DrumPerfect Pro review – leading iOS virtual drummer app goes ‘Pro’

Download from iTunes App Storedrumperfect logo 1While there are still a few ‘app gaps’ that it would be great to see filled, iOS musicians now have a pretty impressive roster of software tools available to them. And, of course, that software is generally priced at a pocket money level. OK, so an iPad or iPhone is a pretty luxury (expensive) item in the first place so, if you can afford the hardware without risk of starving yourself or your family, then perhaps the difference between UK£5 and UK£10 for a decent iOS music app is really not such a big deal (unless, of course, you can’t stop yourself from buying every UK£5 or UK£10 iOS music app; then the sums can begin to add up). But, even at the top-end of the iOS music app price range, it is still possible to shout ‘bargain’ at many apps without too much difficulty.

For a while, one app category that many iOS musicians were waiting for was the ‘virtual drummer’. In the desktop music production environment, ‘virtual drummer’ software has been one of the real revolutions over the last few years. Software such as BDF3 and Superior Drummer 2 (perhaps the two most well-known products although certainly not the only ones) really are ‘a drummer in a box’. While this software is not cheap (well, not for the top-of-the range versions), BFD Eco and EZ Drummer – the ‘lite’ versions of BDF and SD – are not so expensive and capture most of the core functionality of the top-line products.

DrumPerfect Pro - the best iOS virtual drummer goes 'Pro'.

DrumPerfect Pro – the best iOS virtual drummer goes ‘Pro’.

This software is perhaps different from the sorts of virtual MPC groove box or electronic drum machine in that its focus is on emulating a human drummer playing an acoustic drum kit. In the real world, drums are a difficult instrument to record – technically (lots of mics required) and practically (lots of noise made) – so for the home/project studio producers, this sort of software can make creating a top-notch acoustic drum track possible in a recording environment where the ‘real thing’ would not be.

iOS has lots of drum- or groove-based music apps including the excellent Rock Drum Machine (and related apps) from Luis Martinez. But, when it comes to something close to that virtual drummer concept, perhaps the nearest thing we have is DrumPerfect from Marinus Molengraft.

On the desktop platform, virtual drummers such as BFD3 provide utlra-realistic acoustic drum performances with almost limitless control.

On the desktop platform, virtual drummers such as BFD3 provide utlra-realistic acoustic drum performances with almost limitless control.

I reviewed the original app when it was first released back in Feb/March 2014. I was hugely impressed with the concept and, in particular, Marinus’ very clever use of samples that worked around the need for multiple sample layers which, under iOS, can be problematic in terms of both storage and CPU demands required to stream them.

At the time or release, DrumPerfect was a bit of a revelation and, while it was undoubtedly the best way to create ‘human’ sounding acoustic drum tracks available at the time, it wasn’t perfect. There were elements to the workflow that were a bit clunky, a limited range of samples included, no MIDI in, and a somewhat limited number of supplied patterns that made it harder work for non-drummers to use who were less confident about rolling their own.

The potential was obvious though and Marinus, to his credit, kept the updates coming. Over the course of the next 12 months or so, all sorts of improvements and refinements were added including a very useful grid view for easier pattern editing, easy workflow with other iOS music apps, MIDI in support and additional sample content. Existing users got all these new features free of charge.

DrumPerfect, therefore, was most certainly moving in the right direction…. and perhaps the obvious outstanding gripes would have been cosmetic (the UI design wasn’t the prettiest on the eye) and the limited pattern content. The last of these was, for me, the biggest missing link… and an obvious strength of the desktop virtual drummers mentioned above is that they all provide add-on packs of genre-based samples/patterns that a user can purchase. For non-drummers wanting an easy life with their virtual drummer, these are as important as the drum playback engine itself in getting the job done.

The most recent DrumPerfect update was back in January 2015 but Marinus has been suggesting that a new version of the app was in development for some time and has been working with development partner Gilbert Medam on the new version. DrumPerfect Pro was officially announced back in August and, a few days ago, the app made its debut on the App Store.

DrumPerfect Pro - a blend of old and new, including a new UI design.

DrumPerfect Pro – a blend of old and new, including a new UI design.

