“MIDI drums? That’s all four-to-the-floor EDM and basic 808 beats isn’t it?” Well actually, no. A couple of remarkable things have happened over the last decade or so in the world of acoustic drum kit samples and the best drum VSTs.
First, our computers are now more than well-equipped to host gigabytes of sound libraries, and what’s more, these samples can temporarily be loaded into our Mac or PC’s RAM for lightning-fast playback. Second, electronic drumset response and realism is such that – even when we’re not using our kit’s native sounds – we can fire out detailed MIDI messages to a computer (usually via an onboard audio/MIDI interface to make things even easier) which then plays the aforementioned sounds with nearly no latency.
In other words, where recording great drum performances was once limited to those with access to a great-sounding kit, a properly treated room, and the mics and ears to capture it, it’s now possible to bring all of those components to the comfort of your spare room and, most importantly, play them for yourself from your electronic kit. The best part is that software instruments aimed at capturing the sound of acoustic drums in a pristine studio environment are also incredibly affordable. Prepare to start loading up your shopping carts as we take a look at the best drum VSTs available.
Best drum VSTs: Our top picks
If you are going to have only one drum VST installed on your laptop, then we highly recommend that it’s Toontrack’s Superior Drummer 3. Okay, it isn’t the most affordable option on the market, but it might just be the most flexible, easiest to use and ultimately the best sounding! No matter if you are looking for natural jazz kits or hell-raising metal sounds, you’ll find it in SD3 - just make sure you have the hard drive space to install it all.
For those looking for an affordable package that will give you a modern drum sound without breaking the bank, then Getgood Drums may just be the way to go. Utilizing Native Instruments Kontakt, this is a simple-to-install option that sounds massive straight out of the “box”.
Best drum VSTs: Product guide
Arguably the leader of the multi-sampled drum kit world, Superior Drummer 3 has been around since 2017, but its history goes back 20 years beginning with Toontrack’s Drum Kit From Hell. Superior Drummer set the blueprint for the bucket list drums/big-name producer/world-class studio formula, and SD3 is a complete workstation for your triggering needs. It has an extensive core library totalling 230 gigabytes of samples, built-in EQ, dynamic and other effects (35 in total) in the mixer and detailed handling of e-drum dynamics and mapping.
As well as this, there’s the built-in Tracker section which offers drum replacement/augmentation for your acoustic drum tracks, itself a viable plugin in its own right.
If the core library isn’t enough for you, there’s currently 19 SDX add-on packs, plus a further 56 SD3-compatible EZX packs covering pretty much every drum sound you can think of, from subtle brushed jazz to aggressive, modern metal. It’s the go-to drum triggering software for a reason, and incredibly hard to fault.
Getgood Drums is the brainchild of producer/engineer/guitar virtuoso/former-Periphery bassist Adam ‘Nolly’ Getgood. It works similarly to some of the other products here, in that there is no one ‘core’ title – instead you can think of every collection as a standalone pack.
These are split into a couple of types of collection: larger packs with multiple kits and larger instrument libraries (Modern and Massive, Invasion, Matt Halpern) and GGD’s One Kit Wonder products (Modern Fusion, Aggressive Rock, Classic Rock).
The samples are once again wrapped into their own instrument and interface for Native Instruments Kontakt, and while the offering is pretty heavily focused towards modern, heavier styles, there’s definitely some variation (see Dry and Funky, for example). Ultimately, these are characterful, beautifully recorded drum kits that have an organic quality to them. We love the fact that you can spread payments over four monthly, interest-free payments too.
The younger sibling of Superior Drummer has a huge amount going for it, especially as it’s just been upgraded to its third incarnation which brings it further in line with SD3. We love the simplicity of EZDrummer, and it spans the detail of Superior Drummer while making things a bit more friendly for those who don’t want to dive in up to their elbows with processing.
We imagine most drummers will ignore the more songwriter-based tools such as MIDI grooves and Bandmate, and that’s fine, because for us drummers there are a huge amount (18GB) of killer sounds included, and the jewel in EZDrummer’s affordable crown is the prolific abundance of EZX expansions.
You probably wouldn’t imagine having drums recorded by Steve Albini or Bob Rock, or access to Clyde Stubblefield and Jabo Stark’s kits for €80, but you can damn well get them!
The newest name on this list comes from drummer Luke Holland, whose company MixWave emerged in 2021. It’s based around Kontakt Player, and similarly to Getgood Drums, there’s no single MixWave core product. MixWave’s line-up currently comprises artist signature kits, all multi-sampled and laid out as raw sounds for you to process, or mix-ready presets.
The built-in mixer allows you to blend in pre-mixed reverbs, plus there’s master compressor, EQ and tape saturation effects. So far there’s signature packs for Thomas Pridgen, Mario Duplantier, Tony Royster Jr and Luke Holland, all captured at MixWave’s own studio.
Every MixWave pack also includes .TCI files for use with Steven Slate Trigger – ideal if you are also planning on using the sounds to bolster your acoustic recordings, and MixWave also offers a four-month interest-free payment option.
