Overall EM Rating (1through 5): 5
Coaxing great drum tracks out of your DAW often requires the skillsof a drummer and a recording engineer combined. FXpansion's drummodule, BFD (Mac/Win, $299), answers both needs, with 24-bit, 44.1 kHzsamples and MIDI grooves recorded by a top-notch drummer.
BFD comes with seven drum kits and assorted individual instruments,which you can mix and match to create new sets (hear Web Clip 1). The module givesyou control of the balance between the direct mics and three sets ofroom mics.
BFD can be used as a standalone or plug-in instrument (RTAS, VST,DX, and Audio Units) and offers ReWire compatibility. The minimumsystem requirements on the PC are a Pentium III or Athlon/1 GHz andWindows 2000 or XP. On the Mac side, you'll need a G4/733 MHz and OS X10.2. You'll also need at least 512 MB of RAM and a DVD drive forinstallation. I tested the instrument on a dual-processor G4/1.42 GHzwith OS X 10.2.8 and 2 GB of RAM.
The samples in the BFD kits are fairly large, which ensures subtleand realistic transitions between dynamic levels. For example, the1920s Ludwig 4×14-inch snare uses 45 velocity layers, and thatdoesn't include multilayered flams, rim shots, and rolls. In addition,you can hear the snare's strainers fade in as you increase the Velocityon some of the toms. You can also choose between a kick drum at B0, inwhich increased Velocities introduce sympathetic snare vibrations, andC1, a kick drum with no snare interaction.
The instruments were sampled with their full natural decay. Thatmeans you won't hear the kind of artifacts you get from looped cymbals,which often have unnatural, wobbly-sounding tails. Because eachcomplete drum kit is larger than 1 GB, BFD streams samples from diskrather than loading them into RAM.
Most of the instruments have a direct mic and controls for Trim,Tuning, Dynamics, and Pan. The two exceptions are the snare drum, whichhas a mic on the top and bottom, and the bass drum, which has a micinside and a mic outside. An additional control for each of these drumslets you set the balance between the two mics.
BFD's three types of stereo distance miking — overheads, roomambience, and PZM — are available simultaneously. You can alterthe level and stereo spread of each pair and change their distance fromthe drums. Although this kind of flexibility leaves little need foradditional spatial enhancement, BFD offers 17 outputs, so you canprocess each microphone separately.
The default drum maps loosely conform to the General MIDI standard,but you can configure your own mapping or use preset maps for devicessuch as the Alesis DM Pro, Roland TD-10, and the Yamaha DTXtreme.
BFD comes with MIDI-file grooves that take advantage of the fulldynamic range of each instrument. The grooves can be triggered withMIDI Note numbers, and you can customize playback in a variety of ways,including overlaying additional instrument hits. The playing iscreative, human, and supple, and there are plenty of real-time tools tolet you change the feel and dynamics. The most amusing controllerresides in the quantization window: as you move the slider from hardquantization to swing, a colorful robot image morphs into aberet-wearing, goateed hipster.
It's difficult choosing a favorite from the assortment of vintageand contemporary drums: I love them all. If I had to single out justone, it would be the Slingerland kit, which features a vintage Ludwigsnare, a resonant Radio King floor tom, and a kick with a nice, longdecay.
In all cases, Velocity controls layering. However, on some cymbalsand rim shots, Velocity is used to switch between strike locationsrather than loud and soft samples. I'd prefer to use Modulation (CC 1)to change where an instrument is struck: Velocity is harder to controlif you want to move from the edge of the ride cymbal to the bell.
BFD offers nearly all the tools you need to create realistic,high-quality drum performances. According to FXpansion, more drum kitsare in the works, so hopefully we'll soon see a few brushed kits andhand-percussion setups. With all that BFD provides —great-sounding and expressive drums and a wealth of customization andmixing options — I doubt that my drum machines and samplers willever see the light of day again.