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In the somewhat oversaturated world of virtual instruments and samplers it is increasingly difficult to find the best of anything, especially when dealing with drums. Virtual drum machines, samplers and hybrids are seemingly everywhere; either integrated as a package within a specific DAW, as standalones, or dedicated plugins.

Although trying to sift through the possibilities and discovering the nuances of everything out there can be enjoyable and provide its own unique rewards, it can equally be an unproductive and impossible endeavor. 

I have done my fair share, and then some, of trying out many of the top name and lesser known programs available and have decided on BFD 3 as my 'natural drum' plugin/standalone of choice. Here's a brief overview which touches on some of it's more unique features which have brought me to use it exclusively.

Overview

BFD-3 is a dedicated sample player which comes boxed with a library of meticulously recorded top-of-the-line drums (many more kits can be bought as well), each with various articulations and microphone bleed options. 

Each of these articulations are sampled at various velocity levels which allows the user to recreate one of the most realistic drum studio performances possible in a computer environment.

  • The left portion of the main interface is a menu of drum options—containing presets, kits, single drum and MIDI groove libraries
  • The center-bottom is a mixer section which controls a multitude of microphone levels, parameter tweak and signal send options
  • The center-top is a visual layout of the drum kit which also allows for drum selection
  • The right portion is an area where one can tweak certain parameters of the currently selected drum voice
Although it sports a clean and futuristic design, one will find BFD 3's strength is more than interface deep. For this tutorial I have instantiated one of the packaged BFD 3 kits.

Samples

Aside from the futuristic UI design, that first sets this program apart from most others, the recordings and the depth of these recordings. From the bass drums to the hi-hats there are countless velocity layers, articulations of those layers and microphone bleeds which can all be tweaked, modified and automated. 

Everything has been recorded on some of the the highest quality drum and ambient microphones available in some of the highest quality recording studios around.

Drum voices such as the high hats and snares have a multitude of different articulation types (rim, center, ½ center ¾ center etc.) each with their own distinct velocity layers. 

Drums such as kick and tom have as few as one articulation type as would be expected, however they make up for it in bleed options, possible velocity layers and recording quality. This all combines to make an expressive MIDI performance or programming session incredibly convincing to the ear and easy to do if one has the chops for it.

All available hi-hat articulations at a velocity of 80.

The Ups

In the upper area of the main page, there is an area where one can adjust tune, dynamics, loudness and tone across the entire kit. The Tune control does what it says, tuning the entire kit relative to each voice's individual tune.  

Dynamics deals with the velocity layers; it adjusts the sample triggered relative to the incoming velocity signal. 

The Loudness control adjusts the amount of volume randomization across the entire kit when the AMG button is activated (more on AMG soon). 

The Tone control adjusts the global velocity layer randomization of the kit when the AMG button is activated.

The AMG and other controls.

The final and perhaps most important control in this section is the AMG button. 

AMG stands for anti-machine gun which ensures any articulation with the same velocity will not trigger the same sample in succession, even if he/she were to send a MIDI signal to do so. It also makes relevant the global Loudness and Tone controls described above.

Single closed hi-hat articulation at a velocity of 80 with AMG activated.

The DL

One of the major concepts to understand when using BFD 3 is that each channel output is not simply a drum sample output as would be the case in Battery or other common sample players. 

Rather, each channel output is a microphone output of a multi-microphoned kit as one would have in a true drum recording scenario, post recording (imagine a drum kit with multiple microphones set up). 

Drum hits are picked up across multiple microphones and will be output by multiple channels. As such, when adding channel effects or adjusting levels, etc., one is effecting the microphone output of that microphone channel and not specifically effecting the single drum type at the sample level.

That being said, the mixer area in the lower center of the interface is fairly straight forward with level and send options of the microphones among other common controls. One thing that does set this mixer apart from others are the small bleed input trim knobs which are available on the kick, snare and tom channels which does exploit the BFD 3 paradigm more fully. 

This knob adjusts the level of microphone bleed (audio from other drum voices spilling over to other microphone channels; e.g. kick microphone picking up audio from the snare) arriving at the channel. 

This is a best of both worlds control in that one can choose either to isolate the sounds—impossible in a traditional kit recording setup—or introduce bleed to the signal in order to digitally recreate a true tracking session.

The Ambient channel in the mixer area is another keystone of BFD 3's unique architecture. This channel is actually a summing channel of all of the various ambient microphones which make up the particular recording set up of the kit. 

These sub channels are the outputs of the microphones responsible for recording the rides, crashes and room ambiance of the kit, again as would be done in a real world recording set up. These outputs can be manipulated with effects and be altered in any of the other ways available.

The sub Ambient channels. These are displayed by expanding the main mixer by clicking on the arrow icon.

To The Right

In the right hand column, one can tweak certain parameters of a single selected drum voice. The trim knob at the top controls volume of the specific drum at the beginning of the signal path, prior to any routing or effects. 

The tuning area allows for +- 12 steps of pitch from the original recording. The bleed area gives control over how much and to where the bleed output of the voice is sent. The loudness section grants more explicit control over the amplitude and MIDI triggering behavior of the selected drum. 

The ambient section allows for control over how much level of the specific drum is sent to the various available ambient microphones.

The right panel, consisting of parameters specific to the selected drum voice.

Wrap Up

This overview really only touches on the largest features which make BFD 3 one of the best and most unique drum sample players I have come across. In addition, there is a robust MIDI library and groove engine, various choke, articulation and resonance parameters as well as an entire library of effects which are fairly unique in some of their parameter options. 

The program is one that takes a bit of learning and a certain amount of paradigm shift to fully exploit its unique characteristics, but one that also rewards the user with great output and a new and real world way of working. 

Below are a few of the packaged MIDI grooves played on the Blues 1 Kit which help exemplify BFD 3's realistic sound. 

Rock

Jazz

Funk

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