Review: Toontrack EZdrummer 2

The worst thing that can happen when thecreative juices are flowing is to get boggeddown by technology.

Drum production tool kit gets a major update

Click the Drum tab to view your kit and swap out instruments. Here, I’ve created a custom kit from the includedVintage sample library and saved it as a user preset for this particular project. The worst thing that can happen when the creative juices are flowing is to get bogged down by technology. Although there are plenty of sophisticated software drum environments capable of creating lifelike grooves, sometimes you just want just get on with songwriting and not bother with programming. The original EZdrummer was created with this in mind.

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EZdrummer 2 continues to provide a musically intuitive tool kit for crafting realistic drum parts, but it includes an updated GUI, sound engine, and mixer, as well as clever search and arrangement features. In addition, you get a newly recorded sound library that takes advantage of EZdrummer 2’s 24-bit playback resolution, while retaining backward compatibility with earlier EZX libraries through real-time sample rate conversion.

Toontrack provides a stand-alone version of EZdrummer 2, as well as Audio Units, VST, RTAS, and AAX plug-ins: I tested EZdrummer 2 in stand-alone mode and in Live 9, Logic X, and Pro Tools 11.

Easy Flow EZdrummer 2 adds several new features that help you build drum parts quickly and without leaving the creative headspace. In the new Song Track, you can record your own grooves using a MIDI pad or keyboard controller or assemble entire song arrangements in the timeline using the included MIDI groove files or ones you import. Quantization and a click track are provided for recording. You can loop and overdub one part at a time if you need to, and then edit the groove without worry—100 levels of undo are available.

Finding the groove you need, and then picking appropriate drums, is simple. The interface has only four main tabs—Drums, Browser, Search, Mixer—and a Preset window on top; numerous self-explanatory pull-down menus are sensibly located elsewhere. The Browser and Search tabs provide different ways to find groove files that fit your project. As you would expect, the Browser hierarchically reveals the contents of files in any Toontrack EZX pack you have, and you can audition files before dragging them onto the Song timeline.

The Search tab, however, provides several convenient ways to scan the MIDI library based on musically relevant criteria. The Tap To Find function will reveal appropriate MIDI files based on the pattern you play into EZdrummer 2, using either your MIDI controller or by clicking the drum pictures in the GUI. Or you can drag a groove you like into the MIDI Drop Zone to find other suggestions. In both cases, the search results provide a list of grooves ranked by how close they match the beat you used in your example. These Search features were designed to model how a real drummer would figure out parts and variations if given suggestions for a beat, and Toontrack nailed it. Additionally, there are filters for genre, style, ride instrument, time signature, and so forth to help you locate (or avoid) appropriate files.

Song Creator makes the arrangement process even easier. Simply drag and drop a MIDI groove you like into the Song Creator window, and EZdrummer 2 will offer suggestions for an entire arrangement, which you can fine-tune by grabbing variations of the groove sections. Alternately, you may select one of the included song-structure presets. From there, you can edit, add, or rearrange the grooves to taste. Song parts are named Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Intro, and so forth, suggesting how they can be used, and variations are provided for each.

You can further personalize the performance by changing the Power Hand, an icon that you drag and drop over the instrument you want used for the ride pattern. Place the Opening Hit icon over a kit piece to hear an instrument, such as a crash cymbal, play on the first beat of groove.

You can dial in the Velocity and Amount—or, more accurately, statistical likelihood—of each kit piece and percussion instrument that’s heard in the groove. Depending on which instruments you choose and the Amount level you set for them, you’ll get grooves that sound like a real drummer played them, without having to record or edit MIDI data. (Of course, if you want to edit or overdub further, the tools are provided.)

