DrumPerfect review – Marinus Molengraft brings us a virtual drummer for iOS

Download from iTunes App Storedrumperfect logo 2As I’ve commented a few times on the blog, while I think we are truly blessed with some wonderful iOS music apps, in terms of my own personal ‘musician’s app toolkit’, there are still a few spots waiting to be claimed. One of those is in the ‘virtual drummer’ category. Now we have a contender – DrumPerfect by developer Marinus Molegraft – and, yes, this will be a full review of the app, but first, let’s get a little bit of context.

We do have some great iOS groove box apps (my personal weapon of choice there is DM1 but there are others) and there are also plenty of loop and rhythm tools that are great for more electronic-orientated music production. However, when it comes to more traditional acoustic drums (I am a ‘rawk’ guitar player after all), we either have to make do with some rather limited sample-based sounds or turn to audio loops (such as the excellent Drum Loops HD).

DrumPerfect' main window...  with the IAA transport panel visible at the bottom.

DrumPerfect’ main window… with the IAA transport panel visible at the bottom.

Most DAWs – including Cubasis which I turn to for most of my iOS recording – include acoustic drum loops and ‘playable’ drum samples. In addition, there are acoustic drum samples in apps like DM1 or SampleTank. However, up to now, while the individual samples themselves can sound great, because the sampling technology used generally only uses one sample per drum (that is, you get one snare sample, one kick sample, one crash sample, etc.), while MIDI velocity might change the volume of each hit, it doesn’t change the character of the sound in the way that happens when you play a real drum.

Drummer audition?

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.

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.

Whichever point you jump into these products, they offer hugely detailed drum sampling, with multiple samples used for each drum. These are recorded with different levels of ‘hit’ – soft through to hard – and these sample layers are then mapped by the software to MIDI velocity; when you trigger a hard hit via a high velocity MIDI note, not only do you get a loud drum hit but you also get the sound of a loud drum hit. In terms of realism of the final drum performance, this is a big deal.

But these virtual drummers don’t stop there. They also offer the ability to build your own drum kit based upon the included samples and, in the case of the more popular products, you can buy expansion packs with additional drum samples. In addition, they also offer you a full mixing environment with effects. On screen, what you see is therefore not so different from what you might see in a ‘real’ recording studio where you have mic’ed up a live drum kit with multiple mics. And if you want to get really retentive about it, this virtual mic/mixing system also allows you to control the ‘bleed’ from one drum into the mics on the other drums; it sounds a bit bonkers if you have never heard the effect this can have on the overall sound of the kit but it really can help everything glue together and make it seem more real.

BFD3 provides a brilliant MIDI-based pattern environment and a huge library of preset patterns organised into different musical styles.

BFD3 provides a brilliant MIDI-based pattern environment and a huge library of preset patterns organised into different musical styles.

And finally, these desktop virtual drummers can provide pattern-editing tools that match anything found in a top-notch MIDI sequencer/DAW – as well as being supplied with a whole library of pre-played patterns – and the ability to chain those patterns into a full song performance. And they will also throw in various tools for ‘humanizing’ the performance – adding random performance variations – to keep it sounding real.

Oh, and when you have your drum performance sorted, the software will, of course, lock to the tempo of your host DAW and/or export the drum performance as either a stereo drum mix or individual audio channels for each drum (so you can import the audio into another music software application if you need to).

This all sounds great. Yes, there is a cost involved and, yes, there is a burden placed upon your computer’s resources, but the bottom line here is that for around the UK£200 mark (the full version of BDF3 costs UK£230 while BFD Eco is around the UK£70 mark), you can get to a truly professional sounding drum track before you might have finished setting up the kit and the mics on a real kit in your studio. And unless you have a great kit, a great drummer, a great set of mics and a great sounding studio space to record it all in, the software will sound better also. It might not have the ‘attitude’ of a real drummer (for better or worse!) and a real drum performance but there is no doubting the quality of what’s possible.

Having used both BFD and SD on the desktop, I’ve been waiting for a developer to come along with a sort of ‘lite’ (well, perhaps ‘ultra-lite’?), iPad-sized version of the same sort of technology for some time. Of course, it will have to be tailored to suit the capabilities of the available iOS hardware, but surely the principle of a ‘virtual drummer’ is possible?

Well maybe that wait is now over….  enter, stage left, DrumPerfect by developer Marinus Molengraft, ready to audition for a spot in your virtual band…..

Perfect Drums?

The feature list described above for the best of the desktop virtual drummers is a pretty comprehensive one. While it would be unfair to expect an iOS app costing UK£10.49 to compete with, for example, the recently released BFD3 (at UK£230), in terms of the broad wishlist of features I’ve discussed, before we get into the details, let’s start this review by considering just how many of these features DrumPerfect might, potentially at least, put a tick besides.

