I do a fair amount of video scoring on tight deadlines, which often makes tracking drums impossible. As a result, I find myself employing drum plug-ins pretty regularly. I've been using a few other virtual drummer products to get things done quickly, but never had the opportunity to try out DrumCore — and boy, I have been missing out! The main attraction here and what differentiates DrumCore from a lot of other drum plug-ins is the who's who of famously talented drummers that you have ready at your fingertips. From Terry Bozzio to Bernard Purdie, and from Dennis Chambers to John Tempesta, DrumCore provides access to the actual performances and recordings on the personal kits of these legendary drummers. The recording quality of both the performances and the kits is great, and the five-page interface is efficient and eye-pleasingly designed.
The 64–bit software plug-in works in your favorite DAW and comes in AAX, VST3, and AU formats. It's available at a few different price points, with the main difference being the size of the included library. DrumCore 4 Lite is entry priced at $49 with 4 GB of content, Prime is $249 with 20 GB, Ultra is priced at $639 with 50 GB, and finally, Ultra Plus is $2,699 with 90 GB. Depending on your budget and needs, Sonoma offers a package for everyone. It should be noted that Prime, Ultra, and Ultra Plus are available on flash drive or SSD, if you don't want to deal with downloads. Installation is relatively straightforward, and registration is done after you install the software and load up the plug-in. You can activate the software via iLok or by depositing a license on your computer's drive. For this review, I put DrumCore 4 Ultra through the paces.
Most of your time will probably be spent on DrumCore's Browser page, the first of five tabs. Here, you can select the drummer, style, meter, feel, and loop type (audio or MIDI). If you're using the MIDI performance loops, this is also the page where you select your MIDI kit. The MIDI kits provided are extensive and generally correspond to a performer/specific loop, allowing you to edit the patterns to your own needs in your DAW. There's a lot of variety, allowing you to find just the right sound, and the kits are beautifully recorded. Once you've selected your performer, their picture and name show up on the right, and underneath are all the available loops and fills, categorized in folders. The audio and MIDI loops are drag-and-drop from the browser window to your DAW's track. You can also drag both audio and MIDI loops into the plug-in's timeline above, and build your sequence before rendering and exporting as an audio file. I prefer to drag-and-drop into the arrange window of my DAW, but it's cool to have this as an option, and it's also a quick way to audition or see how multiple loops will work with each other. I like that Sonoma gives you the option of dragging either the actual audio loop (retaining the artist's recording/performance), or the MIDI of the loop in case you want to use a different kit, edit the loop, etc. Not a big deal, but it should be noted that the plug-in's tempo is not adjustable. That being said, it does lock to your DAW's tempo.
If you want to tweak the kits further, you can do so on the Kit page. This page is really two-in-one, as a Kit Mixer and a Kit Editor are found here. The default mixer shows the kit pieces up top when the Drums tab is selected, and the available percussion pieces when the Percussion tab is clicked. Both tabs show up to 24 different kit pieces, and you can audition the samples by clicking on the cells. Below is a mini-mixer with seven instrument faders (Kick, Snare, Hi-Hats, Toms, Cymbals, Crash, Percussion) and one master fader — each with pan, mute, and solo controls, as well as buttons to enable the four available FX effects. The effects allow further processing via single-band compressor, EQ, delay, and Crush. Crush is a cool way to mangle your sounds as it offers variable bit-depth, sample-rate, and filter.
Click the Kit page's Editor button, and you are presented with a sample editor on the left which shows one of the 24 waveforms of whatever sample cell is clicked above. The samples are easily modified and saved, as are the cells themselves if you want to swap out sounds. Pitch, gain, pan, and velocity range are adjustable. Velocity can be modified for presets with multiple samples. For example, maybe you want to adjust the three kick samples to your touch, or you only want the hard kick to sound and not the medium or soft kicks. It's easily adjusted here. You can also add samples from the DrumCore library to customize and save your own kits. The upper right of the Kit window displays the MIDI note and the submix that the sample is assigned to. You can reassign submix locations if you choose.
The next of the five pages is the DrumCore Store page, and it's from here that you can purchase additional libraries from Sonoma and their partners, including Discrete Drums, Drummerheads, Drums On Demand, Q Up Arts, Sonic Reality, and Submersible. Add-on loops and kits are available from other drummers for a modest price. You could add a variety of Bill Bruford or Steve Gadd performances for $4.99 each, if that's what you're looking for. Just click the Buy button, and you're on your way to adding new material to your library. You can audition loops before you buy, which is a huge bonus, as you're not guessing and spending cash on loops you don't need.
The Master FX page follows the Store page, and the effects pertain to the plug-in's master output only. First up is a four-band compressor with adjustable threshold, ratio, attack, and release per band. Each band can also be soloed or bypassed. EQ is the next tab down, and like the Kit page EQ, it also has four bands. The Delay tab is last, and it offers a stereo setup with individual controls for left and right, including overdrive, feedback, damping, and mix, as well as a delay time selectable in note value (whole note to triplet sixteenth) that syncs to your DAW's tempo, or in milliseconds (60–6000 ms). In the center are faders for left and right and a pre-filter with knobs for low and high cut.
Setting is the final of the five pages, and it's where you manage your downloaded files, hard drive paths for the plug-in library and rendered files (exports from the plug-in timeline), etc. The other useful feature here is the Live Drummer slider, which adjusts for a more realistic feel or a rigid metronomic feel, depending on what you're after. It's a global setting, but it doesn't change any of the presets or velocity settings. I liked setting the slider towards Max as it really did give a more realistic and looser feel to the performances.
Customer support at Sonoma is top-notch. I had a small bump in the road with registration, and they responded immediately and quickly solved the problem. You feel like they really care about their product, and the service feels more like dealing with a family business.
Final thoughts on working with DrumCore 4? I found the interface to be very well laid out. I was able to find what I was looking for quickly and easily. The sound quality is top notch, and the editing is very user friendly. For me, the variety of drummer talent assembled and how Sonoma has lovingly captured their signature sounds and grooves is more than worth the price of admission. Two big thumbs up for DrumCore 4!