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This review has gone through quite a number of changes since we first saw Addictive Drums at the 2009 Winter NAMM show. Originally a review for version 1.0, it was rewritten when 1.1 came out, and then revised two more times to cover the current version 1.5.1 before finally publishing it. We applaud XLN Audio’s commitment to improving what was already a great product, and it is the only time we know of that a new version of a product was published faster than our review! Now on to the review…
One of the greatest challenges facing musicians recording in project studios is capturing great drum sounds. And while drum machines have come along way since their early ‘80s Roland and Linn beginnings, the last several years have seen the release of very impressive virtual drummer products for computer-based studios. Never before has it been so easy to create professional sounding, studio-quality drum tracks without a live drummer, and in many cases, you don’t even need to know anything about programming drum patterns!
XLN Audio’s Addictive Drums is one of the impressive virtual drummer plug-ins we’re talking about. With a relatively small hard drive footprint and compatibility with multiple popular recording platforms, Addictive Drums delivers great sounding drums, all with easily editable characteristics and effects. Version 1.5.1 introduces a number of new features, including direct compatibility with electronic drum kits, general MIDI compatibility, and highly editable sounds. Further, the introduction of MIDIpaks and ADPaks allows the user to not only add more patterns, but also entirely new sampled drum kits as well.XLN Audio has a winner!
Addictive Drums is designed to provide a complete drum production studio. It ships with three drum kits and can be expanded via optional expansion packs such as the new Retro Addictive Drums pack.
All sampled drum and cymbal sounds are recorded at a very high quality. To quote the AD website:
“All sounds in AD are recorded, edited and mixed at 24 bit/96 kHz. They are then converted to our own format, which is 44.1 kHz and uses variable bit depth; this is very effective on percussive sounds. Our compression algorithm is virtually lossless, and the signal to noise ratio is around 140db, equivalent of 24-bit resolution.”
To our ears, the sounds across the board were very excellent (but more on that in the Sound section). The kits include:
Individual drums within each kit are editable, and there are controls for:
Shaping the basic sound has grown to become quite robust in this iteration of AD.
Individual drum editing is straightforward, and within the section of what AD calls the Sample Player, there are several graphical displays. For example, Kitpiece Settings allows you to adjust levels of the “kitpiece” in overhead and room microphones; Pitch and Pitch Envelope allow adjustment of the pitch of an individual drum; Volume Envelope allows attack and decay times to be altered for a harder or softer feel; and Frequency Filter is an adjustable filter that enables tailored low and high pass filtering (i.e., for cutting the low end on hi-hats). This means you can do everything from slight tweaking to major reconstruction of the drum sounds.
Addictive Drums also includes effects for each channel. These include:
All in all, you get two mixer channels, fifty-two insert effects, and two reverbs at your disposal. Not bad!
For those who don’t want to tweak sounds right away, Addictive Drums also includes over 3,000 MIDI files in many different styles: pop, rock, funk, disco, and progressive (for those drummers with three feet and five bass drum pedals). The built-in browser lets you search by keyword (i.e. ride, metal), or sort by Category, BPM, or Time Signature.
You can add the files you like to Addictive Drums's Favorite list, or drag them right into your host's arrangement window (more on this later). Since Addictive Drums is a multi-out plug-in, every channel in the Addictive Drums mixer can be routed to a separate output if required. There are also settings for “machine,” “’70s kit,” “vintage years,” “live on stage,” and “chemical house” to get up and running quickly.
One other innovative feature: cymbal choking! Addictive Drums has a system for creating realistic cymbal chokes. On your MIDI controller, you hit the cymbal on one key and choke it with another. Addictive Drums calculates the volume on the cymbal at that particular time, and plays a choke sample that fits. All choke samples are multilayered and have alternating samples. In most cases, this effect is quite realistic.
