When Toontrack's EZdrummer virtual drummer/drum kit plugin first appeared in 2006, it appeared to be nothing more than a cut-down version of their powerful and relatively complex Superior Drummer (then known as DFH Superior).
But its increasingly large library of excellent expansion kits has actually seen it develop into arguably the 'bigger' product. So it's with no little excitement and anticipation that we find ourselves preparing to bash our way around the freshly released version 2.
Out with the old
"Much of the new library was recorded by Chuck Ainley at British Grove Studios via Neve 88R, EMI TG and EMI REDD.51 desks"
EZdrummer 2 requires 4GB of hard drive space. The Pop/Rock pack is no longer included for free, becoming a paid extra; but this makes way for a brand new, improved drum and percussion library, much of which was recorded by Chuck Ainley at British Grove Studios via Neve 88R, EMI TG and EMI REDD.51 desks. Yum!
For those upgrading, v2 replaces v1 but is fully backwards-compatible with regard to loading 'old' patches. It also now comes in both plugin (VST/AU/RTAS/AAX) and standalone versions.
Free updates are available for all EZX expansions, taking full advantage of EZ 2's new features, with all of the old kit presets included alongside the new ones to ensure compatibility. Indeed, the only EZ 1 feature not in EZ 2 is the Humanize control, which is now permanently active.
So, what's new? First, the software's 'engine' has been completely remodelled to improve articulation and pattern flexibility. Then, while the pattern Browser, Mixer and Drums views will all be familiar to existing users, they're now accessed via tabs, as is the new pattern search engine, which we'll come back to shortly.
Also new is the integrated Song Track sequencer, used to compile library grooves, add to them by overdubbing, or simply start your own grooves from scratch, which can then be added to the User section of the library.
The sequencer expands upwards to reveal the Song Creator, which intelligently generates a whole song's worth of sections (Intro, Pre Chorus, Chorus, Bridge, Fill and Ending) from a single selected groove. It also combines these grooves into complete Song Structures (12-Bar Basic, AABA Short, AABA Long, etc, selected from a menu to which you can add your own layouts) that can then be loaded into the Song Track.
Of course, all or part of the Song Track can be dragged directly into the host DAW as a MIDI clip, and there's the option to render the Song Track as an audio file. Double-clicking a Song Track block launches the rather awesome Edit Play Style window - see Edit Play Style.
Seek and ye shall find
"The Search page enables you to search for grooves based on their similarity to one dragged in from the Song Track or library"
Quite brilliantly, EZdrummer 2's new Search page enables you to search for grooves based on their similarity to one dragged in from the Song Track or library.
Alternatively, you can use the Tap2Find feature to fuel the search engine with a quick performance of the sort of rhythm you're after, tapped in via your MIDI controller or mouse - this is perfectly effective for regular beats but less fruitful for anything more left- field. The search results are helpfully rated with a Matching percentage 'score'.
Of course, you can completely ignore the built-in groove system altogether if you prefer to program MIDI parts from scratch in your DAW, triggering the instrument just like any other.
The new kits and pattern library are arranged into Vintage and Modern drum kit categories, and a Percussion category. There are five source kits: three bright and punchy modern ones (DW, Gretsch USA Custom and Yamaha 9000) and two retro ones (1960s Ludwig and Ludwig Vistalite), plus some extra snares, and cymbals from Paiste (including the classic 2002 20" ride) and Sabian.
You can freely mix and match kit pieces from all five, as well as any installed EZXs. The percussion sounds, meanwhile, comprise tambourines, shakers, maracas, cowbell and handclaps.
The kit sounds are excellent, and we particularly like the choice of seven snare drums (damped and undamped) in the Modern Kit, including a DW Edge, Ludwig 400 and Sonor Cast Bronze. All four Modern Kit kicks have a plastic beater option, too.
EZdrummer 2's 29 presets include custom Mixer settings and a few 'hardwired' effects modules borrowed from Toontrack's EZmix 2. Clicking through the effects at the bottom of the Mixer page reveals which channels are being processed by each one, and any adjustments made to their minimal controls are applied in varying amounts to each channel, as governed by the underlying preset. The number of effects in each preset varies considerably, and the modules include EQ, reverb, dynamics, overall drum pitch and mic bleed.
As with its predecessor, though, EZ 2 keeps user involvement in the mixing and sound design side of things to an absolute minimum, though you can buss individual drums to your DAW's mixer for separate processing, naturally.
EZ does it
EZdrummer 2 makes creating convincingly realistic drum kit tracks an amazingly straightforward process. The new search engine, Song Track and Track Creator work very well indeed, and the superb groove editing setup give super-fast results.
What you don't get, though, is the ability to manipulate the sounds themselves beyond basic pitch and level, but that's what differentiates EZdrummer 2 from Superior 2, of course: the latter gives you fine control over a library of raw, ready-to-mix drum kits, while the former delivers pre-mixed kits out of the box. With that in mind, EZdrummer 2 is a very reasonably priced triumph.