FXpansion BFD Eco (Mac/Win) Review

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FIG. 1: BFD Eco''s user interface always shows the mixer at the bottom. The buttons at the top left change the central display to show the full kit, individual kit-piece settings, and the groove library.

If you''ve been eyeing FXpansion''s BFD2 drum sampler and groove machine but have held back by the price tag or the 50GB hit on your hard drive, you''ll want to take a serious look at the new BFD Eco. It''s less than half the price, has a relatively modest 4GB library, and is less daunting. You may find it''s as much acoustic-drum machine as you need, but if not, you''ll find an attractive upgrade path to BFD2.

BFD Eco is delivered on DVD and includes stand-alone and plug-in (VST, AU, and RTAS) versions. Installation is fast and relatively painless, and you can install the content on an alternate drive. Authorization is by challenge/response through the FXpansion website, and if your music computer is online, it''s quick and easy. For this review, I installed and tested BFD Eco on a 2.66GHz quad-core Mac Pro with 8GB of RAM running OS X 10.5.8, and I used an alternate internal hard drive for the content.

The primary differences between BFD Eco and its big brother are mostly in how much. The kit size is fixed at 12 pieces vs. the maximum 32-piece kit available in BFD2. Kit pieces have at most 24 layers compared with 96 in the full version, and they are delivered in 16-bit as opposed to 24-bit resolution. BFD Eco comes with 1,500 new grooves in place of BFD2''s 5,000 grooves. Both applications'' plug-in versions provide multiple outputs to the host program: There are 11 stereo in BFD Eco as compared to eight stereo and 16 mono in BFD2. BFD2 also offers more flexible routing and supports more kit-piece bleed options and custom articulations. BFD Eco comes with 43 kit pieces (five kicks, six snares, 12 toms, three hi-hats, 11 cymbals, and six percussion sounds) instead of BFD2''s 96, but those numbers are misleading because kit pieces include multiple articulations such as snare sidestick and rim, open and closed hi-hat, and so on.

BFD Eco can access BFD2 content if you happen to have that installed, although it will adapt that content to the aforementioned limitations. More importantly, that means you can expand BFD Eco''s complement of kit pieces by purchasing downloadable BFD Expansion Kits, which range in price from $50 to $70 and offer some tasty genre-based alternatives.

BFD Eco''s user interface is a pleasure to work with, and after watching the accompanying video demo, you almost don''t need the manual. The mixer, transport, and some utility controls are always present at the bottom of the interface (see Fig. 1). At its top right, you''ll find separate dropdowns to load full presets (all settings), kits, and mixer setups.

The panel in the center of the GUI has three views—Kit, Channel, and Grooves—selected by buttons at the top left. Kit view displays the 12-piece kit and is interactive: Click on a kit piece to play it, play the kit from your host of the built-in sequencer, and the kit pieces light up to show the action. That''s mostly eye candy, but it''s fun to watch.

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FIG. 2: Each kit piece sports an EQ and two insert effects, along with individually tailored kit-piece settings.

Channel view lets you control everything about an individual mixer channel''s kit piece (see Fig. 2). You can choose a different kit piece from the dropdown at the top left or with the adjacent Next and Previous buttons. (You can also use the mixer channel''s context menu for that.) Below the menu is the Inspector comprising a large kit-piece graphic and extremely useful controls for dynamics (velocity scaling), damping, mic mix (kick and snare only), tightening (hi-hat only), aux-bus sends, overhead- and room-mic sends, and a button to flip the left and right image for the mic sends.

Adjacent to the Inspector are a 4-band EQ and two multi-effects insert slots, each of which you can turn off to save CPU. Many of the effects employ the circuit-modeling techniques first introduced in BFD2. The complement of 15 effects includes the usual suspects—compression, delay, distortion, filtering, and reverb—along with some unusual options such as ring modulation, an envelope shaper, and a multimode filter with frequency-modulated cutoff.

The multimode filter is among my favorites. In addition to offering off-the-wall modulation effects, it is great for subtly changing the character of any kit piece. Applied to a kick drum, for example, it can flatten the sound, make it boom, add chiff to the attack, or make it a dry thump (see Web Clip 1).

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FIG. 3: The Groove browser lets you audition drum grooves, array them on BFD Eco''s drum track, and drag and drop them to your DAW tracks.

BFD Eco''s mixer is straightforward and, as mentioned, always visible. There is a channel for each kit piece, ambience channels for the overhead and room mics, two aux-bus channels, and a master output channel. You can route any kit piece to the master channel, either of the aux channels, or to one of the direct outputs. The direct outputs are allocated by kit-piece type; for example, all toms share the same optional direct output channel (17/18). Like the kit-piece channels, the ambience, aux, and master channels each have an EQ and two multi-effects slots.

All the kit-piece channels are mono and have pan sliders to let you position the kit piece in the stereo field. An option called Drummer Perspective lets you globally swap left and right to switch between the audience and drummer''s perspective. The remaining channels are stereo and have no pan (balance) sliders.

The mixer channels offer a couple of handy shortcuts. Right-clicking the kit-piece icon lets you load a new kit piece, copy and paste channel settings, clear the FX slots, and reset the aux sends. Below the icon are buttons for turning each effect off without removing it from the slot. There''s also a global FX-power defeat among the utility controls along the bottom.

BFD Eco supports full MIDI automation. You can assign MIDI controllers to all mixer and channel controls along with some global and groove settings. Simply click the MIDI Learn button (MIDI jack icon), select any control that is shaded green, and wiggle a MIDI controller to assign it to the selected control. Any control''s context menu in MIDI Learn mode lets you clear its assignment or all assignments.

Grooves view is where you audition and apply the drum sequences (grooves) in your BFD Eco library (see Fig. 3). The categorized browser on the left refines the groove list to its right, and the search field at the top lets you search for specific text in the groove''s name, author, library, and genre. When the Auto button is highlighted, selecting a groove automatically starts it playing.

The rudimentary 1-track sequencer at the bottom lets you string grooves together and define a loop, but you can''t edit the grooves (as you can in BFD2), and dragging a groove to the drum track always inserts it, making it awkward to replace one groove with another. I found it much easier to drag grooves directly to the plug-in host or to the desktop, where they are saved as standard MIDI files. That lets you edit and arrange them at will.

The four knobs at the right of the Grooves view—Quantize, Hum(anize) Time, Simplify, and Swing—perform those functions on the selected groove. Simplify intelligently suppresses some hits, which is a great way to quickly generate variations on a groove. Conveniently, all the knob settings are reflected in the groove when dragged to your host, the desktop, or Eco''s drum track (see Web Clip 2).

The Grooves mode buttons at the bottom right determine how the Eco plug-in behaves when you start the host''s transport. If you''re using your host to play Eco, choose Off, choose Track to play Eco''s drum track, and choose Single to play the groove selected in the browser.

BFD Eco is among the best-sounding acoustic-drum machines I''ve used and certainly one of the easiest to learn. The selection of kit pieces, augmented by the many ways to modify and route them, provides plenty of options for any genre. Although the drum sequencer is not Eco''s strongest feature, the grooves themselves are excellent. Check it out.

Len Sasso is a freelance writer and frequent EM contributor.

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Click on the Product Summary box above to view the FXpansion BFD Eco product page.