Over the better part of a decade, ToonTrack has consistently been a “superior” presence in the sphere of ITB drum tracks creation. For good reason too! Their flagship virtual drumming application, “Superior Drummer”, and its welter-weight smaller brother, “EZ Drummer”, have persistently produced highly- realistic, believable-sounding drum tracks on a dizzying number of demo and pro-grade recordings. ToonTrack’s virtual drummers are regularly looked to as the drum VIs of choice by enthusiasts and professionals alike.
ToonTrack EZ Drummer 2 Review
EZ Drummer 2 takes the welter-weight championship belt respectfully in hand and steps up the game considerably. Sporting a new, alluring tab-based interface, the UI has undergone a “from-the-ground-up” makeover yet remains welcomingly familiar (akin to EZ Keys). The somewhat blasé pop/rock kit has been retired as the default kit in lieu of not one, but FIVE, new, characterful drum kits.
Categorized as both Modern and Vintage, the various pieces may be easily mixed n’ matched for “custom” kit configurations. These new kits are samplings of DW, Yamaha, Gretsch, Sonor, Tama, and of course, Ludwig. Taking a cue from vying drum VI contenders, EZD2 now hosts great-sounding percussion components as well: tambourine, cowbell, maracas, shakers and handclaps.
EZD2 is not merely a pretty face with fancy-schmancy bells n’ whistles slapped on top – its audio engine has been completely overhauled and is now refitted with a much greater degree of AI and expressiveness. The new “Tap2Find” feature enables a user to quickly beat out a groove via a midi-controller or mouse; the software then takes off on a gallop to retrieve appropriately matched patterns.
ToonTrack have proven themselves to be leaders in their field – ease of use, audio excellence, and innovation are but a few of the ToonTrack product-line attributes. Their well-established EZ Drummer product has broken even more barriers with this ponderous, 2nd generation version. EZD2 still rings the till at a comfortable $179 for new customers, while existing supporters can upgrade for a reasonable toll fee of $99.
However, the question remains: "What can EZ Drummer 2 do for you?"
Existing customers can rest assured that ToonTrack continues to be considerate of their faithful user base. EZD2 is fully backwards compatible with original EZ Drummer add-ons so you won’t lose any of your favorites during an upgrade. As a matter of fact, ToonTrack’s development team have gone the extra mile to provide fresh, new EZX updates. This ensures that ALL previously purchased EZX expansion packs will work flawlessly within the new EZ Drummer shell. The vastly improved audio engine powers your old EZX libraries with even better sound and expressiveness.
A welcome new facet of EZD2 is its ability to operate in stand-alone mode. This, married to the new sequence timeline, facilitates song ideas on-the-fly. Borrowing the principle from its “EZ Keys” cousins, EZD2 lets your creative juices flow, unconstrained by typical DAW workflow. As we saw in “EZ Keys”, convenient drag n’ drop midi-blocks can be easily arranged on the Song Builder time line, situated along the bottom of the interface. Feel free to whip up a good drum track without even opening your DAW and having to load the program as a standard plug-in.
Which brings me to my next point: Load times.
Taking into account that EZD2 makes itself at home on approximately a 4GB lot of hard disk space, the samples load quickly and efficiently – *typically within 20 seconds on my Intel i5. The larger of the new kits, “Modern”, hits your PC up for about 700 to 800 MBs of RAM. While this number is not negligible, it isn’t nearly as resource-demanding as a behemoth such as Native-Instrument’s “Studio Drummer
Keeping an element of continuity interwoven throughout their current product line, ToonTrack have now implemented a subset of their “EZ Mix” effects into EZD2. Variations of the effects change depending on which kit (or preset) is active. User-control over the various effects parameters is conservative at best, but the good news is that ToonTrack have carefully tweaked and tuned them in advance. You’ll notice that some of the effects are courtesy of Reverb & Amp modelling experts, “Overloud”.
Mic bleed is adjustable via tunable knobs, in contrast to the previous “OFF or ON” switches found on the original EZ Drummer’s Mixer panel. This feature alone permits a user to tailor the sound more to his/her liking beyond that of the EZD predecessor.
