AF’s Weblog

April 23, 2012

Ddrum’s Reflex Review

Filed under: Drums/Percussion — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 7:12 am

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Ddrum’s Reflex Review

For a long time, Ddrum was a name only synonymous with drum triggers. At its inception this made a lot of sense, but lets fast forward through the company history and development.

The brand actually began as a division of Clavia, the Swedish electronic instruments manufacturer best known for the Nord line of keyboards. In 2005, Ddrum was acquired by Armadillo Enterprises, a company who also owns Dean Guitars. The acquisition turned out to be not only a turning point in the company’s history, but it also helped broaden its catalogue by launching them into manufacturing acoustic drum kits. Today, Ddrum offers a respectable variety of acoustic drum kits. Each of the Ddrum series features distinctive construction and sound, providing a quality palette for all types of tastes, budgets, and musical styles.

The Ddrum Reflex is one of the newer drum kit series released by the company. Like all the other series, Reflex also comes with unique features that help characterize not only its sound, but also its market value. Reflex represents Ddrum’s intention of delivering a high-end drum kit with a much more digestible price tag for the masses.

Defying Standards

Some of the features that the user will find on Reflex will certainly not reflect the same standards of the majority of kits out there. Take for instance its bass drum. An unusual and impressive 22” x 20” size brings edge to both its look and sound. The bass drum, as well as its snare, features 8-ply shells enhancing sonic quality. Reflex comes with 10” and 12” rack toms and a 16” floor tom. One might argue about the disparity of jumping from 12” to 16” and avoiding the traditional 14” rack tom. That, once again, is Ddrum’s way of further pushing the limits of conformity in the drum kit market, making their series stand out from the rest.

But the feature that really gives the Reflex kit its uniqueness is the wood from which is it constructed. Apparently Ddrum is the first company ever to use Alder wood (Alnus Rubra) as the prime matter for a drum kit. Commonly used on guitar bodies (and frequently found in furniture) Alder wood resonates a rich tone while simultaneously being lightweight. It is also abundant in the environment, allowing for a more affordable market value when compared to more traditional woods used in drum kits such as maple for example. Interestingly, Fender has used Alder wood for over 50 years

for the bodies of their legendary guitars.

Reflex also comes with a few of the more commonly found features such as the Face-Off Lugs, standard tom arms and clamps and single-ply stock drumheads. This series also offers an assortment of interesting and attractive finishes to choose from.  Chrome and White Bubble Wrap are certainly eye catchers.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

When analyzing construction, sound, look, and especially price, Ddrum Reflex is a drum kit that is worth every penny invested on. I feel it is very difficult to find a kit in this price range that can offer the professional construction and sonic qualities that this kit does. In a recording environment as well as in a live performance setting, the Reflex drum kit is able to handle both quite well. It projects presence and body into a drumming performance.

For those just begging to drum as well as to seasoned drummers, Ddrum Reflex is a kit worth checking out at the store. If Reflex does not fit all the requirements that one is looking for in a drum kit, I can see it serving as the middle of the road kit for such a person. But I feel would be really hard for one to not like Ddrum Reflex. I’m sure even band mates will be impressed once they discover how much of the budget you used to paid for it.

 Advantages:
  • Unique construction
  • Overall sonic quality
  • Affordable price
  • Great sounding stock drumheads
Drawbacks:
  • No rack mounting system (for those who rather have it)
  • Cheap looking lugs

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Ddrum’s Reflex Review

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February 17, 2011

Extreme Drum Processing: Exploring the Art of Filthy Signal Mutation

Filed under: Drums/Percussion, Mixing reviews, Plugin, Software — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:43 am

I like music with a distinctly electronic edge, but also want a human “feel.” Trying to resolve these seemingly contradictory ideals has led to some fun experimentation, but one of the more recent “happy accidents” was finding out what happens when you apply heavy signal processing to multitracked drums played by a human drummer. I ended up with a sound that slid into electronic tracks as easily as a debit card slides into an ATM machine, yet with a totally human feel.

This came about because Discrete Drums, who make rock-oriented sample libraries of multitracked drums (tracks are kick, snare, stereo toms, stereo room mic tracks, and stereo room ambience), received requests for a more extreme library for hip-hop/dance music. I had already started using their CDs for this purpose, and when I played some examples of loops I had done, they asked whether I’d like to do a remixed sample CD with stereo loops. Thus, the “Turbulent Filth Monsters” project was born, which eventually became a sample library (originally distributed by M-Audio, and now by Sonoma Wire Works).

