Toontrack EzDrummer 2 – The oh so easy drummer
Toontrack should be a company you are familiar with if you are in any way interested in producing music on your computer. Developers of the ‘EZ’ line of products such as EZmix and EZkeys, today we’re taking a close look at EZdrummer 2, the latest incarnation of the popular drum instrument VST plugin. EZdrummer 2 can be run as a VSTi plugin from any popular DAW or as a standalone instrument using Toontrack’s ‘Solo’ player.
UPDATED MARCH 12th, 2017
Gone are the days of wiring up hardware drum machines that offer digital representations of analogue sounds. now we have hyper-realistic, fully sample-recorded drum libraries available, often captured in multi-million dollar studios using incredible recording equipment and engineers.
Amongst many things, Toontrack has two core sampled drum libraries, both offering the same high-quality sounds, but each focused on different workflows. EZdrummer 2 and Superior Drummer 2 will both deliver outstanding results, it just depends on what workflow is more important to you.
From a pricing point of view, Superior Drummer 2 is the flagship of the range. It also offers more flexibility and control over EZdrummer, at the expense of a higher learning curve and more CPU requirements. EZdrummer 2 features the same high sound quality but with a reduced focus on tweaking and an emphasis on song creation.
EZdrummer 2 is no slimmed-down, ‘lite’ version by any means. The main difference is the interface. They both use the same pristine, live recorded samples recorded through million-dollar consoles with the best mics and engineers you can get – but Superior Drummer 2 is raw, unprocessed samples with an interface designed to mix from scratch as if you were there in the studio on the day of the recording. EZdrummer 2 offers pre-mixed and processed drum sound sets ready to roll, with integrated tools to aid in the groove and song creation.
EZdrummer 2 comes with a selection of 5 drum kits to choose from, arranged in ‘Modern’ or ‘Vintage’ variations. The default modern variation includes a Drum Workshop kit, Gretsch USA Custom and Yamaha 9000. The vintage series includes a Ludwig ’60s kit and a Ludwig Vistalite. Each variation includes extra kick and snare options from Sonor, Brady Jarrah Block and Tama. In addition, you have auxiliary instruments like a tambourine, finger snaps, shaker and maracas.
These default kits are totally interchangeable, so no problem to start with a Yamaha 9000 kit for the dry, pop sound – then swap out the snare for a Ludwig 400 Chrome for that huge 60’s tone, and chuck in a Sabian Artisan ride from the DW kit for a bit of modern shimmer.
You can’t, however, change the mics, placement or basic sample characteristics. The rather basic mixer allows you to mix the levels of each of the drum elements, control the bleed (on or off), turn off and on the room mics and mono ambient mic levels – some kits have a few more options to mix, but everything is kept fairly simple here. You have no control over what type of compressor is used nor the kind of reverb, just how much is applied.
This might sound somewhat limiting but in practice, it’s fast and intuitive. There’s just enough customization available to tailor a perfect drum mix without getting bogged down in messing with hi-hat mic EQing and stupid stuff like that. Each of the kit elements has been expertly mixed and processed by top engineers using equipment you couldn’t afford – and it really shows, all of the kits sound amazing.
Though the mix channels can be routed directly to your DAW for multitracking there, the processed sound is baked in, meaning you can only further add processing to the kit with your 3rd party plugins, not start with raw, unprocessed samples.
Getting your groove on, baby
Though EZdrummer 2 feels targeted at songwriters, there is a good amount of flexibility here for producers looking to embellish projects, or even test trial brand-new groove ideas from scratch.
EZdrummer 2’s edge over the competition is the fantastic song-creator feature. The basic idea is to use EZdrummer as a container to build your song drum grooves within. You start by using the browser to find a MIDI groove that closet fits your drum performance – and there’s a massive collection of included MIDI phrases to peruse through, with many more expansion packs available to purchase separately if you’re not quite finding your groove. Toontrack has included a handy search database which separates out grooves by genre, play style, time signature etc. There is a tap-2-find feature that allows you to play in the feel you’re looking for, then the software offers the best match with a strength indicator.
Once you’ve found something close, you drag and drop the MIDI track into the ‘MIDI Drop Zone’ in which the software will create a collection of song elements for you to choose from. You then choose the song structure and then drag and drop elements from the verse, chorus, bridge etc to create your song.
It takes a few minutes to get the basics sorted, but once you do you’ll find creating simple or complex drum performances a snap. Each of the elements can be further edited or even dragged out into your DAW for even more editing.
The supplied MIDI phrases in EZdrummer 2 are excellent, the tracks have a great feel and overall sound very human due to Toontrack’s wisely leaving the original performances alone without quantizing them, so you will see tiny mistakes and timing errors in the tracks that make them sound so natural.
EZdrummer MIDI tracks aren’t computer generated – they’re actually guys, playing real drums with the performances recorded as MIDI data. The session drummers used are incredible, and it’s great they didn’t mess with the performances. Technically, you’re working with the actual recorded MIDI performances of these guys, warts and all. Just hiring one of these musicians for a single session would far outweigh the cost of the software.
There are plenty of add-on MIDI performance packs you can purchase separately, though the included grooves are more than enough to get any project started, especially when teamed up with the song creator. Unless you’re doing extreme stuff, these should work for most applications.
If you already own EZdrummer 1, all of those sampled kits are upgraded to work seamlessly with EZdrummer 2, giving you a few more kit choices.
There are many mix presets available, from basic standards to quite extreme. As mentioned earlier, you can’t modify the basic mixing techniques, only the levels, but I feel there is enough here to work with and haven’t needed to export anything to my DAW for further processing yet. This might be a deal breaker for some, and it’s really where the road splits for people wanting to follow the more flexible Superior Drummer path.
EZdrummer 2 loads quickly, considering the amount of computing power at work here, though each individual kit choice requires more loading time. Once you’ve loaded and settled on the mix, everything performs extremely well, with no detectable lag or delay in playing through a controller. Even when routing out to my DAW with some hefty BUS processing applied, I was able to perform with my Akai pad controller in real-time with zero latency.
Dialling up a unique tone is a breeze. Though I have a few other drum libraries installed, EZdrummer remains my go-to mostly for the sound, which 99% of the time sits well with my projects. Right out of the box, everything mixes well enough to basically use as a final mix. More times than I should admit I have bounced master tracks with no drum processing at all.
With EZdrummer 2 I don’t have the extra time demands of writing drum tracks, and tweaking mics and mixes. I can quite easily pull up my favourite preset kit, tap in a drum groove and have the software write me a pretty decent drum performance in under 5 minutes.
EZdrummer 2 is a wonderful piece of software. It’s well-designed and sounds fantastic. It’s a little on the simplistic side next to Superior Drummer, but oftentimes you don’t need or have time for all the extra features. For songwriters this is a no-brainer, really – there’s nothing else on the market as easy to use and with such a polished sound right out of the box.
For more information and to purchase, skip over to Toontrack.