Installation and Authorization:
ToonTrack’s method of copy protection is of the “challenge/response” variety, but since ToonTrack have a proven, well-established reputation, I won’t hammer them too harshly about it. Personally, I’m an anti-dongle and anti-CR advocate. Fussing with dongles is no fun; especially for laptop users. C/R protection often limits the number of valid activations, or can leave you DOA if the company goes out-of-operation. Nevertheless, I greatly appreciate that a few companies, such as ToonTrack, Moddart, FXpansion, and EAReckon, make their implementation of C/R protection as customer-friendly as possible.
ToonTrack products may be activated on two computers simultaneously, with a total of four activations before a license is exhausted. Online license management does allow a license owner to deactivate a license slot. It should be noted, however, that a license may only be activated twice on the same computer.
Although it isn’t publicized, so as to discourage occasional or “mild” piracy (aka license abuse), ToonTrack will asses a valid customer’s need for an extended number of licenses on a per need basis. Each authorized item will always be listed in the customer’s “My Products” area of the ToonTrack web site.
Each kit piece has a drop-down menu whereby other similar items may be selected. The original “EZ Drummer” had a basic utilization of this feature, but EZD2 takes it much further. Now, a user may select components from any core or (installed) EZX kit. Individual drum volume levels and pitch may also be modified here. You can audition the sound of each kit piece by simply clicking on it or the corresponding key/pad on a connected midi controller.
EZ Drummer 2 does not disappoint one’s ocular senses. The GUI is comfortably proportioned at dimensions of 900px wide x 670px high and shows off eye-pleasing 3-D graphics. I suspect that ToonTrack put a good deal of deliberation into striking an excellent balance between functionality and visual appeal.
Creative application of 3-D light/shadowing effects, in conjunction with detailed graphical textures, deliver a convincing virtual environment; not unlike immersive 3-D game graphics. The user will enjoy looking at “EZ Drummer 2”. The striking visual attributes and quality audio elements synergistically provide a very satisfying user experience.
The knobs can be manipulated in any one of three modes: Linear, Circular, and Circular-relative. My personal preference is the Linear mode since it grants more dependable mouse control for my workflow style. I actually find Circular and Circular-relative modes to be a little bit tricky to operate.
A welcome GUI redesign feature is the implementation of TABs-based application management. This revamped system makes for easy-breezy switches between the four main sections of the program. These being: Drums, Browser, Search and Mixer.
[ Drums ]
This is where the GUI is the most fun to look at. Subtle, yet effective, details dress-up the interface. These are seen as a slight carpet bulge, lighting glints on faux chrome cymbal stands, and other nifty little dramatic visual flairs. The graphics are appealing and inviting; however, a nice degree of functionality is hidden underneath their charm.
The third tab, “Search”, is where we find yet another dramatic improvement over the first “EZ Drummer”. Starting off with good ol’ fashioned manual searching, you can peer into one or more library at a time. Next, you can sift through various musical genres (country, jazz, classic rock, and etc.) Your search can be further narrowed by specifying the “Type” of pattern. For example: Beat, Ending, Fill, Straight, Swing, Half-Time, and etcetera.
[ Browser ]
The layout of the Browser is similar to the orginal EZ Drummer’s “Grooves” panel, or more concisely, it shares the intuitiveness of EZ Keys’ midi browser. Each core library, EZX, and/or midi pak is listed and then (left-to-right) sub-divided into Styles/Time signatures, Song Elements (intro, verse, chorus, and etc.) and finally, Pattern Variations. Each pattern may be auditioned by clicking on the small “play” button in front of the variation title. The patterns are all drag/drop usable directly into a DAW (VSTi) track or into EZD2’s own “Song Builder”. The Song Builder is actually an integrated, simple midi sequencer. *More about this later.*
[ Search ]
The inclusion of a tidy little bevy of percussion instruments adds some sugar and crème to the cup o’ drums. These are found along the right side and similarly feature drop-down menus to access the varying iterations and/or components.
À la custom kit configuration. Kool, huh?