Addictive Drums is available for Mac OS X and Windows, and supports VST, RTAS and Audio Units plug-in formats. Installation is from a single DVD, taking up only three GB of hard drive space, and authorization is via a serial number registered on XLN Audio's website. Three cheers for “No dongle!”
Before installing Addictive Drums on our current system, we originally installed version 1.1 on an old Apple Power Macintosh G4 dual 1.42 GHz with 2GB RAM running Pro Tools LE 7.3 as a host. Installation was a breeze, and Addictive Drums proved to be very CPU-friendly. We didn’t experience any problems despite this system being less capable than the recommended system requirements.
Our current system, however, is a much more robust 2.8 Ghz dual quad core Mac Pro with 4GB memory running Pro Tools LE 7.4.2. Again, installation was a breeze and problem free.
Addictive Drums was very easy to use. All we had to do was create an instrument track in Pro Tools LE, select Addictive Drums, and off we went! Addictive Drums includes a PDF describing how to set it up on just about every platform, which is a nice touch for those who need a little help getting things set up.
There are four main pages to the interface, which are accessible via buttons at the top right of the screen, labeled Kit, Edit, FX, and Beats. The Kit window is where you assemble drum kits from the individual drums that have been sampled by XLN Audio. You have up to twelve “slots” to fill, each of which represents a different object within the kit. As shown in the first image above, the drum kit is displayed in the top half of the interface while the mixer/sliders are shown below.
Switching to the Edit page allows you to make detailed changes to the sound of any individual drum. Processing available in the Edit page includes all the insert effects, but there are also two global reverb generators, which have a separate editing window.
The FX page (above) graphically shows reverb characteristics, and allows mixing of effects, as well as the choice of pre and post mastering inserts, a helpful feature.
The fourth page, Beats, is a file browser that allows you to search and audition a library of over 3,000 MIDI grooves. When you've found one you like, you can simply drag and drop it into your host sequencer.
The left side of the Beats screen lists the pre-made MIDI loops. Everything in the browser is named with useful information such as tempo, length in bars, musical style, and time signature. Most of the MIDI patterns consist of a basic Beat or Groove but if you want to explore related beat variations, you can click on the white arrow to their left.
We found the distinction between Beats and Grooves unclear, though. Beats represent more basic drum patterns, while Grooves are more sophisticated and complex. There are more than 130 two-bar beats and over 100 four-bar grooves, and there are also a number of complete drum arrangements that you can use as the basis for entire songs.
A well-designed text-based search engine, plus filters allowing us to search only certain musical styles or time signatures, made it easy for us to find the drum content we were after, but really, beats and grooves aren’t different concepts here. There are even a number of very convincing electronica, low fi, and industrial sounding arrangements. Check out ‘”Cyborg Invasion” and “DoN2” under the “Xperimental” drum section for good examples.
When you have a pattern selected in the browser, clicking the large arrow icon (Play button) at the top right auditions it either at its preferred tempo, or if the Host Tempo button is selected, at your song's tempo (in our case, our Pro Tools LE song’s tempo). There's also a Sync button that starts and stops playback of the selected MIDI pattern along with your sequencer's transport. If you find a pattern you like and want to use it in your song, you need to import it onto a MIDI or Instrument track in your sequencer. Fortunately, this involves nothing more complex than dragging the pattern out of the Addictive Drums window directly into your sequencer's Arrange page. Alternately, you can drag it over to the Favorites window on the right-hand side, which is handy if you're trying to build up a shortlist of possible grooves for your song.
The “Drag and Drop” functionality worked very well, and any pattern could be further manipulated with Pro Tool’s own Copy/Paste/Duplicate features (for example, to avoid having to drag and drop eight identical patterns onto a track, we could place a single instance from AD and then duplicate it seven times within our host DAW).