The ‘Pro’ version is a new app (the original version is still available on the App Store at present) so not a free upgrade for existing users. However, while the standard price is going to be around the UK£14.99 mark, for the launch period, everyone (existing and new users) can pick up a copy for just UK£6.99. Given just what is on offer, this launch price is amazing value for money…. but I’ll perhaps add a few words about pricing, etc. later.

So what is on offer in DrumPerfect Pro? Let’s dig in….

What’s new pussycat?

DrumPerfect Pro is a blend of old and new. In terms of ‘old’ – and this is a positive thing for those with experience of using the original version – much of the basic structure and workflow of Pro is very similar. Yes, there are undoubtedly a myriad of refinements under the hood in terms of the efficiency of the playback engine and, equally, lots of tweaks to the workflow to make using the app more streamlined, but at its core, DrumPerfect Pro is DrumPerfect 2 rather than a completely different user experience.

The essence of the sample engine is retained also. A DrumPerfect Pro kit is still built from samples for up to 16 different drum sounds. Equally, you can have samples for up to 16 kits loaded at any one time. Finally, as indicated by the Kit Editor screen, each drum can be built from up to 16 individual samples.

The kit building process works as before and uses some very clever sample handling to avoid the need for multiple velocity-based sample layers.

The kit building process works as before and uses some very clever sample handling to avoid the need for multiple velocity-based sample layers.

DrumPerfect Pro approaches the sample architecture for each instrument in the same way as DrumPerfect and this is, I think, a design that is both (a) quite astute and (b) pragmatic so as to allow kits to be built from relative few samples (hence a lower storage/RAM overhead) if required. You can define up to 16 samples for each drum and these are organised into four groups; high-left, low-left, high-right and low-right. The ‘left’ and ‘right’ mean you can define different samples for each hand, while the ‘high’ and ‘low’ refer to a high velocity and low velocity sample. And for each of these four groups you can select up to four different ‘alternate’ samples and DrumPerfect Pro can randomly select between these on playback to give that sense of natural variation.

The left/right concept is an obvious – but very welcome – idea and means for things like snare rolls, you can create something that does sound very natural by defining certain hits as left hand and others as right hand (you can do this within the Pattern screen). However, the idea of defining just a high and low velocity sample is quite clever. On playback, the engine simply blends these two samples together with the relative volume of each being defined by the MIDI velocity of the hit. This is a very pragmatic way of avoiding the need for even more samples being required for each MIDI velocity range.

The bottom line here is that, if you really want to keep the number of samples to a minimum, but also want to get a reasonably realistic result, defining four samples per kit piece – two high velocity and two low velocity – and allocating them all to the left hand slots, might be enough to do the trick. Yes, more samples might be better, but because of the way the engine then makes use of these four samples, you still get a sense of variation in the performance. When you add in the various ‘humanize’ and probability options available, DrumPerfect Pro – like DrumPerfect – can produce some excellent results even based on a relatively small number of (well-chosen) samples.

The new look is pretty slick and, while the pattern page remains familiar, there are a couple of new 'pages' available via the tabs at the top of the screen.

The new look is pretty slick and, while the pattern page remains familiar, there are a couple of new ‘pages’ available via the tabs at the top of the screen.

So, if the core operation and playback engine remains the same (if undoubtedly refined), what’s new? All the stuff under the hood is perhaps difficult to appreciate for most users (and reviewers) but there are two obvious things. First, the app has had a seriously good visual makeover. I think this has been very well done because it retains the familiar elements of the original but wraps them up in a set of graphics that gives the app a much slicker and more contemporary feel. Cosmetics of apps might not mean a lot in terms of functionality but you are more likely to come back to an app on a regular basis if it is pleasing on the eye; ‘Pro’ is a very worthwhile step forward in that regard.

Second – and probably addressing my main remaining reservation about the original app – DrumPerfect Pro now offers additional, genre-based, style packs that combine new drum samples with preset patterns via a dedicated in-app store. There are already 6 such packs available within the store and the IAPs are priced at a very reasonable UK2.29 and UK£3.99 depending upon the pack. I think this is a ‘content model’ that works for both the developer and the user and, in mimicking the same system found in the world of desktop virtual drum software, it is one that users are likely to find familiar…. albeit at prices more akin to the App Store than the desktop.