Although I used the Discrete Drums sample library CDs and computer-based plug-ins, the following techniques also apply to hardware processors used in conjunction with drum machines that have individual outs, or multitracked drums recorded on a multitrack recorder (or sample CD tracks bounced over to a multitrack). Try some of these techniques, and you’ll create drum sounds that are as unique as a fingerprint – even if they came from a sample CD.

Effects Automation and Real Time Control

Editing parameters in real time lets you “play” an effect along with the beat. This is a good thing. However, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to vary several parameters at once while mixing the track down to a loop, so you’ll want to record these changes as automation.

Hardware signal processors can often accept MIDI controllers for automation. If so, you can sync a sequencer up to whatever is playing the tracks. Then, deploy a MIDI control surface (like the Mackie Control, Novation Nocturn, etc.) to record control data into the sequencer. Once in the sequencer, edit the controller data if needed.

If the processor cannot accept control signals, then you’ll need to make these changes in real time. If you can do this as you mix, fine. Otherwise, bounce the processed signal to another track so it contains the changes you want.

Software plug-ins for DAWs are a whole other matter, as there are several possible automation scenarios:

  • Use a MIDI control surface to alter parameters, while recording the data to a MIDI track (hopefully this will drive the effect on playback)
  • Twiddle the plug-in’s virtual knobs in real time, and record those changes within the host program
  • Use non-real time automation envelopes
  • Record data that takes the form of envelopes, which you can then edit
  • Use no automation at all. In this case, you can send the output through a mixer and bounce it to another track while varying the parameter. This can require a little after-the-fact trimming to compensate for latency (i.e., delay caused by going through the mixer then returning back into the computer) issues.

For example, with VST Automation (Fig. 1), a plug-in will have Read and Write Automation buttons.

Ohm Force Predatohm & VST automation

Fig. 1: Click on the Write Automation button with a VST plug-in, and when you play or record, tweaking controls will write automation into your project.

If you click on the Write Automation button, any changes you make to automatable parameters will be written into your project. This happens regardless of whether the DAW is in record or playback mode.

Now let’s take a closer look at some other plug-ins…

So What’s the Payoff?

Drum loops played by a superb human drummer, with all those wonderful little timing nuances that are the reason drum machines have not taken over the world, will give your tracks a “feel” that you just can’t get with drum machines. But if you add on really creative processing, the sounds will be so electronified that they’ll fit in perfectly with more radical instruments synths, highly processed vocals, and technoid guitar effects.

So, get creative – you’ll have a good time doing it, and your recordings won’t sound like million others. What good are all these great new toys if you don’t exploit them?

To read the full detailed article see:  Extreme Drum Processing

December 17, 2010

Multitrack Drum Libraries

Filed under: Drums/Percussion, Samplers, Software — Tags: , , — audiofanzine @ 3:51 pm

More drum libraries are showing up in multitrack format from companies like Discrete Drums, Wizoo, East-West, Reel Drums, etc. Although these are sold on the basis of being useable out of the box for drum parts (with the additional advantage of being mixable), I see them more as a gold mine of raw materials for creating custom drum loops. Being able to process individual tracks separately is certainly a major advantage when deriving loops from multitracked parts, and of course, proper looping allows using these parts at different tempos.

For example, I just did a “remix” of the Discrete Drums sample library for the company, who had received numerous requests for “dirtier,” lower-resolution versions aimed for more hardcore hip-hop and dance musicians. Hard disk recording programs are ideal for doing this type of remixing; this article will concentrate on using Sonar, but most techniques apply to other programs, and specific examples are given for Acid as well.

Dealing with Human Error

Drum libraries played by real drummers are great, because of the additional “human feel” compared to using machines. But due to timing inaccuracies, it sometimes takes a little tempo tweaking to line up measure markers with downbeats.

 

This illustration shows a loop whose stated tempo was 79 BPM, but in the upper view, note how the downbeat at the beginning of measure 9 (the loop end point in this particular case) hits a little early compared to the measure marker. In the bottom view, changing the tempo to 79.03 BPM places the measure marker at the downbeat’s exact beginning.

If you need to change the tempo compared to the original file, then time-stretching becomes necessary. Sonar has a built-in time stretch function that’s very similar to the one in Acid; Cubase SX has a nifty ReCycle type feature that works particularly well with drum loops. For programs that don’t stretch, you have three options if you want to change tempo:

* Import the file into ReCycle, change the tempo as desired, then export back to WAV or AIF.
* Import the file into Acid, Sonar, or a recent version of Sound Forge, “acidize” the file, then export.
* If the tempo change is small, change the pitch withoutcompensating for duration. Tranposing pitch upward will speed up the tempo, transposing down will slow it. For small changes, the pitch difference may not be noticeable (and in some cases, may be desirable).