Last, but certainly not least, is the Mixer tab. The original EZ Drummer’s mixer panel was certainly functional, but in direct comparison to its younger, more powerful sibling, it paled. I really appreciate that the new mixer is larger and easier to manipulate. The new mixer is not only larger; it’s crisper and makes good use of contrast.
The adjacent panel contains various “Play Styles”: Standard, Count-in, Cymbal Swell, Snare Roll, and so forth. Next in line is the “Power Hand” panel. Here we can determine which kit piece is the predominant strike, such as: Hi-Hat (open or closed), Ride cymbal, Snare, and etcetera. Finally, you can choose a time signature to search (For example: 2/4 or 6/8).
It is also on this UI tab page where we find EZ Drummer’s new “Tap2Find” feature.
** Stick n’ stay, please - more about this krafty, kool feature a little later as well.
[ Mixer ]
Inputting fader values is still very much at hand. Simply click within any of the small text boxes displaying current fader levels, et voila, type in a new value.
EZ Drummer is a true multi-out capable plug-in. Each channel can be assigned to its own output within most DAWs. This is especially handy for controlling levels/mixing within the DAW itself, or for inserting 3rd party effects per channel.
The most notable advantage the new mixer offers is its own, built-in smart effects. Depending on which preset is loaded, appropriate effects parameters are available for tweaking. Clicking on any effects knob will cause affected mixer channels to become high-lighted. For example, here we see that the High EQ knob is affecting the Kick, Snare, Toms and Cymbals channels.
The mixer accords full control over individual channel levels and panning. However, the same does NOT hold true for effects management. This isn’t necessarily a disadvantage due to the fact that ToonTrack have carefully calibrated the effects for each of the factory presets. Adjusting a compressor doesn’t necessarily touch all channels – only those that would intelligently benefit from compression. (Snare and Kick, for instance). Reverberation effects operate similarly, in that only certain channels are affected.
I noticed that rack-mount toms and floor tom(s) are no longer assigned individual channels. Unlike the original EZ Drummers’ mixer, EZD2 groups all toms together on one channel. Again, this is not necessarily detrimental in that the kits are very well-balanced “out-of-the-box”. In this reviewer’s opinion, ToonTrack are deliberately emphasizing the “EZ” attributes of the software, but not at the expense of sound quality or performance capacity.
Within many of the factory presets, grandular mic bleed and “tuning” controls are available. I won’t discuss the sound quality of the new 24 bit samples and pitch/time shift virtues just yet; that’s best left for the “Sound Quality” section of this article.
Operations & Control:
[ 5 Drum Kits? ]
That’s right, ToonTrack now give you even more for your money! EZ Drummer 2 is outfitted with a full complement of five drum kits. The Modern kits are DW (Non descript), Gretsch USA Custom, and Yamaha 9000. Their Vintage counter-parts are a pair of Ludwig kits: Vistalite and a more generic Ludwig 60s kit.
A cool feature found in the original EZ Drummer was the option to swap drum elements within a library. Now, EZD2 extends this functionality and the user is free to swap out drum elements (both drums and cymbals) from *any installed ToonTrack library. Even component articulations can be edited; for example, choosing Tip or Edge or a hi-hat or cymbal. The customization options can be potentially dizzying.
Volume level and pitch are adjustable for each kit piece by unfolding its properties drop-down box. You can audition the sound of each piece, in all available velocities, by clicking on the waveform display at the bottom of the drop-down box. The intensity of the waveform display color gets darker and more pronounced as the velocity level is increased.
[ Song Builder & Track Timeline ]
EZ Drummer 2 now hosts the “Song Builder”, a self contained, integrated midi-sequencer. An immediate and obvious advantage the Song Builder offers is the ability to construct a drum track, or simply assemble drum track ideas, without relying on a DAW.
A secondary benefit is that the individual parts can be easily edited within the application itself. For those whom have had to manually edit midi drums tracks by hand within a typical Piano roll editor, this is a greatly appreciated feature. Basic zoom, cut, copy, paste and delete tools are available. Each midi segment can be shortened or dragged back out via its “drag handles”. To complete the convenience and functionality, handy undo/redo buttons are neatly tucked into the Song Builder’s upper left corner.
