BFD is FXpansion’s latest foray into the sampled drum machine market. Does it live up to its name…
Price: Boxed/Download $299
The proliferation of DVD drives seems to have positively encouraged software developers to fill DVDs with samples. And FXpansion is no different. The company is primarily known for its software drum modules and the DR-005 or DR-008 may well be residing in a few plug-in folders.
BFD, subtitled Premier Acoustic Drum Module, is a collection of acoustic drum samples. Not just any samples but what is probably the most comprehensive sampling of acoustic drum kits ever, comprising seven main kits plus lots of other drum samples, too. What does BFD stand for? FXpansion is rather coy, saying only that it’s Big and it’s Drums so users have a range of words to choose from to complete the acronym. Oh, those wags…
The pack includes both PC and Mac versions and stand-alone and plug-in versions for both platforms. Along with support for VST, DXi, RTAS, AudioUnit and CoreAudio, there’s also a ReWire interface which you need for multiple outputs in programs such as ProTools, Acid and Digital Performer.
Installation is easy. Mac users note that it only runs under OS X. Windows users note that although it should run under Windows 98SE and ME it’s only guaranteed to work under 2000 and XP and that’s all that’s officially supported. All users take note of the 9Gb of HD space required for the samples.
Getting kitted out
The user interface places all the elements necessary to control the drums into a compact interface. However, the display is not large and doesn’t rescale, and it looks small on a high resolution monitor.
The first thing to do is load one of the seven drum kits. Click on the drum kit selector button and you see an illustration and description of the seven kits. After selecting a kit, the samples load. This can take a wee while.
Clicking on the drum kit graphic at the top of the screen opens the kit display area which lays out the drums used in the kit. You can play them by clicking on their individual images, the higher up you click, the greater the velocity and you can immediately get a feel for the range of sounds produced by a single (but multi-sampled) drum.
Down the left of the screen are seven drum selectors – kick, snare, hit hat, toms, and three cymbals. Clicking on these lets you replace drums in the kit with different drums. If the snare in a kit isn’t quite what you want, you can replace it with one of 15 others. Clicking on a selector brings up graphics of the available drums for that slot and placing the mouse over an image reveals details of the drum including the different types of hit in the sample.
You can save new drum collections as kits and have them appear in the list when you click on the kit selector button. If you have a favourite kit, you can make it load by default.
Having created a kit, you can then play it from a MIDI drum kit, a MIDI keyboard (by far the best way to get a feel for it if you’re not a drummer), or play drum patterns through it from a sequencer. And then the fun really starts…
It’s all in the wrist
To appreciate the power and the subtlety of the BFD samples, you need to know how they were created. Each drum was recorded using eleven different microphone placements simultaneously. These include direct Micing, overhead, room and PZM at floor level. Each drum has a number of different hit types. Snare hits, for example, include flams, rim shots and side-stick; and hit hats include closed, half-open and pedal. Each hit type has up to 46 velocity layers. The drums were recorded using different degrees of force which not only affects the loudness of the sample but also the tone of the drum. A softly-hit snare has a much different tone to one hit hard.
There are three versions of the program. One produces a stereo output from all sources, the second offers separate outputs for each kit piece, and the third has a separate outputs for each stereo microphone group.
It’s off to the mixer where you can determine exactly how the drums should sound with far more control that you’ll get in any studio. On the right of the mixer are four faders controlling the level of the direct, overhead, room and PZM recordings. This means, just to spell it out, that if you want a drier sound, you simply reduce the level of the overhead and room mics, and to create a wetter, more ambient sound, you reduce the level of the direct recording. A good way to work is to turn all the faders down except the direct one, then increase the others to add the amount of ambience that you want.
The ambience faders also have Distance and Width controls which let you shift the microphones further back (a similar effect to pre-delay) and adjust the stereo field of each bus. A cute touch here is that as you adjust these controls, little mics appear and move in the main display area so you can see visually how the adjustments change the Mic position in relation to the kit.
The kick and snare have additional controls. Kick drums were recorded with one Mic inside the drum and one Mic outside. With the In/Out control you can set the balance between the two. The snare has a Top/Bottom control that works in a similar way, balancing between Mics placed on the top and bottom of the snare. These controls only affect the direct bus.
All the drums have a tune control – cue more variations – a trim control for setting the overall volume, and solo and mute buttons. Pan controls vary the stereo placement of each drum’s direct signal. If you’re using multiple outputs, this doesn’t make sense so it’s greyed out. The stereo position of the ambient buses is determined by the Width control.
Other controls here are a set of small dynamics controls that increase or decrease the velocity of incoming MIDI notes. Another nice touch is the ability to load and save mixer settings.
Much of the power of the system comes from being able to balance the levels of each of the four recordings to create the exact amount of natural ambience that you want on a drum by drum basis.
This is all pretty neat but BFD has more paradiddles in its parlour in the form of the Groove Librarian. This drops down over the main graphic and features three vertical banks with a list of grooves on either side. These are simply MIDI drum patterns. You drag them into the banks and click on them to play them. There are various playback options. For example, you can make a groove repeat until you click on another one and you can shuffle between the grooves in a bank for variety. You can also play grooves from a MIDI keyboard so you can have lots of fun creating your own drum tracks.
Playback can be synced to a sequencer and there are options to ensure patterns only change at the start of a bar. You can also play several grooves at the same time. Other options include humanise, swing and quantise for adjusting the feel of the patterns.
BFD’s Humanize Timing and Humanize Velocity functions pop up intriguing probability distribution graphs with the deviation of the timing or velocity along the X axis and the probability that the deviation will occur along the Y axis. By adjusting the shape of the graph you can determine how random the timing or velocity will be.
A Bundle is a collection of up to twelve MIDI grooves. You get lots with the program, recorded by professional drummers playing electronic kits, and you can create and save your own. This is an easy way to experiment with patterns and tracks, and an excellent way to hear how the kits sound when all the drums are playing together.
So, with BFD you not only get a very powerful and probably unique set of acoustic drum samples, you also get a nifty interface for experimenting with it all. If one wanted to be picky, one could complain that the interface is a little, well, insipid and lacklustre. A light grey background with ever-so-slightly darker grey text and light sliver icons does not present the most lucid display, particularly on a high res monitor. But that apart, BFD unquestionably lives up to its name.
Is it the ultimate acoustic drum kit? It can’t be because FXpansion is in the throes of releasing an expansion pack containing even more drums and called, naturally enough, BFD XFL (no prizes for unravelling the acronym but it’s Xtra and it’s Large). It should be available by the time you read this. Meanwhile, if you want acoustic drums, you won’t get any bigger than these BFDs!
Superbly detailed samples
46 velocity layers
Multiple hit types
Sensible authorisation system
Graphics don’t scale
Download same price as boxed version
Needs a powerful computer
Mac users need OS X
A powerful and unique collection of acoustic drum samples with enough customisation and playback facilities to satisfy the most demanding rhythm devotee.
Minimum system requirements
PC: Pentium III/Athlon 1GHz, 512Mb RAM (768Mb recommended), Windows 2000/XP, DVD drive, 9Gb HD space
Mac: G4 733MHz, 512Mb RAM (768Mb recommended), Mac OS X only, DVD drive, 9Gb HD space
7 acoustic drum kits
Four simultaneous recordings
Different hit types
Drag and drop pattern creation
Humanisation playback functions