Drum-loop libraries are proliferating at an astounding rate. Most contain stereo files, providing a no-muss, no-fuss approach but lacking the flexibility of multitrack recordings. Multiloops is one company bent on giving you greater control by delivering loops in 24-bit multitrack format. I reviewed two Multiloops products in one pass — Naked Drums Rock, vol. 1, and Naked Drums Pop R&B ($149 each) — because their concepts and delivery formats are identical. Each collection contains four CD-ROMs providing more than 2 GB of sounds.
The audio files are in Sound Designer II format on the Mac version and WAV format on the Windows version. (Multiloops sells the two platform offerings separately.) The products are optimized for Digidesign's Pro Tools; each folder contains a Pro Tools session file that makes it easy to audition all the offerings by clicking on memory locations.
The Mac version includes session documents in various forms to accommodate current TDM and LE systems, Pro Tools Free, and older 4.x systems. The PC version ships with one version facilitating Pro Tools Free and TDM or LE systems. Users of systems other than Pro Tools can import the results into any program that's compatible with the file format you purchased. The loops on the Windows version are also optimized for Sonic Foundry's Acid 3.0.
Each Multiloops library is organized by tempo, ranging from 60 to 165 bpm on Rock, vol. 1, and from 60 to 130 bpm on Pop R&B. (The latter includes one passage in a folder labeled 240 bpm, but the label and usability are questionable.) Each folder contains a variety of 4-bar themes (some closely related, some less so) as well as some fills at its designated tempo. Also provided in separate folders are individual hits, including multiple hi-hat hits featuring the ineffable variations that elevate live performances above drum machines.
Each loop, fill, or hit on Rock, vol. 1, is provided on seven tracks correlating to the mics for snare, kick, stereo overheads, and three toms. Each has a send engaged for its channel with Digidesign's D-Verb plug-in already in place. Pop R&B also has a separate track for hi-hat. (There is little overhead cymbal action in Rock, vol. 1, and the hi-hat seems to be isolated in the overhead channels, which is somewhat confusing.)
Rather than naming the loops, Multiloops simply labels each loop numerically. To use a loop, you import all of the identically numbered tracks into your session document and line them up to the same beat. Although descriptive names can be difficult for a developer to divine and can taint the end user's creativity, the numbers-only system doesn't do much to help users pick loops from a veritable sea of choices.
Both volumes were recorded and performed well, though I did notice some less-than-perfect timing on a few Rock, vol. 1, loops. Some tracks also exhibit what sound like phase problems. The sounds themselves are pretty standard, presumably what you want in a construction kit of this design. The biggest variation is in the use of a few different snares in some folders. One snare variation in the 120 bpm folder of Rock, vol. 1, rings so much that it's a little overpowering. A few tracks substitute a shaker for hi-hat; I would prefer having the shaker on an additional track supplementing the hi-hat.
The loops sound seamless on both products. Each loop is truncated precisely at the loop point, and Multiloops has already applied crossfades. There is a catch-22 to that approach, however: any instruments that would ring out at the end of a loop are clipped off. Leaving the tails intact would provide more realism when assembling and crossfading a series of loops into a song but would make it harder to audition loops using Looped Playback mode. You can always substitute single hits for any clipped sounds that you want to hear ring out.
Deciding whether these products are for you entails scrutinizing the pluses and minuses of Naked Drums' multitrack format. Multiloops gives you plenty of puzzle pieces to edit together into your own compositions, both in terms of loop variations and access to each track and hit. However, flexibility translates into added work. You'll probably need to work with gates, compressors, and EQ to shape the raw material into something that sounds as polished as highly processed stereo-loop libraries. Most loops will also cleanly translate into Propellerhead ReCycle slices, but you'll have to translate each track individually unless you bounce them to disk first.
Pop R&B is more ambitious than Rock, vol. 1; however, that's probably more indicative of the difference in genres than a difference in the Multiloops performances. The more I worked with both products, the more they grew on me. (If you've already purchased the earlier two-disc Rock, vol. 1, set, the manufacturer will exchange it for the updated version for $20.)
The Naked Drums libraries are targeted primarily at home recordists who lack the resources to record live drums. The bottom line is that I found myself writing new song ideas as I simply auditioned various loops, and that makes them winners in my book.