For the user, it gives you the choice of buying additional content if you need it and in the styles you are most interested in. For the developer, it provides a transparent root by which the app can continue to generate an income stream. Income earned from the store can, hopefully, help to fund overall development of the app as well as additional style content.

Go with the (work)flow

Much of the DrumPerfect Pro workflow remains very similar – if wrapped in the rather new look – to the original. As such, the key functions are split across a number of screens and you can tab between these (as before) using the buttons located along the top of the display. The Patterns, Grid, Kits, Song, Export and Settings tabs/screens are joined now by Pads and Store options.

You can get to the help options by tapping on the DrumPerfect logo to the right of these buttons. The PDF manual is available from here and, for new users, this is very much a case of RTFM; DrumPerfect Pro is a pretty deep app and, if you try to learn all it can offer just by trial and error, then I suspect you will (a) be at it for some time and (b) face some frustration. Do yourself a favour and set aside an hour to read the documentation from top to bottom; it will be time well spent.

The Grid screen is the best place to start programming your basic patterns.

The Grid screen is the best place to start programming your basic patterns.

If you are creating patterns from scratch, the Patterns and Grid screens might be where you spend most of your time. The Grid view allows you to see an overview of the current pattern (you can have up to 64 patterns within a single project) and, if I’m programming rather than playing, I generally find this the best place to start.

Once you have the basic pattern down, you can then switch to the Patterns view where you can refine the performance for each individual drum within the pattern. The range of options provided here is fabulous but this screen certainly takes some exploring (yes, RTFM) if you are going to fully exploit what’s on offer. Options such as left/right hand strokes, setting probability levels for certain hits, adjusting velocity, etc. can all be performed here. The probability functions are one of the best elements of DrumPerfect Pro and can really help make your drum pattern feel like a ‘live’ drummer.

Detailed pattern editing is best done on the pattern screen though....

Detailed pattern editing is best done on the Pattern screen though….  and note the included Audiobus support.

All the right kit

As before, you can have multiple drum kits loaded into memory at the same time and each pattern can have a different one of these kits associated with it if required. For most standard drum tracks, you might just stick with a single kit (and more kits mean a greater RAM overhead) but it’s cool to have the option and there might well be times when you might like to switch kits for different song sections (samples based on brushes for a verse and sticks for a chorus, for example).

As before, you can build your own kits by importing suitable samples but Pro is actually supplied with a decent selection of kits to get you started and, of course, each of the IAP expansion packs adds a further kit to this selection alongside a collection of patterns. The included kits are dominated by acoustic drum sounds but there are some nice electronic examples also including 808 and Linn style sounds.

DrumPerfect Pro is supplioed with a good selection of (mostly acoustic) drum kits.You can, of course, build your own by importing suitable samples or buy extra kits within the new Store feature.

DrumPerfect Pro is supplioed with a good selection of (mostly acoustic) drum kits.You can, of course, build your own by importing suitable samples or buy extra kits within the new Store feature.

Building your own kit from imported samples is another area of the app where the manual is your friend first time around….   but it is actually not too difficult to do providing you follow the instructions and have some suitable samples – 16- or 24-bit WAVs – to work with. Sample sets with at least two velocity layers per drum/instrument are really the minimum required to start to exploit the options the rest of the engine offer.

Going for a Song

Once you have collected together a suitable set of patterns – and, thankfully, DrumPerfect Pro is somewhat better endowed straight out the box in that regard than the original – you can flip to the Song screen to build your complete pattern sequence. Incidentally, you can add patterns to the project’s pattern bank here or in the Patterns screen, either by loading individual patterns or existing collections associated with a song or by loading full pattern banks.

The Insert buttons allow you to place combinations of the selected kit (at the top of this screen) and the selected pattern (in the pattern bank at the base of the screen) into a slot on the song timeline. This process is easy enough and you can also edit slots, colour-code them, loop sections and, when all is done, save the whole ‘song’ for later recall.

The Song screen provides plenty of options for chaining patterns into an overall song structure.

The Song screen provides plenty of options for chaining patterns into an overall song structure.