DrumPerfect - and iOS-sized virtual drummer - and including IAA and Audiobus support.

DrumPerfect – and iOS-sized virtual drummer – and including IAA and Audiobus support.

Perhaps the most significant feature is whether DrumPerfect uses multiple sample layers to create a greater sense of realism in the drum performance. Well, yes it does. However, it doesn’t do this by just offering as many sample layers as possible but instead, and rather cleverly I have to say, does this my blending a ‘soft’ hit sample with a ‘hard’ hit sample to create a gradual transition from one state to the next. This might not be quite as ‘real’ as the multiple sample layers used in the desktop products, but it is an ingenious solution to the more constrained computing environment of the iPad and, in particular, means that the limited RAM available isn’t choked up with 100+ snare samples (before you even start on the rest of the kit).

Equally, DrumPerfect ticks the ‘humanize’ box in a number of ways. You get to specify a number of alternative samples for each drum/cymbal within your kit and the app will randomly select between these on playback; pick your samples carefully and you get some subtle variations in drum sound just like a ‘real’ drummer might produce. Equally, the app includes the ability to add random variations in timing and velocity. A further element in this area is that the app also uses a probability algorithm to add variations to a pattern. I’ll say more about this below.

You can create your own kits, built from up to 16 kit pieces (any combination of drums or cymbals as you prefer), and either based upon the samples included within the app or by importing your own drum samples. As described more fully below, this process works well enough and, while the interface might benefit from a few additional features to make it a little slicker, it works and adds some considerable flexibility.

You can also create your own drum patterns and store these within the app. Indeed, there are some really interesting options offered here in terms of the number of beats, beat division and tempo that ought to keep even those with the most esoteric timing/time signature needs happy. However, for me, the most interesting option is that you can store a tempo within a pattern and switching between patterns could, therefore, allow you to change tempos.

DrumPerfect includes a song editor environment where you can chain together patterns of form a complete performance. MIDI clock sync is also supported if you want to sync to your DAW or other apps.

DrumPerfect includes a song editor environment where you can chain together patterns of form a complete performance. MIDI clock sync is also supported if you want to sync to your DAW or other apps.

DrumPerfect also features a ‘song’ mode where you can chain patterns together into a complete performance. Again, this works well enough with the additional feature that you can associate a step in the song structure with both a pattern and a kit. This is possible because the app allows you to load the samples for several kits into memory at the same time if you wish. I’m not sure I’d make use of this feature for my own production work but, if you do need it, then it is a further possibility.

In this song mode, DrumPerfect will also respond to MIDI Clock. If you have a suitable host that can generate MIDI Clock (such as Cubasis or Auria), this can be set to override the tempo programmed into a pattern and DrumPerfect will then lock to your host.

Getting audio out of DrumPerfect is also well catered for. Audiobus and IAA support are included from the off. In addition, you can choose to export audio directly from the app (it can be rendered to AudioCopy 2, AudioShare, SoundCloud or Dropbox) and can be done on a pattern basis or for the whole song. The export can also be done as a stereo mix of the kit or as separate tracks for each drum/cymbal.

There are lots of additional details to the feature set that are also very useful. For example, there is a ‘live pad’ option that allows you to play in a pattern for a single drum as the rest of the pattern is cycling through playback. This allows you to add left-hand/right-hand strokes (you can configure your kit with separate left-hand and right-hand samples if you wish for added realism).

In addition, the app includes a well-implemented ‘CPU Load Control’ feature so you can control just how much (or how little) of your iPad’s resources that DrumPerfect is allowed to grab. I didn’t need to delve too deeply into this on my iPadAir test system but on older iPad hardware it would most certainly be very useful.

So far then, DrumPerfect is ticking lots of boxes. What about things it doesn’t currently have as part of the initial spec? Well, while you can adjust the relative balance of the drums within your kit, I wouldn’t describe the mixing options as particularly flexible. Nor should you expect to see much other than volume and pan; there is no capability to, for example, add some reverb to your snare while leaving your kick dry. If you want to do this within the app then you need to use samples that already have effects applied. Alternatively, you can export the drum performance as separate audio tracks and add this kind of processing within your DAW.

DrumPerfect comes with a number of kits but you can also build your own.

DrumPerfect comes with a number of kits but you can also build your own.

While you get four pre-configured kits and a few preset patterns, unlike the desktop apps mentioned earlier, DrumPerfect doesn’t come stuffed with ‘content’. Indeed, the app only has 64 ‘pattern’ slots available at any one time. Patterns can be offloaded and/or restored via iTunes File Sharing and, given some of the humanize/probability features described in more detail below, this 64 pattern set is perhaps not as limiting as it might seem. However, if you were hoping for a collection of preset patterns in a range of different musical styles (rock, folk, indie, metal, country) that you could just start chaining together, then think again.

