Drum Replacement Plugins
I’ve written this in December 2020 so if you’re reading this sometime later then this may be out of date.
If you’re reading this, you are probably interested in drum replacement software. That means you already know that it allows you to either completely replace individual components of a drum recording (or even live performance) or augment / improve them by layering other drum samples over them.
I am not going to go into a lot of detail about the plugins mentioned in this article but instead will try to help you understand which ones might be right for your needs. Their main benefits and downsides.
When I looked for one I was working on a song which a friend of mine had written and she had provided me with a stereo track with the main drums on. They were pretty much played by hand and varied considerably throughout the song. So, to analyse it and try to create new tracks which I could then mix properly was almost impossible, there were so many nuances, especially with the hi-hats which made it almost impossible to copy. I did have a go but it was taking ages and did not translate well at all.
It’s very easy to get addicted to buying plugins, I think I started off when I couldn’t compress a vocal track well with the stock plugins in my DAW, and from then on the promise of making my mixes sound better kept me on the plugin merry-go-round. However, eventually, after collecting some brilliant plugins I found that there were a few essential ones that I came back to over and over, and instead of looking for plugins that would make me a “better” sound engineer, I began to only get more plugins when I had a problem that I couldn’t solve with the tools I already had. By the way the plugins I use the most are the FabFilter Q3, C2, L2, Saturn 2 and MB2, the SSL Bus Comp, Sound Toys Decapitator, various 76 Compressors, Eiosis De-Esser, SPL Transient Designer and then various other plugins for colourisation (these tend to vary a lot as it’s often an exercise in absolving my conscience by trying out all the ones I should never have bought in the first place).
So, here I was, I had a problem that required a tool I didn’t have. This was a great excuse to not get on with any proper music work and look for a new Holy Grail. Spoiler alert I DID find one… But… Yes, there’s a but.
I realise I’ve rambled on too much already so let’s get down to trying to help you work out what might be best for you. It goes like this.
Superior Drummer 3
The Holy Grail plugin for Drum replacement is Superior Drummer 3, which, while it’s a lot more than a drum replacer it does the job amazingly, including the nuances of the hi-hats. However, the downside is it is quite expensive,(it’s probably at least twice if not three times the price of the equivalent Slate packages). Likewise the sample packs can be very pricey and as far as I know you cannot download a trial version. (Not a great marketing ploy of the main plugin). Also, some of the Sample Packs, including the default ones range from 1 Gb to over a hundred gigabytes, which will take a while to download. However, if you want to see what is the best of the lot and whether it’s worth saving up for I’d absolutely suggest checking it out.
On the other end of the scale is MDrumReplacer. On a good day when the sales are right, you can pick this one up for about $13-$20. At that price, it’s worth it just for the 57Gb of drum samples included as well as some other extras. As for the drum replacement side of things it fared well with the others. One thing I particularly liked was its unique lower threshold bar that allowed the user to indicate an upper and lower range volume for the software to focus on in terms of what ought to be triggered. The downside though was when it came to hi-hat articulations it wasn’t that impressive, but if you’re mainly focusing on snares and kicks that shouldn’t be an issue. Also, for me, it’s midi output option did not work in Cubase 11, so if that’s essential for you, maybe get the trial version first to see if it’s still an issue.
Top and bottom priced ones aside, the main contenders for most people will be these three:
Slate Trigger Platinum 2
UVI Drum Replacer
Drumagog 5 and Drumagog 5 Platinum
Trigger 2 Platinum
When the Slate Trigger 2 is on sale it’s around $49. At that price for me it was the best of the 3. Mainly because it is so simple to use, very intuitive and not only comes with some ok samples but you can either add your own samples or Slate’s own packs (beware the Trigger packs don’t work on the Steven Slate Drums 5 or vice-a-versa which I think is a bit of a swizz). Unfortunately, again the hi-hats came out a bit rigid and it couldn’t tell the difference between open or closed hi-hats.
Drumagog 5 Platinum
The only one of these 3 which could “allegedly” distinguish between open and closed hi-hats is Drumagog 5 Platinum, but as they didn’t supply any hi-hat gog files in the demo I couldn’t test it and at between $163-$199 for the hi-hat version, I wasn’t going to go for it. Better to use that money for Superior Drummer which if you’re a student or teacher can be bought for around £200. The other downside to Drumagog was it wasn’t particularly intuitive. I had to go online to find out how to do things which were obvious in the other packages. Also, the drum window was quite small and it all felt a bit dated. Whilst this is a very popular plugin, I think it’s time for either a big price drop or an update. Still, it’s certainly worth having a look at.
UVI Drum Replacer
The UVI Drum Replacer is most likely to be the Trigger’s main competitor. However, its sale price was around $70 so loses a bit of ground there. In some ways, it has a lot more features than the Slate one, but whether they are ones you’ll need is going to be different for each user. It seemed to have a bit more functionality when it came to detection settings, and allows other plugins to be loaded to work within it, so, for example it allows Kontact drum libraries to be used instead of just samples. This, to me, makes up for it not including its own sample packs, which all the others do. All of this meant I needed a slightly bigger learning curve than I did with Trigger 2 and a bit less than with Drumagog 5.
If you don’t want to shell out a small fortune for Superior Drummer 3, and think MDrumreplacer isn’t going to give you what you need, then I think you’re going to be torn between Slate’s Trigger and the UVI Drum Replacer, even so, do check out Drumagog 5 too, as it’s worth seeing if it’d work for you. Also, if you want to mention other ones that are worth considering, then please do so in the comments area below.
Thanks for reading, I hope this has helped.
Non affiliated links to the plugins mentioned above: