By Craig Anderton
Drums Overkill ($159) is a software-based, cross-platform (Mac OS X, Windows XP) “virtual instrument” designed to work with host programs like Cubase, Sonar, Digital Performer, and the like, or as a stand-alone instrument. It consists of two parts: The Kontakt Player 2 soft instrument into which you load sounds, and the sounds themselves.
So you want drum sounds? Let's just believe the specs, because I don't have the patience to verify that there are indeed “10,000 samples assigned to 1,200 drum kits, 5,400 original drum machine samples, 3,800 bass drums, 4,100 snare drums and rim shots, 750 claps and snaps, 480 toms, 1,600 hi-hats, 300 cymbals, 670 analogue synth drums and electronic percussion, 340 mixed special effects, and 1,500 percussion instruments from around the world.” But even though I didn't count every one, I can indeed assure you there are a lot of drum sounds.
The package includes two DVDs. One consists of WAV files and instruments for the EXS24, HALion 3, Kontakt 2, and Reason software samplers. The other DVD contains the same material, but arranged as a set of data that loads into the Kontakt Player 2 (KP2 for short). As the player and the content are both important, we'll cover each aspect.
It may seem strange to focus on the instrument first as the sounds are the Big Deal, but KP2 is also crucial because it lets you put the sounds in a sonic context of your choice. KP2 is based on Native Instruments' Kontakt 2 sampler, and it's quite well-endowed in terms of features. (Note that if you need even more editing than what the KP2 can provide, the data set of sounds is also compatible with Kontakt 2.)
For starters, you can have up to 32 mono outputs in stand-alone or plug-in modes, including surround channels (i.e., a channel that can drive several outputs but whose gain is controlled by a single fader). Referring to Fig. 1, each output channel 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. (Although regarding the latter, the manual has no explanation of its operation, and there are no impulses included with KP2. It will accept impulses from Kontakt 2 and other sources, but only in stand-alone mode; you can’t bring impulses in when Drums Overkill is inserted as a plug-in.)
And those effects are for just one drum kit, which you can think of as an individual instrument (Fig. 2). You can load up to 64 such instruments (drum kits) into KP2, each driven by its own MIDI channel; you would need four ports of 16 channels each to drive all of these. Each kit has a possible four aux send controls, and the four aux returns (which feed the mixer output along with the various individual outputs) can have up to four insert effects, from the same roster of effects as the individual outputs.
But we're not done with effects yet, as each drum kit “instrument” has its own collection of effects (Envelope/Pan/Tune, Lo-Fi, Low Pass and High Pass Filter, Chorus/Flanger, Delay, Compressor, Saturation/Distortion, Two-Band Parametric EQ, Reverb, and Phaser). There's more, though, as KP2 includes Kontakt 2's MIDI scripting feature, but for playback only. (If this is starting to get confusing, hang in there. Scripting simply means it's possible to write mini-programs about how MIDI data is handled. For example, a script can take incoming data and arpeggiate it, delay it, direct it in a particular way, and the like.) In Drums Overkill, the script makes it possible to send individual notes or combinations of notes (up to 10 separate selections of notes) to individual processors. Thus you can have, say, reverb on the snare and toms, but not on the kick or cymbals, or add distortion to only the kick drum. (It's easy to create a selection; you just click a Learn button and play the notes associated with the drums you want to use.)
So do you need all these effects? No, you can do fine just by calling up presets. But the level of flexibility means that if you can think of some off-the-wall effects combination, you can probably make it happen. The only real drawback to the effects is that in host mode, you can't automate effects parameters – only volume, tune, and pan.
A more global problem is that KP2 is underdocumented. It mentions that tempo sync is possible, but doesn't tell you how (for the record, for delay Time parameters, right-click on “ms” and choose the rhythmic value; this works on the Insert delay effect only, not the Delay in the instrument itself). Nor does it tell you how to create a mute group for sounds like hi-hats, where hitting a closed hat sound turns off the sound of an open hat if it's still ringing; but it's possible by having one instrument do hi-hats only, and setting polyphony to one voice. While you can use KP2 without knowing about a lot of its features, it would be helpful if the documentation told you how to make the most out of its many capabilities.
First things first: If you're expecting one of those hyper-realistic electronic drum sets with tons of velocity-switched samples for each drum hit, you won't find it here. In fact, although I didn't test out every single kit, I loaded dozens of them into Kontakt 2, checked out the mapping editor, and all the hits in all kits were a single sample. I assume this is in part because many of the instruments that were sampled weren't themselves multisampled, so the point is moot. Of course the drums respond to velocity, so you can get dynamics; just don't expect big timbre changes between high and low velocities.
The presets are convenient, but if you really want to mix and match samples, having the individual WAV files available is very considerate as you can load them into soft synths like Battery, Session Drummer, Reason, and similar drum modules. Given the huge variety of kits, whether you'll feel the need to do this or not is debatable, but it's nice to know you have the option if needed.
Fig. 3: Check out that collection of analog drum machines being selected from the browser – and there are just as many digital drum machines, not to mention some other vintage categories.
One aspect that particularly appeals to me is the inclusion of 155 vintage drum machines, both analog and digital (Fig. 3). These include boxes from Casio, Korg, Roland, E-Mu, Acetone, Elka, Alesis, Farfisa, Vermona, Boss, Yamaha, Wersi, Akai, Kawai, Simmons, and many more (even Mattel). I also like how units with multiple sounds are handled. For example, you might check out the Alesis D4 preset, and be disappointed that there are only two kick drums in the kit, whereas the D4 offered many more. But hold on: There are also samples of the Alesis HR-16, HR-16B, and SR-16, and the snares and kicks from these. As several of the drums in the D4 came from these older machines, although I couldn't do a one-to-one comparison it seems highly likely that, for example, all the kick drum sounds used in the D4 are actually available (although they might be under a different classification).
So do the samples of older kits really sound like the older kits? Well, I wrote the manual for the original E-Mu Drumulator and its sound is burned into my brain; Drums Overkill nails it. Ditto sounds like those from the notoriously famous Roland TR-808 and TR-909 machines, which have powered many a dance and rap track. Granted, you can't take this virtual TR-808 apart and tweak the trimpots to make the drums sustain longer…but you don't really have to, because there are (for example) kick drum samples with different amounts of sustain. Some thought definitely went into Drums Overkill, but even better, so did some respect and reverence.
In terms of value, Drums Overkill is hard to beat: For many, it will be worth the price just for the vintage drum boxes. Throw in all the other kits, the WAV files, the instrument presets for various samplers, and you really do have serious value.
If you're working in genres like dance, hip hop, rap, house, electronic, pop, trance, drum and bass, hardcore, and other modern musical styles, these sounds may very well be all you need. If you really want to cover all your bases, then add some hot acoustic drum sounds that use the aforementioned multisampling techniques (like Toontrack dfh, Reason Drum Kits, Fxpansion BFD, or similar products).
I also find that Drums Overkill has a high fun factor. Overdubbing some percussion on a track from some ancient Electro-Harmonix or Wersi drum machine is a blast. Sure, you can get as serious as you want with Drums Overkill, but you can get zany and experimental if the mood strikes you…throw on some of KP2's processing, and it's almost like circuit bending drums without having to warm up your soldering iron.
But the proof is in the sounds, and Drums Overkill delivers. Check out these audio examples (suitable for looping) of an Acetone Rhythm Ace, the crackling hard rock sounds of one of the Real Drum Kits, or if you're in a club-oriented mood, a Techno Kit loop. And there are plenty more sounds where these came from…
In any event, there's nothing on the market quite like Drums Overkill. Many times, when reviewing a product that requires a large amount of hard disk space (2.56GB in this case for just the KP2 files, but I plan to install the WAV files too), I'll leave it on the hard drive long enough to write the review, then shuttle it off to make room for the next review candidate. Not this time: Drums Overkill is staying on my hard drive. It's just too useful, and versatile, to let go.
Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.