by Barry Rudolph

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I'm convinced that the software developers at Zynaptiq are from another planet! I have added UNMIX::DRUMS to my Zynaptiq collection along with their Unveil and PitchMap products--both incredible and otherworldly software tools.

UNMIX::DRUMS is a source separation-based plug-in that allows, in real-time, to attenuate or boost only the drum tracks within a stereo mixed music track. When used on isolated, separate drum tracks in your DAW, it opens up many unheard of processing possibilities and choices.

By extracting and isolating the drums only, you'll have frequency dependent drum level control for either boosting their level up to +18dB or, conversely, completely removing them. UNMIX::DRUMS is for replacing existing drums such as for live DJ remix trickery and/or adding a new kit or other percussive elements.

UNMIX::DRUMS is useful to rebalance and restore lost dynamics of over-limited drum kits when mastering; setting up alternate EQs; reshaping and adding impact to drum buses when mixing; suppress drum attacks, i.e. flam removable when replacing drum kit drums with samples; DJ can mute the drums in a finished mix; or extract vocals and tracking instruments from mixed tacks since the drums can almost be entirely removed.

I found it essential to read and understand the functionality of each of the switches and controls on UNMIX's three GUI screen pages. UNMIX::DRUMS will quickly go from drum removal to drum boosting with just a couple of control knobs changes. It will be mysterious to you until you grasp the way the controls operate and the underlying concepts involved. These are not typical dynamic processor controls and the 40-page manual is excellent at explaining everything.

The three GUI screens share the same header at the top of their windows. The header has a Preset selector drop down menu; algorithm switch, M/S mode on/off, automatic output level compensation on/off; and Output section with level meter, limiter on/off and bypass buttons. The included standalone version (MACs only) also has play and record transport buttons for recording processed audio in .aif format.

-- Zynaptiq UNMIX::DRUMS Screens----  Mouse Over To Pause--iPad and Smart Phone Refresh-- 

Algorithm Choice and M/S

There are two algorithms in UNMIX::DRUMS and they are saved with each preset and, like all the parameters, are fully automatable. Automating the algorithm and the rest of the parameters will customize drum extraction and/or enhancement on a section-by-section basis if the need should arise.

The Smooth algorithm gives drum boosts a smooth attack shape which, when extracting drums, sounds more natural but with less separation of the drum sound and the rest of the backing track. The Punchy algorithm has higher resolution in both time and frequency domains and offers higher separation but at the expense of more frequency-domain noises--chirps and clicks at the extreme. As its name implies, Punchy makes boosted drums very snappy and hard sounding.

Mid/Side is one of the first buttons I try switching on and off when fine-tuning any preset. Designed to stabilized drum tracks hard-panned left and right, M/S mode links left and right processing but may cause some strange amplitude effects. With it off, the left and right channels are separately processed so you may hear image shifting. In extreme cases, I would just narrow the stereo width playback of the UNMIX::DRUMS processed audio. DJs note!


The preset browser system has 74 presets divided into task sets. There are presets for extracting from mixed songs, drum processing, mixing tools, and special effects. Your process might start with choosing an evocatively-named preset that describes exactly what you want to do such as: "Bigger is Better", "Aggressive Cut", "Drum Sizzle" or "808 Party" or "Dry Up Acoustic Drums" and then coarsely adjust the three controls Threshold, Drum Level and Release on UNMIX::DRUMS' Main screen.

Main Screen

The large, familiar Zynaptiq Trackball slider labeled Drum Level dominates the Main screen page and it always shows the current value using a gradient-filled ball at its center. The Threshold control adjusts the level at which percussive drum-like sounds are attenuated or boosted. Drum Level adjusts the amount of drum cut or boost--its center position is neutral--with no boost or cut happening. The Release control works something like the release or recovery control on a compressor--it sets how long attenuation, (in the case of drum removal), or gain boost (when boosting drums) persists after the drum(s) have stopped playing. Longer values will include ambience, reverb tails and backing track (if you're extracting drums from a mix) and shorter release times produce a tighter sound right up to a "clipped" sound if desired.

Fine-Tune Screen

UNMIX::DRUMS' next screen is called Fine-Tune and it allows for more precision when editing presets. The same three controls from the Main screen are there but now you have five additional faders for further process refinement. In general for best and fast results, I found the initial choice of the right preset very important.

The factory presets are all very good starting points. I also found I could "wring out" the last 10 percent of better performance by using the controls on the Fine-Tune screen.

