Toontrack Hip Hop EZX Review

Hip-hop has its own requirements when it comes to beats. Hollin Jones finds out if Toontrack’s latest expansion pack can do the business…

Details
Price: €69
Contact: via website
Web: www.toontrack.com
System Requirements: EZdrummer 2 or Superior Drummer 2.4.2, 2GB hard disk space, 2GB RAM

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EZdrummer is one of the most popular sample-based drum instruments around, partly thanks to its friendly interface and features such as the innovative Song Builder that enable you to create backing tracks. It runs as a plug-in as well as a standalone application. It’s also expandable, and one of the latest expansion packs is Hip Hop! EZX, produced by Mattias Eklund and Alexander Juneblad.

This pack requires an existing installation of EZdrummer 2 or Superior Drummer 2.4.2 to be present on your system. Unlike some other sample-based ecosystems there isn’t a free version of a player in which you can load it.

This might be an issue for anyone who wants the sounds but doesn’t already have the player software, though in fairness since the expansion pack is designed to take advantage of most of EZdrummer’s features, it’s not a surprise that it requires an existing install of some kind.

The installation process is simple and, once completed, the collection appears as a list of kits and as a selection of preset patterns in the MIDI browser. You can mix and match these, and this applies to any other kits and patterns you have in your library. Everything follows your host tempo and since loops are MIDI triggered, time stretching isn’t a problem.

Boom Bap
There are 22 kit presets featuring 16 acoustic snares and 18 acoustic kick drums, as well as hundreds of acoustic and electronic percussion sounds – a full list of the samples is available on the website. Graphic-heavy drum instruments haven’t historically always been the most efficient to actually use, but EZdrummer and this expansion pack make a good job of it.

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Each sound in use is mapped to an onscreen element, and wherever you see an arrow, it means that element can be swapped out for a different one. In fact, clicking the arrow not only reveals a list of alternative hits for that slot but also volume and pitch controls, plus the current MIDI mapping details.

There’s no visual or audible lag in triggering the sounds with the mouse (which some instruments suffer from) and in addition to MIDI keyboard mapping, there are options to connect and map MIDI drum kits as well, which generally offers a better playing experience for drummers.

The kits cover a lot of ground, from vintage funk-based hip-hop through to modern-day neo-soul and southern trap. The patterns are really well put together, and mixing and matching patterns with kits can produce some interesting results. Of course a vintage beat with a vintage kit has a classic kind of a sound, but swapping the kit and playing a boom bap beat with more modern, electronic drums can sound excellent as well.

You can drag loops into the timeline and make some edits, removing notes by type, though there’s no direct MIDI grid edit as you’d get in a DAW. That said, if you prefer you can record notes into a MIDI track in your DAW instead and edit conventionally there. You can change playing styles easily, swapping open and closed cymbal hit types, full and side snares and many more, to tweak the kit.

Mix it Up
There’s an onboard mixer section with the ability to send up to 16 individual outs for more flexible mixing in your DAW, and for processing individual sounds through external effects.

EZdrummer has some effects of its own though they seem to work on the master output of the kit and it’s not possible to swap them out, merely to have them on or off and change their settings. The Song Creator feature is handy though, allowing you to build verses, choruses, fills and so on.

For more serious work you’ll want to use it inside a DAW to take full advantage of the more advanced MIDI and effect processing features that are available to you there.

The hip-hop drum sounds in this expansion pack are excellent and cover a wide range of styles, from classic hip-hop through to more processed, filtered and affected kits. It’s a shame you can’t modify effects chains inside EZdrummer (this is possible in Superior Drummer) though you can easily route channels out and process them externally, which isn’t a huge hassle.

The preset patterns are very useable and you are of course free to program your own beats and make extensive changes to kits and the playing styles of each individual hit. If you happen to own EZdrummer and like hip-hop, this pack comes highly recommended.

Key Features
● 22 mix-ready kits
● 16 acoustic snares
● 18 acoustic kick drums
● Hundreds of acoustic and electronic percussions sounds
● Custom MIDI grooves
● Tweakable playing styles
● Multichannel audio out routing
● Master effects

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