BFD Eco is an acoustic drum software instrument which provides multi-sampled drums, played in a variety of ways (called articulations), and recorded with multiple microphones including real stereo ambience channels. The stereo ambience provides the actual sound of the drums within a room, offering a natural alternative to artificial reverb effects. BFD Eco also contains a Groove engine that plays back realistic drum performances through BFD Eco’s sounds.
As this was my first experience of FXpansion products, I decided to review the ‘eco’ streamlined version of the full BFD acoustic drum production workstation. At just over a 1GB download, the ‘eco’ version seemed a sensible place to start compared with the 13GB download required for its big brother.
The download was straightforward and pretty quickly I was installing the software on my PC. The install guidance wisely suggests that the audio samples are loaded on a different drive from the main programme, which makes for smoother operation and avoids filling your primary partition with data.
I am happy to report that the authorisation procedure for the software is a lot simpler than for some other software based instruments I’ve installed; some of which insist on generating no less than four different keylocks which require you to go backwards and forwards on to the web and are completely confusing. With BFD eco, you have a single serial number which is generated when you make the purchase, so it’s a simple matter of entering that code when prompted and the system then asks you to log on to the FXpansion website to ensure that your account details and serial number match. It was quick!
Like most instruments of this type, you can either run it in stand-a-lone mode, with a single stereo audio output available, or as a plug-in for your favourite DAW; in my case, as a VST plug-in for Sonar. Once the installation was complete, Sonar recognised the plug-in immediately and I was able to insert an instance into a new project.
A total of 11 channels were created in Sonar, a master stereo channel and 10 subgroups which contain either individual drum parts (e.g. Kick) or stereo representations of drum groups (e.g. Toms). You can still pan each of the elements e.g. floor, mid and high Toms within the group, using the BFD control panel.
So what’s it like to use?
As you can see from the screenshot, BFD eco presents a large main control panel with a ‘working’ representation of the drum kit, and a mixing strip showing each of the drum kit elements with the usual level, pan, mute and solo controls. Each channel has two FX inserts which can be selected from a good range of compressors and various delay based effects plus some distortion types e.g. bit crusher! And you get a dedicated 4 band EQ as well. In addition you can send each channel to two aux busses (via aux level controls) for grouped effects.
Looking at each kit element on it’s own; you can select from a number of makes and types of drum element, so for example I was offered choices of kick drum from Gretsch, Ludwig, Pearl, Rogers, Orange, DW and Pork Pie (particularly tasty!) If you need more, then one mouse click takes you to the FXpansion store and you can buy a whole lot more!
And really usefully, each drum element has a range of preset effects available which you can call up by name from a menu; e.g. ‘Hip Hop 01 Snare’. This loads specific effects with settings to suit the described style, and these can be easily previewed and tweeked until you get the kit element sounding to your liking. Then you can save your own presets for each element of the kit and for the kit as a whole.
I’m having to remember this is a drum software instrument and not a fully blown DAW system, so I’m pretty impressed by the facilities so far!
Like a lot of drum software instruments, the BFD eco allows you to preview a vast range of grooves within the instrument. What I particularly like, is the ease with which you can pick and place grooves within the instrument. So you can built up a comprehensive drum part (up to a 1000 bars!) without having to use the MIDI facilities within your main DAW system. These grooves can then be previewed from the main BFD control panel and of course levels, panning and effects can be trimmed on the fly. For me this was a very convenient way to construct drum parts. When you’re happy with the result, you can either export as a MIDI file, or simply drop directly into the host system. This worked very well with Sonar.
I’ll say at this point that the BFD Eco manual (PDF) was a model of clarity. It’s very well indexed and you can dive into a particular feature and understand how to ‘make it happen’ nice and fast (a reviewer’s dream!) There is also a good range of tutorial videos available on the FXpansion website which take you through the construction of a drum track from scratch.
So how does it sound?
That the sound samples were recorded at Air Studios Lyndhurst Hall, London should give you a clue to the quality on offer. The individual drum element samples seem to have been recorded as ‘dry’ as possible. I presume so that you can use the overhead and room mics to blend in as much ambiance as you want. In fact, each drum element, has it’s own overhead and room controls, allowing you to adjust the balance of each element, within the overhead and room channels (which have their own faders and effects available). You can even adjust the stereo width of the ambiance channels from mono through to enhanced stereo; this is a lot of fun to play with and can really transform a drum track within the over song mix.
I found that, even with a fairly large contribution from the overhead and room mics, I was reaching for additional room reverb in order to get a live enough sounding kit at times but I suppose the adage is true, that you can add it on, but it’s not so easy to take it back out.
My PMC monitor speakers were given a good outing, both by the quality and depth of the kick drum sounds, and by the excellent dynamics of the drum sets on offer. There is lot of quality low level detail available within the kits and after, even a short time of using the software, you begin to feel really confident that the kits and audio samples on offer are going to sit well with a wide range of composition styles.
There’s a lot more going on in the BFD Eco than I can get across in this short review. The software loaded and worked first time, was 100% stable during use and has the possibility for serious upgrading through a wide range of FXpansion and third party add-ons. If you want to go a step further, then you can upgrade at a later date to the full BFD software suite which offers an enormous range of additional features and drum kits.
BFD Eco 1.5 is now fully 64-bit ready on Windows 7 and OSX, and comes with a new kit and additional bonus kit-pieces from the BFD2 library.
Current pricing is US$99, €79, £69 inc VAT.
Best features : High quality drum kits plus a really nice groove editor
Weakest points : None at this price point
Rating : 9/10