Mixing multitrack drums is not only challenging but also often requires a number of different processors. To help simplify the process, software maker Audified teamed up with Drum Workshop, a leading drum manufacturer, to create DW Drum Enhancer, a one-stop drum-mixing plug-in that has virtually everything you need—except reverb—to mix drums. Think of it like a channel strip that is specially designed for drums.
The setup includes a noise gate, a phase/polarity switch, a compressor, an EQ, highpass and lowpass filters, and a saturation section with five different algorithms. The processors’ position in the GUI corresponds to where they are in the signal chain, which is useful. You also get four LED meters: Input and Output level, Saturation input level, and Gain Reduction for the compressor. You can change the meters to VU in the Menu section.
However, only some of DW Drum Enhancer’s parameters are user adjustable. The plug-in is a sort of hybrid that sits between being a fully programmable processor and a preset-only plug-in. Nevertheless, there is a significant amount of adjustability available that allows you to set it up to suit your needs.
The DW Drum Enhancer’s graphical user interface has numerous knobs and buttons. Fortunately, they’re intelligently laid out, and easy to see and access.
The panel is divided into equal-sized left and right sections. Dividing them is a graphic display depicting tubes that peek out from behind holes, along with logos for Audified and DW. The only functional feature in the center section is the bypass button: The tubes go dark when you turn off the plug-in.
On the left, near the Input Level knob, is a button to invert the polarity of a track, one of the many useful features on this plug-in. When dealing with multitrack drums, you often want to be able to flip the polarity of a particular drum mic to reduce phase issues, such as comb filtering, that can occur between the various tracks.
Also on the left side is the Drum Type Selector, the large wheel where you select the type of instrument you are processing. Doing so adjusts some internal parameters to match your selection. The control has four categories—Snare, Kick, Toms, and Other—the first three of which let you choose between Modern, Heavy, and Vintage drum types. Select the Other category when you’re processing room, overhead (OH), and bus tracks.
The internal parameters set by the Drum Type Selector are not user-adjustable. These include EQ Type, Compressor Type, Compressor Attack and Release, Noise Gate Attack and Release, and High Pass and Low Pass filter frequencies among them.
The differences between Vintage, Modern, and Heavy settings are subtle, although the Modern settings do sound brighter. Even though you cannot adjust the internal parameters, it would be useful for Audified to create a document showing how they are set for each of the Selector settings.
AT THE GATE
A key processor in the DW Drum Enhancer is the Noise Gate. A gate is important for drum mixing, as you are often dealing with tracks that include a lot of bleed. In some cases, you will leave the bleed in, but in others, especially with kick or snare tracks, it is handy to be able to isolate the intended sound.
The DW Drum Enhancer’s Gate gives you three controls: an On/Off switch, a Threshold knob, and a switch that toggles between Soft and Hard knee operation. To the left is an LED that lights when the Gate closes. The attack and release settings are not user-adjustable, but instead are part of the internal parameters.
I’ve found noise gates, overall, to vary widely in regards to how difficult they are to set. However, the DW Drum Enhancer’s gate is among the easier ones I have used. It did an excellent job of isolating drums without causing the decays to sound cut-off and unnatural, and I ended up using it frequently on the kick and snare on multitrack mixes.
The Compressor offers bypass, Threshold, Mix, and Make-Up gain controls. It doesn’t have a Ratio control, nor does it offer user-adjustable attack and release parameters. Different compressor algorithms become active, depending on the setting of the Drum Type Selector, but the choices are not detailed in the manual and I could not hear much difference in the sound of the Compressor when switching between Selector settings.
Nonetheless, the Compressor sounds good and is vital to the plugin’s mission of providing all-in-one drum processing. It is perhaps a little heavy-handed in its compression, but the Mix control lets you back it off enough to make it very useful, in addition to giving you the opportunity to apply parallel compression.
ALL THINGS BEING EQUALIZED
The EQ section includes single-knob (boost or cut) controls for Hi, Mid, and Low frequencies, as well as fixed-frequency highpass and lowpass filters. You also have the ability to place the EQ either before or after the Compressor in the signal chain.
Although I would have liked to have at least a semi-parametric configuration so I could select the center frequency for each band, the EQ is quite useful. The frequencies for each band were well thought out, and you get a decent amount of control. I found it easy to accomplish tasks like adding bottom end to a kick, fattening up a snare, or dialing down the highs on overheads.
Ditto for the filters: These are intelligently set and can be quite useful.
The Saturation section lets you add up to five different flavors of modeled tube distortion. The choices are Presence, Vintage, Brown, White and Lo-Fi. With the Saturation set low, the tonal differences are very subtle. When you crank it, however, you can really hear the difference. I found the Saturation effect particularly useful for snare drums. It successfully softens their initial transients and adds some character, while still sounding natural.
Besides turning up the Saturation knob, there are a couple of other ways to maximize the Saturation effect. One is by turning up the Compressor’s Makeup Gain, which allows you to hit the Saturation circuit harder. Another is to change the plug-in’s Calibration setting, which controls the difference between digital zero (an absolute setting) and analog zero, which is zero on the meters. The lower you set it, the more Saturation you get.
Among the most impressive aspects of DW Drum Enhancer are the banks of presets. According to Audified, DW artists had input on the presets, and it shows. They’re separated into categories according to drum type (the drum types correspond to those offered by the Drum Selector knob) and give you a large selection of settings (see Figure 1).
The Presets do a great job of showcasing the capabilities of the plug-in, providing you with a lot of sonic variety. They make excellent starting points when you begin your mix.
The Presets are available from a pull-down menu on the lower right. I was a little frustrated to discover that there isn’t a button for stepping through the presets. To change from one to the next, you have to reopen the pull-down menu, reselect the category, and then choose from the list.
If DW Drum Enhancer gets an update, my biggest request would be the addition of plus and minus buttons that allow you to step forward or backward through the presets. The way it is now, it is harder to compare one preset to the next because of the time it takes to switch between them.
DW Drum Enhancer is a good illustration of a plug-in where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Despite having a reduced degree of adjustability, compared to what you would get by using individual plug-ins for each of the effects here, DW Drum Enhancer succeeds in its mission to be an effective all-in-one drum processor. It is convenient, easy to use and offers a lot of variety.
I tried it on every type of drum track I could access, from multitrack sessions to loops and the stereo output from virtual drum instruments, and in all cases, I was able to improve the sounds quickly and effectively.
Not only will DW Drum Enhancer be a boon to drum mixing newbies, but more experienced mixers will also find it to be a useful and powerful tool. It does a great job of quickly allowing you to hear a variety of sonic options for the particular drum or drums you’re mixing.
Overall, DW Drum Enhancer is a powerful and effective product that can take the mystery out of drum mixing.
Excellent presets. Easy and fast to use. Flexible Saturation section. Invert switch. Efficiently designed GUI.
Not all effects parameters are adjustable. No button for stepping through presets. EQ section is limited.
Mike Levine is a composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist from the New York area, and is the Technical Editor—Studio for Mix. Check out his website: michaelwilliamlevine.com.