You get 64 pattern slots in DrumPerfect although you can import/export these via iTines File Sharing if required.

You get 64 pattern slots in DrumPerfect although you can import/export these via iTines File Sharing if required.

The other obvious thing that you cannot currently do is play your sample-based kit via MIDI, whether from a MIDI track in your sequencer or an external MIDI controller. Given exactly how the sound engine in DrumPerfect seems to be constructed, I can understand why that might be the case (at least in this initial release) but it would be great to be able to trigger the various features of the app via MIDI. It would allow you to program parts in your favourite sequencer app if you preferred and, given just how good the drum sounds can be (because of the multiple samples that are used), the possibility of playing these samples via a MIDI keyboard – heck, even a MIDI drum kit – would be very welcome.

A drummer in your face

So much for the generalities; what about the details? On first start-up, the main interface of DrumPerfect is split into three horizontal areas. Along the top are selection strips where you can pick a kit and, within that kit, an ’instrument’ (or kit piece/drum), plus some menu options for accessing the kit editor and general app settings. Both of these selection strips can be scrolled left/right via the arrow buttons at each end.

The upper/central portion is dominated by the pattern sequence editing section and allows you to set the BPM, time signature and number of subdivisions of the current pattern. It also provides the transport controls for playback and useful ‘resource’ indicators so you know how much load DrumPerfect is placing on your hardware.

The bottom-most strip contains a number of sliders for editing the properties of single drum hits (or multiple hits if you have several selected) to control the performance. At the very base you can access the bank of patterns (the arrows at each end allow you to scroll through the pattern bank). There are also various buttons that access or trigger other performance options (the Humanize button for example) as well as buttons to access the Export and Song features.

In that upper portion, the ‘Kits’ strip is an interesting inclusion as, the way DrumPerfect is designed, you can actually have the samples for as many as 16 different kits all loaded and ready to go at the same time. While I can see some benefits from this, I suspect that most users, especially if they are really looking to create a realistic drum performance, would quite happily manage with a single kit (indeed, that’s generally all you have available in the desktop software discussed earlier). Equally, having 16 full kits all loaded at the same time is likely to hog a lot of RAM. Still, you do have that choice and the app also includes the ability to ‘purge’ samples from RAM if required, only re-loading them as they are actually required.

The Kit and Instrument strips with the 'live pad' on the right.

The Kit and Instrument strips with the ‘live pad’ on the right.

If you do create your own kits, or you want to clear all the loaded kits (yep, use the Clear button) and just load one of your choice, the Load button will bring up a list of all the available kits and you can load it into the currently selected slot within the Kit strip.

The ‘Instruments’ strip allows you to select which of the kit pieces you are currently working with in the sequencer. A kit can be built from up to 16 instruments (kit pieces/drums) so, if you want a double kick, six-tom, monster kit, you can build it. Alternatively, if you just want something a little more restrained, then just leave some of the 16 slots empty.

Tapping on a particular instrument within the ‘kit’ strip selects that kit piece and causes its data to be displayed within the Pattern Editor. Equally, if you then tap the Edit button (located to the right of the Kits strip towards the top of the screen), the lower half of the display is replaced by the Kit Editor (more on this below).

Virtual drummer

As indicated above, a DrumPerfect kit can be 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.

In the desktop apps described above, the multiple samples used for an individual drum tend to be used for two things. First, samples can be mapped to different MIDI velocities so that you get a different sound from the drum with different velocity hits. Second, there are often multiple samples for each velocity. These will have a subtle differences in sound and, when a particular MIDI velocity hit occurs, the sample engine picks one of these multiple samples for playback. The result is that no two consecutive hits on any drum – even if at exactly the same velocity – will sound identical. In terms of adding realism to the performance – and avoiding the ‘machine gun’ effect of the same sample be used for every snare hit (for example), this is a big part of why these virtual drummers can sound so ‘real’.

The Kit Editor allows you to build your own drum kit based upon any samples that you have within the app. You can load your own drum samples into DrumPerfect via iTunes File Sharing.

The Kit Editor allows you to build your own drum kit based upon any samples that you have within the app. You can load your own drum samples into DrumPerfect via iTunes File Sharing.

DrumPerfect approaches this in a somewhat different fashion and I suspect this design is both (a) quite astute and (b) pragmatic so as to allow kits to be built from relative few samples (hence a lower RAM overhead) if required. As suggested by the Kit Editor panel, for each drum, you can define up to 16 samples. 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 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 Editor). 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 cute 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 would 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 can produce some excellent results even based on a relatively small number of (well-chosen) samples.

