SPL DrumXchanger
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by Barry Rudolph
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SPL aka Sound Performance Labs is an old hand at level-independent dynamic processing with the invention of the Transient Designer and the Transient Designer plug-in, two of their best products. But the new DrumXchanger drum replacement plug-in might eclipse that triumph. DrumXchanger will replace drum sounds in multi- track sessions no matter the level changes and track dynamics. All drum hits are tracked and replaced including ghost notes, fast fills and rolls. It will do this in real time and in sample phase-accuracy with the original signal.

DrumXchanger comes with a collection of SPL's high quality 24-bit/96 kHz multi-samples. The library was recorded using SPL preamps and processors and includes three drum kits with one snare, one bass drum and four toms each. Every multi-sample is made up of up to 80 sounds in sixteen dynamic levels and five variations. DrumXchanger will also use .wav sample files as well.

DrumXchanger comes as Native only in RTAS, VST and AU versions for Macs and PCs and features two Transient Designers to process both the original sound as well as the replacement drum sample.

I installed DrumXchanger in my Pro Tools HD 3 Accel rig and was presented with a large GUI that allows for the very precise programming, processing and detection of the original sound for the generation of a triggering signal. Besides the capability of tuning the sample file +/-1 octave in real-time, you can change the phase of the drum sample in relation to the original sound; and externally trigger the sample from an external source via the sidechain input. (DAW program permitting).

SPL DrumXchanger
To Explain The Processes And Features Of DrumXchanger Completely,
Here Are Descriptions Of The Plug-In's Five Sections As Controlled By Its Excellent GUI.


Section 1--Input

There are four automatable and switchable plug-in setups: A, B, C, and D. These are convenient ways to store complete sets of plug-ins settings and switch between them on the fly. Great for tracking drum performances with very wide dynamics or changes in stick techniques, you can copy and paste your best working setup from one to another and tweak the copy for a special triggering or changing samples as required for certain song sections.

This section has an Input Gain range of +/-15dB for the original drum sound that does not change the triggering level setting. You can tailor the original sound using the high (20Hz to 11kHz) and low pass (20Hz to 20kHz) 12dB/octave filters. The Solo button quickly checks the sound quality of the original.

Section 2--Transient Designer And Ducker

Next comes Transient Designer #1 (of 2) to modify the original drum sound. Just like SPL's original TD hardware unit and their plug-in, you can alter the attack portion of a percussive sound by +/- 15dB and sustain or ring out portion by +/- 24dB.

A Ducking feature with a range of 0db to -40dB is added here that adjusts the level drop of the original drum sound during the time the sample plays. Ducking sounds like a big compressor squashing down the original sound only momentarily. Pushing the Trigg button "copies" the TD processing to the trigger signal sidechain as well as the original. Reducing the sustain portion (that contains leakage etc.) of the original sound with TD will make for a better triggering action of the sample.

Section 3--Trigger

The Trigger section uses a bandpass filter to precondition the trigger signal. This is a full-range filter starting at 20Hz and going to 20kHz. It has an extreme range of Q values-- 0.05 to 50! A Solo button lets you hear the effect of the filter and tuned it to (typically) the basic center and predominate frequencies of most of the energy of the original drum's sound. Adjusting the Q will refine immensely the trigger performance both in accuracy and speed!

After filtering you may need to readjust the Trigger Gain from 0 to +48dB for proper detection. It is recommended to set the Trigger Gain high enough so the loudest drum hits make the Level meters hit the max peak LED (red light flashing). This guarantees that the loudest sample (of multi-samples) is being played.

The Rim control red arrow ranges from 0-100% and adjusts the level for the individual rim sounds for the included SPL multi-samples of snare and tom sounds. This is to set the desired difference of the rim sounds in relation to the regular drum hits. There is also a Rim knob control to set the input level of all rim samples available in the SPL drum kits.

There are two threshold adjustments in DrumXchanger with two LED peak reading meters. There are two green arrows to adjust triggering threshold--they slide up and down adjacent to these meters. In the default advanced triggering mode, both green arrows' threshold settings have to be reached for DrumXchanger to play a sample. The green arrows (handles) should be set low enough to ensure triggering but not too low to produce false hits on leakage or crosstalk.

The Ext. SC button activates the side-chain for external trigger such as a recorded drumhead trigger microphone track.

Section 4--Sample

The Sample Section has two parts: sample selection and sample processing. Living up to its name, DrumXchanger's method of sample selection is one of its best features. The loading, auditioning and playing of any sample from any drive in your system is elegantly handled in this plug-in.

Clicking the Load button allows navigation to the folder where your drum sample .wav files or the .splx files in the SPL Kit folder exists. You virtually load the entire contents of the folder once you navigate to it. For easiest access, I've gotten into the habit of copy all my possible drum replacement sample candidates into a "samples" folder and placing it inside each song session folder on my Pro Tools work drive.