A few words about tempo are worth noting here. As mentioned earlier, each pattern can have its own tempo associated with it so you could easily have multiple tempos in a song. Obviously, when DrumPerfect Pro driven by some method of sync – and both MIDI Clock sync and Ableton LINK are supported from the off – then you can also control tempo externally. However, if you have patterns loaded with multiple tempos, but want them all to playback at a fixed tempo, then just pop over to the Patterns screen, set the tempo you want there and then hold the Tap button for three seconds. When you release it, you will be offered the option to set a global tempo for all the loaded patterns. Don’t worry, this is not saved with the patterns but it does allow you to mix and match patterns created at different tempos into a single tempo project very easily.

You also have the options for creating song ‘parts’ – section of the song – and these can also be copied/pasted. This is obviously useful if you are building a conventional verse/chorus structure in a project and it saves some repeated pattern entry one bar at a time. Oh, and there is a rather neat random function with song sections that, in one form, allows you to trigger a random selection from a set of drum fill patterns each time your song requires a fill. This is explained fully within the PDF manual but is a great way to add some ‘unknown’ to a song (just as a most real drummers can take you into the unknown on occasions!).

Perfect Pad

The Pads screen is a new addition to DrumPerfect Pro. This provides you with 32 pads offering left/right hands (feet) triggering for each of the 16 drum sounds within your kit. There is also a velocity sensitivity option if you want to use it.

The Pad screen provides you with trigger pads if you prefer to play your patterns in live. MIDI in is also supported.

The Pad screen provides you with trigger pads if you prefer to play your patterns in live. MIDI in is also supported.

Using the pads you can therefore play patterns in ‘live’. However, the rather neat trick is that, if you create a new song, you can flip back to this screen, play the whole song ‘live’ via the pads, and DrumPerfect Pro will then split what you played into the appropriate number of pattern slots. For those with real drumming skills – whether using the pads provided or a suitable external MIDI controller such as an E-kit – this would be a great way to get material into DrumPerfect Pro and you could, of course, then refine/edit it as required.

Oh, and if you tap in the lower-left corner of the Pad screen, you can open an alternative virtual drum kit graphic for triggering pads if you prefer….

Og, and if you prefer the 'real' drum kit look to your trigger pads, that's available also.

Og, and if you prefer the ‘real’ drum kit look to your trigger pads, that’s available also.

I think the Pad view could perhaps do with a few minor tweaks – the option for a count-in before recording starts, for example – but overall this is a rather neat system for those competent enough to play patterns in live. You can, by the way, also import a MIDI file into DrumPerfect Pro and it will convert it into a suitable series of patterns. You can also edit the MIDI mapping used for various features within the app for remote control, etc.

Got rhythm

DrumPerfect Pro works fine as a standalone app for creating drum parts but, for most users, the whole point will be to get those parts out into a wider music production process. Thankfully, there are plenty of options for that and, added to standard features such as Audiobus, IAA and stereo audio export, Pro also offers options for multi-track export where each of your 16 instruments can be output as a separate audio stream. If you want to do your drum mix within your DAW, then this is easy enough to organise with DrumPerfect Pro.

DrumPerfect Pro worked very smoothly via Audiobus and IAA during my own testing... as seen here via IAA in Cubasis.

DrumPerfect Pro worked very smoothly via Audiobus and IAA during my own testing… as seen here via IAA in Cubasis.

That said, the stereo output is far from shabby and the built-in convolution reverb sounds pretty good…. although there is also a more basic reverb available if CPU resources are an issue. On that front, the app does apply a good deal of intelligence to reducing your IPad’s workload by managing the use of samples in the background and there are some global settings you can tweak if required to get the app running smoothly on older iOS hardware.

As mentioned earlier, DrumPerfect Pro also offers support for Ableton LINK and I managed to while away a very interesting hour messing about with Patterning and DrumPerfect Pro mixing and matching electronic drum goodness with acoustic virtual drummer goodness. The tempo link seemed very solid indeed between the two apps. Equally, however, I had no problems getting DrumPerfect Pro to respond to MIDI Clock sync via Cubasis.

DrumPerfect Pro comes with Ableton LINK support included.

DrumPerfect Pro comes with Ableton LINK support included.

