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Drum Machines

Soniccouture AC-DR Acoustic Drum Machine: the Synth and Software Review



Instead of going for realism, this Kontakt library tries to make acoustic samples sound like a drum machine.

In the mid-80s, the print ad campaign for the Linn LM-4 drum machine proudly advertised itself with just two words: “Real Drums.” That kicked off the race for who could have the most believably realistic-sounding drum machine.

My oh my how things have changed. Forty years later, Soniccouture introduces the AC-DR, which takes a decisively different approach to realism. Instead of trying to make electronic drums sound as acoustic as possible, AC-DR’s goal is to make acoustic drums sound as electronic as possible. This strategy yields some decisively unique and interesting results.

Soniccouture’s AC-DR Acoustic Drum Machine sample library is a Kontakt instrument (thankfully compatible with version 6.8 for all the luddites like me who are still not quite sold on Kontakt 7’s new interface). It comes in as a reasonable 3GB download using Native Instruments’ Native Access download manager software.

AC-DR includes 90 drum kits, accessible through the Kontakt Instrument’s Snapshot dropdown menu. The Kontakt instrument also includes built-in effects (both accessible on a per-sound basis or as global effects), as well as three drum sequencers. Two sound packs, Ostbahnhof and Shadow/Tech, each with 64 additional Snapshot kits, are included with the collection.

Launching AC-DR into Kontakt reveals a fairly intuitive and clean layout. Top and bottom rows of colorful rectangles called Blocks each indicate an element of the drum kit with large letter pairs (i.e. CH = Closed HiHat, OH = Open HiHat, BD = Bass Drum, SD = Snare Drum, and so on).

Each Block features readily accessible controls such as level, panning, mute, and solo, as well as a handful of tonal controls to tweak the sound of each instrument. Clicking any of the Blocks opens up additional controls, opening up a world of possibilities. Among them, you can select a number of variations for each of the individual instruments, control the envelope of the sample, there’s a filter section, compression, EQ, saturation, and the send levels to FX 1 and 2.

The bass drum, snare, rim, and toms feature an additional Space control for mixing in one of two echo chambers inspired by the famous Capitol Records Echo Chambers (but were actually recorded at Rockfield Studios in the UK).

As you’d expect on a mixer, two FX fader controls and as a Master fader are on the right. We’ll discuss the three built-in sequencers – Euclidian Beats, Beat Shifter, and Poly Beats – shortly.

Soniccouture’s approach to recording AC-DR was to use very dead spaces and contact microphones to add a pronounced attack and knock to the acoustic sounds. They also tuned the drums quite high to emulate the tonal characteristics found in classic drum machines.

An “auto percussion” device hit the drums with precision and consistency. The editing process was also unique, matching very similar takes for the round robin samples, and limiting the velocity range to a Normal and Accent variation.

All of this results into a hybrid tonality that falls somewhere between a synthetically generated drum tone like the legendary Roland 808 and 909 drum machines, and an acoustic one. 

I enjoyed the fact that the AC-DR’s interface is simple enough not to get in the way of the creative flow. The Snapshot presets load quickly, and each kit has a pre-programmed Sequence, which makes it easy to audition each preset and get a sense of what it sounds like. 

One of the pros and cons of working with curated presets is that unavoidably one ends up liking one element from a kit and a different element from a different kit. While powerful customizing options are offered for each drum – including the ability to pick between a number of drum brands and types – it would have been nice if you could combine and match kits with presets for each individual drum.

The selection of built-in sequencers are yet another feature that makes AC-DR feel more like a drum machine than a standard drum sample library. Each sequencer – Beat Shifter, Euclidean Beats, and Poly Beats – brings its own idiosyncratic way of programming beats.

For example, Beat Shifter includes five small sliders along the bottom of each track, used to introduce changes that evolve the pattern while it’s repeating. 

Euclidean Beats features concentric circles for each drum, each containing a set number of beats. The beats are evenly spaced along the circles, which can create interesting patterns when the number of beats varies from drum to drum.

Poly Beats can divide a single bar into arbitrary subdivisions to create unusual polyrhythms.

The sequencers automatically sync to the host DAW’s tempo, and allow for drag-and-drop of the patterns into a MIDI track for further customization. While all three sequencers are welcome additions to the instrument, I found myself wishing for more than just one built-in pattern per instrument, and ideally, the ability to switch patterns through keyswitches. 

AC-DR definitely encourages experimentation. While working on a new track for my upcoming album, I was able to achieve an unexpectedly moody groove very quickly using the unusual percussive characteristics of this sample library.

While only being able use one of the above-mentioned Echo Chambers (so you can’t blend them) is a minor limitation, they can greatly impact the sound of the kick, snare, rim, and tom hits. By turning the Space knob and adding the IRs to the drum signals, you can make some pretty major changes to the sonic signature of the hits.

On the following track I was able to build crescendos and tonal evolutions into the drums just by automating the Space levels to those instruments, which at times gave them a metallic quality reminiscent of cymbals, at other times imparting a noisy, industrial tone to the samples.

Soniccouture’s AD-DR brings a unique take to drum sample libraries by crafting a collection that can be used for mechanical drum machine-like patterns and programming, paired with the organic vibe of real drums. I really enjoyed the vintage tones that many of the sounds evoked. 

AC-DR is a unique take on drum sample libraries that will add a fresh and intriguing element to any musician’s toolbox. 

Works with the FREE KONTAKT PLAYER of KONTAKT version 6.8 or higher (full NKS support)
MacOS 11 or higher, Windows 10 or higher
Intel Core i5 or equivalent CPU with 2 GB RAM
Graphics hardware support for Direct 3D 11.1 (Feature Level 11_0) or higher
4 GB RAM (6 GB recommended for large KONTAKT Instruments)
At least 3 GB of free hard disc space

Price: $149

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