It’s a hit

I’ll say a little more about the mechanics of getting to these drum performances in a minute but, at this point, it is worth stopping to focus on what is the most important issue. How does DrumPerfect sound? Maybe we can actually be a bit more specific here…..   and given that the prime objective of the app is to create a realistic acoustic drum performance, how does the app fair?

Now, I’ll qualify what I’m about to say with riders about (a) you need to build your kit from some good samples (and those included are a good start) and (b) you need to program in some good patterns but, with those statements made, I have to say that – audio drum loops aside – DrumPerfect produces the most realistic virtual acoustic drum sounds – with the most natural sounding performance – that I’ve heard to date under iOS. In terms of the actual sound, the mechanics of the engine and the ‘realism’ of the final result, DrumPerfect is very good indeed.

In short, for me at least, DrumPerfect’s output is as close I think you can currently get to that the brilliance of BFD or Superior Drummer on an iPad. For that alone, I know I’m going to be using this app a lot.

Does that mean I think DrumPerfect is actually perfect? Well, no, perhaps not…  at least in this very early incarnation. The concept is excellent and the end results can be very convincing indeed.

What I’m perhaps less sure about is the mechanisms by which elements of the interface get you to some of those results. It’s not that the interface is particularly difficult to use – it’s not – but nor does it feel super-efficient. Equally, given the obvious potential of the engine, there are some additional options and/or features that would, I’m sure, significantly broaden the appeal of the app to potential users. None of these are perhaps deal-breakers – particularly if you have been hankering after something that actually sounds this good for some time – but let me try to explain what I’m getting at in more detail.

Construction kit

As an example, let’s consider how you go about building your own kit. You can, of course, re-use the included samples within a kit of your own. These samples are good but, if you have another source of suitable sounds – acoustic drums or otherwise – you can load these into DrumPerfect to work with.

Importing the samples is very straightforward; you simply copy them into the app via the usual iTunes File Sharing process. This worked absolutely fine for me and, the next time I launched DrumPerfect, it identified the presence of these new samples, and imported them into its database.

Tapping on a slot within the Kit Editor display then opens a list of all the available samples – and I do mean all of the available samples – with no sub-folder system for ‘snares’, ‘kicks’, etc. If you just have a few samples stored then this is not so bad….  but load some additional ones and it soon becomes a bit of a pain to have to scroll through every sample in the list to find the one cowbell sample you are looking for. Yes, there is a ‘filter’ option but it doesn’t really solve the problem in a satisfactory fashion.

When you open the samples list within the Kit Editor, be prepared for a lot of scrolling to find what you need.

When you open the samples list within the Kit Editor, be prepared for a lot of scrolling to find what you need.

The second issue here is that you can’t actually audition the samples from this list (at least not in a way I could find). If you are hunting for a particular snare sound, for example, you need to know the sample by name or you need to go through a cycle of repeatedly loading and auditioning samples within the Pattern Editor. This is a pain….  and not helped that when you return to the sample list, it doesn’t take you back to the sample entry you last made but to the first sample in the list again – time to start scrolling.

Now, none of this eventually influences the fine sound that DrumPerfect can produce – that’s still excellent – but it doesn’t help the speed of the workflow to get there.

Incidentally, if you are looking for a source of some very nice drum samples to get you started building your own DrumPerfect kits, then you might try the Analogue Drums website and check out their free ‘Big Mono’ download (it’s about 140MB in total). This provides a really nice set of multi-layered acoustic drum samples that you could use in any drum sampler software to build a kit. I imported these into DrumPerfect without any problems and used a sub-set of them to build a kit; they sounded great.

Pretty patterns

There are all sorts of very commendable elements to the pattern editing possibilities offered by DrumPerfect. For example, you can specify the step resolution between beats not only on a pattern level but also at the level of the individual beat. However, there are also elements of the design that, for some (and especially those who are perhaps used to the pattern editing approached offered by the like of BFD, SD or a sequencer/DAW environment) might seem a bit frustrating.

The key issue here is that you have to edit your pattern one drum at a time. The central Pattern Editor display only allows you to edit data for the currently selected instrument in the Instrument strip. For anyone used to the fluidity of a four- or eight-lane drum gird for editing – where you can see and edit all the key drums/cymbals within the kit at the same time – this can make pattern editing in DrumPerfect seem like quite a laborious process. You can undoubtedly get the job done, but it does require a lot of switching back and forth between the different instruments within your kit.

The pattern editing tool work well enough but you do have to program one drum at a time.

The pattern editing tool work well enough but you do have to program one drum at a time.

Equally, for each hit, you then use the various sliders beneath the Pattern Editor to adjust the performance characteristics of the selected hit (or hits if you have selected several). This gives you very precise control over these parameters for each hit, but can be quite a slow process.

