Acoustic drum samples from producer Bob Clearmountain rub shoulders with Mega Beats drum machine samples, while SSU sounds for the Yamaha SY77 complete the lineup in this month's Patchwork.
Ultimate Drum Collection Drum Sample CD
I'm surprised it took so long - after all, it's such a logical step to take. The "it" in question is the dedicated drum sample CD. For years drum samples have been relegated to being a small section of larger sample collections. Take Korg's old Sound Sampling Collection, for example: of the two volumes made available, Volume 1 alone contained drum and percussion sounds. They weren't bad, either, just a bit thin on the ground.
Today, however, the drum sample CD is taking off. Apart from the obvious attraction of being able to turn your sampler into a wide variety of percussion sources, there's the advantage of being able to assemble a set of sounds unique to you and your music. Then there's the cost - few of us can afford to buy (or buy access to) the number of acoustic drums and percussion devices, or the variety of drum machines that can appear on a CD. Although sample CDs appear expensive when compared to their musical equivalent, you consistently get an incredible amount of sounds and expertise for your cash. And on the subject of expertise, rock producer Bob Clearmountain must rank very highly amongst those in the business of putting "real" drums onto tape. Lucky for us then, that he's been generous enough to put his experience at our disposal in the form of his Prosamples 1 sample CD.
While not a cheap addition to your sample collection, Prosamples 1 is rather special when it comes to content. A glance at the booklet tells us that, while lifting drum sounds from this disk is a convenience, recording it was not. Take the Ludwig Black Beauty 6½" snare on track 11 - there are no less than 29 separate recordings of this drum, using exhaustive combinations of mics (Shure SM57, AKG451, Neumann U87...) and mic techniques. Additionally, these particular recordings were made at Bearsville Studio in the US through a Neve desk - try imitating that on a tight budget. Other studios used in the preparation of Prosamples 1 include A&M Studio A (Neve desk) and A&M Studios B and D (SSL desks).
On to the samples. As suggested by the Black Beauty, all drums and cymbals (exotic percussion falls outside the scope of this disk) have been miked and recorded almost to absurdity. Instrumentation falls soundly in rock territory, and the recordings have been made with this in mind. That said, few breakbeats have found homes in music similar to their sources...
Accepting that most prospective purchasers are going to be slotting Clearmountain's samples into a rock context, he's given us as near to a definitive breakdown of the drumkit as is currently possible. The recording standard is immaculate - it simply couldn't be bettered with any of today's technology. Add to that Clearmountain's understanding of drum miking, and this CD gives you quality and expertise you are very unlikely to have yourself - pretty cheaply at that. In use, the samples are solid, clean and eminently usable. Recording a drum kit has never been easier.
If I have one reservation about Prosamples 1 it concerns the choice of drum sounds on offer. One of technology's consistent failings is that of obscuring the music itself, and I fear for those who aren't decisive enough to make a musically sensible decision between Mark McKenna's Noble & Cooley piccolo snare recorded with four U87s, and Paul Jamieson's 1920s Ludwig solid maple piccolo recorded with a Shure SM57, AKG451 and MD421 overhead.
Price £69 including VAT and p&p.
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Mega Beats Drum Sample CD
Another remarkable fact concerning drum sample CDs is their variety. Far from offering the same choice of sounds from a variety of manufacturers, these disks seem to complement each other remarkably well. Take Prosonics' Mega Beats disk - where Bob Clearmountain has exhaustively explored the rock kit, Prosonics have made a full-frontal assault on the drum machine. Mega Beats contains the sounds of no fewer than 30 popular beatboxes, potentially turning your sampler into anything from a humble Korg DDM110 to a Roland R8.
Where Prosamples 1 milked snares and mics, Mega Beats milks drum machines: whether you're seeking the fashionable sounds of the TR808, the obscurity of Dr Bohm, or the individuality of a Simmons kit, Mega Beats has something to offer. Amongst its many "firsts", this disk marks the first CD appearance of Roland's currently hip TR909 (what took so long?), but there's no shortage of choice of machines or sounds - Roland TR727, Linn 9000, Sequential Tom, Oberheim DMX, E-mu Drumulator, Alesis HR16B... Whatever you want, it's almost certainly here.
Like Prosamples 1, Mega Beats uses two hits per sound for ease of sampling; where Mega Beats can't quite measure up, however, is in its recording. Although many of the variable sounds (the TR808 bass drum, for example) have been recorded with a number of possible settings, some have also been gated - and a couple of them poorly. In certain circumstances this will save you gating them yourself, but I'd have preferred the options left open to me. But then the comparison may be unfair in terms of the asking price of Mega Beats.
