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October 2005

Fxpansion BFD Acoustic Drum Module
A leap in achieving more realistic drum sounds
reviewed by Glenn Bucci

Until recently the only way to get anything near realistic acoustic drum sounds, if you weren't — or didn't have — a drummer, was to use various loops recorded in a studio on a real drum kit. However, the flexibility was often limited. One of the newer drum programs out by Fxpansion is called BFD, and they claim the program produces authentic acoustic drum sounds. It can be operated as a plug-in or stand alone mode, and works on a Mac or Windows OS. FXpansion made this available with VSTi, DXi, as well as Rewire. The drum library consists of seven acoustic drum kits recorded at multiple velocity levels which were recorded all in the same room in a studio. The user has more control with 14 mics around the kit and with a fader for direct master, overhead, room and room PZM mics. Surprisingly, the end result gives a similar control to being in a recording studio with the drums on the other side of the window. If more drum kits are needed, including brushes, mallets and other percussion, FXpansion has come out with a XFL package that includes additional kits and sounds.

Also recently released by Fxpansion is a Deluxe BFD package that includes drums recorded in a different studio for additional sounds. I was told by Fxpansion that the Deluxe BFD used a little EQ on, while the stock BFD and XFL has no EQ or compression as they wanted to leave dynamic processing up to the end user. If you are looking for polished drum sounds BFD not the program for you. However I found using the UAD 1176 plug in on the snare, and UAD Fairchild plug in on a group channel with many parts of the kit did a great job. Of course a little EQ is always helpful as well. MP3 soundclips of the kits at are available at www.fxpansion.com/product-bfd-mp3s.php. Once you hear them, you'd would swear that you're hearing real drums. Fxpansion did a pro job in getting the drums to sound they way they do. This includes using high-quality mics, including the Shure SM57, Sennheiser MD421, Neumann KM81 and M49 as room mics. For overheads included are recorded with AKG C12s going through nice tube pre amps. The room ambience is recorded with Neumann U87's through Avalon mic pres.

The BFD software contains a 9 GB library with a total of seven drum kits. The need for so much memory is clear after hearing how great the drums sound. The XFL edition adds a 22 GB library on top of the original BFD. To run these smoothly, I'd recommend having a G5 or Pent IV with a minimum of 1 GB of ram. Thankfully the cost of ram is pretty cheap these days. My test computer had 1.5 GB of ram and has been smoothly running Cubase SX 3 on my PC. Using additional programs such as Giga Studio or hungry plug-ins such as Waves IR-1, it would be helpful to go to 2 GB of ram. Starting up the program there is one main screen, which is a nice touch and keeps things simple. The Groove Library contains almost 1000 patterns, and is accessed by a pull-down menu bar at the top of screen. The different types of grooves include many rock, pop, heavy metal, jazz fusion, and more. Drum grooves can be auditioned before putting them in the either Bank A or Bank B. Additionally, there are separate slots for drum fills. Once a desired groove is found, drag it into one of the slots in Bank A. BFD runs with GM mapping and allows for the ability to tune each drum and cymbal as well as control volume, dynamics, solo, mute, and panning. The mics can also be moved farther or closer to the kit, which has the affect of controlling how much bleed come through the mics.


Click for larger image

Another great feature is the ability to blend the different kits together. For instance, if the DWR kit has been chosen as the main kit, but you want to use a different kick drum, just click the kick drum icon on the left and all the kick drums of each set shows up. Then each kick drum can be auditioned and and then selected by double clicking to install that kick with current drum kit. The kits included are DW, Pearl, Ludwig, Slingerland, Ayotte, Leedy, and Lucite. In order to make the drums sound more life like, velocity can be adjusted on the hits. BFD can deviate a little or a lot while playing a groove, which helps to alleviate that monotonous, robotic sound in which every hit on the snare sounds the same. Additionally, BFD allows for the same flexibility with the timing, and quantize features. The output of the drum kit includes Stereo, Groups or All. BFD Stereo mixes everything on a stereo track, while the Groups give 4 separate outputs of the four main groups. All gives 14 separate outs. This allows for EQ'ing part of the kit separately as well as adding reverb or compression.

The only problem I found with the BFD was that the drums had a tendency to sound big and ringy. I tried reducing the room mic level and have more overheads, but it only helped to a certain extent. Thankfully with their latest update 1.5, it gives the ability to dampen the drums as well as a cymbal grab choke, giving for even more control of the drums. Drums grooves and fills can be repeated and looped by holding down the key on a midi keyboard. The BFD program can also be triggered by the midi drum kits such as Roland V Drums. The other and less costly method is to work with several different grooves and then switching back and forth between them with a midi keyboard. Each groove and fill is triggered on a different key the keyboard. Starting on the far left side of the keyboard, each part of the drum kit can be triggered separately. You can create your own grooves which can be saved in BFD. I found a combination of using my own created grooves together with what BFD offers to be a good way to work. The only other drum program out there that gives such authentic drum sounds is Toontrack's DFH Superior. One isn't necessarily better, and they both give excellent results. The only benefit of Fxpansion's BFD is that it includes grooves and fills which the Toontrack's DFH does not. The average price for the BFD program and XFL separately is $299. FXpansion has done a great job with this program, and if you're looking for raw drum sounds, check out BFD.

For more info on the Fxpansion's BFD and other Fxpansion products visit www.fxpansion.com/product-bfd-main.php

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Glenn Bucci is a musician and received the same degree in recording as Rupert Neve, which Rupert calls QBE: Qualified by Experience. He owns Revelation Sound Studio, where he engineers and produces for clients and works on his own original blues/ jazz material.



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