Sonic Reality: Ocean Way Drums

The competition for amazing-sounding drum samples is fierce—which is great, because the drum sounds on my tracks keep getting better every time a manufacturer decides it’s time to put out a better library than “the other guy.” But really, what can anyone bring to the party that hasn’t already been done?
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In this case, it’s the combination of Ocean Way Studios (great drum room), Allen Sides and Steven Miller (great engineers), multiple miking setups (great options), NI’s Kontakt Player 2 (KP2 for short; great host instrument, compatible with XP/OS X and VST/RTAS/AU), and Sonic Reality, who’ve definitely been around the block a few times when it comes to sampling. Of course, a good pedigree doesn’t guarantee a good product, but it certainly got my attention.

First up: installation of both the KP2 “host” for the samples and the 40GB library itself. This is a good time to train your pet monkey to shuffle DVDs in and out of your computer, as that’s a lot of content and it takes a while to get it on your hard drive. When you think about how short drum samples tend to be, this is your first hint that there’s a lot of ambience captured in those samples.

Second up: listening. And believe me, it takes a while because there is a huge selection of drum sounds. I started off by loading some kits to get an overview, and the first few were stellar—crisp, present, with lots of velocity samples, and a solid room sound—all you could ask for. Thinking that maybe I got lucky, I checked out the 19 kits (each with 12 presets in both snare-on and snare-off versions) and you know what? They were all good.

The KP2 advantage. But the story doesn’t end there. With KP2, each drum sound is essentially its own instrument, addressable over its own MIDI channel, with up to 13 mono/stereo mic channels. For example, a snare might have left and right main and “under” snare mics, three room mics, overhead, and, oh, a couple other mics thrown in (like “thwack,” an über-compressed sound) for good measure. You can go from dry and tight to wet and wild with a few knob twists. And yes, the room sound is as good as the hype—and you can dial in as much of it as you want.

The other advantage of the instrument approach is that you can apply KP2’s processing to individual channels. Each can have up to four insert effects, including compressor, limiter, inverter, saturation, lo-fi, stereo modeller, distortion, phaser, flanger, chorus, reverb, delay, 19 different filters, and a convolution reverb. (Regarding the latter, there are no impulses included; however, KP2 will accept impulses from Kontakt 2 and other sources in stand-alone mode, but not when inserted as a plug-in.) You can even go so far as to degrade the otherwise crystal-clear sounds with total abandon. Don’t laugh (and Allen Sides, don’t cry): With a little tweaking, you can get really strange, twisted, electronic-sounding drums.

What’s more, there are four aux buses available, with the same roster of effects as individual channels. And, you’re not limited to just the channels programmed into a kit—you can have up to 32 mono outputs (a kit with 19 snares, anyone?), as well as configure multi-channel outs. Yes, you can use all those room mics on multiple instances of an instrument to set up a very cool surround drum kit.

Mapping. There are two possible mappings for each drum. Sonic Reality’s “I-Map” is basically a variation on General MIDI mapping and is suitable for triggering with a keyboard, but designed to handle the increased sophistication needed for these drums. The second mapping is for “real” drummers, who want to trigger the kit with Roland V-Drums. The I-Map thing is definitely cool, as it makes it easy to play from a keyboard, and the V-Drums map is a thoughtful touch. These are also explained on the accompanying video DVD.

Conclusions. I was a little skittish about the price—until I realized it’s about as much as an 8-bit Drumulator drum machine cost back in the ’80s. And it only takes is about five minutes of listening to realize that a huge amount of work went into miking, setting up, sampling, and mapping these drums. The editability is icing on the cake, but it’s pretty rich icing—you can do a lot with these sampled sounds. Overall, Ocean Way Drums delivers 100% on its promise: great-sounding, extremely flexible drum sounds that go beyond the norm.

FORMATS: 6 DVD-ROMs with 40GB of samples and 1 educational video DVD; 24-bit/48kHz resolution
LIST PRICE: $995
CONTACT: Sonic Reality/Ocean Way Drums, www.oceanwaydrums.com