What do all successful records have in common? Great production? Not all of them. Good lyrics? Some of them. A great beat? Yes, that’s the one – a great beat. Before the dawn of electronic instruments if you wanted a great beat on your record you first needed to recruit a great drummer. Now, with the ease of use and ridiculous prices that virtual drum machines go for it is essentially too easy to get an awesome beat groovin’ to your new song.
Pro Tools Native
Some might argue that Pro Tools already offers great tools for creating beats inside your projects and that is absolutely true. Pro Tools comes ready packed with two awesome tools for sequencing drums: Xpand! and Boom. While Xpand! is the Swiss army knife synthesizer in Pro Tools, doing everything from kicks to tambourines to bass tones to strings and so on, Boom is your typical drum machine, reminiscent of famous hardware such as the Roland TR-808 . It is basically a drum machine with 10 instruments and a 16 step sequencer. Each instrument has sound options and control parameters with which you can edit the basic sound of each option.
Boom Drum Machine
The number of options per instrument is 10 so basically you have 10 different kits and you can combine the elements of each one in any way your heart may desire to. On the left side of the UI there is a matrix which let’s you see easily how the 16 steps of each instrument are filled up. Below you can control the general swing,
Below you can control the general swing, volume and dynamics via three controls. Each instrument has a set of controls that are common on most hardware drum machines: level, tone, decay and panning. You can create up to 16 different patterns and trigger them via MIDI notes. You can also listen to your patterns at double speed or half speed via a selector right next to the start/stop button. If you want a 3/4 measure instead of 4/4 you can do that by clicking on the little triplet enable button next to the speed selector. To trigger
If you want a 3/4 measure instead of 4/4 you can do that by clicking on the little triplet enable button next to the speed selector. To trigger patterns you can use MIDI notes from C3 upwards.
Xpand! on the other hand is more of a synth than a drum machine. However you can use it’s drum kits in conjunction with the MIDI editor to sequence awesome patterns; alternatively you can create multitrack drum sequences by inserting Xpand! on several instrument tracks and choosing specific “menus”; For example if I create four tracks, I can make a simple multitrack drum sequence by choosing the Kick Menu for Track1, the Snare Menu for track 2, the Hi-Hat menu for Track 3 and the Cymbals menu for Track 4. Then, with the MIDI editor I can fill up each track with the appropriate hits/ sounds.
The preset selector in Xpand!
Best Products on the Market for Pro Tools
Like with all other types of plug-ins there is a lot to take in when searching for the product that is best suited for your. However, when it comes to drum machine plug-ins for Pro Tools the market is a little bit more limited than for other products. Why? A lot of manufacturers do not offer .AAX support.
For example the polish company D16 make an awesome TR-808 replica virtual drum machine called the Nepheton – too bad Pro Tools users cannot have access to it. Imagine-Line, the guys behind FL make some great drum machines themselves; Groove Machine is a great example, but, sadly, it’s not available in .AAX format.
So, I will only write about five amazing drum machines that are available for Pro Tools systems which all deliver exquisite beat-making tools:
FXpansion Tremor Drum Machine
Tremor is a software drum machine that sports a sequencer, a DCA modeled synthesis engine and what FXpansion call “authentic old-school analogue punch”. The DCA synthesis engine is not bad at all and the sounds you can shape with this little monster are excellent for all sorts of dance, funky, abstract, techno and disco tracks. You can create any tones you might need or explore the presets – kicks, snares, claps, hats, zaps, scrapes, textures and sounds that “defy classification” – they are all in there.
Arturia Vintage Spark
Arturia Spark Vintage Drum Machine
SparkVintage includes emulations of over 30 famous analog hardware drum machines. It includes emulations of the Roland CR-78, Roland TR-808, Roland TR-606, Korg Mini Pops 7, Korg KPR-77, Ace Tone Rhythm Ace FR-2L, Yamaha MR-10, Maestro Rhythm King MKII, Boss DR-55, Casio VL Tone, SK-1, Simmons SDS V, Phatwerk, LinnDrum and others. The biggest thing this drum machine has going for it is it’s super easy to use interface and fantastically close to real life hardware sounds. It has a nice sequencer, a lot of controls and it is cheaper than most other options on the market.
XLN Addictive Drums 2
XLN Addictive Drums 2
Though not a drum machine per se this is the go to tool for countless producers out there. Addictive Drums 2 comes standard with three excellently recorded drum kits. So no synthesis in this one but the samples are simply awesome. And if you get bored of the three basic kits, the guys from XLN offer a lot of expansion packs so you can further expand your collection. You can tweak any of the presets or build up a custom kit from scratch; it also comes with EQ and a transient shaper; It is an overall great plug-in to have in your toolbox.
Native Instruments Battery
Native Instruments Battery
Battery is basically a drum sampler which comes loaded with 143 kits oriented towards electronic music production. Each sample in the library is editable, you can stretch it and bend it almost in unrecognizable ways. The best part of Battery is the super fast workflow that you get using the tag based browser which lets you find the right kit or the right sound in minutes.
I have to say that this is my favorite one on the list. There’s countless reasons for it. It’s basically a drum synthesizer with a modular feel to it. There are no samples, everything is synthesized using Softube’s modeled analog synthesis. The core of Heartbeat consists of the eight instrument channels all tweak-able and rout-able to other effects within Heartbeat or to different tracks in Pro Tools for multitrack mixing. What I love most about his drum machine is its sound creation possibility – you can tweak your head off with this thing.
As always, I advise you to take your time with any one drum machine you decide to acquire; learn it so well that you can be truly creative with it. The options presented here are all powerful drum creation tools that will really enhance your production arsenal. Before going out and buying any of these, however, I suggest you use the native plug-ins until you burn those out as those are also very powerful plug-ins.