Sterloid by That Sound is a drum library which is both very unusual and very mainstream at the same time. It is a signature library created by drummer Aaron Sterling and falls somewhere in-between a “drummerly” drum kit that behaves like a drum kit, and a “producerly” collection of drum sounds.
Sterloid caught my interest thanks to the walkthrough video. Instead of quickly explain a product’s capabilities and workflow, as most walkthrough videos do, this one shows how these drums are intended to be used. What really grabbed my attention is that here is Aaron Sterling, a drummer, controlling drum samples not with an electronic drum kit, but a keyboard. The first thing he does is load up a lot of kicks, hit several of them at once, and declares that layered sound to be what he wants. He then proceeds to build a drum loop one element at a time, recording the parts on a keyboard, and in the next very interesting and revealing moment, individually decides which parts should be quantized and which should not.
At that moment it hit me that these drums are perfect for the sort of very organic but not very realistic sound that’s very common these days – but this is the first drum library I’ve seen that’s built to achieve it.
Drum samples nowadays generally fall into one of the following two categories. The first one is realistic deeply sampled kits which are designed to behave and sound like a drummer sitting behind a kit and playing it live. On the other end, we have collections of highly varied drum sounds and loops intended for more electronic music. However, there’s a whole lot of music which falls exactly in-between, not just blending synthesized sounds with real acoustic or electric instruments, but often using those real instruments to make things more organic, but not exactly realistic.
What I mean by this is that a guitar part might be looped, so it repeats more precisely than if it was played all the way through; the bass might get looped and quantized, for even more precision; and the drums could be recorded live with some additional hits layered on top or replaced by samples. This kind of approach is especially common in music that’s on the more acoustic, jazzy or guitar-oriented side of pop, but even EDM includes more and more organic elements nowadays. Some virtual instruments are designed to support this kind of hybrid approach – UVI Falcon, for example. But for drums, there isn’t really much out there. Sure, there is hybrid epic percussion for movies and trailers, but that’s a completely different beast altogether.
Getting an idea of what these sounds are like and whether they might work for you isn’t too hard. There’s 10 MB of free samples that you can download from the product page, which is just a tiny part of the entire 4GB library, but enough to give you an idea of the sound flavors on offer.
Under The Hood
OK, so what’s actually there, and how is it different? Well, you have your basic elements of a drum kit – kick, snare, hi-hat, toms, cymbals, and percussion – plus various tempo-synced loops. There’s a selection of several kit pieces for each element, with a moderate number of velocity layers and round robins (up to 10 and 5, respectively), and multiple mic positions. Some of the kit pieces are typical, while others are more unusual, and more likely intended to be used as one of many layers. For example, there’s a marching band bass drum being used as a kick, a tight marching snare, and a hi-hat with the evocative name “garbage can”. There’s a decent variety of articulations, although the hi-hats don’t include many intermediate degrees of openness. There is a brushed snare, but at the highest velocities it’s getting whacked so hard it sounds almost like a stick – so it’s more of an alternative snare sound than a snare intended for brushed tracks. Many of these are definitely lo-fi, and the “big” mic position seems pretty heavily processed, and indeed big.
The percussion deserves its own paragraph. Even though it doesn’t have multiple velocity layers and not that many round robins, it’s an important component of the sound. We’re not talking traditional Latin or Caribbean percussion at all – this is strange objects getting whacked, for the sort of organic lo-fi layer that’s really key to taking the sound away from something that sounds like a drummer sitting behind a drum kit, but still sounds every bit as organic as a drummer would. It might not be too hard to find these kinds of sounds elsewhere, but finding them bundled in a nice drum kit like this and with round robins is actually fairly extraordinary.
So, compared to a traditional deep-sampled drum kit, there is less detail and less realism, but a much broader collection of sounds. On the other hand, compared to a really large electronic drum library, there is a smaller selection of more natural sounds. This is why I said at the beginning of the review that That Sound’s Sterling falls roughly halfway between the two main categories of drum sound libraries. It’s almost like a bigger, more deluxe version of the Morcheeba Beat Treats drum samples from a few years ago.
When I reviewed That Sound’s Drumline, I said that it’s an unusual “spice” rather than a “bread and butter” drum library. Sterloid is both. Sure, it can be used as just a “spice” to either make real drum performances sound bigger and richer or electronic drum patterns less digital. But for a certain kind of sound which is popular today, especially in pop songs which use a lot of “real” instruments (Aaron Sterling plays drums for John Mayer) and are more on the indie side of things, it provides both the basic elements of the beat and the additional layers in one convenient and coherent package.
Loops And Presets
The pack also contains loops, which give you both Aaron Sterling’s sound and his grooves. There’s a really good selection of tempos with multiple grooves for each, as well as fill selections. When loops or patterns are included with a virtual instrument, I often say something about how the simplest ones are the most useful, but in this case, even most of the fills aren’t overkill. The loops are definitely on the tastefully restrained pop drumming side of things.
Sterloid includes WAV samples, which means they can be used in any sampler, but also includes presets for many popular samplers – Trigger 2, EXS24, Battery, Kontakt, Maschine 2, Ableton, and Reason. These are essentially mappings – not complex instruments with a lot of controls and built-in effects. There are a lot of them, though, and they are intended to load the samples quickly and present them in a useful way. Taking a closer look at the Kontakt presets, there are a few whole-kit mappings, as well as separate mappings for each set of kit pieces – one for kicks, one for snares etc. These are designed exactly for the sort of layering shown in the walkthrough video. A nice touch is that the hi-hat and percussion mappings come in two versions – with and without round robins, so if you want a sound to “machine gun”, you just load the no-RR mapping.
Sure, many drum kits include multiple snares and could be layered – but most would need to have multiple instances opened at once, with the right snare loaded in each, and all using the same MIDI input channel. That works but takes longer than opening one of these quick presets and just hitting multiple keys until the desired sound is found.
Sterloid is by far the “2017est” drum library I’m aware of. It’s not as deep and realistic as the best acoustic drum kit samples out there, nor as broad in scope as the biggest drum machine sample collections, but neither of those is the point. It’s perfect for contemporary drum sounds which don’t necessarily need to sound as realistic as possible but must, on the other hand, sound organic.
More info: Sterloid ($85)
That Sound Sterloid Review
Sterloid is by far the "2017est" drum sample library that we're aware of.