digitalDrummer was among the first to test BFD’s new free VST offering, BFD Player.
BFD, previously owned by ROLI in 2016, has released its first new product since its April 2020 acquisition by inMusic, the owner of Alesis.
The new BFD Player represents a new direction in drum plug-ins, with BFD describing it as “the simplest, fastest path to great-sounding drums”. That’s shorthand for minimal bells and whistles – which is exactly the request we often hear at digitalDrummer. Better still, the Player and Core library are totally free.
What’s in the box
Like pretty much all software these days, there is no “box”. Instead, BFD Player is a digital download – 4.9 GB containing a stand-alone player and stock kit samples. There are currently also expansion kits, the London 70s pack and the Dark Mahogany kit, with plans for more add-ons in the future.
Installation is pretty straight-forward and requires the inMusicSoftware Center program, available for both Windows and Mac.
digitalDrummer used the Mac option and, as an existing customer, it was just a matter of running the installers and registering the new player.
If you’re going to use an e-drum kit to trigger the plug-in, the first step is to select the appropriate MIDI input and the MIDI map. The program comes with an impressive selection of preset MIDI maps catering to everything from 2box to Yamaha (although not the latest Yamaha modules, for some reason). And it’s important that a wide range of drum brains is covered because the MIDI maps are not editable within the VST. In other words, if your module is expecting the high tom on a certain note which doesn’t match that of the preset, you can’t change it.
While I understand that BFD wanted to simplify the plug-in and make it plug and play, I think the omission of MIDI learn functionality is an oversight.
That said, I tried the plug-in with a few different modules and the mapping was spot-on.
The layout is intuitive and easy to use. All the available “kits” are accessed in a list on the left-hand side of the screen.
The included Core Library is based on a four-piece DW kit augmented by a Ludwig 14×6.5” Black Beauty snare – a versatile starting point. The cymbal array includes some classy Zildjian cymbals.
There are no alternative instruments in the stock kit, but you can swap set pieces with drums and cymbals from other expansion packs in the series.
However, through micing and processing, the BFD team has come up with 10 very different sounding versions of the stock kit, from an ’80s gated reverb kit to a dry country kit.
The plug-in is configured for three-zone drum triggering (head, side-stick and rimshot) and bow/edge/bell and choke articulations on the cymbals. As a bonus for Zendrummers, there are also drag articulations for some of the instruments.
The hi-hat samples include tip and shank sounds for various levels of openness as well as chick pedal sounds.
The user interface centres around a beautiful interactive kit image – which is a refreshing change from the blueprint-style depiction in BFD’s current flagship product, BFD 3. In the main panel, you can audition the sounds by clicking the drums and cymbals.
As you click each instrument, the display reveals the details – brand and size, source library and characteristics.
The next view, the mixer, shows a mixer desk depiction of the kit with individual sliders for each instrument (direct mics) as well of overheads, room mics and various effects. There are also some knobs for overall attack/sustain, stereo spread, gate release and tone.
We often hear that e-drummers are intimidated by the complexity of some of the VST mixers, and this one certainly avoids that risk. It is very straight forward and similar to the onboard mixing options on most drum modules.
A third tab opens the Grooves panel. Here, drummers (and non-drummers!) can select from a range of drum patterns.
Usually, we ignore the groove capabilities of VSTs because they are clearly designed for non-drummers, but in this case, it’s worth mentioning that BFD has not included any form or groove editor or player, so you can’t create a song within the plug-in. Instead, the manual suggests exporting grooves as MIDI files and using a DAW to compose a song. This seems a bit laborious, but I guess it makes sense in terms of the simplicity of the plug-in.
To put the Player through its paces, we connected our MacBook Air to a Roland TD-30 module and selected the appropriate MIDI map. We chose the Full Detail profile from the Engine options, which also include Economy and Medium options depending on your computer’s RAM capability.
The stock TD-30 MIDI map worked a treat, and triggering was accurate and predictable. But the real point of BFD Player is improved sounds and that box was instantly ticked by the stock Core Library.
The stock kit and the nine variants in the Core Library are rich, detailed and versatile. While we are not privy to the sample architecture, there seem to be more than enough samples and velocity levels to ensure hyper-realistic playing, from the faintest ghost notes to slamming rimshots. There are more than 80 samples for the snare hit alone, so there was no hint of machinegunning, even when I tried hitting at the same velocity.
The 10 basic kits are skilfully mastered to cover a variety of genres, but there’s a strong slant towards rock and pop.
The kits are easy to audition – either by loading them and playing your kit, clicking the instrument images on screen, or by hitting the play icon next to each preset name, which launches a groove.
Of course, you can tweak the sounds with the tools in the mixer pane, but only to a limited degree. You won’t, for example, be able to tune any of the kits into a soft jazz kit or a Latin kit.
That’s where the paid add-on kits come in.
The first two add-on kits show that BFD is determined to broaden the appeal of the Player plug-in.
The London 70s pack is built around a Ludwig Vistalite kit (26” bass, and 10”, 16” and 18” toms) paired with a 14×6.5 Supraphonic 402 snare, presented in five mixes from crisp and dry to big and roomy. These kits have heaps of bottom end and cracking snare sounds designed for prog rock, classic rock and heavier genres. The cymbal selection for this pack is centred around Paiste products.
The Dark Mahogany pack has five variants (plus “original mix”) of a Q Drums Mahogany kit (24” kick, 12/16/18 toms and 14×7” aluminium snare) paired with Zildjian K cymbals and ideal for contemporary and alternative rock styles. The kits are deep and rich, and very detailed.
Drummers are also not limited to the configurations in the individual libraries. You can mix and match. So, if you prefer the London 70s kick to the stock bass drum in the Dark Mahogany library, you can simply load it into any of the presets.
If there are gaps, they centre around some of the “less common” genres like jazz, Latin, and percussion and alternative beaters like brushes and rods. But since BFD has dedicated sample packs in its main offering for these styles, it would not be unreasonable to expect that they will eventually be available.
On that score, it’s worth noting that you can’t add samples from other BFD lines to the Player instrument array.
For those e-drummers keen to access new sounds or wanting to explore the VST world, the new BFD Player offers a high-quality “gateway into the BFD world”. Unlike other VST trial products, the Player is a fully fledged stand-alone drum sample player, with comprehensive sounds, some editing tools and built-in MIDI grooves.
BFD Player is accessible and not overly complicated and is ideal for e-drummers who might be intimidated by the editing capabilities of rival packs. If you just want decent-sounding drums without having to dig into FX and processing, this will do the job.
Initial exposure to BFD Player might encourage some players to dig deeper – either into the BFD range or to other VST offerings. But a lot of drummers will be happy to stick with this solution and just hope for more expansion packs to be rolled out. A cursory examination of the current BFD offerings should give an indication of the types of packs that could be released.
Those happy to stick with the BFD Player line should find the solution to be plug and play with most drum modules. The inbuilt MIDI maps cover the major mainstream brains – which is fortuitous because there’s no way of editing the mapping within the app and most drummers would be unwilling to start messing with the mapping within their modules.
Best of all, since it’s a free offering, there’s no reason for those with even the vaguest interest not to dip a toe in the VST waters. And the modest price of the add-on packs ($30 each) means you can easily augment your module with superior sounds.