The Song Builder itself is effortlessly brought up to view by clicking on its self-named button, found along the bottom of the interface on the transport strip. Upon opening, drag a midi clip into the “Midi Drop Zone”. ToonTrack’s behind-the-scenes expert coding in EZD2 goes to work and immediately returns with appropriately matched results in various song structure formats and lengths: 12-Bar Basic Bar, AAA, ABBA, ABAB, and etcetera.
From the Song Structure results pane, simply drag one of the song structure templates down into the timeline. Of course, a user is free to reorder, edit, and otherwise tweak the track to his/her liking.
Double clicking on any midi segment on the Song Builder’s timeline will launch the “Edit Play Style” window. Here we can assign the clip’s leading “Power Hand” or “Opening Hit”. The Power Hand is assigned to hi-hats or ride cymbal by default, but you can switch it to a floor tom, for example. Enabling the Opening Hit function tells EZD2 to produce a hit at the beginning of the midi clip; for example, a crash cymbal strike. While using the original EZ Drummer, one would have to manually edit the midi data within a piano roll editor to accomplish this.
Adding individual drum components to a midi segment, within the Play Style window, is also just a convenient click away. EZD2 will intelligently incorporate newly added elements into the midi phrase. This same principle applies to adding percussion elements. You need only click on one or more of the percussion pieces to enable it. The additional percussion details are then automatically fused into the groove. On a drum-by-drum basis, you can also adjust velocity and *density levels.
*Density refers to how frequently and/or how aggressively that particular kit piece will be used within the midi clip.
When you’re satisfied with the resultant drum track, you can easily export it as either a wave file or as a midi clip. Optionally, the entire project can be saved as a project file. This action will save drum configuration, mixer settings and song builder data. A project file can easily be reopened if adjustments or tweaks are needed.
Exporting, saving, project loading, application updates, and etcetera, are all readily accessible from the “Menu” button, located in the upper right corner of the GUI.
Très convenient, n’est pas?
[ Tap2Find ]
On the “Search” screen, we find ToonTrack’s krafty, kool, new Tap2Find utility. Go ahead – give it a try. This is a smart and handy aspect that allows us to tap (with metronome) a rhythm pattern. This is accomplished using either a connected midi controller or mouse. I highly recommend using a midi controller, but the latter does permit simple patterns to be approximated.
User-adjustable quantizing ensures that out-of-time taps are automatically realigned and properly put in sync. Once you’re satisfied with your “tapping”, simply click on the “Show Results” button to see the intelligently-matched approximations that EZD2 retrieves for you automatically. These results are gleaned from a combination of core library, midi add-on packs and/or installed EZX libraries. The results are ordered by match percentage. Of course, ease matching pattern can be auditioned by highlighting it and clicking its “Play” button.
I generally find that Tap2Find does a good job and achieves dependable results. It doesn’t always perfectly if I am trying to generate an unusual time-signature pattern, but then again, I haven’t bucket loads of EZXs and/or midi packs installed on my system at present. Perhaps taking a cue from online shops such as the famous “Custom Shop” by IK Multimedia, ToonTrack have thoughtfully (Read: coyly) implemented their own subtle interpretation of an online shop.
You can include midi packs that you don’t yet own in your searches – these are conveniently displayed and may be auditioned. If the search results are to your liking, and you don’t yet own the midi pack that the pattern belongs to, you can easily purchase it In App. It’s a convenient feature, beneficial to both ToonTrack and also the customer. Kinda reminds me of “Google Play” and Apple’s “App Store”.
**It makes sense that the program will have higher success rates when additional midi packs or EZX libraries are installed.
I’ve been a faithful EZ Drummer admirer and user since quite some time now, and generally speaking, I have always been very pleased with EZ Drummer’s sound quality. This is especially true of my favorite EZX add-ons: Vintage Rock, The Classic, Americana, Jazz, The Blues, Indie Folk, and etcetera. Admittedly, the default kit, “Pop/Rock” was certainly functional, but a wee bit vanilla and blasé for my tastes. It lacked . . . ummm . . . “character” in my opinion.
