IN THE STICKS, AU NATUREL
If you like the convenience of sampled drums but have never quite warmed up to their mechanical quality, you may find Toontrack Superior Drummer 2.0 intriguing. For starters, the software boasts about 20 GB of drum samples. Its mixing environment is as close to the experience of mixing a full kit in a big room as you''ll find in the land of microchips. In addition, its sample articulation feature—which, for many of the hits, alternates between multiple samples to account for the natural differences in a real drummer''s strokes—makes it especially fun to play with a controller.
I got to experience Superior Drummer''s capabilities before I ever knew I was going to review the software. I happened to be at a party at a studio outside New York City, and while getting the obligatory tour, I ended up in the control room, where a drummer was playing on a set of Hart Dynamics pads with a Roland trigger interface. The drummer turned out to be session ace Nir Z, who played the kits during Superior Drummer''s sample sessions. He was now demonstrating the software for an audience of studio types while producer Neil Dorfsman (who also participated in the project) looked on and explained what was under the hood. It was an obvious product promo, but hearing the plug-in respond to some very nuanced playing impressed me, and I took that positive impression into this review.
I have some old drum pads lying around my studio, and I hooked one up to see how easy it would be to create realistic snare articulations with Superior Drummer. It took a while to get the pad''s response curve to match that of the drum, but once I did, I was impressed with how well I was able to play rolls, flams, and even ghost strokes. This was especially telling when the roll increased in loudness and intensity; the change in the drum''s character was very natural.
THE BIG BOUNCE
Superior Drummer''s naturalness is largely due to the sheer number of samples it loads, which raises a couple of issues.
Installation was easy enough, but with all those discs to load, it took a while. I liked having the option of installing a smaller 4 GB library instead of the full 20 GB. However, because the installer made it easy to put the samples on an external drive, I chose to copy all of them to my Western Digital USB 2.0 drive. Authorization was by means of a response code.
Computer resources are another concern. Superior Drummer''s manual warns against taxing your system''s RAM and causing crashes (it even predicts possibly dire consequences), but I found performance to be pretty good on my MacBook Pro, even when running alongside three instances of Native Instruments Guitar Rig 3.0. And when things did get kludgy, Superior''s excellent bounce feature saved the day. In fact, I ended up using it even when the program was running fine. While most host DAWs let you save resources by freezing or bouncing tracks, Superior Drummer''s internal bounce engine goes one better. When activated, it records the MIDI performance being used to trigger the kit. Once you stop your host sequencer, you can have Superior Drummer generate audio files, creating one track for each channel in its internal mixer, including bleeds, ambient tracks, and so on.
Audio files can be 16-bit or 24-bit mono, split stereo, or interleaved stereo. You also have the option of separating an individual drum from any bleed on its track—in which case the bleed will be on its own audio file—so you can retroactively remove the bleed from your mix.
Bounced stems can also include tracks that you may have deactivated during MIDI playback to save resources.
Working with Logic Pro, I was able to import bounced stems en masse and add them to my project. I then bypassed Superior Drummer while mixing the bounces as I would real drums. The kit I was using sounded great with very little additional processing, so ultimately I ended up using fewer sequencer resources overall.