Extra, extra….!

I stumped up for a couple of the IAP expansion packs for the purposes of this review. At present the Store contains six such packs (a shown in the screenshot). As soon as a few more rock and/or pop options become available then I’ll be adding those also but the Heavy Metal and Funky Breakbeats vol.1 content I purchased was very good indeed. Both include one full extra kit of samples appropriate to the genre and then a selection of patterns … plus some example songs so you can instantly hear the patterns in a context.

The new Store feature is already populated with some excellent additional content.

The new Store feature is already populated with some excellent additional content.

The extra samples are great to have but, for me at least, it’s the patterns that are the real value here. I’m no great shakes behind a drum kit and, as on the desktop, having a palette of patterns ready to load and arrange makes putting together a drum track a breeze even for a non-drummer. If the original DrumPerfect had you hankering after its sounds and ‘human’ variations to patterns – but with a distinct shortage of preset patterns to choose from – that is much less of an issue with DrumPerfect Pro providing you are happy to dip into the Store. Here’s hoping that the new Store content keeps coming….

Drum wars

When I posted a few days ago about the launch of DrumPerfect Pro, one reader commented asking a question about a comparison between Patterning and DrumPerfect Pro. OK, so both apps are ‘drum’ apps in the sense that they can be used to create drum/rhythm tracks for your music productions. Both are also very good indeed… and both represent absolutely amazing value for money.

You could, of course, load acoustic drum samples into Patterning and create acoustic drum performances just as you could load electronic drum samples into DrumPerfect Pro and use it to generate electronic drum performances. I’m not sure that’s really what either design team had in mind though….   I suspect Patterning is, primarily at least, aimed at those with a bent for electronic music styles just as DrumPerfect Pro has perhaps been created for those looking for an acoustic drum kit/drummer combination. Yes, there is overlap between their functionality but also design differences and considerable differences in workflow.

DrumPerfect includes a decent crop of preset patterns to get you started.

DrumPerfect includes a decent crop of preset patterns to get you started.

However, if I had to pick just two drum apps for my desert island iPad, right now, these two would be the selection…. and I think they complement each other brilliantly.

If DrumPerfect Pro is seen as a ‘virtual acoustic drummer in an app’, then in terms of musical styles, I actually think Luis Martinez’s various apps – Rock Drum Machine, Afro Latin Drum Machine, Funk Drummer and Brazilian Drum Machine – are perhaps the more obvious competition/alternatives. The sampling engine is somewhat different and the emphasis is more on pre-supplied patterns/styles rather than the subtleties of DrumPerfect Pro’s sample engine. However, as a means of getting an acoustic drum track cooking in double quick time, these apps are actually hard to beat. For ultra-realism though, I think DrumPerfect Pro has the edge… it just takes perhaps a little more work on behalf of the user to fully exploit that edge.

The price is right?

And so back to price. DrumPerfect Pro is a ‘new’ app and not available as an upgrade to existing owners of the original DrumPerfect app, either free or via an IAP. As long-standing iOS musicians will be aware, updates vs upgrades vs new apps is a topic that can get some folk a little hot under the collar.

Let’s start with two simple points. First, any sensible user of these sorts of top-notch iOS music apps would agree that developers need to secure a sensible return on their development work so they can (a) put food on the family table and (b) continue to develop the products that we know and love. Second – and feel free to disagree with me on this point if you wish (although I think you will be in a minority if you do) – the best of our current crop of iOS music apps (and DrumPerfect Pro is in that category by a country mile for me) offer an amazing balance between price and performance… a balance that is, in many cases, way ahead of that found in most desktop music software where it may be more powerful but it can also be considerably more expensive. An iPad might be an expensive luxury product but the best of the apps that can run on it are incredibly inexpensive.

You can configure some of the app's global settings via the - ta-dah! - Settings page.

You can configure some of the app’s global settings via the – ta-dah! – Settings page.

After the initial launch period, DrumPerfect Pro will be priced at €18.99 (I think that currently translates at around the UK£14.99 mark). Given just what it is capable off, the features offered and just how good it can sound, it is absolutely worth that amount on money. Create exactly the same functionality in a VST plugin for the desktop and you could easily get away with a price that is at least double that…. if not considerably more.

