In today’s review, we’ll be taking a look at the Driven Machine Drums Strikes Back library by ToneBuilder (who has kindly provided an extra set of 21 free samples from the full DMDSB library exclusively for BPB readers)!
Little Bit Of History
When the original Driven Machine Drums library first appeared two years ago, it wasn’t initially received with the warmest of welcomes in some of the forums I visit. ToneBuilder was (for most of us, at least) a completely new name in the sound design scene, yet the official DMD website used all sorts of superlatives to describe the library’s qualities and even included the statement that only 996 copies of it will ever be sold – something you don’t usually see in the world of electronically delivered soundware and software. Of course, getting the chance to own such an exclusive set of samples is a great thing, but with so many hoax websites to be found online it’s not always easy to take such unusual promises for granted. Thus, it was natural for people to suspect that the whole Driven Machine Drums deal could be a well planned marketing trick, if not something worse. It just looked way too good to be true.
But, this initial wariness with DMD quickly turned to praise once the people who went ahead and bought the library started favoring its actual content in various online communities such as KVR and Gearslutz. It turned out that most of the superlatives used on the website were actually pretty much valid, and if you look around the web nowadays you’ll often see DMD recommended as a must-have drum sample library by its happy users. The only problem is – it’s not available for purchase anymore. ToneBuilder kept the initial promise that only 996 copies will ever be licensed, so only a limited number of happy customers now have the chance of using these samples in their music.
The original DMD was followed by the Miami Hi-Fi expansion pack and Hi-Fi 909, both of which are also commonly regarded as great drum sample libraries. Now, having gained the reputation of a respectable sound design company, and with several successful releases in the portfolio, ToneBuilder brings us Driven Machine Drums Strikes Back. The question is, will it compare to DMD like The Empire Strikes Back compares to A New Hope?
A Peek Inside DMDSB
Just like the original DMD library, DMDSB features a set of individual drum hits which were generated using a variety of analog and digital sound sources and then further processed with a selection of high-end audio gear. Apart from some well-known classic drum machines such as the Alesis HR16, Roland TR-808 and TR-909, the gear list (which you can read in its entirety by clicking here) also includes a range of more exotic tools such as the Cwejman modular synthesizer, Thermionic Culture Vulture, Empirical Labs Distressor, and plenty of other sound processing gizmos that will make your gearlust-o-meter go off scale. Here’s a quote from the DMDSB website:
It’s a bit tough to present a gearlist because of the methodology. Everything was combined in a more modular fashion, some stuff was real instruments, some used physical modeling, some used current analog synthesis… and then those were perhaps combined.
The library contains 2072 individual samples, which are all conveniently organized into folders by sound category. Along with the folders containing the usual sound types such as kicks, snares, claps, and so on, there’s also a folder labeled as Unknown Electronic sounds which is sort of a “fun box” with 333 samples which couldn’t be fitted into any conventional drum hit category. Each sample category is further grouped into subfolders, which makes it easier to pick out the appropriate type of timbre or style. For example, the kicks are categorized into chest thumpers, beatbox, soft analog, rectum ticklers (lol!), etc.
Having different stuff labeled like this makes folder browsing a lot quicker and more convenient than just having to dwell through one big pile of drum samples. Speaking of samples, according to the official website, 90% of the DMDSB content is brand new material, while the remaining 10% are completely refurbished sounds from the original DMD library, processed from scratch with new tools and gear.
The Evolution Of Driven Machine Drums
Being familiar with ToneBuilder’s previous work (if you haven’t had the chance to use any of his products before, now’s a good time to check out his freebie samples which are all included in BPB’s best free drum machine samples list), I had pretty high expectations for DMDSB, quality-wise. To be fair, there was little doubt for me that this was going to be a good drum library, but I was very eager to see how it will compare to the original DMD pack and whether it will go even further in terms of quality.
And yes, after spending quite some time testing the new samples, I am happy to say that DMDSB is exactly what I was hoping for – an evolution of the original Driven Machine Drums concept, taken in the right direction. Now that I think about it, I almost wish that there was something wrong with this collection of samples – some nasty little flaw that I could mention in this review, so that I don’t have to write the rest of the article sounding like an overexcited fanboy. It feels a bit silly being a reviewer sometimes, as you tend to get disappointed by things that are exceptionally good.
