Drum VSTs are one of the quickest and easiest means to lock down your song’s backbone. As a matter of fact, the software has gotten so good that it isn’t uncommon for solo artists to release finished albums with entirely programmed drums. These virtual kits include samples performed by professional drummers in top-of-the-line studios, and also include pre-made MIDI grooves to get the ball rolling quickly.
This is an introduction to some of the most popular options for drum VSTs at different price points, including some free ones at the end!
Steven Slate’s plugins are incredibly popular, but he actually got his start in 2006 with his drum samples. SSD5 is the latest and greatest, with a brand new user interface redesigned from the bottom up and a reworked routing/mapping system.
SSD includes 77 snares, 84 kicks, 58 toms, 11 hi-hats, 14 crashes, 6 rides, 4 splashes, 3 chinas, 9 percussion instruments (clap, tambourine, cowbell), and 4 sound effect instruments.
On the very affordable end of the spectrum is Room Sound by The Blasting Room! For just $89, you can piece together the perfect drum kit for your needs by selecting from 25 different pieces. It includes all of the key features that make a great drum VST, including an intuitive 16-channel mixer, MIDI groove library, and customizable key-mapping.
Superior Drummer is designed for in-depth, ultra-realistic drum programming. SD3 comes with a daunting 230 GB of raw samples, so get that dedicated hard drive ready!
One of the really cool features with SD3 is the inclusion of an extra 11 room mics used to record the samples. They were arranged in a surround configuration for an “immersive” sound. Engineered by George Massenburg, SD3 comes with 7 different drum kits and over 350 electronic drum sounds. Of course, you can also import your own samples as well.
If you need the utmost flexibility, SD3 can do it all.
Toontrack’s EZ line was designed with no-fuss functionality in mind and is the best-selling virtual drum kit in the world! EZdrummer 2 comes complete with a full library of MIDI grooves, drag-and-drop templates, and pre-made song structures. You can structure an entire song by dragging in MIDI loops or by making custom grooves. The “Song Creator” window will suggest similar grooves to ones already dropped in, meaning you can create a whole song easily. This particular drum software was built for guitarists trying to complete ideas on their own!
EZdrummer 2 comes with five drum kits divided into “Modern” and “Vintage” categories. Toontrack also offers 40+ expansion packs with fresh samples and grooves for a variety of genres, include hip hop and jazz.
One of the newer drum VSTs out there, GetGood Drums is the result of a collaboration between the members of Periphery, including guitarist Misha Mansoor, drummer Matt Halpern, and former bassist/current studio guru Adam ‘Nolly’ Getgood, as well as Good Tiger guitarist Derya Nagle. The four have created drum software very popular amongst modern metal bedroom guitarists/producers.
GGD currently has 4 different drum libraries: Invasion, Modern & Massive, Matt Halpern Signature, and GGD Lite (which is free!). The libraries are made for Native’s Kontakt player and all run on the free version of Kontakt. Unfortunately, the free GGD Lite library actually requires the full version of Kontakt, so you’ll have to pay for something somewhere.
GGD has attempted to make drum programming intuitive and simple, with record-ready sounds out of the box.
Addictive Drums 2 comes with three drum kits including both of XLN’s celebrated Fairfax kits (recorded at the legendary Sound City), as well as the Black Velvet drum kit.
Addictive Drums also includes 130 presets “ranging from super-clean to highly polished and radio-ready to heavily processed and distorted.” The extra Core MIDI Library has over 5000 inspiring beats and grooves in a wide variety of styles and genre. Just like other drum software available, you can use MIDI grooves as-is or customize them to your song.
The onboard sampler comes with EQ, compression, transient shaping, distortion, reverb, and delay for complete control over your drum’s sounds.
Free Drum VSTs
Avid’s Boom plugin is a virtual instrument for programming drums. According to Avid, “Boom is an easy-to-use and effective virtual drum machine and sequencer that enables you to quickly add and customize beats for your music.”
If you own Pro Tools you have it, and if you don’t, you can download a free version of Pro Toolswhich includes Boom!
Drummer lets you add virtual drummers to your music using dedicated Drummer tracks. Users can choose drummers from different genres, including rock, alternative, songwriter, R&B, electronic, hip hop, and percussion. Each of the individual “drummers” (they’re also named, by the way) comes with his/her own acoustic kit or electronic drum kit and a unique playing style.
“The MT Power Drum Kit is a free drum sampler offering the high-quality sounds of an acoustic, realistic drum kit. Samples have been specially recorded and processed to make them ideally suited for use in pop, rock and metal productions.”
Targeted to EDM/hip hop producers. With Nasty Looper, you can build up to 64 beat steps over 16 bars. It also has a built-in brickwall limiter to get crunchy, loud drums without clipping.