MOre to DO

Friday, 6 September 2019 10:04 am

It’s rare to see the launch of a brand new drum VST these days, so we were keen to get our hands on the MODO DRUM offering from IK Multimedia (best known to drummers for its iRig interfaces).

What’s in the box

MODO DRUM is a 7.5 GB software download which contains a stand-alone player and a collection of drum ‘samples’.

Unlike other drum VSTs that painstakingly list every instrument and articulation in their packs, IK is less specific, showing only 10 “deeply customisable” virtual drum kits – each one consisting of a bass drum, snare and up to four toms, a hi-hat, ride and up to three crashes or splashes.

In action

I installed MODO DRUM onto a MacBook Pro. The software was relatively quick to download, install and activate, especially for anyone who has existing IK products and already has the required Authorisation Manager.

At first glance, MODO DRUM is reminiscent of the Addictive Drums line. The main screen shows a front-on image of a kit with an illustrated kit menu above, from which you can switch sets.

The stock kits range from a dry studio kit to a Ringo-style “Black Oyster” and a double-kick “Extreme” kit.

The Customize window allows you to mix and match instruments – you can replace ‘stock’ drums and cymbals with instruments from any kit in one click.

Borrowing from the Roland modelling approach, the Edit Element tab allows you to further customise the sounds by virtually adjusting the size of the drum, the shape of the bearing edge, the head type, the dampening, and the pitch and volume in the case of the toms. With the snare, you can also adjust the characteristics of the snare wires and the sympathetic buzz. The kick and cymbals are also highly customisable.

But it doesn’t stop there. In the Play Style window, you get to choose between heel-up or heel-down styles for the kick, and left and right articulations and stick for the snare and toms.

The Room tab offers a selection of nine acoustic environments, ranging from a dead booth to wide and echoing concert halls.

The Mixer window is simple and uncomplicated, allowing you to adjust the volume of each kit piece, alter the panning, add FX and dial in the room mics – all on an easy-to-master virtual desk.

The last window, Grooves, allows you to access more than 1,400 patterns, listed by genre, song part, “leading hand”, number of bars and time signature.

Sounds like?

I was impressed with the kits right out of the box. The sounds were full, rich and natural, even without tweaking or FX.

Because MODO DRUM uses synthesis rather than samples, the documentation is a bit vague when it comes to layers or sample numbers, but I certainly didn’t notice any lack of variety – and it was impossible to produce machinegunning, proving that there must be some truth to IK’s claim that the “infinite round robin feature ensures that no two hits sound identical”.

Like AD2, MODO DRUM allows you to dial up an extensive range of sounds using the 19 studio processors and effects derived from IK's T-RackS and AmpliTube plug-in. So, for example, if you select the Rock Custom kit, you can choose from dozens of “flavours” ranging from 90s Rock to Grungy Crunchy. I’m sure you could find a kit to match any cover song you were trying to reproduce or to fit with the feel of any original (perhaps with the exception of brushes, rod or mallets!). Also missing in the current version (and there’s no indication this will change) is rim sounds on the toms and edge sounds on the cymbals. On the plus side, all the cymbals are chokable.

Overall, the sounds are nothing short of impressive, with plenty of variety and versatility.

But, there is a problem – and for e-drummers, it’s a big one. Notice how nowhere in this description has there been any mention of a MIDI window? Well, the reason is that there isn’t one.

The kit is set to a GM MIDI map, and it’s not editable – besides the hi-hat controller and the positional sensing on the snare.

There are enough hi-hat articulations – besides open and closed for tip and shank, there’s also a tight-closed and foot splash – but that will depend on what CC notes your module is sending out.

I tried triggering the VST with a couple of modules, and none was perfect. I even tried a GM map with a Zendrum, and some instruments didn’t line up.

So, unless you are willing and able to change the MIDI output numbers on your module, you’re not going to be able to use MODO DRUM. And if you’re using your module with other VSTs, you’re not likely to want to start messing with MIDI settings that already work elsewhere.

I guess this ‘oversight’ is attributable to IK’s keyboard past, and if you are using a MIDI keyboard to play drums, you’ll have no problems. But the absence of MIDI editing is an issue that needs to be resolved if the company wants to tap into the e-drum market, where MODO DRUM would certainly be a contender based on its sounds, its editability and its easy-to-use interface.

Overall

MODO DRUM combines excellent sounds with awesome virtual editing capability to deliver a VST standalone that can, in theory, produce almost any sound you need. It is easy to use and navigate, looks appealing on the screen and has a relatively shallow learning curve compared to some of its competitors.

The lack of MIDI map editing is a big drawback, one the company is aware of and, one assumes, addressing.

If you already own IK Multimedia hardware that retails for $100, there’s a special crossgrade price of $299. Unfortunately, the launch discount is no longer available, so you’d be looking at $399 for a download. A version on USB stick is also available for a few dollars more.