I do wonder whether there would be scope to implement an alternative, multi-lane grid display option so you could place hits for (for example) eight of your drums in a single grid. And, perhaps beneath this (and replacing the sliders), you might have a single ‘automation data’ lane that can be toggled between the various velocity/probability/time shift/left-right parameters. This would allow you to at least see all the key hits in your pattern on screen at the same time and you could then select a lane in the grid (for example, the snare) and then toggle the lane in the automation section (for example, selecting one of the two velocity settings you can adjust) and then just draw in the values you want (much like automation data in other music apps or a DAW).

DrumPerfect allows you to add a number of performance elements to your patterns that increase the 'realness' of the performance.

DrumPerfect allows you to add a number of performance elements to your patterns that increase the ‘realness’ of the performance including the very clever probability option.

Of course, this is not my app and the developer will have made these design decisions based upon (a) a better knowledge than I have of the engine and what’s required and (b) their own philosophy on how to create an intuitive pattern editing environment. And perhaps my own view is strongly influenced by the accepted conventions that we find in other drum-based pattern editors? I’m more than willing to see that point of view, but I’d be surprised in I’m alone in thinking that it does make DrumPerfect feel just a little bit more challenging that it perhaps needs to be as an editing environment.

The other thing you can’t do is play patterns in live from a MIDI controller. Again, this is a feature that lots of musicians would choose to use with a virtual drummer or drum machine app if it was possible. DrumPerfect does include a ‘live pad’ option, but you can only use it with one drum at a time. It works well enough but MIDI input would be great to see at some stage.

However, before I get too hung up on the way you create and edit patterns, there is one element of pattern creation that I thing is hugely impressive; the probability options. This setting allows you to adjust the probability that any hit programmed into the pattern will actually take place. Clearly, if you have key elements that you want to be played every time the pattern is used (for example, the kick on beats 1 and 3), then you simply set the probability to its maximum value of 1. However, if you have other hits – perhaps ‘grace’ snare notes or hits within a full roll – that you would be quite happy for DrumPerfect to occasionally leave out, then you can set a lower probability value.

While the very clever use of multiple samples and the ability to humanize playback (essentially adding random elements to velocity and timing) provide one level at which DrumPerfect sounds ‘real’, this probability feature takes that another step forward. Used with some care, the end result is a single pattern that, because some of the hits have a probabilistic element to them, can be played back by the engine and will sound different on each cycle.

Keep these differences subtle and the result is wonderful… and replicates the sorts of on-the-fly variations a real drummer might use in a performance. It also means you have to create less patterns overall as, instead of having to program a different pattern for every minor variation you want, the app will create some of those variations for you.

Going for a song

The Song Editor environment in DrumPerfect is pretty straightforward. You simply get a view of all 64 patterns that might be available at the base of the screen and, in the upper half of the display, as well as picking a kit, you have a ‘song’ sequence where you can set patterns to play back in order.

Having selected a pattern (at the base) and a kit (at the top), you can then use the ‘Insert’ buttons to place that pattern/kit combination within the song sequence. Patterns can be removed, copied, pasted and the ‘song’ saved. And while it might be nice to have drag and drop options here, and the ability to see more than just half a dozen patterns in the sequence at one time, on the whole, this is a simple process.

Play with the band

As indicated earlier, DrumPerfect comes with Audiobus, IAA and Midi Clock sync as of this first release. I didn’t experience any particular difficulties in using DrumPerfect with other apps. In Audiobus, it is available within the Input Slot and I was able to pass audio along to Cubasis without any issues. It also worked quite happily as an audio source via IAA in Cubasis.

DrumPerfect seemed to work very well with both Audiobus and IAA alongside Cubasis and seemed to sync via MIDI clock without too many issues,

DrumPerfect seemed to work very well with both Audiobus and IAA alongside Cubasis and seemed to sync via MIDI clock without too many issues,

In both cases, I was able to activate the MIDI clock option in DrumPerfect and it would then start and stop playback along with my Cubasis project. You get the usual Audiobus panel within DrumPerfect and an IAA transport strip, both of which seem to work well enough.

However, as mentioned earlier, other than MIDI clock, there is no MIDI input into DrumPerfect. If you like to program your drum parts in your sequencer or you have a collection of MIDI drum patterns that you might like to playback through DrumPerfect then, currently at least, you are out of luck.

Well mixed

When you work within the Kit Editor window, you get sliders that allow you to adjust the volume and pan for each instrument (drum). This works well enough and you also get the option to set the master volume and set a low pass filter that can be used to mimic the different tones a drum produces when struck with softer or harder hits when you don’t have multiple samples to work with.