SSD5 is packed with nearly 150 kit presets, comprising 135 snare drums, 112 bass drums and 58 toms, and dozens of cymbals. Similarly to Superior Drummer 3, it runs within its own playback plugin interface which houses a mixer section to handle volume levels and routing, while there’s an easy-to-use mapping section for assigning the sounds to your pads.
The overall sounds are a little more set-in-stone, with a definite character of their own running throughout the presets. Other packages may offer a little more in terms of on-board functionality and realism, but if big, bombastic drums are what you require with minimal fuss, Steven Slate Drums still packs a lot in for the money. Speaking of which, SSD is also available as a rent-to-own (forever) purchase, priced at just $9.99 a month for 12 months.
With four signature producer titles in its catalogue (Beau Burchell, Bill Stevenson/Blasting Room, Jay Maas and Kurt Ballou), punk/hardcore/post-rock/metal is at the heart of Room Sound’s offerings. But if those genres aren’t your bag, you shouldn’t let it deter you from checking out Room Sounds sample packs.
Fundamentally, what you get with every pack is some incredibly characterful and organic drum sounds that will work in a number of contexts outside of the producers’ respective wheelhouses. Like Mixwave and some of the Getgood titles, Room Sound doesn’t have a ‘catch-all’ centrepiece.
Each pack runs using Native Instruments Kontakt Player, and you simply buy the product or products that appeal to you. There’s detailed audio demos on Room Sound’s website, as well as walkthroughs on its YouTube channel, and considering each one is only $89, they’re a great option if you don’t want the same sounds as everyone else.
BFD (Big effin’ Drums) is now into its third version, having first appeared in 2003. It follows a similar blueprint to Superior Drummer and Steven Slate Drums in that you purchase the software which is loaded with a base library.
From here you can add to your sound collection with BFD’s 30-plus expansion packs. BFD also includes a decent amount of processing including tuning, dampening, EQ, compression and reverb, and the graphic layout of the plugin makes it easy to get going.
BFD has been through a few ownership changes in recent years, which has meant that development hasn’t been as prolific as some of the others here, but it still remains a strong contender.
Another complete production suite for your drums, Addictive Drums is purchased as the software engine, with various add-on options including full kits (expansions are available seperately for $79) and single instruments such as percussion and individual kicks and snares (also available at a very reasonable $9.95).
Inside the software there’s an easy-to-use interface, with a decent mixer section. Processing is largely applied via master compression/distortion, EQ and tape saturation modules, with pitch and volume envelopes and direct/room mic balancing for each kit part.
We like the à la carte ordering system, and the sounds available for Addictive Drums have a lot of variation. There are possibly more realistic options available on the list if you’re looking for more contemporary, heavy-type sounds to use with your electronic drum kit.
IK Multimedia’s Modo Drum 1.5 takes a different approach to the rest of the software in this list, relying heavily on modelling technology rather than a vast amount of samples (although there are sampled sounds present).
Because IK removes us from the ‘static’ world of audio samples, it means that Modo Drum features a huge amount of options when it comes to tweaking your sound – everything from the head type to the shell sizes, sympathetic resonance and the room they’re placed in is up for grabs.
The mixer borrows from IK’s T-Racks and AmpliTube software, so there are 19 effects on-hand, making this a truly powerful package. Can modelling match or beat samples? You can find out for yourself for free, and if you don’t want to spend €299 on the full version, the SE and CS versions allow you to build your own Modo Drum library for less.
Best drum VSTs: Buying advice
The common concept here is detail. Most of the software/sample packages featured in our guide rely on multi-sample technology. A drum kit is set up in a world-class studio, mic’d in exactly the same way as it would be for a traditional recording, and then every component of the kit is struck and sampled hundreds of times from whisper-quiet to ear-splitting loud.
But giving us the ingredients doesn’t make us a chef. If playing and getting your ideas down quickly is of greater importance to you than spending hours delving into the interaction of mic bleed between kit parts, then you might prefer to opt for software that includes a more user-friendly selection of ‘mix-ready’ sounds and simplified controls, where common EQ and processing has been baked into the final sound.
Conversely, you may want to have more of a free rein over every single element of the sound, from flexible mixer routing and processing to sample-level envelope control. Of course, you can have a bit of both, and all of the software featured here comes with presets to get you started. It’s just a question of how far you’d like to take that.
Another big consideration is library size. While having the most meticulously captured drum kit sounds is nothing short of brilliant, keep in mind that some software can become hundreds of gigabytes, which will fill a considerable chunk of most smaller laptop SSDs. So take a look at your hard drive capacity, and consider a speedy external drive for all of your samples if necessary. On that note, don’t forget to check other system requirements (RAM is important) too.
Stylistically, there’s no shortage of types of sounds – everything from small, open-sounding jazz kits through to massive, punchy modern metal drums are available. In the case of some titles, there’s a core library covering a lot of bases. If you’re leaning towards a particular software package, it’s worth taking a look at the available add-on packs for when you’re ready to start adding to your collection (believe us, it is when not if!).
We’d definitely recommend checking out kits outside of your chosen genre too, though, as it’s important to remember that while these packages can be tailored to specific tastes, they also happen to be impeccably-recorded drum kits, regardless of what style you’re playing.
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