Two things are for certain, however. Firstly, there couldn't be an easier or more cost-effective way of gaining access to more drum machines than you're ever likely to need; secondly there are no easier samples to make than drum machine samples off CD - no looping, no hassle, no reason not to buy this disk really.
Price £29.95 including VAT & postage
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Although Grandmaster Trask beat me to the SY77 review, I was sufficiently impressed by Yamaha's latest flagship that I bought one myself - and a powerful and exciting instrument it is. The factory presets are interesting enough and are certainly usable, but factory sounds are only ever the starting point in the performance of a synth. A team called Sound Source Unlimited have produced four disks of 64 sounds, collectively called the American Collection. This team includes Manny Fernandez and Mike Peake (who worked on the SY77 presets as well as those for Yamaha's V50 and the Kawai K1). As a further incentive to the programmers, SSU pay them on a royalty basis: no sound sales, no cash. In this way the company reckon to be selling sounds of a high standard.
The cards' titles give a (not-so subtle) clue to their contents. Each disk contains All Data, Synth All and Seq All files. Only one Multi has been set up and this is used for the demo song. California Collection (LA and Studio Staples) contains a goodly selection of pianos (mainly electric), strings and basses - the sort of sounds you often turn to when first laying down a track. There's also a range of choirs, each with added "atmospherics". Other sounds include strings, organs, guitars (electric and acoustic), brass and synth sounds (full and lead), and miscellaneous atmospheric timbres.
Many sounds make use of the SY77's second mod wheel, often to control brightness. The demo is a laid-back guitar-based rock number.
Alchemy Collection (Fairlight and Synclavier Simulations) is definitely the one for atmos freaks. Punchy attacks give way to swelling bodies (of sound, Smythe minor) which evolve through strings/brass/synth timbres and filter sweeps. The sounds start off doing one thing and end up doing another; hit the keys harder and you trigger another element.
There are some great pad sounds here although the majority are still melodic. Building a soundtrack? Need mood setters? You'll find them here. The second mod wheel acts as a pan control. The demo is a combination of melodic riffs and atmospheric backing.
Platinum Collection (Popular LA, AI and Ultra-FM sounds) sees the SY77 trying to play the D50 and M1 at their own game. I've got to say I was very impressed. There are breathy, moving sounds and more atmospherics (of a much more melodic nature than the Alchemy Collection) and combination voices of strings, brass, choirs and breathy sounds which migrate from one timbre to the other. There are lots of staple sounds here, too - pianos, strings and pianos/string combinations, guitars, solo and ensemble brass sounds, horns, orchestral pads, analogue stabs, Moog sounds and those irritating solo sounds Rick Wakeman seems so fond of. Lots of "after chimes" and some heavy filter sweeps here. The demo rocks on with brass stabs, vocal cues and guitar backing riffs.
Manhattan Collection (Authentic Analogue Textures and New AFM Sounds) says it all, and you get a few bonuses. FM pianos with flanging and tone tweaking, classic Rhodes-type DX7 sounds, clavs and basses plus a few metallic bells and gongs.
The analogue section includes fat polysynth sounds, square wave solo sounds, Prophet-style brassy sounds, a range of filtered sounds and sounds with filter sweeps. There are organs (including a reasonable Hammond), timpani and strings, too, also several heavy, very slowly-evolving pads - nice atmospheric stuff. The last four slots contain drum sets. The demo is almost funky and full of squishy analogue sounds. The Multi is called 'NuYawk!!NuYawk!!'.
If you can't afford all four cards, Alchemy is the one for atmospherics, California will add work-a-day sounds to your setup and while Manhattan is probably the least adventurous of the four, it contains the most analogue patches with lots of nice DX staples. But Platinum is my favourite all-rounder - it sums up the reasons for my buying an SY77 in the first place.
Impressive though these sounds may be, I'm sure the programmers have only scratched the surface of RCM synthesis and I do know that another set of sounds is on its way.
The American Collection is available from Yamaha or your local friendly music store at £30 per disk. Some suppliers have bought them from another distribution source and may be charging £49 for them. You've been warned.
Finally, in case you haven't heard, there is a disk of voices doing the rounds called the European Collection. It was compiled by various Yamaha divisions throughout Europe and it contains 320 sounds. But the best bit is that it's free. Take a formatted disk along to your local Yamaha music store and they'll give you a copy. There's little point in running through the voices as you're going to get this anyway. But just in case you're wondering - it could be sold for money. The sounds aren't in the same league as the American Collection but you'll certainly discover a few gems to make a trip to the dealer worthwhile.
Price £30 per disk including VAT
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