For every 300 guitarists, there is probably one drummer dedicated enough to his or her art as the guitarist is. This creates a seemingly bleak disparity, where droves of guitarists—dying to rock the f*ck out—are left noodling away in unsatisfying, percussion-less jam sessions.
But along came the brilliant idea of drum simulators.
“Oh, you mean those goofy drum machines?”
Not … quite.
In case you’ve been living in a cave for the past ten years, you should know that music production has moved far beyond the obviously synthetic drum machines of the 80’s and 90’s.
These days, there are software drum sample libraries you can drop into your DAW that can be used to create a pretty damned convincing drum track.
As a matter of fact, I don’t think the casual listener would even be able to tell the difference between a well-executed programmed drum track and a real player in the context of a full mix (or care either way if the music is good).
Yet, some of the sample libraries can be pretty expensive, mega-hyped, or intimidating to use.
Is there anything out there that has the sound quality, flexibility, and ease-of-use to sculpt legit drum tracks on the project studio budget?
How about Naughty Seal Audio’s Perfect Drums?
Here is a straight-outta-the-box Perfect Drums track solo’d, with plenty of tom fills, double kick, and fast snare work.
The same drum track in a full metal mix I slapped together:
I literally just loaded Perfect Drums’ default kit, selected a snare I liked, dropped in some MIDI, and tracked my guitar and bass to it! I did not mix or balance any aspect of the drums for these clips.
While lots of musicians in the metal and rock spheres are buzzing about this plug-in, it is equally capable of driving softer styles of music without overpowering the mix:
Now that same drum track in isolation so you can hear the articulation on the hi-hat:
It doesn’t sound 100% real, of course, but always consider how such libraries lend themselves to a full production, in context with other instrumentation.
Perfect Drums isn’t simply “drummer in a box” requiring little to no talent to implement in your music, but a powerful and deep tool for building your drum tracks.
A buzz-term thrown around a lot in the marketing of music production products these days is “mix-ready“, and I’ll bet somewhere, hunched in front of a $100,000 Neve mixing desk, a seasoned audio engineer dies a little inside each time that phrase appears.
Perfect Drums could fall into that category of “mix-ready”, but what this really means is that the way the drum kit library is recorded, you are “most of the way there” in terms of EQ and overall kit balance when you load the plug-in on your track.
This is fantastic news for those of us with very limited windows of opportunity for creating music in our project studios—I mean, who wants to spend a month just getting their drum tracks to sound believable? Not me!
There will still be some sweetening to taste, based on your personal preferences, but Perfect Drums really does “sit down” very, very nicely in the mix straight from the default kit setting.
Any drum simulator is only as good as the samples that make up its sound.
Naughty Seal has created high-fidelity virtual drums from a selection of all-time favorite brands including Tama, Yamaha, Ludwig, Gretsch and Sonar.
There are a total of 131 sampled instruments packaged with Perfect Drums:
- 13 kick drums
- 12 snare drums
- 29 toms (8 full sets)
- 9 hi-hats
- 11 rides
- 31 crash cymbals sampled on different position
- 13 china cymbals (5 on the left side and 8 on the right)
- 8 splash cymbals
- 2 custom stack cymbals
- 2 bells and 1 jamblock instrument
Each whack of the snare or thump of the kick is captured in crystal clear, high-resolution to provide color, character, and presence in the mix.
You’re free to rock a straight-up Tama or Yamaha kit, or create a rocking hybrid drum monster by assembling you favorites from any of the kick, snare, toms, cymbals, etc.
Depth and Dimension
The dynamics for each component are represented very well with dozens of velocity layers per instrument, allowing for very natural sounding ghost notes on the snare, expressive hi-hat work, or heavy gut-punches on the kick.
Perfect Drums has great sounding alternate hits to ensure that a 16th note snare roll sounds musical and not like a machine gun. These alternate hits are becoming standard on all modern drum simulators. They are essentially samples of the same instrument recorded with a different set of physical hits and assigned to their own key in the MIDI layout. For example, D4 may be the snare hit and E4 may be the alternate hit.
Perfect Drums has a very attractive and intuitive interface. I never found myself wondering where something was, even something as deep under-the-hood as the multi-out routing options.
And, boy, can you get surprisingly deep with this thing, as you’ll see when we explore the different screens and elements of the user interface.
The animated “behind the kit” view is executed really well, and was always one of the features I liked about Superior Drummer that was missing in my old friend Steven Slate Drums 1.0.
If you read my article about getting better programmed drum tracks, one of the tips was to think like a drummer by envisioning yourself behind a kit; the animated kit on Perfect Drum’s GUI lends itself beautifully to this idea. I feel like it’s a great visual aid to drummers and non-drummers alike for navigating the kit.
You can easily audition and swap out instruments with a single click.
Do you have a set of tried-and-true, multi-velocity snare drum samples you discovered on the Ultimate Metal production forum, like, 10 years ago?
You’re in luck, because Perfect Drum’s sample interface allows you to upload any third-party audio samples to be triggered in the plug-in.
The mighty Sampler in Perfect Drums is nearly a plug-in in its own right. It essentially overlays the samples onto the kit already loaded, and you control how much of your own sampled .wav sound gets blended into the overall kit.
You can get deep with this thing, as it allows you to assign .wav samples to any velocity range for an instrument.
The envelope window lets you adjust the Start, End, Attack and Decay of a .wav file loaded, which is incredibly useful if you want to blunt a clicking kick or remove excessive resonance or ring on the tail end of a snare, for instance.
