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Masterkit CD-ROM

Real Drum Company

Article from Music Technology, March 1993

Hungry for the ultimate drum samples? Take a byte out of this

The ultimate in percussion sounds for the sampler that has everything...

Despite their enormous popularity, a question mark still hangs over the use of CDs for sample collections. Think about it. You have to connect a CD player to your sampler (making provision for monitoring of the audio signal), cue up the sound you require, sample it, and then set about editing the start, end and loop points. The process is tedious and, when a sample is merely being 'auditioned' to see if it works within the context of a track, very time consuming. It is also dependent on the setting of optimum signal levels to prevent distortion whilst maintaining the highest possible signal-to-noise ratio.

A much better alternative is the CD-ROM - a large capacity computer disk which can be read from, but not written to. Reading such a disk requires a CD-ROM player, but once in place, samples can be transferred digitally in their true glory, replete with programming data for your sampler (if this is included).

Realising the potential of this system, the Real Drum Company have just released the Masterkit CD-ROM containing over 300Mb of real drum samples, sub-divided into three areas; Power Kit, Studio Kit and Funk Kit. Now, you may ask how you can utilise that kind of capacity with just drum samples. The answer lies in the no-compromise approach adopted by programmers Paul Brook and David Skipper. Recorded and produced at Wytherston Studio, only the highest quality drums were used, and all recordings were expertly mic'd up by Mike Trim, an engineer of some renown.

Reflecting the importance of the snare, for example, such classic drums as the Sonor Signature, the Ludwig Black Beauty (in three sizes), the Remo Piccolo, etc., are included - and the result is the percussive equivalent of heaven.

Particular attention has been paid to the slight tonal changes that occur between successive hits with either hand. All snares and hi-hats have right and left-hand samples to increase realism and prevent the likelihood of machine-gun effects during multiple triggering. Interestingly, during development, a similar approach was adopted for the toms but the audible improvement was found to be marginal.

And speaking of variations of each sample, how many level variations would you imagine are required to achieve a convincing effect? More to the point, how do you go about deciding? Well, RDC did it by building a dummy robot arm, setting it to fall from different heights and measuring the mic level according to the height. From this, the programmers concluded that about four or five velocity levels would suffice for a snare drum or hi-hat and rather fewer for a tom.

All recordings were initially made to DAT at 44.1kHz and transferred for editing to a Macintosh running SoundTools. From there, the samples were piped into an Akai S1000 where the keyboard mapping and other programming was carried out. Thus, the final results on CD-ROM have remained in the digital domain since the original microphone recordings.

Considerable thought has gone into the mapping of the drums across a MIDI keyboard. The end result is the 'RDC - System' in which all drums are accessible over a standard five-octave range; the mapping will be supported by future RDC releases. For those with more everyday requirements, General MIDI mapping has also been included so that you can program your drums using, say, a Roland Sound Canvas and then substitute the Masterkit sounds later. Such mappings will easily fit into an S1000 with only 8Mb of memory.

How good are the results? In a word, superb. At a demonstration at Zildjian it was virtually impossible to tell these kits - being triggered from a KAT MIDI Controller - from the original drums. Notwithstanding the sheer quality of the actual recordings, the nuances introduced by the two-hand samples were highly realistic.

Who is this system intended for? Certainly not those of you happy using a £200 drum machine. A CD-ROM player and S1000-compatible sampler with 16Mb of RAM is likely to set you back the best part of £3500; add a KAT controller with the necessary expansion pads and pedals and the figure increases by another £1500. Clearly, this is a product aimed at studios and professionals who are committed to having and using the best percussion samples around.

But you don't need me to tell you about the speed at which high-end technology drops in price, and when that happens I'm sure many more of us will turn to CD-ROMs as a sampling source. The benefits are just too great to ignore. Certainly, the launch of the Akai CD3000 with an in-built CD-ROM drive is likely to create a new market for products such as this. But the RDC Masterdisk is going to be a tough act to follow.

Price: £269.08 inc VAT

More from: DAC (Contact Details)

Instruments and performers

Apart from the obvious bass drum, snare, tom and hi-hat samples, you'll also find various crashes, splashes and gongs, along with an excellent tambourine, cowbell and other effects. For non-drummers and percussionists, RDC has also included a variety of 'performances' (largely on the snare drums and hi-hats), comprising rolls, flams, riffs etc. A tasty collection, it makes life much easier for those lacking a player's feel for these things.

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Dearly Beloved

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Akai S2800 & S3000 Samplers

Publisher: Music Technology - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

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Music Technology - Mar 1993

Review by Vic Lennard

Previous article in this issue:

> Dearly Beloved

Next article in this issue:

> Akai S2800 & S3000 Samplers

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