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Software Review: DRUMLAB From Native Instruments

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DRUMLAB is a new product from Native Instruments touted as “the first-of-its-kind instrument combining the organic, expressive sound of acoustic drums with the power and punch of an electronic edge.” What it provides is the ability to construct drum kits and layer them together, combining and blending electronic and acoustic drums to create really unique-sounding drums.

DRUMLAB comes with a selection of sampled drums and percussion instruments as well as electronic sounds that can be mixed together giving you the ability to create well-rounded drum sounds. DRUMLAB is driven by KONTAKT 5 or the free KONTAKT PLAYER and it will give you the ability to easily create the exact drum sound you want.

Native Instruments DRUMLAB

Native Instruments DRUMLAB

DRUMLAB comes with 38 individual drums that were tuned and played by drummer Derico Watson and recorded in three different rooms to provide a variety of acoustics. Grammy-winning producer Kenny Barto used both premium modern and vintage gear to record the performances on analog tape.

DRUMLAB is built upon a layering system used in recording studios. By using 80 electronic layers from a range of classic and modern drum machines and then matching, fading, phase aligning, and giving them proper pitch, you can choose your own level of each one and blend them together to get just the right sound.

Native Instruments DRUMLAB

Native Instruments DRUMLAB

DRUMLAB has two main areas. The Header window at the top handles the presets and grooves and is always available. Below that is the kit, grooves, and options area. You can select each instrument that you want for your kit on the Kit Page, grooves that can be used with the kits on the Grooves Page, and technical kit settings like MIDI note mapping on the Options page. Below that you have the source/effects window where you can experiment with the mixing of sounds and adding effects to your kit.

On the top left side of the Header window there are two preset dropdowns. The top one allows you to select a major sound preset such as “Fat,” “Smooth,” “Dirty,” etc. The lower one allows you to select a subset of that sound such as “Big Bright Room,” “Natural,” “Filthy,” etc. When you make your selection, the controls on the kit page change to reflect the settings of the newly loaded preset.

Native Instruments DRUMLAB

Native Instruments DRUMLAB

The upper portion of the Kit Page contains a tile matrix where you select the instruments and microphones that you want to adjust. On each tile is a master channel strip. The footer of the page contains the Source tab where you can layer your drums, mix them, and control things like attack, hold, and delay. Then there is the Effects tab where you can add effects like transients, a compressor, an equalizer, or reverb.

The Grooves page contains a browser with a huge library of organized MIDI grooves that can be used to quickly create drum parts for a song or production. You can edit several parameters to change the beats. You can even drag the grooves into your host DAW. It is here that you will also find a visual representation of the groove. Each dot represents a rhythmical event in a beat. All adjustments made to Tightness, Swing, Grid, or Velocity are visually reflected by the grid.

The Options page gives you the ability to adjust MIDI and memory settings. With the MIDI settings you can change the mapping of your MIDI keyboard and adjust velocity settings. Each articulation available in the Articulation selector can be assigned to one or more MIDI notes, allowing for your own customized mapping. The Velocity area at the right side of the MIDI settings allows you to fine-tune the way DRUMLAB responds to MIDI input. At the bottom of the page, you can edit settings for how DRUMLAB will be using your computer’s memory resources. The options are a) always loaded for faster response, or b) unused samples are not loaded, which will leave you with more system resources.

Native Instruments DRUMLAB

Native Instruments DRUMLAB

You choose your presets to start your kit, or you can choose a blank user preset and start from scratch. In the latter case, you will need to add the instruments that you want to use on a one-by-one basis to build your kit.

Then you go to each item and begin to tweak it to get the sound you want. You can select the instrument layers (all have an acoustic layer and some have an electronic layer) that give you the ability to mix the sound in many different ways. You can change the articulation, how the kit is mic’ed, and even the individual instruments in the kit. Once you fine tune your new kit, you can save it as your own preset. Once you have your kit built you can use it just as you would any other KONTAKT instrument.

I really like Native Instruments DRUMLAB. It has to be one of the most comprehensive drum packages I have worked with. Having the ability to directly work with each item in a kit and to layer each item out makes it really nice. With the ability to add effects, manipulate the articulation, and bring out all of the different possibilities, you can create some pretty complex kits.

The only fault I can find in DRUMLAB is its limited sampling of instruments. On the other hand, you can do so many things to each one, and rearrange things to make an unlimited number of combinations.

Native Instruments DRUMLAB

Native Instruments DRUMLAB

I also love the fact that you can layer acoustic and electronic sounds together to really sculpt them into something new and original. And I like the fact that it is a groove player as well, with a number of different grooves that can really promote your creative juices.

I found that this package is very easy to use and if you are a KONTAKT user, the interface is very straight forward. If you are looking to do some drum construction, whether basic or very complex, DRUMLAB can handle it. In many ways this is a unique laboratory for drum experimentation and for that reason I very highly recommend this product.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.