Now, like all iOS music app developers moving their products forward, Marinus will have wondered just how to tackle the launch of DrumPerfect Pro; an update (for free to existing owners), an upgrade (for example, via an in-app purchase for existing owners) or a ‘new’ app (for everyone). He obviously chose the latter route but, as a sweetener to anyone who might be interested in the new version – existing user or not – for the launch period the app is priced at just UK£6.99 (around 50% of the ‘full’ price). You can obviously think about this in a number of ways…. but if a ‘Pro upgrade’ had been an IAP for UK£6.99, I think it would still represent a very good deal indeed.

Over the course of the last two years, Marinus (and Gilbert, his development partner) has done a huge amount of development work to DrumPerfect and added all sorts of features. For existing users, these have all been provided free of charge. It is fair to expect a never-ending, lifetime support contract to be included with an item that initially cost around UK£10? Nope, it is not….

Exporting your DrumPerfect Pro drum tracks is also a pretty flexible process with plenty of options.

Exporting your DrumPerfect Pro drum tracks is also a pretty flexible process with plenty of options.

If you like, you can think of these incremental changes to the original DrumPerfect as the .X updates you might get with a desktop application. However, while v.2 of DrumPerfect – that’s Pro by the way – is perhaps an further incremental change in the app rather than a revolutionary one, given just how much has been added since the original DrumPerfect launch, seeking an ‘upgrade’ contribution from current users seems entirely fair to me.

The ‘upgrade’ price is UK£6.99 – two coffees and a cake please – and if that helps ensure that we get another 12 months+ of updates for our money then, personally at least, it strikes me as a very modest price to pay. As ever, feel free to disagree with me… but that software this cheap can actually be this good is a pretty amazing combination.

In summary

DrumPerfect Pro brings some technical improvements over the original, a rather nice spring clean of the UI and, through the Store feature, the potential for content expansions that will undoubtedly broaden the appeal of the app to those iOS musicians who find drum programming a skill too far. It is, however, an evolution from the original DrumPerfect rather than a revolution. Personally, I think that’s a good thing for existing users as there is enough here that will be familiar so that established workflows will not be disturbed.

If you are after an iOS equivalent of Superior Drummer or BFD3 on the desktop, DrumPerfect Pro is as close as it currently gets. No, it doesn’t perhaps offer the huge, multi-sample-layer options of those desktop products but then neither does it come with the price tag or hardware resource demands. It does, however, deliver some fabulous results. For acoustic drum tracks that can be made to breathe like a human drummer, DrumPerfect Pro is top of the pile.

And, whether you are ‘upgrading’ or buying from scratch, if you get in at the launch price of just UK£6.99, then you are both getting a bargain and showing support to a developer who, over the last couple of years, has done plenty to suggest he deserves it.

DrumPerfect Pro

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    Comments

    1. I like the Heavy Metal IAP. (Haven’t upgraded to pro yet). But will get it when I do. I use Rock DM a lot now. This will add another tool to my arsenal. Yippee!

    2. One very cool feature, which I didn’t appreciate until the developer explained in response to an emailed question, is Linked Sets. A sequence of hits from any of the 16 sounds can be linked together, so they either play together or they don’t. If there are notes in common across Linked Sets, one set is played at random. Furthermore, the Linked Set can be set to play periodically (say every four plays of the pattern).

      Thus, one can program a drum pattern with up to 10 different fills that play every four or eight bars. If you took some time to set up a few of these in advance, along with all the humanizing aspects, the results would be pretty impressive. Wow.

    3. What Michael said. Wow.
      Also, I learnt from Marinus in a forum reply about the linked instruments controlled by pedal, such as a hi-hat, and that you can have “open” hi-hat for some velocity and “closed” hi-hat for lower velocity, and that you can link them in whatever way you like. Very clever, as that also makes it a lot more realistic (as you can’t really have a closed and open hi-hat at the same time). Impressive (and I was already impressed by “old” version).

    4. It is disappointing that such a great, power-house drum app still only has two velocity layers. It is easy forgive some other little flaws in this app, but that one is most unfortunate. Perhaps a good multi-velocity drum sound could be played externally via a soundfont player.

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