Review: Toontrack EZ Drummer 2 by Zach McNees

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Do you remember 2006? Apple’s latest version of OS X was Tiger. Pro Tools users were salivating over version 7 and the newly released Mbox 2 Pro. Eight years is several lifetimes in the technology world!

2006 was also the year that Toontrack first released its EZ Drummer platform to the world.  EZ Drummer was a leap forward in software-based drum production tools – bringing true multi-track drum samples recorded by GRAMMY-winning engineers in world-class studios to an extremely affordable platform for songwriters and musicians.

Now, eight years later, Toontrack has reinvented the EZ Drummer platform to bring us yet another leap forward with the release of EZ Drummer 2, the first major update to the platform since its release. It arrives on May 6, 2014, and it is a BEAST. I was lucky enough to take a trip to London this past February to get an exclusive look and listen to the new EZ Drummer 2 and I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

TECH SPECS: EZ Drummer 2 is a Native-only plug-in for use on MAC and PC and will retail for $179 (upgradable from EZ Drummer 1 for $99). Formats are RTAS, VST, AU, AAX 64 and as a standalone application.  Product authorization for EZ Drummer 2 is established via user account authorization code.

WHAT IT DOES: EZ Drummer 2 is songwriter and producer’s tool for quick and easy creation of drum tracks utilizing high quality multi-track drum samples recorded by the finest engineers in the world’s best studios.

WHAT’S NEW: Literally everything!  Toontrack has completely revitalized the EZ Drummer platform from the ground up – they’ve been working hard for the past four years doing it.  All of the graphics have been updated and they look gorgeous. But the improvements to EZ Drummer 2 go far deeper than what can be seen on first glance.

Here’s a short list of what’s new and improved:

  • NEW AUDIO ENGINE – EZ Drummer 2 has a completely remodeled engine under the hood giving new life to every task.  Data loads faster and many tasks operate nearly seamlessly in real time.
  • NEW SOUNDS – An all-new sound library featuring modern and vintage kits as well as a selection of percussion.  In total, five new drum kits and a wide array of alternatives for snares, kick drums and cymbals.  All recorded by Grammy award winning engineer and producer Chuck Ainlay at Mark Knopfler’s British Grove Studios in London.
  • SONG CREATOR – Drop your Toontrack MIDI grooves or custom designed groove into the new “drop zone” and EZD2 will give you custom designed song sections or full song structures to quickly and easily create a full drum track instantly.
  • EDIT PLAY STYLE – Users can now “communicate” with their drummer in real time via the power hand selector and the velocity and amount knobs allowing for stunning control over the intricacies of a performance
  • NEW MIXER & PRESETS – EZD2 has a completely new mixer and set of FX which change based on the drum kit and preset loaded. 
  • MIX & MATCH – Seamless auditioning of any instrument in your previously installed EZ Drummer expansion libraries (EZX). This means you can mix, match and build your own custom kits directly in EZ Drummer 2.
  • THE OLD IS NEW – All previously released EZX libraries will be optimized for EZD2 with new graphics and preset content, giving users a fresh new spin on packs you already own

Check out some images from the London session at British Grove!

Chuck Ainlay miking the kit

Chuck Ainlay miking the kit

The space: Drum kit setup in British Grove's beautiful, two story live room

The space: Drum kit setup in British Grove’s beautiful, two story live room

Ainlay running the session, at the console

Ainlay running the session, at the console

 

THE SOUNDS: The drum kits look gorgeous, but it’s all about the sound right?  Well, EZD2 brings it in spades. The modern and vintage kits recorded at British Grove sound spectacular and incredibly life-like.

How good are these drums?  When I arrived at Mark Knopfler’s studio in London, I was led into the control room to watch a live demo in progress being led by Chuck Ainlay and session drummer Rich Cooper. Rich was playing a groove on the exact kit, mic’d up the exact same way as was sampled for EZ Drummer 2.

EZ Drummer 2 Arranger window

EZ Drummer 2 Arranger window (click to enlarge)

Things started to get crazy when it was revealed that the sound we were listening to was a seamless A/Bing between the live drums out in the studio and the sampled drums being played back by EZ Drummer 2.

Once we were told what was happening, my ears immediately starting tuning in to try to pick out the differences between the live drums and the EZD2 playback. Although I could tell that there were subtle differences between the two, I’d be lying if I told you I was 100% sure which was which!

So, believe me when I tell you that the drum sounds in EZ Drummer 2 are literally as close to the real thing as you’re ever going to get in a plug-in.

CREATING A DRUM TRACK: Getting a drum track at home in your DAW for songwriting and demos can be a difficult and time-consuming chore.

EZ Drummer 2 Search window

EZ Drummer 2 Search window

Toontrack already has in place one of the deepest and most diverse MIDI groove libraries on the market with packs for EZ Drummer and Superior Drummer that offer a seemingly endless supply of possibilities for every style of music imaginable.

EZ Drummer 2 capitalizes on Toontrack’s MIDI libraries and allows users to create a complete drum track literally within seconds. Let’s take a look at what’s possible with EZ Drummer 2 when creating a new drum track from scratch.

 

TAP 2 FIND: With EZD2, users have the option of either searching their existing libraries by almost any parameter imaginable such as Library, Genre, Power Hand (which we’ll discuss), Time Signature (sign) or hit type (beat, fill etc). These search terms can be highlighted and combined together to help narrow down exactly what groove in your library will work best for the track you’re working on.

In addition to searching your library, Toontrack has introduced a brand new feature for EZD2 called “TAP 2 FIND”.

First: set your DAW to your desired tempo and meter.  (I also recommend setting your HW/Buffer size to its lowest setting to avoid input delay.) Then, choose TAP 2 FIND under the Search tab.  EZD2 brings up a view of your drum kit along with an audible click.

Next, simply use your mouse or a MIDI controller to tap out the beat in your head! I recommend creating your groove one drum at a time rather than attempting to click out your beat in real time. TAP 2 FIND will layer each drum you click on top of the previous one for as long as it takes to build your loop.

Tap 2 Find

Tap 2 Find

For instance I can start with my kick drum, then add my snare and maybe hi hat after that.  TAP 2 FIND will automatically quantize your taps in real time and is changeable between 1/4, 1/8 and 1/16th notes (regular and triplet)

Once you’ve tapped out your desired beat, simply select “Show Results” and EZD2 will analyze your custom creation and give you a list of every MIDI groove in your collection and a % number of how close EZD2 believes it is as a match to your custom beat.

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