WaveMachine Labs Drumagog Platinum 5 (Mac/Win) Review

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Drumagog has long been regarded as the industry-leading drum-replacement plug-in. For those unfamiliar with drum replacement, input a crummy-sounding drum hit into Drumagog, and it will trigger one or more better-sounding drum samples from its built-in 5GB library (or from your own library) to replace it at the plug-in''s output. Alternatively, you can layer replacement samples with the original sound to beef it up without totally replacing it.

Drumagog 5 adds promising new features and sample content to this popular plug-in. Three versions of the software—Basic, Pro, and Platinum—are available in AU, VST, and RTAS formats. I reviewed Version 5.03b of the flagship Drumagog Platinum AU version in Digital Performer 7.21, using an 8-core Mac Pro running OS X 10.5.8. I''ll mostly cover what''s new since Drumagog 4.

Drumagog 5 supports iLok and disc-authorization copy-protection schemes. All three versions of Drumagog 5 sport a new, enlarged GUI and an engine that can simultaneously trigger—with each drum hit—up to three samples derived from room, overhead, or other ancillary mics. In Pro and Platinum versions only, proprietary functionality (dubbed Auto-Align 2, not related to Sound Radix Auto-Align, reviewed on page 61) maintains perfect phase lock among all triggered samples and the original audio to preclude any phasiness or flamming.

Drumagog Pro adds other important features not available in the Basic version, including pitch control, a low-latency Live mode for use onstage, and a Stealth mode that processes only louder drum hits. Stealth mode prevents, for example, hi-hat bleed on the snare track from triggering samples. Drumagog Pro also includes a synthesizer tone you can tune and trigger to bolster, for example, the low end of kick drum hits.

Drumagog Platinum includes all of the Pro version''s capabilities and much more. Automatic hi-hat tracking is designed to sense, in real time, whether the hi-hat you recorded is open (and by how much) or completely closed; it automatically substitutes a multisample''s articulation that matches the real drummer''s footwork. VI plug-in hosting lets you open any one VSTi (VST Virtual Instrument) plug-in such as BFD2, Kontakt, or Superior Drummer directly in Drumagog; this immediately expands the sample content available for triggering. Platinum''s built-in convolution reverb includes a custom IR (impulse response) library and can also read third-party 16- or 24-bit IR files. If all this is still too tame for you, the new Morph|Engine feature continuously reshapes incoming drum beats to create wild effects.

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Figure 1: Drumagog''s new GUI shows a wealth of information at once.

Drumagog Platinum''s reorganized and expanded GUI provides access at once to the file browser, loaded samples, selectable options (such as dynamic tracking), graphic controls for fine-tuning triggering, and a section that shows, in turn, controls for the built-in synth, effects, hosted plug-in, and “main” functions (see Fig. 1). Main functions include sliders for adjusting pitch, articulation (called “position” in previous versions of Drumagog), blend (the mix of original sound and replacement samples), and relative levels for any overhead and room-mic samples—up to three stereo samples—included in the currently loaded Gog (Drumagog-format) file. You can use room samples from your own library. Visual controls for triggering samples (sensitivity, transient detail, and so on) have been consolidated into one window pane and function the same as in Drumagog 4. The synth section includes a new, automatable resonance filter.

Store your drum samples wherever you like—the new File Browser sees all your hard drives and keeps track of your favorite Gog files. Moving your samples into Drumagog''s sample pool is much easier than it was with past versions: Shift-click multiple samples in the Finder, and then drag and drop the whole lot into Drumagog.

Drumagog Platinum''s Auto-Hi-Hat Tracking induces latency that is not corrected by your DAW''s automatic plug-in delay compensation. You must slide your hi-hat track earlier in time to compensate for the delay. Fortunately, Drumagog Platinum displays the exact amount of time you should slide your track, removing any guesswork.

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Figure 2: The GUI''s Effects section includes controls for convolution reverb and the Morph|Engine.