The One Inch Punch!
The first thing that draws attention while browsing through different folders for the first time and randomly previewing DMDSB sounds is how the samples are loud, yet don’t sound overcompressed or smacked down to utter dullness. But things get even better after spending some time working with these samples and using them in a few mixes. It is astonishing how little extra effort is needed to get a loud drum mix with DMDSB samples, without losing the punch or messing up the dynamics. Just a bit of bus compression and a few dBs of careful limiting, and the RMS meters should be hitting just about the right value.
Things usually aren’t this easy when mixing drums and I often find myself tinkering with the drum bus for ages, trying to find the right balance between loudness and proper dynamics. I was quite amazed to see how smooth things went when mixing DMDSB sounds.
Apparently (and according to the info on the official DMDSB website), a big part of what makes this possible, besides properly taming the transients, is the application of certain psychoacoustic principles in order to increase the loundess without sucking the life out of samples. I’m far from being an expert in the field of sound design or acoustics, but, as far as I could understand (and I might be wrong here), the thing is that our ears are more sensitive to the changes which happen in a sound’s timbre, rather than its amplitude – thus, it’s possible to make the sounds less dynamic, but still exciting enough to the human ear by adding movement to its texture. And it seems like this is exactly what the reason was for using all that fancy audio gear while making the library – finding a way to make loud drums with plenty of character. Obviously, it worked.
It’s All About The Details
It’s clear that a lot of effort was put into trimming and editing of each individual sample, thus continuing the great tradition of the original DMD library. There are no nasty pops, clicks, bad endings or unnatural fade outs with these sounds, saving the end user from the hassle of fixing these sorts of things inside the sampler or messing up the workflow due to sloppy MIDI triggering. On top of that, all the samples have been normalized to around -1.5 dBFS, leaving some safety headroom available when further shaping the sounds in a mixing environment.
Basically, it’s tiny details like these that separate great sample libraries from the rest, and I’m quite impressed with this aspect of DMDSB. The samples are pretty much plug-and-play, and require zero preparation before use.
Nevertheless, a fair amount of included samples have been edited with longer decay and release times, leaving the possibility of further shaping the sounds using the sampler envelope. Check out how this works in this short audio demo.
Taking Over The Dancefloor
There’s plenty of variety to the included samples, ranging from softer hits to full-on saturated dirty electronic sounds. I’m all for musical experimentation and against boundaries in music, but if we talk genres, DMDSB samples fits like a glove in various kinds of contemporary electronic music – from electronica and any type of EDM you can think of, to all sorts of modern urban styles. Basically, the included sounds are conventional enough to fit a wide variety of genres, yet packed with enough character to sound different and fresh. The library also includes a nice selection of just plain weird noisy electronic sounds which are a real joy to use!
Final Thoughts And A Nice Surprise
So, the conclusion is quite simple – DMDSB definitely is the Episode V of drum sample libraries (this means it’s pretty awesome, in case you’re not a Star Wars fan). The sounds are punchy, exciting, carefully trimmed and suitable for use in a variety of different electronic music genres. I just couldn’t find any flaw, and if you were looking to refresh your drum sample library this Holiday season, DMDSB is the perfect choice! The library is available in two editions, Standard ($77) and Deluxe ($87), whereas the latter one contains Kontakt and EXS-24 patches plus all the other stuff found in the Standard edition (which is WAV samples, as well as Maschine, Guru and Geist kits). Same as before, only 966 copies of the library will ever be licensed, and there’s also a 30-day return policy for all customers.
Finally, here comes the coolest part! Nathaniel has been kind enough to provide a free set of 21 samples exclusively for BPB readers! The samples are picked from the full library and are not included in the demo pack which you can download for free on the DMDSB website. Many thanks to ToneBuilder for this and for including some pretty cool samples in the BPB demo pack!
Download 21 Free DMDSB Samples (BPB exclusive!)
Purchase DMDSB Standard (€65)
Purchase DMDSB Deluxe (€74)
Not much else to add here except that DMDSB is a great choice for any beatmaker, and since I’m pretty sure that there’s more than 966 of us out there, I think you’d better hurry up and grab your copy while you can. Peace.