After tweaking the track mix and setting the tempo, render the file to a stereo loop. Import this into your hard disk recorder or a digital audio editor and set looped playback mode. If there’s a click when the loop jumps back to the beginning, add a 4 ms fade-out to eliminate clicks, and if absolutely necessary, a 2-4 ms fade-in. In drastic cases, I use Sonic Foundry’s Click Removal DirectX plug-in to remove clicks at transition points.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Groove Clip Tricks

* All programs that use slicing to do time-stretching work most efficiently when speeding up rather than slowing down. Therefore, if you want to create a loop that works well from, for example, 100 BPM to 120 BPM, you’re better off creating it at 100 BPM and speeding it up than starting at 120 BPM and slowing it down.
* Editing markers is usually mandatory for drum loops played by human drummers instead of machines, as editing can compensate for any timing variations that interfere with the stretching process.
* Before getting too much into editing, try adjusting the Basic Slices and Transient Detection sliders first. Often choosing different values will solve flamming and other problems, without the need for editing.
* Use the lowest Slice Rhythmic Value possible (e.g., 8th note instead of 16th note), consistent with good sound. Extraneous slices can cut off drum decays. This is particularly annoying with kicks, as you lose some of the fullness and “ring.”
* Sonar will endeavor to keep any markers that you’ve moved manually in their assigned positions, so you can experiment at any time with the Slicing and Transient Detect controls without losing the positions of your carefully-placed markers.
* When you save a Sonar song or bundle, it retains all the Groove Clip parameters. To save a Groove Clip in acidized format for use other programs, simply drag the file to the desktop; it will be copied and saved with its groove parameters intact. However, you will likely want to rename it, as Sonar generates the name automatically.

To read the full detailed article see: Multitrack Drum Libraries

June 4, 2010

The Cymbal Rap for Newbies

The Difference Between Bronze and Brass Cymbals

For simplicity’s sake, there are basically three types and price levels of cymbals: beginner brass, intermediate sheet bronze and professional cast bronze. The brass are usually used only by young beginners and are the least expensive. The sheet bronze cymbals, while most fall in the intermediate price range, are used by beginners and pros, and the cast bronze are priced highest and are usually professional level cymbals.

Cast Bronze Cymbals: The Pro Stuff

A 16" medium thin crash

The professional level and most expensive cast bronze type cymbals are what I will describe first, since some of their attributes also apply to the less expensive sheet bronze and least expensive brass cymbals.

Cast bronze cymbals are made of B20 bronze, an alloy of 20% tin and 80% copper with traces of other elements such as silver. It is a fragile alloy because of the amount of tin. Since it is not strong enough to be formed into sheet metal, each cymbal must be individually poured into a mold, then manufactured which is what makes them more expensive to produce. The liquid molten bronze is poured into molds or casts which produce an ingot disc or “flat” which is then beaten, formed, shaped, lathed and hammered into what we know as a cymbal.

Each cymbal has a raised section in the center called a bell. The cymbal is lathed by holding a knife to the topside and underside of the cymbal which produces a spiraled groove. These grooves and the microscopic ridges inside them produce the high pitch zing that is so characteristic of a cymbal. The cymbal may be left like this or it may be further affected by hammering which makes the overtones of the cymbal even more complex and mysterious sounding.

AA Medium Crash 20"Much of this forming, lathing and hammering is done by computers now in the large cymbal factories but many cymbals are still made the old fashioned way especially by small cymbal factories in Turkey where the modern process of cymbal making started over 400 years ago. The cymbal is usually sprayed with a light coat of lacquer to prevent corrosion and fingerprints. Some models of cymbals are polished with a high speed buffer to produce a brilliant shine. Some of the most expensive models have alternating areas of lathed and unlathed sections, hammered and unhammered sections which produce even more exotic and unusual sounds.

The Zildjian A model cymbal is considered the most popular selling cymbal and is the benchmark of cast cymbals. This cymbal was designed in conjunction with legendary drummer Buddy Rich who liked the cleaner, brighter sound of an unhammered cymbal. This cymbal has no hammer marks but does have the lathed grooves. This is the cymbal heard most often in pop and rock recordings of the last fifty years. The Sabian equivalent is the AA model. The Meinl equivalent is the Soundcaster.  A package set of Zildjian A cymbals costs around $649 for a 20″ ride, 16″ crash and a pair of 14″ hi hats (2009).

