Steinberg Groove Agent 4 Review

Creating a great beat is key to making good music. Hollin Jones finds out if Groove Agent 4 can do the business…

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Details
Price Full version, £146
Update from version 2 or 3, £82
Contact Via website
Web www.steinberg.net
Minimum System Requirements
Mac OS X 10.8 or higher
Windows 7 or higher 4GB RAM Dual-core CPU

Steinberg has been making Groove Agent for many years, and there have at certain points been versions that were perhaps not as cutting edge as the competition when it came to beat making.

These days, though, the German developer is able to use some of the lessons learned from building Cubase, its flagship DAW, when making its virtual instruments. As a result they are considerably more advanced than some earlier versions.

Groove Agent 4 is a case in point. A drum studio and virtual drumming environment, users of Cubase 7 will recognise a fair few graphical elements. And, of course, although it comes as a VST and AU plug-in and a standalone application it’s designed to work with Cubase for things such as drag-and-drop and browser integration.

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Nuts and Bolts
The download comes in at almost 9GB, and authorisation is via the regular USB dongle. That vast sound library of over 22,000 samples can be offloaded to an external drive during installation for convenience, and there’s a minimum system requirement of 4GB RAM. There are three ‘Agents’ and four agent slots, so you can mix and match.

Acoustic Agent is a virtual drummer with some excellent acoustic kits; Beat Agent is a more futuristic drum sampler for electronic music with advanced slice editing and drum hit recognition; and Percussion Agent features over 20 different rhythm instruments.

For each Agent you can choose from a huge number of presets and filter your list by style, genre, rating or even just enter text to search. As well as the MediaBay browser there’s a regular file explorer for locating content and you can drag-and-drop audio files from the desktop directly onto pads. These, plus any library samples, can be edited in great detail via the onboard sample editor that appears to be based on Cubase’s own sample editing section.

As well as the ability to trim, tune and pan samples there are advanced envelope sections for pitch, filter and amp, and detailed editing tools in the Sample tab. You even get to use MIDI effects and create slices from samples, which are auto-mapped to the pads.

Switch from Instrument to Pattern mode and pads become loop or pattern triggers, and clicking each one plays a tempo-synced rhythm that can be tweaked or edited. Right-clicking on a pad reveals further controls such as copy and paste, trigger note assignment and more. If you go into Edit mode in this section you can alter the pattern control performance parameters and use a fully featured drum lane editor.

There’s also a Style Player that lets you quickly control the complexity and intensity of generated drum parts, and a Jam Mode that creates backing tracks and has a dial to let you choose between intros, fills, main beats and so on. The AudioWarp algorithm means that loops adjust their tempo when you change the project speed.

There are quick controls in some of the Agent windows for sound shaping and there’s also a proper onboard mixer. This enables grouping and routing with up to 16 outputs, and each channel has access to four dedicated effects: EQ, compressor, tape saturation and an envelope shaper (with configurable controls).

There are also four aux channels available, each with four effect slots and a selection of 30 effects from reverb to compression. Whole kits can also be processed in the Kit channel, and the Master channel has four further effect slots, so you can process the sound as much as you like. Last but not least, a toolbar at the top provides various shortcuts.

Feel the Groove
This is far and away the most advanced version of Groove Agent. It’s much more akin to Battery in its approach – multiple sections and deep audio editing – than ever before. The ability to blend the three Agents makes for great beat creation possibilities, mixing old and new sounds. The preset rhythms are really very good and can easily be tweaked or new ones built from scratch, and the onboard sound-shaping and processing tools are powerful and useful.

This feels like Groove Agent coming of age, and whatever kind of music you make you’ll find it a valuable addition to your studio setup

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