As the name implies, this first in a promised long line of optional plug-ins for the Solid State Logic (SSL) Duende DSP platform combines dynamics and frequency processors specifically tailored for drums and percussion. The interface is broken into five main processing blocks, the signal path for which is fully adjustable to any serial order at the bottom of the plug-in window, along with discrete input and output sections. Because Duende exhibits noticeable latency at high host buffer settings, a global bypass button is provided within the plug-in itself, so you can toggle it without any interruption to monitoring. Likewise, you can switch each the five processing blocks on and off individually, although doing so doesn't conserve processing power on the Duende, unfortunately.
Drumstrip's Gate module — typically what you'd use first in a drum chain — is unique. Aside from its obvious function of envelope shaping with Attack (0 to 0.1 ms), Release (0 to 1 sec), Hold (0 to 4 sec) and Open/Close threshold controls, this specialized gate is just as much about sculpting timbral dynamics. For example, by reducing its range value, the gate takes on some of the characteristics found in a downward expander. That is, the gate lowers the signal in level rather than completely silencing it. This can come in handy when cleaning up a drum track filled with reverb because it more naturally “scoops” rather than hard-cuts between hits.
For drums lacking snap, the cool Transient Shaper module increases the amplitude of the attack portion while leaving the decay alone. Crucial to this part of the shaper's “detection circuitry” is an input gain knob, which sets the threshold at which the shaper begins acting upon transients. A Speed control lets you trim the length of time the added attack takes to fall back to normal signal level, much like having a decay control for transient processing. Most handy during this juggling process is the Transient Shaper's Audition button, which lets you hear only the added or subtracted transient information. You can even invert the phase of the shaped signal, softening the attack and giving drums extra body when mixed back in with the original.
BOOST AND ENHANCE
Drumstrip features two frequency enhancers that emphasize the tonal character of signals in more sophisticated and pleasing ways than straight EQ. The HF Enhancer is capable of adding a combination of 2nd and 3rd harmonics, which enriches frequency content rather than boosts it. Setting the frequency control (2 to 20 kHz) toward the high end of its range, you can add air to things like snare rattle and tom ambience or emphasize hi-hat sizzle, cymbal tails and so on; a lower frequency setting will do more to boost a signal's presence. The Drive knob adjusts the harmonic density of this effect, which is additively mixed (0 to 100 percent) back onto the original signal.
The LF Enhancer works similarly to the HF but on frequencies from the “turnover” point downward (20 to 250 Hz). This effect is great for adding depth and weight to kick, toms, snare bodies, etc.
Finally, the Listen Mic Compressor module is a throwback to the module found on the classic SL4000E console and made famous by Phil Collins' heavily compressed drum sounds of the early '80s (“In the Air Tonight,” etc.). This is, in fact, an enhanced version of SSL's freebie LMC-1 plug-in, now featuring an EQ-bypass option allowing full-range compression. With its trademark lightning-fast attack and release curves, the effect is eminently suitable on ambient drum mics, but with a little practice and an acquired taste for its fixed time constants, you can achieve some really cool hard-wall squash effects on sampled drums and loops, synth, guitar and even edgy vocal processing.
GO FROM BLANDO TO RINGO
Obviously, Drumstrip can make awesome drum recordings shine; that's kind of a given. However, it's also indispensable in salvaging so-so tracks, making them stand up and kick ass! The gate's ability to not only cut unwanted noise levels but also ambient clutter or spill is a real lifesaver, especially for those apartment “drum-room” recordings where dodgy acoustics are often the necessary trade-off for a natural feel. Shortening the gate times produces a tighter sound to individual drum hits, of course, but I also had fun tricking out percussion loops to make them groove in new ways. The incredibly natural sounding Transient Shaper impressed me by making lackluster tracks sound as though they were properly miked and compressed in the first place.
Because of the built-in “over-easy” soft ratio compression characteristic and LF/HF Enhancers, Drumstrip essentially does the job of the SSL Channel Strip plug-in that ships with Duende, so you can use it on drum and not lose precious processor slots.
Perhaps the champions of the plug-in are the interface and layout, which by and large make Drumstrip the fastest path I know to exhilarating drum tracks in one or two clicks. The SSL gang did incredibly cool things with the metering as well. Along with peak/RMS at input and output, a “dynamic history” meter shows at a glance just how dynamic the signal has been over the past 1 sec. I initially scoffed at the absence of any factory presets, though I see the point in encouraging the user to experiment. Although I do think that a dozen or so “guidance” settings wouldn't be a bad idea to help teach novice mixers.
For exclusive Drumstrip audio clips, go toremixmag.com.
SOLID STATE LOGIC
DRUMSTRIP > £199 (APPROX. $409)
Pros: Brilliant sound quality with that trademark SSL punch. Highly adjustable gate and attack-transient shaping capabilities. Ingenious multimetering facilities geared toward drum work. Clear and simple yet flexible signal routing. Enhanced LMC processor.
Cons: Only works with the SSL Duende rackmount DSP system.
Mac: Duende hardware; G4 or G5/933MHz; 512 MB RAM; OS 10.4.8; VST, Audio Units or RTAS host
PC: Duende hardware; P4 or AMD/1GHz; 512 MB RAM; Windows XP SP2 or later; VST or RTAS host