In previous versions, omissions we noted were a lack of General MIDI (GM) mapping, and that the included beats were only 3|4, 4|4, and 6|8. This has all been addressed in AD 1.5! Times of 5|8 and 7|8 are now included, making prog-rock and jazz fusion musicians very happy (you know who you are!). Further, mapping has become quite easy to do:
The keyboard to the right of the screen shows exactly which keys triggers any given sound. This can be useful for those who own an electronic drum kit and want to use it to trigger the sounds in Addictive Drums, or those who have drum MIDI grooves that use a different key map than Addictive Drums and want to change/upgrade sounds from the GM standard. It’s also handy for mapping grooves from another software drum manufacturer. Even without specific mapping needs, we found using this screen made it easier to play grooves on a MIDI keyboard. Each key is labeled, and related sounds are color coded together (i.e., toms sounds are green, cymbals are orange, etc). Changing key maps was as straightforward as dragging the name to another key. Indeed, we have come a long way from our ‘80s era keyboard mapping nightmares! This is a great and welcome feature in the latest version of AD.
One other nice feature about the mapping is that AD already includes Roland, Yamaha, Alesis, and 2box mappings. Just pick your kit and off you go!
The Beat Transformer was fun to use. It can change the speed of the current beat (double, half, or 66% to150%) or length (1-16 bars). Best of all, it does it (instantly) in real time. This can allow you to change on the fly from a 4|4 feel to a 6|8 swing feel, and vice versa, while keeping the change seamless. Very cool.
For those wanting to make their own beats, there are three different ways of doing this:
We tried the MIDI keyboard entry, and it worked like a charm. Everything tracked along in Pro Tools perfectly, using a low C key for a bass drum, an F for a snare, and a high F for a hi-hat. However, there was no way for us to simply create patterns (er… grooves) and save them within AD’s library of beats and grooves. This is the only really notable feature that is absent from an otherwise great product. Of course given XLN Audio’s rapid upgrade cycle, this feature might be there by the time you read this review!
Despite the relatively small footprint on disc and minimal burden on your CPU, Addictive Drums sounds great! A caveat, however: this program, in its basic form, definitely leans mostly towards rock music. The drums are punchy, and would work well for rock, pop, and funk. But a jazz kit with brushes, for example, was not well represented in the initial version of AD.
The good news is that the current version of Addictive Drums allows for expansion drum packs, so interesting new kits aren’t far behind. In fact, XLN Audio has already released the Retro Pack, containing three ‘70s Ludwig kits and 1,300 MIDI patterns.
Furthermore, XLN Audio has now started releasing MIDIPaks that only require the main program. Styles include Metal, Hip-Hop, Retro, and Rock. Kudos to XLN Audio for continually upgrading and improving the program.
Of the sounds that are included, they all sounded great, and there are plenty of fills and variations to build a very pro-sounding recording. If you are reasonably competent at arranging drum parts, only you and your computer will know there wasn’t a live drummer on your recording. And even if you aren’t that accomplished, there are so many MIDI loops available now that you’re certain to find easily usable parts right from the start.
Documentation and Product Support
Good news: the website has a lot of information and usage examples, and is well organized. As the program itself is very well polished, this did not come as a surprise to us. There is no printed manual, but there is an included PDF file. This has become much more thorough than the original 1.0 release, which is great.
While people familiar with drum plug-ins probably don’t even need it, musicians new to the latest generation of computer-based drum products would surely benefit from a printed manual with plenty of “How To’s” and various setup examples. But now that there are tutorial videos on XLN’s website demonstrating all facets of the program, even beginners should be up and running in no time at all.
Addictive Drums (MRSP $249.95) sells for approximately $200 at retail. It is slightly less expensive than some of its competitors, and it offers a broad range of host platforms in which to run. Given all the great sounds you get (and future expansion possibilities), XLN Audio has a great program that just about everyone can make use of for delivering professional sounding drum tracks. We have watched the program literally grow up before our very eyes, and we feel AD 1.5 has become worthy of the WIHO award it achieved in this review.Now if they could just include Ed Grimley’s triangle…
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