Fig. 1. The revamped Mixer, showing the effects that are included in the Tape Filter kit preset. When you click on a channel’s fader (OH, in this case), the effect channel that it's bused to (Reverb, in this instance) illuminates. Content Is King Under the Drum tab, you can select from two Modern and two Vintage kits. The Modern kits are based around a Yamaha 9000 and a Gretsch USA Custom, which offer as many as seven drums, and five cymbals plus hats. Additional snares and toms by Brady, DW, Pearl, Sonor, and Tama are available here. A ’70s-era Ludwig Vistalite and a Beatle-like ’60s-era Ludwig comprise the Vintage kits, which are based around a four-piece with three cymbals plus hats. Sabian and Paiste cymbals are used throughout. Percussion samples include tambourines, shakers, maracas, cabasa, cowbell, hand claps and finger snaps.

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Click on the Preset tab to select a specialized kit to fit the style of your music. Basic, unprocessed kits are available, as well as configurations with titles such as Tight, Metal, DiscoPop, Levee, and LoFi Tape, which offer tuning, instrument choices, and effects that fit a specific vibe. When you select a kit, the library is quickly loaded in the background as you play. At any point in your production, you can swap out kit pieces or alter the tuning and volume of each piece, even as a MIDI file plays and without interrupting the groove—nice!

However, these presets can be altered to suit your needs: Each instrument has a pull-down menu where you can swap it for another model, as well as change its pitch and volume (even during playback). Once you’ve selected the drums and cymbals that best fit your song, save them as a User Preset. Remarkably, you won’t need the manual to figure this stuff out.

The library sounds great, overall, and the attention to detail is obvious when you audition the various instruments, solo them in the mixer (the ambient mic tracks are especially nice in a mix), alter the bleed in the kick and snare tracks, and change a drum’s decay. The only issue I have with the library is that some of the crashes are choked before they fully decay.

In the Mixer, you can mute, solo, and alter the panning of each instrument and effects track. (Click on a channel’s fader to highlight the effects it is bused to.) A window below each fader is used to set the output channel for each track. EZdrummer 2’s mixer provides 16 stereo outputs that you can assign to as many as 30 different outputs on an audio interface.

On some presets, an additional row of effects, programmed to behave appropriately for the track you are working on, appears below the mixer (see Figure 1). My favorite set of effects appears with the Tape Filter kit, which has controls for Tape/Drive level, a lowpass filter, tuning control over the drum heads, and reverse reverb—perfect for cloudy, lo-fi situations. As you would expect, you can automate these parameters when using EZdrummer 2 as a DAW plug-in.

Once your drum part is finished, you can export the part as a WAV or MIDI file. (WAV export happens off-line, faster than real time.) Toontrack makes things even easier by letting you drag and drop the complete sequence into a MIDI track in your DAW or onto the desktop, without having to go to a menu.

EZdrummer in Use I attended a pre-release demonstration of EZdrummer 2 at Mark Knopfler’s London-based British Grove studios, where the library was recorded by Grammy-winning engineer Chuck Ainlay. This gave me a chance to check out the drums, mic placement, recording consoles (a Neve 88R for the Modern kits, and an EMI REDD51 for the Vintage), as well as get a glimpse into the intricacies of the program. The developers promised plenty of flexibility, and I couldn’t help but wonder if EZdrummer 2 really would be easy to use.

My worries were unfounded. Every aspect of EZdrummer 2 lives up to its name, from installation through song creation to file export. I didn’t even need a manual to get my first project completed. Everything I needed was in an obvious place and appropriately named.

More importantly, the instruments in the included kit libraries are killer, providing a wide variety of sounds that you can tailor to meet your needs—if want to get that geeky about it. But if you’re in the mood to write, why not let EZdrummer 2 create a hassle-free drum part for you, so you can do something more useful with your creative time.


STRENGTHS Simple to use. Great sounding library that loads quickly. Swap instruments during playback. Drag-anddrop MIDI groove export. Offline audio bouncing. Intelligent search capabilities. Unlimited undo.

LIMITATIONS No keyboard shortcuts. Some cymbals have too short of a decay

EZdrummer 2 $179; $99 upgrade from EZdrummer