As mentioned earlier, you don’t get any built-in effects options that you might find in a desktop virtual drummer, nor do you get a ‘mixer’ screen where you can adjust the balance/pan of all the instruments (drums) in you kit at the same time. I can appreciate that creating a full-blown mixing environment with insert and send effects wasn’t on the agenda for DrumPerfect but the ability to flip to a simple level/pan mixer might be a bit slicker than having to switch between each instrument in the Kit Editor when you are trying to get the drum balance fine-tuned. Again, what’s here gets the job done so it doesn’t stop you…  but perhaps it does slow you down a bit.

Follow the pattern

I’ve identified both some real positives and a few negatives along the way with this review of DrumPerfect and I’ll sum up my overall feelings in a minute. However, I think there is one other area – and this one is probably very easy to resolve – where the app could be made hugely more attractive for potential new users; the supplied pattern library.

The app ships with a dozen or so example patterns. These are fine and serve as a useful starting point to demonstrate what the app is capable of. However, compared to what might be supplied with a desktop package – where you might get hundreds of MIDI-based drum patterns all organised into sub-categories based upon musical style, tempo, time signature and feel – this really does feel like a bit of a missed opportunity. Indeed, even iOS apps such as Cubasis and SampleTank include quite nice MIDI-based drum loop collections, albeit on a more modest scale than that found in the equivalent desktop software.

I think this is a missed opportunity because, for lots of potential users, DrumPerfect would be a brilliant choice simply because of the realism of the sounds. If the app shipped with, or had available as an additional download, pattern banks based on some common musical genres – rock, punk, metal, folk, jazz, county, pop – this could be a killer songwriter’s tool. No programming required; you just pick a few of the suitable preset patterns, chain them together into a song and then let DrumPerfect do it’s magic in making them sound like a real drummer and adding some ‘human’ variation.

Some will undoubtedly scoff at the thought of used using off the shelf presets – and that’s fine – but when you are just trying to get a song idea together quickly and need a suitable drum part before inspiration does a bunk off to the pub, the quicker an app lets you get to those results, the more likely that app is to get regular use.

This is, of course, easily rectified and, equally, it might be that a user community also supplies this kind of additional content to share. Either way, I think the availability of some genre-specific preset patterns would be a big plus.

Share the load

As a final point, it is worth saying something about DrumPerfect’s overall performance. I found the app to be very solid in use on my iPad Air test system and, even when I was running it alongside other apps (Audiobus, Cubasis, a guitar amp sim or a synth, etc.), things ran pretty smoothly.

The IAA support in DrumPerfect seemed to work very well with Cubasis.

The IAA support in DrumPerfect seemed to work very well with Cubasis.

In part, this has to go down to the very clever design of the sample engine that allows a relatively few samples to go a pretty long way. Equally, however, there should be a pat on the back for including the CPU Load Control and Max Number Of Voices settings within the Settings options. Given the limitations imposed by the iPad’s resources, this is a very sensible move and is neatly implemented.

As I also had an iPad 3 to hand, it was interesting to compare the performance of the app on the two devices. Playing exactly the same configuration of kit and pattern back on both the iPad Air and iPad 3 showed that the latter consistently gave a CPU load that was about 30% higher. So, for example, if a pattern generated a 20% load on my iPad Air, it gave about a 30% load on the iPad 3.

Within the Setting options, you can configure just how much of your iPad's resources Drumperfect is allowed to use - very neat and should help users on older hardware keep things under control.

Within the Setting options, you can configure just how much of your iPad’s resources Drumperfect is allowed to use – very neat and should help users on older hardware keep things under control.

However, I have to say that I was certainly able to get work done on the iPad 3 and, because you can limit the demands DrumPerfect is allowed to place on your system, it is still a very viable option even on this older hardware – providing, of course, that you are running iOS7. Yes, you will run out of steam earlier than on more recent hardware but it is useable and, CPU load aside, sounds just as good.

In summary

Phew….   thanks for sticking with me and my apologies that this has been quite a long ride. However, I wanted to give as full and fair as assessment as I could of DrumPerfect as I suspect it is an app that (a) could appeal to a wide audience and (b) has generated a lot of discussion prior to release.

So what can I say by way of summary? First – and this is by far the most important point – if you want an app that is going to give you the most realistic, programmable, acoustic drum performance you can possibly get on your iPad, then I think that currently, DrumPerfect is it. It sounds great and, with some decent drum samples that make full use of the kit construction features, is sounds very convincing. Equally, some elements of the pattern creation process are brilliantly conceived – the left/right hand options, the humanize setting, the probability feature – they all allow you to create a performance that feels ‘real’. If you like your grooves electronic and hi-tech, maybe this is not the app for you but, for human sounding acoustic drum parts, it is very good indeed.

On the flip side, however, there are also some elements to the feature set that feel like they could be developed further or made more efficient. I think this is particularly true of the way pattern editing has been approached. It does work – absolutely, you can get the job done and those clever features mentioned above mean the results are great – but it would be even better to get to those result just that bit faster. More preset patterns (genre based) and the ability to trigger the kit from MIDI would also be features high on my own personal wishlist.

I’ve no idea what plans developer Marinus Molengraft might have for future developments of DrumPerfect. The potential here is huge though so I really hope the app gets the support that allows him to progress it. No, it is not yet the ‘perfect’ iPad-sized version of BFD or Superior Drummer that I’d really like to see for iOS but, at present, DrumPerfect is as close as we have got and, for that, Marinus deserves considerable credit – and thanks – for taking on a difficult task.

As I discussed recently, ultimately though, us iOS musicians know that one of the ‘prices’ we pay for the relatively low entry cost of our app-based music recording, composing and performing technology, is that the workflow is not always as smooth as in the more mature, more powerful, desktop environment. DrumPerfect is perhaps an example of just that issue. However, don’t forget the bottom line; while it might take some work, the results can sound fabulous.

For iPad-based acoustic drum parts that sound ‘real’, for UK£10.49, DrumPerfect will get you results better than anything else currently available.

DrumPerfect


Be Sociable; share this post....

    Comments

    1. Great review, and way to point out the rather stingy batch of presets, and total lack of on board FX. It sounds great, and I think it is intended to be a professional level app, so maybe they took the “cut out excess crap” route as far as any of those little bon bons. I think they ought to get the iOS community a little better, lol. We LOVE those kinds of things, as the more good stuff there is packed in, the better chance we have of nipping some things in the bud BEFORE we have to deal with the Audiobus or IAA thing. I WOULD pay an IAP for a high quality convolution reverb, and some pitch shifting, which is pretty much bog standard on the cheapest of drum machines available in iOS…It needs more for the money IMHO…

    2. With respect to Chris, there are quite a few of us out here who want the opposite of “excess crap.” We’ve been waiting years for something we can get tracks from that are even halfway convincing. Every other app has satisfied the excess crap croud. I say it is high time we got an app for our side of the coin. DrumPerfect gets us part of the way there, and after talking to Marinus, I feel cautiously optimistic that we will get “the rest of the way there” with updates in the pipeline. Chokes are in the works. A lot of improvements to the workflow and interface are coming too. Mono multitrack output may be. The way to get drums just right in a mix is to start with dry or mostly dry mono tracks, and do all panning and effects within the DAW. I’ve been using DrumPerfect for only a few days, but already I have several drum parts that are more convincingly realistic than anything I’ve ever gotten out of the other drum apps, and in less time. BUT, and this is important, the user MUST understand how drummers play drums in order to get great results. DO NOT expect DrumPerfect to do it for you. Drummers put accents in certain places for a reason. They vary their strokes in particular ways. They put fills and crashes in very particular spots, etc. A good drummer “guides” AND “follows” the music dynamically. Music that most people enjoy features largely kick, snare, and hi hat, with everything else used as “spice”. If one takes some time to study some drummers, they should be able to get amazing results from this app.

    3. Ha, good points. I really don’t want crap put in. But I would buy a good time based processor iAP because I want a reference to how something sounds after dry, which for me most of the time is a bit uninspiring to listen to in the process of creating drum grooves. Drop it dry, output it dry as mono tracks, but even playing a drum kit in a room has a touch of ambience. That’s just me, maybe.

      I am sure there will be some great updates…Another thing, probability may help approximate real hits, but I saw a nice post that good drummers don’t really mess up their dynamics all that randomly…

    4. Also good points, Chris. A little room ambience is a good thing, and that can be, and often is, in the samples you choose. Tons of multi-sampled drum libraries out there. I used some from ProDrumWorks with a “taste of room”, but there are better out there. When I wrote dry, I should have been more specific.

      I enjoy the many apps with all the “excess crap” also, but Marinus had something pretty specific in mind for this app, and I hope he stays true to that vision. There are a lot of people out here making their meager and not so meager incomes from selling their music and the main stumbling block left to go totally mobile for us was the ability to create realistic drums efficiently.

    5. Oh, and not that anyone need care what I have to say, but I recommend VERY little use of the probability feature for stroke dynamics and for stroke events. More than a tiny amount and fakery will be obvious.

    6. Hi Guys… thanks for these various contributions. I’ve exchanged email with Marinus today and he thought the review was a pretty fair appraisal of where DrumPerfect is at. Despite the various reservations I listed about elements of the interface/operation, it really does sound very good indeed…. for any singer/songwriter or guitar band styles, this is an excellent source of ‘fake’ ‘real’ drums (if that makes any sense)…. Bells, whistles and other gizmos aside, it does a job that nothing else does as yet…. Let’s hope Marinus can keep it moving forward…. best wishes, John

    7. I’m not a drummer so I tend to find apps and software like this too time-consuming to use. As I’ve mentioned to John before, on the iPad for me it’s all about convenience, so for now I’m sticking with sample loops. I recently have been using Loop Loft packs loaded into Garageband, plus the Drum Loops HD app for cutting and pasting into Garageband. For sure it’s not as good as nuanced programmed drums, or of course recording a real drummer!, but it means I can get something half decent easily and quickly.