I say 'virtually' because you are able to step through the list of samples in your folder, using the Next and/or Prev(ious) buttons, and audition each sample using the Play button for when the song is stopped or hear them automatically triggered when the song is playing. This is an incredible feature!

If you select a SPL Kit by clicking on the drumkit icon in the GUI, you get an entire kit of kicks, snares, and toms ready to go--just select the individual drum on the icon and get it now. At some point it would be good if SPL releases a software utility to build your own SPL kits using any samples you like.

All the SPL drum kits offer individual rim sounds for snare drums and toms to be mixed with the sample sounds, and the SPL kit sounds offer 16 velocity levels recorded in 5 variations, summing up to 80 individual hits per drum sound!

The Sample selection section also has a Phase reverse button for flipping the sample's polarity 180 degrees if you hear cancellation problems. A Delay control adjusts the samples time up to +/- 3.5ms if you perceive double hits on fast rolls and fills.

Lastly, the Dynamics control lets you determine whether DrumXchanger follows the original drum's dynamics or not--or any amount between these two extremes. You can go from exactly following dynamically and triggering on every ghost note precisely or have the new sample fire the same loudness every time.

Sample Section Processing

The other half of the Sample section processes only the sample(s) you are firing. There are the same high and low pass filters and a Solo button to listen only to the sample. Transient Designer #2 processes the sample and there is +/- 1-octave sample pitch adjustment knob located here.

Section 5--Output

For processing the finished sound--the mix of original drum sound and added sample is the job of the Output section. Again there are the high and low pass filters and the section finishes with a Dry/Wet knob, Output level control and Overload LED.


In the Studio

When mixing Pop Rock and R&B songs here at my Tones 4 $ Studios, I'm often asked to replace or augment the recorded kick and snare sounds. I usually use Digidesign's DrumReplacer or Drumagog. But not any more!

Invariably when the producer and/or artist come in to take a listen to my mix, they like what I've done but want to explore and add some other kick and snare sounds to what I've done. I've had as many as six different snare samples mixed with the original live kit--don't ask me why.

With DrumReplacer or Drumagog, I would always record the sample and tweak individual hits here and there because they are late or flam or just be missing in action--not triggered at all. I still like to record my new samples with DrumXchanger but it is a luxury knowing I can recall it and fire a different or an additional sample.

The producers I work with love the auditioning ability of DrumXchanger. Being able to hear any sample fire while the rest of the track plays is awesome. We also like having the Transient Designer and the tuner for exactly dialing in the sample--sometimes that is all that is needed to "marry" a new kick drum sample to the rest of the kit.

On a Rock song with a very ambient drum kit sound--lots of leakage on all the close mics--I wanted to add another snare sample to the piccolo snare. The close snare mic track was full of hi-hat spill and kick drum leakage plus the drummer played a lot of ghost notes and a few fast rolls.

First thing was to slightly filter the snare track using the high/low pass filter in the Input section and then adding a little more attack using the Transient Designer. Reducing the sustain with TD helps tremendously with the hi-hat spill and kick drum leakage but I wish there was a way to use the TD only for the trigger signal.

I used the Trigger section's bandpass filter to "tuned" to the snare drum's "box" sound at 874Hz with a Q of 7.74. This killed most of the high and low frequencies so now the kick and hi-hat leakage was nearly gone from the trigger signal.

I chose a Ludwig Black Beauty sample from a folder of snare samples and getting DrumXchanger to follow the original snare drum track on two and four was no problem. By looping song sections, where the drummer played a couple of fills and ghosts, I adjusted the green arrow threshold handles and the threshold controls themselves until DrumXchanger followed all hits perfectly. Since I was going to mix the original with the new sample, if the very first attack of a fast roll doesn't trigger, it was not the end of the world. I did manage to tweak until even the quieter first strikes fired the sample.

Once I was satisfied with the general operation of the triggering, I copied this setup from A over to B and readjusted B for the touchy areas where I needed more trigger sensitive and/or a lower threshold. These lower settings wouldn't fly for most of the song without occasional false triggering.

Since you can automate changing from Setup A to B, I went down the song and changed to Setup B for those touchy moments. I was now finished.

When the producer arrived, he didn't like the sample I used but, since I had already done the work of programming the triggering etc., I just stepped through my snare drum collection until he heard one that worked for him. I adjusted the mix with the Wet/Dry control and moved on with the rest of the mix.

DrumXchanger is now a mainstay in all my mixes! For the first time I am satisfied with the whole drum replacement process! Something I've always thought to be extra-tweaky work for usually dubious results and sometimes, uncertain worth. I big, big thumbs up for DrumXchanger! It sells for $449 USD (299 EUR) and for more information visit www.spl.info.

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