Monday, June 8, 2009

Review: Impact Soundworks Groove Bias

Library: Groove Bias
Format: Download in Kontakt, Halion, EXS-24, and NN-XT formats
Genre: Anything in need of vintage drum sounds.
Created & Distributed by: Impact Soundworks
Price: $99 for Kontakt/Halion/EXS-24, $89 for Reason NN-XT
Demo: Audio demos on the product page.

These days, when you purchase sampled drum sounds it's almost a foregone conclusion that they will attempt to be as clean and contemporary-sounding as possible. And there's nothing wrong with that per se. It's just that there seems to be a real dearth of the types of drum sounds typical of the 50's, 60's, and 70's where tape and all manner of (now) vintage processors colored the sounds in a way that, while perhaps not the most natural-sounding, still have an undeniable pleasing character to them. It's those types of sounds that Impact Soundworks has sought to provide with their new vintage drum library Groove Bias.

Groove Bias is the end result of 8 months of work, and while three drum kits and a percussion kit might not sound like much, when you consider that the kits are made up of almost 4,000 samples for full-velocity switching and round robin-style goodness, you'll realize that this is a library aimed at quality and not quantity. Furthermore, you get more than just 3 drum kits and some percussion. In addition to the full kits, you also get each component from every kit available individually mapped, so they can be mix and matched into your own custom kits with a minimum of effort. You'll also find many of the same components used in a Processed selection that manipulates these individual sounds with the built in processing and effects options offered by your software sampler of choice. I'm reviewing the Kontakt version of this library which also includes custom interface controls for selecting the balance of mic position between close-mic and overhead mic positions when available.

The first kit is the so-called "Superfreak" kit, a 60's Ludwig Silver Comet kit like the one used by funk legend Rick James. The kit was recorded with vintage ribbon mics through a Neve console with outboard processing gear by Empirical Labs, Tube-Tech, and Anthony DeMaria Labs. It consists of a kick, rim, 2 snares, closed, pedal, and open hi-hats, 3 toms, a crash, a ride, and a splash. The sounds themselves are really nice. The kick has a very solid, weighty punch, the snares sound tight and present, the toms ring with authority, and the cymbals are clear and expressive. The only problem I could find with this kit was in the rim sound. There is a noisy "tail" on the end of some of the mid-high velocities that isn't present in any of the other sounds (or even in other velocities of this same sound). Furthermore, at one particular velocity, there is an odd sound in the tail that sounds like someone shifting in their seat or something. It's quiet and is unlikely to be noticeable in the context of a mix, but given the attention to detail this library generally exhibits, it does stand out a bit.

Next up is the Herodotus Kit, which is apparently the same type of kit used by Ginger Baker during his time in Cream. A variety of vintage mics were used, and outboard processing is provided by the likes of the famous UA 1176 and various Manley gear before the results were recorded to a Tascam reel-to-reel tape machine. This is a smaller kit, consisting of a kick, snare, 3 toms, and closed, pedal, and open hi-hats. The kicks and snares can be further customized by adjusting the balance between close and overhead mics, which adds a surprising amount of variety to the general timbre and feel of the drums. The kick here has less low-end punch than the Superfreak kit and the snare has more of a metallic ring to it. All the sounds are very playable and expressive. The addition of at least a crash would've been nice, but you can, of course, add your own with the individual 'component' patches.

The third kit is called the Tape Kit and is a made up of pieces from various manufacturers recorded on a selection of vintage mics and bounced to an Otari 24-track tape machine. The lo-fi goodness is provided by the room sound being recorded on a 70's era cassette machine.
Soundwise, the kit is made up of close-mic and overhead versions of the kick, rim, and 2 snares, closed, pedal, and open hi-hats, 3 toms, a crash, a ride, and a splash. Timbre-wise, this is probably the tightest and driest sounding of the kits. Everything sounds punchy and present, while still full of character. As you would expect from a kit recorded to tape, slight noise tails are present, but as they are present on all of the sounds, it has a pleasing quality unlike the rim sound from the Superfreak kit where it just seems out of place.

What better to supplement some great sounding vintage drum kits than some percussion sounds given the same treatment? The Percussion kit consists of agogos, bongos, hand claps, cowbell, shakers, tambourines, triangles (including mute) and woodblocks. I found the percussion sounds to be by far the most expressive and fun to play in the library. (Which isn't to say the others aren't...) The hand claps are especially impressive. If you know what you're doing, it's possible to create very convincing percussion tracks virtually effortlessly.

The Processed section is laid out similar to the Component section, where an individual drum sound is mapped (complete with velocity and round-robin) to a single key, allowing you to build your own custom kits to taste. Everything from crunchy, lofi kicks, to reverbed snares, and dirtied up toms are on offer here. These are definitely a nice addition, but there is nothing that stands out as particularly spectacular. My guess is that most users will prefer to process the drum sounds themselves, to better fit the sound of their track.

If you've been frustrated trying to find these types of vintage drum sounds, you probably didn't even bother reading this far and have already placed your order. But for those who need further convincing, just take a listen to the demos on Impact Soundworks' website. These kits are certainly a worthy addition to the library of anyone seeking that sound, but clearly this is a library that drummers will get the most enjoyment out of given the range of expression that is possible with disciplined playing technique. Regardless of your level of ability, however, this is a great sounding collection of the types of drums that aren't exactly abundant on the sample library market these days. (9/10)


Andrew Aversa said...

Thanks for the review, Tom! We're glad you liked the library. Good catch on the Superfreak rim noise; we'll be fixing that in a future free update, AND adding cymbals to the Herodotus kit.

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