EpiK DrumS from Sonic Reality is a 130 gigabyte collection of royalty free multitrack drum kit samples, loops and full tracks recorded by British recording engineer and producer Ken Scott. Among others, Scott recorded The Beatles, David Bowie, Elton John, Supertramp, Pink Floyd, Jeff Beck, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Billy Cobham, Duran Duran, Dixie Dregs, Missing Persons, Devo, Lou Reed, America, and George Harrison. He began his career as a tape-op at EMI Recording Studios (later renamed Abbey Road) and also worked at London’s Trident studios. Along the way he was responsible for recordings such as “I Am The Walrus,” “Rocket Man,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Dreamer,” and “Walk On The Wild Side” and his discography covers diverse styles from the sixties British sound to seventies’ glam rock to fusion to American new wave.
For this set Scott chose five drummers he had worked with that he felt represented a broad range of sounds and styles, Billy Cobham, Terry Bozzio, Woody Woodmansey (Bowie), Bob Siebenberg (Supertramp) and Rod Morgenstein (Dixie Dregs). He then recorded them playing the actual drum sets (or a close reconstruction) that they had played on specific well-known recordings. Additionally, Scott chose studios with similar characteristics to the rooms in which the original tracks were recorded (the original studios are now closed). All sounds were recorded through a Trident A range console, which was his desk of choice from the late sixties through the seventies when he often worked at Trident Studios at 17 St. Anne’s Court in London’s Soho district. I worked at Trident as a studio musician through much of this period and later as a producer during the eighties. Scott was famous for using Neumann U87s on tom toms at a time when most people used dynamics that were cheaper than 87s. I recall seeing a number of dented 87s there.
In any event, for these recordings Scott reproduced the original microphone setups as he could best recall and as those mics were available. Being a creature of habit and preference like most producers and engineers, it is a safe bet that what is recorded here sounds close to the original recordings. All tracks were recorded to analog tape and digitally into Pro Tools. In the separate two-DVD instructional set from Alfred Music Publishing entitled EpiK DrumS EDU (that I also review here) Scott describes his choice of microphones, and demonstrates exact positioning, along with his equalization and gating techniques. Whilst the elements in the set are specifically for use with DAWs and electronic drum sets Scott expresses his preference for analog recording.
His methodology included using the drummers and (as close as possible to) the drum kits played on the original sessions. The drums were setup and tuned as they had been, in a comparable acoustic environment, and through the same type of console used at the time. Furthermore, they are accurately reproducing the parts they played in the sixties or seventies to the extent that each drummer played while monitoring his original track in his headphones. Only the replayed drum parts are included in the Sonic Reality set (not the rest of the instrumentation) and, in effect, what you get is a brand new multitrack version of these classic drum tracks in close to their original form.
As recorded and mixed by Scott, the drums are included as separate multitrack samples, loops and the full version of the drum track in the (supplied) Kontakt 4 engine. Users can solo, mute and rebalance the multitrack channels. Like other Sonic Reality packages the drum samples are interchangeable so, for instance, you can use Woody Woodmansey’s snare drum with Billy Cobham’s tom toms and so forth. Moreover, samples from other Sonic Reality drum packages can be interchanged as can any other samples that will play on the Kontakt sample platform.
In addition to the five drummers there are kits in the style of The Beatles (heavily damped with tea towels) and Elton John (allegedly Nigel Olsson’s kit). Also included are samples of various percussion sounds used by Scott in his productions, such as orchestral chimes, glockenspiel, hand claps, wine glasses, water gongs and so on.
The kits are mapped in GM (General Midi), iMap™ (proprietary to Sonic Reality), V-Drum™ (for Roland users), performance and custom modes and they include the midi learn feature for mapping to any keyboard or electronic drum kit. The grooves are the actual recordings of the drummers not MIDI recreations of the parts. Nonetheless, because these are REX multitrack files the user can control the mix and the tempo. Because each of the drums is sampled individually, users can augment the grooves with their own fills and other additions using MIDI. Scott also supplies his stereo mixes of the tracks.
The review copy of the set was loaded onto sixteen DVDs (including the program disc) and the advertised cost was $749, which is often discounted by a couple of hundred dollars and includes free shipping. There is a hard drive version, the SRP of which is $999 and was reduced to $649 on sonicreality.com at the time of writing. The review copy supplied was on DVDs and it took many hours over several days to load the DVDs into the Infinite player (supplied) that becomes the library for Kontakt. In contrast, the hard drive arrives fully loaded and ready to play within minutes. With the DVDs being so time-consuming to load it is hard to understand why the version that comes on a 250GB hard drive costs $100 more given the low cost of storage devices today. Although I was not able to test the hard drive version I would say that any money saved by buying the DVDs is only worthwhile if you consider your time to be worth less than about $6 per hour. Another minor criticism is that there is no indication on the box or the DVDs of the hard disc space required to load everything. There is approximately 116GB of information that needs to be loaded so you need to check your available disc space before beginning.
In the pdf instruction manual they use the phrase “high resolution vintage drum sound”, and while these source sounds are undoubtedly high quality the sampling rate of 48K is not generally considered to be high resolution, which is a term typically reserved for 96K/24-bit or 192/24. Nevertheless, although the drums are sampled at 48-kHz/24-bit, because they play from within Kontakt they can be used on a session that is setup at another sample rate such as 44.1, 96 or 192K. Of course the quality of the EpiK DrumS samples or loops will always be pegged at 48K.
The set was not made with this intention but speaking as a drummer I can say that it is fascinating to be able to listen so closely to a drum part and even to be able to solo parts of the set to understand precisely what the drummer is playing. Listen as we might, many subtleties of parts are obscured within a mix.
From a production point of view, these are very high quality recordings and loops. The multitrack versions, interchangeability of sounds and the fact that additional parts using the same virtual drum set can be added to the loops via MIDI makes these versatile and usable. This is not an inexpensive set and if a consumer’s only interest is in the samples Sonic Reality has now issued the individual sets for BFD for $449 for all seven kits, $69 for each artist title, and $49 for the sixties and seventies kits. There is also a 30GB download version of the samples only (no grooves or percussion and less mic. channels), EpiK DrumS SE, for $199.
Operating System: Windows XP, Mac OSX, Vista, Universal Binary, Sample Rate 48K
Manufacturer: Sonic Reality, Sample Rate 48kHz, on 16 DVDs $549, on 250GB Hard Drive $649