (North Hollywood) to 2-inch analog tape and provide three sample layers, including those derived from stereo room mics. Some of the mono drum sounds were close-miked and are very dry, while others employ additional overhead mics. Also offered are stereo samples of heavily processed drum tracks recorded with ambient-mic setups in a large, concrete warehouse. You can create a terrific range of drum sounds by combining these different types of samples.

FIG. 2: The standalone Trigger Instrument Editor lets you convert WAV and AIFF multisamples to the .tci format for use in Trigger.

FIG. 2: The standalone Trigger Instrument Editor lets you convert WAV and AIFF multisamples to the .tci format for use in Trigger.

The Trigger Instrument Editor lets you browse and audition your own WAV and AIFF samples and auto-map them to up to 127 velocity zones (see 
Fig. 2). Map up to 127 alternating samples for each velocity zone. Create and name up to 127 articulations for your custom instrument. Then save the whole enchilada as a multisampled .tci instrument for use with the Trigger plug-in.

TRIGGER-HAPPY
Trigger''s intuitive GUI made setup a snap. The plug-in''s graphic Wave Display dynamically shows the level of both input and sidechain signals in relation to the threshold level for triggering samples, and it flags any signal that triggered a sample.

The included sample library offered a wide range of excellent drum sounds, from tight and punchy to loose and open Led Zeppelin-style. My only complaint with the sample library was that toms were named inconsistently. A set of toms comprises between two and four drums. In some sets, Tom 2 is a rack tom, while in others it''s a floor tom. For faster, more deliberate selection of the desired toms, it would be better to name them high rack, mid rack, low rack, and floor.

Trigger sounded great when used on the inserts of mono drum tracks. But the plug-in really blew my mind when used on stereo auxes; in stereo, samples from the warehouse and NRG room mics lent incredible depth and character, and the powerful Leakage Suppression function gave me amazing control over triggering. I loved being able to drag Trigger from a mono to a stereo track, or vice versa, with all of my control settings retained.

FIG. 3: The ASR envelope (bottom-center of figure) of a Trigger instrument derived from room mics can be edited to create gated-reverb effects.

FIG. 3: The ASR envelope (bottom-center of figure) of a Trigger instrument derived from room mics can be edited to create gated-reverb effects.

Loading several Trigger snare drums at once (derived from both close and room mics), adding a dash of third-party EQ, and dialing in a bit of my original snare track with Trigger''s Mix control yielded a phenomenal sound. Trigger''s room and warehouse mics sounded so outrageously good, I turned off all my outboard reverbs for the snare track (see Web Clip 1). And the ability to save my complex edits of several combined instruments as a custom preset for recall on future projects is very useful. I was disappointed that Trigger didn''t show the name of the current preset. Also, Trigger''s color scheme for instruments selected for editing is subtle enough that I sometimes edited the wrong instrument by mistake. There are no Undo and Redo functions.

Applied on well-recorded drum tracks with few fills, Trigger''s default settings often triggered samples so reliably that setup required little more than busing my drum track to the plug-in and loading the instruments I wanted. However, when used on a very dynamic snare track, I needed to either automate the Detail control or use Leakage Suppression to prevent tom bleed into the snare mic from triggering snare samples during some fills. Leakage Suppression was by far the easier and faster solution and was completely effective at preventing unintended triggering (see Web Clips 2 and 3).

THE ENVELOPE, PLEASE
I was thrilled that I could adjust the ASR envelopes on Trigger''s room and warehouse mics to create outstanding gated-reverb effects (see Fig. 3). That said, Trigger doesn''t allow numeric entry of parameter values but offers stepped controls with fairly large intervals so I couldn''t set the sustain (gate) time exactly to the tempo 
of the song.

All of my criticisms of Trigger are minor. What''s most important is that Trigger is easy to use, provides rock-solid triggering, and sounds fantastic. Trigger is one of the biggest upgrades to the drum sounds in my 
productions.


EM contributing editor Michael Cooper is the owner of Michael Cooper Recording in Sisters, Ore.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Trigger Platinum product page.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Trigger Platinum product page.

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