You could spend countless hours in the Sampler hand-crafting the ultimate drum kit, and you can find scores of drum sample libraries (for sale and for free) all across the interwebz.
Every component of the kit is assigned a channel in PD’s Mixer.
Basics like Solo, Mute and Tuning are available (it’s very important to tune your snare and kick to your song, by the way!).
You have volume faders for each instrument as well as the three busses—Overhead, Room, and Reverb.
PD gives you much deeper mixing control, however, and knowing how to manipulate the balance of each component’s different signal sources is crucial to getting the most out of this plug-in.
The direct signal is the raw, close mic’d signal recorded for that instrument (snare, kick, toms, etc.). The Direct knob controls the volume of that signal in the kit’s mix.
Certain instruments benefit from a more direct signal balance, like the kick drum, and a good portion of the snare in the mix.
Control how much of the instrument’s signal goes into the Overhead buss.
Cymbals, for instance, are traditionally only overhead mic’d, rarely ever direct (close) mic’d, so there isn’t a Direct balance for them in the Mixer.
In a recording situation for real drums, the overhead mics also pick up signals from the other drum kit components like toms, kick and snare. Blending in a little bit of the toms in the Overhead buss can create a bit more space and resonance, if done in moderation.
When tracking real drum kits in the studio, a recording engineer will also place a mic strategically in the room to capture the kit’s overall resonance, ring, and ambiance. Use this control to dial in the amount of room flavor in your drum mix.
Nothing too fancy here, just a warm, natural-sounding reverb of a medium to large space that you can blend to taste. Especially delicious on the snare and the splash.
The “FX” knob seems to add some sort of rich compression to the instrument when dialed up. At maximum, a drum hit appears to gain an increasingly tighter, rounded, and beefier sound, which may or may not be desirable for your project. Easing this setting back allows for a very natural, more raw and organic drum hit.
At the top of each fader is a button with a funny-looking little symbol (Ø). This button will invert the phase (flip polarity) of that drum component.
This is incredibly useful if your overheads are out of phase with your guitar tone, or your double kick drum runs seem too floppy or thin with your bass guitar.
Flipping the phase can help the components of the drum kit retain their contour, weight and presence in a mix, depending on what’s going on in your track.
Remember our friend the Sampler? If you flip the Mixer’s view to “Sampler” you can fine tune the mix of those multi-velocity sampled instruments we worked so hard to build!
Loading a multi-out instance of Perfect Drums allows you to send each channel of your kit (kick, snare, overheads, etc.) to its own audio track in your DAW, whereby you can fine tune the EQ or compression, or go silly with whatever plug-ins you like.
You can route up to 16 unique stereo pairs into your DAW’s mixer for extra-fine control.
A major selling point for me was the fact that a purchase of Perfect Drums comes with free updates to the software, including any new kits or drum library additions the Naughty Seal team comes out with.
The team also appears to be working on a cloud platform, where owners of Perfect Drums can share kit presets and sounds with a worldwide community. This would be particularly great for those users who either don’t have the time, interest or skill to build custom drum kits using the sample library.
- Mac OS 10.6 or newer (64 bit only)
- Dual Core Intel processor or higher
- 4 GB RAM (8 GB strongly recommended)
- Minimum 5 GB free HDD space
- Display capable of at least 1280×1024
- Sound card with ASIO or Core Audio driver
- 64 bit AU, VST or AAX host application
- Windows XP or newer OS (64 bit only)
- Dual Core processor or higher
- 4 GB RAM (8 GB strongly recommended)
- Minimum 5 GB free HDD space
- Display capable of at least 1280×1024
- Sound card with ASIO driver
- 64 bit VST or AAX host application
Are Perfect Drums really … perfect?
The concept of perfection could be debated ad infinitum, but for me, this drum sampler is incredibly useful, super fun, easy to learn, and it sounds absolutely gorgeous in my tracks. Along with the Mooer GE200, Perfect Drums is the best project studio upgrade I’ve made in a long time, bringing my productions to a new level.
Overall, the sound quality of Perfect Drums is certainly on par with more expensive software, and sounds better than many of its peers.
While in its first inception, Perfect Drums shows clearly the talent of its developers in capturing a drum kit as well as building an attractive and intuitive software interface.
As a piece of software, it doesn’t appear to eat up too much processing power in Logic Pro X for the amount of high-res sample triggering that’s going down, and I’ve yet to encounter any significant glitches or crashes. Kudos to the programmers at Naughty Seal!
Points of Critique
The only draw back, one could argue, is that you’ll sound “just like everyone else with a copy of Perfect Drums”.
Indeed, Perfect Drums does have a distinct sound or character that is unique to itself (a really great sound, to be fair), and some of the kits sound very similar, maybe even too similar, despite being totally different materials and models.
However, Perfect Drums gives you enough flexibility with its Mixer, Sampler and Routing options to make this software your own, without fiddling endlessly in your project studio to get a respectable drum sound.
This drum sim is capable of thundering along to modern metal productions as much as it can groove to any flavor of rock. It’s expressive, flexible, musical, and lends itself beautifully to mixing.
For $200 USD, this software is killer, and really took me by surprise.
It’s as if Naughty Seal anticipated pretty much everything a project studio producer could need from a drum simulator.
You can spend significantly more for something like Superior Drummer 3, which I’m sure is phenomenal software and would give you far more than you need for a hobby/project studio, or you can get Perfect Drums HERE, and start banging out some killer mixes!
Hear it in action on the latest album “Oceana” from my alternative-rock project Pontiac Nights: