Luis Martinez has a series of ‘drum’ apps that sort of sit between the ‘virtual drummer’ and sample-based drum machines and, in many ways, offer something that is a bit of the best of both. I’ve reviewed Rock Drum Machine, Rock Drum Machine 3, Brazilian Drum Machine, Funk Drummer and Afro Latin Drum Machine previously.
However, as I posted a couple of days ago, there is now a new addition to Luis’ catalogue; Soft Drummer arrived on the App Store yesterday. And before the ‘soft’ title gets you thinking wimpy ballads (hey, wimpy ballads might be your thing; that’s fine) then do pause for thought; Soft Drummer is capable of much much more than that. Indeed, I do wonder whether Subtle Drummer or Finesse Drummer or even Artful Drummer might be titles that would work just as well.
If you are familiar with any of the other apps in the series, the basic premise here – and many of the app’s core features – will be instantly familiar. However, as suggested by the app’s icon, Soft Drummer is dominated by brush-based drum performances. That might well suggest jazz (and those ballads) but, with a number of different brush variations as well as rods and hands, there is a huge range of drum sounds available… and, as some of the sounds have a real ‘crack’ to them, the app will cover a whole range of styles from jazz, ballads, pop and well into indie rock territory.
Soft Drummer is a 350MB download, requires iOS8.0 or later and is a universal app. Audiobus, IAA and Ableton Link support are included, as is MIDI Clock sync. IAA sync has, however, been dropped (Luis is most certainly not a fan!) in favour of supporting Ableton Link. MIDI control of the app is also possible. The app is priced at UK£10.99/US$14.99.
New drummer same as the old drummer
As mentioned above, the core feature set is the same as other apps in the series (and, if you are not familiar with them, then do read the reviews linked to above; all these apps are well worth a look). So, Soft Drummer provides you with a sample-based collection of drum and percussion sounds – in this app played with brushes, rods and hands – and a pattern sequencer.
Within the sequencer, patterns can be build from 5 drum sounds plus there is a cymbals track (if you flip between Basic and Full modes via the toggle buttons located bottom-centre of the main screen, the sequencer switches between three lanes and five lanes with the latter obviously offering more detailed programming.
Patterns can also be sequenced into a song structure – Song Mode can be turned on using the button located top-right of the main screen – so you can create a custom drum/percussion performance. However, there is also a very neat ‘jam’ mode that allows you to pick a basic style and the app will then add some variations around this, plus optional fills and crash cymbals, to create a varying performance for you to… well, jam along with.
While you can create your own patterns from scratch – or edit the preset patters – using a fairly standard pattern grid editor, as with the other apps in the series, perhaps the neatest element of the interface is the three ‘roller wheels’ that dominate the central strip of the main display. These allow you to dial in a Bank (rhythmic style), Rhythm (a sub-style within that rhythmic style) and Sounds (a collection of percussion sounds with which the pattern will be played). If you never programmed a single pattern for yourself within the app, you could explore the extensive combinations of patterns and sounds offered as presets for a very long time.
However, you can, of course, tweak the preset patterns or create your own via the Edit page. Equally, via the Patterns page, where you get five further roller wheels that appear at the base of the screen, you can mix and match between patterns…. so, for example, for sound 1 in the Pattern Grid, you could play the preset rhythm from one pattern, while for sound 2, you can pick a rhythm from a different pattern. This makes for a tremendous amount of extra flexibility that you can squeeze out of the included rhythms.
And, tap the Sounds button (in the strip located bottom-left of the display) and the bottom five roller wheels then switch to allow you to select which individual sounds are associated with each of the five lanes in your pattern Grid…. so you can also mix and match the actual instruments playing any of the patterns….
Oh, and as well as a basic mixer screen with mute/solo, pan and level options, there is also a series of effects you can apply that cover compression, EQ, delay and reverb. And while they might not be the most sophisticated audio processing options that iOS has to offer, all do a decent job.
The seven tabs at the base of the display therefore allow you to move between Edit (for the Pattern Grid), Patterns (for pattern selection), Sounds (for sound selection), Mixer, Effects, Jamming and – new to this app – the Live Pads view (I’ll say more about the latter in a minute). Located top-right is the Song Mode button; toggle this on and the screen changes so that you can create a sequence of patterns and make your ‘song’ (songs can be saved) and where you can set how many times a particular pattern it to repeat in the sequence, what its ‘jam intensity’ (how ‘busy’ the variations are on the pattern that the app adds) and whether it should have a fill or cymbal crash at the end. It is very easy to build – and edit – a full song arrangement using these tools.
From a technical perspective I had no issues with Soft Drummer…. It worked well as a standalone app and slotted very nicely into Audiobus, AUM or Cubasis in my own testing. This suggests that the Audiobus and IAA support is solid… as perhaps you would expect given Luis’ obvious experience with his other apps.
Come over to my pad
And while the app will be familiar to users of other apps in the series, each time Luis introduces a new app, the concept gets refined. In Soft Drummer, Luis has introduced the new ‘Live Pads’ screen. This allows you to identify eight patterns and then trigger then ‘live’ from the pads (or MIDI) as well as adding fills or endings.
These are very easy to configure; you simply select the bank and rhythm combination and then press and hold one of the eight available Live Pads. Once you hold for a couple of seconds, a pop-up allows you to set the jam intensity and colour-code the pad…. all very easy. Do note that the Sound selection is not stored or changed within this process.
Then, once you have as many of the eight slots filled, when in playback, you can simply use the pads to switch between the various patterns. You can trigger the next change ‘in advance’ and the pattern will actually switch at the end of the current pattern (so everything stays in sync). In addition, you have a set of six buttons located on the right side of the screen that allow you to add fills in various ways or add a fill and ending. Live Pad sets can also be saved and re-loaded while the New button allows you to clear the current selections.
These pads are great for creating a complete performance on the fly. If you just want to create a live drum part based upon a small selection of patterns, given that you also have the variations offered by the jam intensity setting (which gives an element of ‘human’ variation each time the pattern is played through) plus the option to add fills and cymbals, this really is a very flexible and creative system. Hopefully, it is a feature that Luis will gradually add to the other apps in the series…. it is very clever – and easy to use – stuff :-)
There is a further new feature added to this app. Located to the far right of the screen is a small ‘finger’ icon. If you tap this then you can then use the central portion of the screen to display some of the options normally shown in the bottom third in this alternative position. This can be great when you require different combinations of controls on screen at the same time as it gives you the flexibility to chose the best options for the task in hand. Again, let’s hope this is a feature that finds its way into the other apps in the series as they go through their natural update cycle….
Soft but fine – and not always so soft!
OK, so so much for the technicalities and feature set, all of which is impressive. What about the the sound? While Luis various drum apps don’t perhaps feature the uber-detailed sampling offered by a desktop virtual drummer, nor perhaps even the very clever work-around to this offered by DrumPerfect Pro, there is still plenty of attention to detail. For example, there are multi-samples for each drum sound that are used ’round robin’ fashion to avoid the machine gun effect. As a result, even when you hear the same drum played at the same volume, each ‘hit’ sounds just a little different.
You also get different hit types – ghost notes, accented notes, drags – that all help to provide that little bit of ‘human’ to the end result. And, when all these options are combined with the very clever semi-random pattern variations that all the apps offer, with Soft Drummer, the final result is some drum parts that do make a serious nod towards sounding ‘human’ rather than ‘machine’. And the fact that the app is so easy to use, and that you can use the pretty extensive pattern presets to cough up a full drum part in a very short space of time, well…. this is impressive stuff.
Hats off also for the quality of the basic samples…. The fact that you get brushes, ‘dark’ brushes, rods, hands, and then a few further variations on these, means that while Soft Drummer might have a most obvious appeal for those with jazz, folk or ballad material in mind, you can really make the snare crack with the rods; if you want to use Soft Drummer for some indie rock or quirky pop, then it would certainly be up to the task.
The bottom line here is that, in terms of the quality of the sounds and the ‘feel’ of the pre-programmed patterns, this is even better than Luis delivered before; set Soft Drummer going and it really does sound very ‘real’.
This is another great addition to the Luis Martinez drum app series. I think the themed genre-specific nature of these apps has a lot to be said for it and this addition is top-notch stuff. If you have a use for acoustic drums – where ‘soft’ or not, Soft Drummer is most certainly worth checking out. OK, metal-heads might not apply and, if you want electronic drum sounds, then there might be more obvious choices (although Soft Drummer sounds great when shoved through a more experimental set of audio effects). Otherwise, this ought to appeal to a much wider audience than the name perhaps suggests.
Anyway, check out the trailer video below…. and then hit the download button to find out more. Soft Drummer does, however, come highly recommended. Here’s hoping the next addition to the Luis martinez/Lumbeat iOS music app collection is as good as this :-)