The Fine-Tune controls are: Detection Density sets the amount of sounds detected--lower values make the algorithm more selective. Max Cut sets the amount of suppression when removing drum tracks. The Bass Synth(esis) fader sets an amount of a sub bass synthesizer that starts at 200Hz and adds sample-accurate sub octave audio down to 20Hz. Sometimes the low frequencies of the drum tracks are diminished in the process of isolating them so pushing up on this fader adds a cool dance club sound to all of it. I like it!

The Attack control develops an time window or envelope in which the algorithm is allowed to work: lower values includes sounds that change level massively in a short amount of time (attack portions of drum hits) and higher values include more non-drum sounds but can add a weightier sound that includes the sustaining tone of tom-toms.

Another parameter control I immediately check is the UNMIX Feather control. This control works differently when boosting than it does when cutting. In drum cut mode, if UF is set less than 0.5 (when you mouse over any control, its current value is indicated), drums are cut but when over 0.5, more non-drum signals are reduced. When boosting drums, with UF levels over 0.5 you'll get more non-drum signals including drum reverb or recorded ambience (this is a cool effect!!) and then with the UF below 0.5, the drums tighten up considerably! (Also a cool effect too!!)

Lastly, UNMIX Feather works differently depending if you are using the Smooth algorithm, where the enhanced reverb/ambience is shorter and has lower density, or Punchy where reverb will be longer with higher density. You'll have to experiment with the UF control and the two different algorithms.

Curves View Screen

The third screen is a graphical, break-point editor for the frequency-based adjustment of Threshold, Drum Level and Release controls. The breakpoint graph is superimposed over a spectrum analyzer display. You can click/drag breakpoints to add or subtract to the initial knob values of these three controls by first turning on which one to change and then mouse over and create a node(s) to drag up and down. I liked that you can quickly A/B and turn this edit off/on as well, although the breakpoint lines remain on screen. I also like all the editing tools available here such as Solo where a band pass filter is temporarily inserted to focus on the frequency(s) of interest.

Let's UNMIX!

My first test was for a completed mix using the standalone version of UNMIX::DRUMS--and I repeated this test in the plug-in version--it works identically. Zynaptiq comes standalone (MAC only) and also as a plug-in running in AAX, AU, or VST MAC or PC hosts.

I dragged and dropped a .wav interleaved stereo backing track into the standalone UNMIX audio files window. In the standalone version, imported files show up in a list below the GUI and both mono and interleaved stereo files are supported. You can import files directly from your iTunes library and you may jump between different imported files just by clicking on them--a great feature for a DJ's song playlist.

I chose a drum loop that just sounded too big, loose and ambient. I wanted to tighten up the sound so I chose a preset from the Boost presets called called "Gentle Dry Overall Boost". This preset uses the Smooth algorithm so after I changed the Drum Level to maximum and adjusted Threshold, I save it as "dryBoost". I then changed the algorithm to Punchy and again modified the parameters; I changed the Release and Threshold controls and added some of the Bass synthesized low frequency.

I liked using the plug-in version more than standalone and both worked flawlessly in my Mac 8-core running OS 10.8.5. In Pro Tools 12.3 HDX, the plug-in works with the same presets plus any modified presets you have previously saved in either version.

I completely removed the drums from a finished mix starting with the preset called "Aggressive Cut". In the Curves View Screen I could frequency tailor the Threshold control to "window out" the dominant kick and snare frequencies. I also found changing the Release curve in this window worked wonders as well. For this particular mix, all that was left was the sound of the pre-delayed reverb return used on drum kit in the original mix. Using the solo feature in the Curves view is awesome for dialing in and minimizing that.

UNMIX::DRUMS is the perfect tool for remixing, reducing existing (too hot) drum levels or boosting drum levels in very specific ways without having access to the original multi-track recordings. I have started processing drum buses within my mixes as a way to have build alternate drums sound instantly. Like all the Zynaptiq software products, this is another winner that deserves careful study and full understanding of its operation, controls, and limitations to be most effective. Highly recommended!

UNMIX::DRUMS supports all common sampling rates from 44.1kHz to 192kHz, mono and stereo on Mac & Windows. The wizards at Zynaptiq GmbH are based in Hannover, Germany and they create audio software based on pattern recognition, source separation, perceptual modeling and other advanced technologies. UNMIX::DRUMS is available $189 MSRP. Check out: www.zynaptiq.com/unmixdrums/.

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