ByzanceThe Zildjian K model cymbal actually predates the A model and is more complex sounding because of the hammering marks which give it a more ornate overtone series. The K is more expensive because of this extra hammering step in the manufacturing process. The K is the archetypical cymbal for jazz drumming but has become popular with rock drummers as well. The Sabian equivalent is the HH model. The Meinl equivlent is Byzance. The Paiste equivalent is the Twenty series.

Now let’s take a look at the other types…

To read the full article see:  The Cymbal Rap

August 12, 2009

EQ and Compression Techniques Pt.2: Drums

Despite the preponderance of exceptional drum samples and loops on the market, for certain genres of music (notably country and rock) there is no substitute for a great session drummer playing on a well-recorded and mixed drum kit. One thing that samples and loops can’t provide is the great rhythmic instincts an accomplished live player draws upon when responding to a specific song. However, getting a great player (while certainly a significant element) is not the entire story. The appropriate treatment of the drums in a mix with EQ and compression can make the difference between a lifeless, vague sound and an exciting, textured and genuinely rhythmic drum track.

Even though the drummer plays the entire kit as a single instrument, the miking of individual drums and cymbals can make for a very complicated mix scenario. The reason I reference country and rock music specifically has to do with the fact that in these genres the sounds of the individual drums and cymbals are not only singled out by individual microphones placed on each of them but also their sounds are exaggerated to create an even more dramatic effect. Consider, for example, the tom fills in Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight.” By contrast, jazz drums are often treated as a more cohesive, unified sound and it’s not unusual to use a simple pair of overhead mics to capture the sound of the entire jazz drum kit.

In this article, I’m going to go drum by drum providing EQ and compression settings that will, hopefully, provide you with a jumping off point to getting great drum sounds in your mix. Because of its all-in-one mixing board channel approach, I’ll be using Metric Halo’s Channel Strip plug-in with its EQ, compression and noise-gate to illustrate my comments about various EQ and compression settings.

Now lets take a closer look drum by drum…

Conclusion

While I’ve been painfully specific about EQ, compression and gate settings, it’s important to remember that every mix situation is different. Use all of these settings as a jumping off point and then use your ears to tweak the sounds until you’re happy. Good luck!

To read the full detailed article see:  EQ and Compression Techniques for Drums

July 20, 2009

Recording Drums with Michael Wagener – Part 2

After explaining how he mics up drums, Michael Wagener now talks more about ribbon microphones, which he considers much less understood than their condenser or dynamic counterparts.

In fact, the subject almost creates a debate: whereas some say that ribbon mics inhibit hi frequencies, Michael feels that it’s the other way around; condenser mics exaggerate hi frequencies, and they sound less natural and are more difficult to use correctly…

This second part also gives us an opportunity to: go into further detail about some of his choices (why use a stereo mic for overhead?), to see how he sets up drums in a room to get the best possible sound, and especially to hear the result after recording and mixing. Does he get a huge sound? Yes, that’s the right word … In fact, we put the final drum mix into 24-bit 48 kHz, so you can judge for yourself. You can download it here …

See exclusive video demonstration:

Recording Drums with Michael Wagener Part 2

July 13, 2009

Recording Drums with Michael Wagener Part 1

Recording is an art and often a matter of experience, and so what better way of gaining some understanding of what’s involved than by listening to the prestigious American engineer Michael Wagener talk about his recording tips and secrets. Starting with mic placement for drums …

Michael Wagener: If you like rock in general and metal in particular, you probably know his name, because this engineer has worked with some of the most prestigious artists such as: Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Queen, Alice Cooper, Megadeth, Helloween, Testament, Dokken, Mötley Crüe, Skid Row, Accept, Extreme, Janet Jackson, King’s X. Quite simply, the list of albums and singles he has recorded or mixed is simply staggering…

So when Royer Labs and Jukebox LTD invited us to meet him while he was in the studio with the band Cockpit, we jumped at the opportunity and decided to film the whole experience, to better show you how he does his thing. And needless to say, we weren’t disappointed. We were even surprised. Not by Michael’s skill (he has little to prove), but by his affable manner and willingness to share his wisdom.

So, we were able to ask him almost anything we wanted about microphone placement, or about the gear he uses. The result is a kind of Masterclass, that we will unveil, episode by episode, in the coming weeks.

Michael Wagener is quite exhaustive on the subject of mic placement, and his views are all the more interesting since he uses ribbon mics quite extensively. He therefore dispelled certain preconceived notions about them: no, ribbon mics are not only for jazz, no, they are not limited in the high frequency range, and no, they are not as fragile as we’re led to believe, you can even record a bass drum with them.

But let’s listen to what he has to say in this first episode:

To see more exclusive video demos visit Audiofanzine Videos.

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