      On that subject, are there any drum loop sample packs people here would recommend?

      • Hi Martin, I can appreciate exactly where you are coming from here. For lots of folk, the priority is elsewhere – the song, the vocal, etc. – and you just want to get the basic beat down as efficiently as possible. Audio drum loops can do that really quickly…. and that’s really what’s behind my comments about providing some genre-based preset ‘packs’ fro DrumPerfect. users who just want a quick fix can then get the excellent sounds the app is capable of but without having to program every pattern themselves. Fingers crossed with Marinus – or maybe the user community – will provide that sort of additional content. best wishes, John

    8. So the app only offers pattern editing at present? I see it doesn’t accept midi signals from other apps… but there is no in built ‘pads’ that you can tap out (even if just individually) each drum hit on?

      • Hi James, essentially that’s correct…. but it does sound much more ‘real’ than anything else out there bar loops. Marinus obviously has plenty more planned for the app though….. best wishes, John

    9. Jeremy Gorman says:

      Has anybody experienced this? I can sync Drumperfect to Auria with Auria as the master, using MTC and it locks right in sync, but it’s about 20ms behind…

      Am I doing something wrong? Any ideas?

      Marinus suggested it might be the buffer, but I’m not sure how I can adjust for that…..

    10. On pattern packs:
      Rest assured, some of us are working on that kind of content right now over at SynthPatcher. I can’t speak for anyone else there, but I will be posting mine on the DrumPerfect forum for anyone to download.

      On sync problem:
      I have not seen that happen. Have you tried both IAA and Audiobus? What iPad model are you using? I did notice that there are tiny fluctuations in the clock when using it with Audiobus, but that happens with a lot of apps when connected to Auria via Audiobus. The incriments of fluctuation are so tiny that they don’t cause any real harm, something like 0.03 plus or minus the selected tempo.

      • Hi ZenLizard, good to hear on the possible pattern banks front…. I suspect keen users would pay for some of this sort of content if required :-) best wishes, John

      • Jeremy Gorman says:

        I have looked for the app in IAA, but it does not appear in the list. No AB as I am only syncing, not recording the audio. My set up is iPad 4 running Auria as the master/ DP as slave utilizing MTC. Oddly it seems to lock up ok, but it’s just off by about 20ms. It has been suggested I use DP as the master driving Auria, but I have not been able to get that to work either…

        • I don’t have DrumPeefect, but have you looked under “settings” in Auria, in the “record” tab you can adjust the buffer and there’s also a field for record latency adjustments. I have no idea if that’ll help with PD though, but 20 ms is quite a lot, so something is obviously wrong

        • Hi Jeremy…. I see DrumPerfect as an IAA app in Auria… but it is listed as ‘Marinus:DrumPerfect’ rather than just ‘DrumPerfect’. Did you find it in the end? Not sure it it would help with the sync timing though…. best wishes, John

    11. I have DM1 and Molten. Don’t use them because I really don’t know how to correctly program a pattern and to do so is a pain. So, a ” suggestion ” feature, in which the app attempts, by genre, to come up with something would be helpful. Even more so if it could , for example, see a chord, bass or melody midi file and anticipate how a pattern should be constructed. That leads to a feature I could really use.

      Which is ( I hope I’m describing this correctly):

      A unison perform function in which the app attempts to match staccato melody with a drum pattern. You can hear this used frequently in blues or jazz fusion in which a keyboard or guitar riff plays something like:

      DAH da da DA dah da DAH DA DAH

      and the drummer and guitar or keyboard play in unison, perfectly in sync. So, the app would have to
      ” see” the riff and attempt to create a unison pattern.

      Pretty tall order, I know, and that may not be available even on desktop software. But until it is, I’m sticking with cutting and pasting loops.

      • Hi Bob… that an interesting idea :-) I don’t know if that is something that might be added to a current app or whether it is the basis for an app of its own but it would be an interesting possibility…. Lot’s of folks struggle with drum programming (myself included) and that’s why I think a decent collection of preset patterns as starting points are such a big deal in getting people to adopt a particular drum/rhythm app. Best wishes, John

    12. Chris Catalano says:

      Well, something like Midimorphisis, which interprets audio pitch and converts to midi notes, perhaps some sort of peak wave matching monitor. Mapping is done all the time via midi, so that is possible and I would imagine already being done by a number of applications. That would also add an incredibly complex layer to this…

    Speak Your Mind

    *