The convolution reverb includes controls for selecting the desired IR and adjusting wet/dry mix, size (reverb decay time), pre-delay, and offset (IR start time; see Fig. 2). As you increase the offset, early reflections get progressively removed from the onset of the reverb, favoring the diffuse tail that follows.

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Figure 3: Drumagog''s plug-ins section can load any VSTi plug-in you own for direct triggering. The output mixer includes level and pan controls for the hosted plug-in''s multiple outputs (if the VSTi includes these).

The Morph|Engine section lets you select a type of dynamic “morph” processing and any of eight variations. You can adjust the frequency spectrum and wet/dry mix by moving a so-called Blob around X/Y axes in a miniature GUI; automate these controls to change your drum sound on every beat.

Each instance of Drumagog Platinum can load and trigger (in real time) one VSTi plug-in (see Fig. 3). You set the MIDI Channel and Note number that Drumagog sends to the VSTi plug-in. A Mix control blends the current Gog file with the output of the hosted plug-in, producing layered samples. Drumagog provides a mixer that adjusts the individual output levels and panning of VSTi plug-ins that have multiple outputs.

TESTING 1, 2, 3
Drumagog''s triggering is incredibly easy to set up and works reliably in almost every situation. However, it''s not always possible to trigger all the nuances of a snare roll and weed out all mic bleed. In contrast, Slate Digital Trigger offers a leakage-suppression mode that directly addresses bleed issues, allowing for bombproof triggering, but using this mode requires a considerably more complex setup than Drumagog.

Used on a hi-hat track playing a simple quarter-note pattern, Drumagog''s Auto-Hi-Hat Tracking reliably triggered matching articulations (see Web Clips 1a and 1b). But when the hi-hat played spitfire 16th notes, Drumagog failed to trigger on most of the hits unless I turned Auto-Hi-Hat Tracking off (which defeated automatic switching of articulations).

Drumagog''s room and overhead mic samples were apparently recorded in a relatively small space or fairly close to the source. While they fatten up the traps nicely, few of the included Gog files—I counted eight—include these additional samples. That said, Drumagog''s close-miked samples generally sound outstanding, especially when lathered with one of the plug-in''s better convolution reverbs. Many good electronic-drum samples are also included.

Drumagog Platinum came loaded with 30 IR files: various rooms, halls, plates, chambers, and ambience. Many of these reverbs sounded absolutely fantastic, while others virtually didn''t sound at all—the output level was that weak. The convolution reverb needs an output volume control—and not just a Mix slider—to compensate for the wildly differing levels from program to program. The reverbs in V. 5.03b were also buggy: On roughly a third of the stock IRs, certain parameter settings produced a stuttering oscillation.

Selecting Toontrack Superior Drummer 2.2.3 (SD) from a dropdown menu in Drumagog''s plug-in-hosting section made SD''s GUI open in a separate window and automatically routed its outputs through Drumagog. Easy! With Auto Align 2 enabled, SD''s three snare drum samples (top, bottom, and 1176) were perfectly aligned with Drumagog''s currently loaded Gog file and the original snare track. I got similarly great results using Drumagog to host Kontakt 3.5.

The Morph Engine produces a wide variety of sounds, including whooshing noise, stuttering repeats, and resonant pitches. You likely won''t be using this feature on your next country or rock mix, but you might for electronica. If you use the Morph|Engine, I advise you to follow Drumagog with a compressor to tame some of the excessively dynamic levels this processor can generate.

Drumagog Platinum V. 5.03b is a mixed bag. It includes more features than any other drum-replacement plug-in on the market, including Slate Digital Trigger. The plug-in hosting works brilliantly, and the Morph Engine provides nice spice for electronic music. But although its triggering performance gets high marks, it''s not perfect, and the number of included room and overhead mic samples is paltry. WaveMachine Labs also needs to greatly improve the reliability of Auto-Hi-Hat Tracking and fix the buggy convolution reverbs. Judging by the company''s excellent track record, I have no doubt Drumagog will eventually live up to its promise.

EM contributing editor Michael Cooper landed a principal acting role in the upcoming movie, The Wait.

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Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Drumagog Platinum 5 product page.