This is no longer the case.
EZ Drummer 2 comes straight from the factory with HUGE, characterful drum sounds right out-of-the-box! Five distinct, capable drum kits are express-shipped straight to your desktop or DAW when you buy EZD2. These kits are anything but blasé or vanilla. Rather, they are fairly dripping with vibe, class, and koolness in absolute cornucopia.
The audio engine underneath EZD2’s attractive hood is not the 16 bit, fuel-economy model of its predecessor. This new rollout comes with plenty of “snort” and 24 bit horsepower. Crank it up and take a good listen through quality headphones or able studio monitors; EZD2 has some serious backbone!
Across the board, er, around the kits, each component maintains strong articulation, character, and distinctiveness. EZD2 can amply dispense a deluge of lively snap, crack and pop. Far from being a one or two trick pony, EZD2 bestows fine-quality smooth, dulcet tones as well – perfect for ballads or those mellow-yellow times.
The samples load quickly, and favor your tracks with very convincing drum sounds. It seems to me that there is increased dynamics and velocity-range now as well. Adjusting the pitch of any kit piece does not induce unwanted chirpiness or gurgling; instead, we just have pleasant tuning control. This is a welcome feature – a single drum kit can be used on multiple tracks and can be configured to sound a lit bit different on each one. Other times perhaps, a lower pitched snare suits a particular track; or visa versa. In any case, you get the idea. EZD2 offers reams of tonal flexibility.
The Modern kit offerings generally exhibit well-controlled, tighter sounds, while the Vintage fares produce more spacious, ringing resonance. EZD2’s samples were recorded using the finest of studio gear. The Modern kits were recorded through Neve 88R and TG12345 consoles, while the tasty, old-skool vibe of the Vintage kits was captured using an Über rare REDD board - all courtesy of Mark Knopfler’s British Grove Studios in London, England. The main chappy responsible for these pristinely-recorded samples is none other than world-class engineer, Chuck Ainley.
Sample decay is smooth and full. I’ve not found any samples that abruptly cut off. To my ears, very little, if any, 3rd party EQ tweaking is needed for these samples – they sound very, very good. Did I mention how *good they sound?
Oh, and by the way, remember my comments about the old EZ Drummer’s default “Pop/Rock” kit sounding too vanilla and blasé? Well, I’m pleased as punch to let ya’ll know that the latest adaptation of it actually sounds purdy durned good. The *new “Pop/Rock” kit also benefits from EZD2’s stellar new audio engine. The good ol’ GMS kit now cuts through with much better presence and tone.
I never found any of ToonTrack’s plug-ins or virtual instruments to be particularly demanding on system resources; this one is no different. To keep things relative, EZD2 consumes around three percent of the CPU on my Intel i5 (laptop) while operating in stand-alone mode. Loaded into an instrument track in Studio One Pro 2.6, the 64bit VST registers between 10 – 17 percent in the S1 performance monitor. I take this with a grain of salt because the Windows Task Manager reports Studio One only consuming a total of five percent of available CPU.
Reviewer’s Revival awards 5 Stars to ToonTrack for this powerful, EZ-to-use drum VI. This new rollout of EZ Drummer parcels a grandiose collection of highly intelligent and useful new features. It is this reviewer’s opinion that ToonTrack have definitely raised the bar with this one. The lengthy wait for EZ Drummer, version 2, was absolutely worth it. EZ Drummer (original) sounded really good, especially when using EZX expansion packs. EZ Drummer 2 smokes its predecessor off the rails and delivers tremendously EZ-to-use and even more authentic-sounding drums.
The features are comprehensive and enthralling. The graphical interface is inspiring and spurs one’s interest and creative juices to reach higher. EZD2’s core libraries will carry you a long way and they capably cover a broad range of musical genres.
Be sure to check out my accompanying video review/guide too!
Brother Charles is a freelance writer, Gospel music artist and minister. Charles was a professional touring musician during the nineties; working primarily as a lead guitarist in the Canadian country music industry. Brother Charles is also involved with music production and quality home recording.
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