digitalDrummer tries another solution in our quest for DIY drumless tracks.
In May 2020, we reviewed a couple of track separation apps, attempting to create drumless tracks from full music mixes.
The results were ‘mixed’, ranging from pathetic to good, and were determined more by the nature of the original mix than the app capability.
Since then, there has been an explosion of apps, many free, offering to create up to five separate tracks from a music mix.
Most of these are based on Spleeter, a technology developed by music platform Deezer in 2019. According to its authors, “Spleeter is a solution for recreating multitracks from a flat audio file, whether for a song, podcast, movie, game, etc. Our model extracts voice and instruments from music or any audio source and separates them from the rest of the file.”
Many of the current offerings are rebranded versions of Spleeter, the major difference being the speed of upload, the number of separated stems produced and the pricing.
The process of splitting premixed tracks is something like trying to extract the individual ingredients from a baked cake – even if you could get them all out, the egg would be contaminated by flour and sugar and its texture would be altered by the baking, for example. So, as we found in our reviews, even the best extraction apps have a significant amount of bleed and/or frequency loss.
As the hunt continued, we were alerted to RipX, which describes itself as “the world’s leading audio separation and remix software … that splits full-mix stereo MP3s, WAVs, etc. into vocals, guitar, piano, strings, bass, kick, drums, percussion and other instruments”.
That’s a pretty big call – albeit in a field of apps that are mostly flawed in some way. So, we set out to test the claim.
What’s in the box
RipX DeepRemix, to give it its full name, is a digital download. The stem extractor can be purchased as a standalone, or bundled with a couple of extras – DeepAudio and DeepCreate.
The program is also available for a 21-day unlimited, fully functional trial.
It is available for both Mac and Windows and needs to be installed on your computer, unlike some offerings which allow you to do conversion online rather than locally.
RipX works with multiple popular audio formats including MP3 and .wav. The workflow is logical and intuitive. You simply grab the song or audio file and drop it into the RipX work space. Next, you choose which tracks you want to separate – and how you want the output handled. You have the option of importing the tracks into the interface for further editing or outputting them directly as stems. You can also choose the desired output quality. Using all the tracks and high quality, a three-minute song takes about 10 minutes to rip. Of course, if you’re just trying to remove the drum tracks (the software breaks them down into bass drum, drums and percussion), you can complete the process more quickly by going straight to stems and reducing the quality.
Once you have let RipX do its stuff, you can import the stems into a DAW such as Logic Pro or even Guitar Band, where you can adjust the relative volumes of each track or add FX, if required. But you don’t actually have to leave RipX to listen to your output. Not only can you hear the track using RipX, but you can even see the MIDI notes as it plays – and export the MIDI. And you can also add a huge variety of effects, adjust the pitch and – very useful for a drummer – adjust the tempo (the program also automatically detects the BPM). However, I suspect that most readers won’t venture beyond producing stems.
For my first test, I used a track that had stumped all the apps I had tried previously – The Shadows’ Apache. This song is tricky because of the intricate snare work which is synched to the rhythm guitar, and most software struggles to separate the two without creating artefacts or losing notes/beats.
For RipX, Apache was like a knife at a gunfight – the software quickly digested the song and spat out clear, clean stems. Simply muting the kick, drums and percussion (in this case, the software interpreted some floor tom hits as ‘percussion’ and others as bass drum) produced an impressive plug and play drumless track.
Next, I tried Elle King’s Ex’s & Oh’s, a song characterised by a thumping floor tom rhythm that mirrors the bass guitar.
The software separated the track neatly, and muting all the drum-related tracks produced another near-perfect drumless track. There were, however, some anomalies. For example, the floor tom and kick drum were merged into a single track designated as “kick”. The other drums and cymbals were captured as percussion, but correctly broken into separate notes for cymbals and snare. The drum stems are probably only relevant if you want to use the track for learning purposes and the visual clues (i.e. MIDI notes) make learning easy.
Santana’s five-minute Smooth took 15 minutes to rip, producing one of the fullest screens I have seen in some time. Yes, it’s a busy song with lots of instruments, and they all seem to have been captured as separate MIDI streams.
Again, muting the drums, kick and percussion produced an excellent drumless track. Conversely, soloing those three stems generates a great teaching track with a MIDI piano roll to follow for the drum notation.
Toto’s Africa is another good test track because the drums/percussion are so tightly woven in with the guitars and keys. Again, RipX did better than the splitters in our previous tests which left sonic gaps in the song when the drums were muted. As with some of the other tracks in this round of testing, the program didn’t quite get the drums/kick separation right and also included some of the tom notes in the percussion track. This might be an issue if you’re looking to export the MIDI for use with a sampler, but if you’re doing the separation to create a drumless track (or even a drum/percussion teaching track), RipX’s output would get a thumbs-up.
RipX is a very sophisticated program to dissect mixed audio tracks. At its most basic level, it reliably splits songs into separate stems, making it easy to mute drum and percussion sounds without impacting too much on the remaining instruments and vocals – something that can’t be said for a lot of the “splitter” apps and services out there.
The usual caveat applies to this program: some tracks are more intertwined than others and are therefore harder to split. So, RipX is not totally infallible – but it looks like it does a better job than most, even with tricky tracks.
Drummers will probably not need to explore beyond loading mixed tracks, selecting what they want separated and hitting “rip”.
The output can either be played in the program itself or exported as separate .wav files or stems that can be played in a DAW. Alternatively, the drumless track can be exported in audio format and loaded into a drum module. Finally, you can also output the separated tracks as MIDI if you wanted to do some drum substitution.
Producers or those who like to delve deeper will find plenty of bells and whistles in the DeepRemix solution, not to mention the companion DeepAudio and DeepCreate programs.
Of course, this program is not free, unlike some of the less advanced offerings out there. The basic program costs $99 and each of the add-ons has a similar price. There are some discounts for buyers crossgrading from RX, Melodyne or SpectraLayers. And the cost is a one-off, unlike the subscription models used by many competitors. Best of all, you don’t have to reach for your wallet before you’re convinced, thanks to the free 21-day full-featured trial.
So, let it rip!