First look review - Toontrack Kicks & Snares EZX

First look review - Toontrack Kicks & Snares EZX

As a former editor of Rhythm and Total Guitar magazines and a musician of over 25 years, Stuart Williams has a wealth of experience playing and reviewing gear, from snare drums to Marshall stacks. He has contributed to many of the world's leading music-making magazines and websites as well as performed on countless gigs and recordings. Follow him on Instagram as @studubz

Here, exclusively for Time+Space, Stu takes a first look at Toontrack's new Kicks & Snares EZX for EZdrummer 2 and Superior Drummer 3, and discovers there's a lot more inside than meets the eye.

Over to Stu...

"Think you already have enough fundamental drum sounds? Toontrack wants you to think again…

No two voices define the tonality of a drum kit as strongly as the bass and snare drums. These are the character of our overall drum sound, giving us the weight and body required to be coloured by cymbals and toms. With that in mind, Toontrack’s latest EZX expansion pack for EZDrummer turns its attention to the two most important components of the kit with a laser focus. 

Toontrack Kicks and Snares box and screenshot

Kicks and Snares has been created in eight different studios in the UK and Australia: Air, Fish Factory, Grove (studios One and Two), Konk, Busby, NSW and 301, and includes around 130 individual kick and snare drum voices. 

Of course, we’re used to Toontack utilising incredible studios to capture truly classic instruments, and this is no exception. However, while Kick and Snares offers plenty of sampled flexibility from its library of close and ambient mics, the big news here is the additional electronic samples, designed by Toontrack founder and Head Of Sound Design, Mattias Eklund.

Toontrack over the shoulder Kicks and Snares user

These additional elements can be thought of first and foremost as potential problem-solving sound enhancers - need more thump in your kick drum, or more snap from your snare? Toontrack has added four channels to each voice offering what it calls sub, skin lo, skin hi and club/stick (for bass drum or snare drum respectively).    

These sound-reinforcing elements give you options across the frequency spectrum of each instrument voice, lessening the need for potentially disruptive EQ and instead allowing you to shape the sound at ‘source’. This idea follows the concept of mixing hacks such as bolstering a kick drum with a gated sine wave, or adding white noise to a snare to bring out more of the attack, but the beauty here is that Toontrack has prepped it for you, so you can concentrate on dialling in your sound rather than routing noise generators or setting up samples to be triggered. Alternatively, you can incorporate more of the electronic channels to design your own, unique hybrid sounds.

Recording Kicks and Snares Chris Whitten

Back to the samples, then, and tonally, Kicks and Snares is a stellar-sounding collection in its own right. The instruments on offer include studio staples such as Ludwig Black Beauties, Supraphonics and Acrolites, Slingerland Radio Kings as well as models from Craviotto, Noble & Cooley, Brady and many more. These have been captured at different tunings, with some ‘snares-off’ samples too. In some cases, some experimental manipulation (a Premier tom filled with ball bearings, cymbals placed on top of a snare etc.).

The kick sounds offer a similar level of variation, Featuring Yamaha Recording Customs, Ludwig Vistalites, vintage Gretsch Round Badges to name just a few. Pretty much every style of acoustic kick sound is on offer here, from wide-open 26” marching drums, punchy dampened 22” rock kicks down to 18” vintage jazz bass drums.

Kicks and Snares recording session

Now would be a good time to mention (in case you wondered like I did at first) that Kicks and Snares actually includes a full kit - with a full complement of cymbals from Sabian, and toms from Slingerland - rather than just these two voices. So you’re not just getting sounds to use in your pre-existing setup, you can use the EZX as a collection of kits in its own right.

Kicks and Snares may not be the most immediately explicit of Toontrack’s packs in its concept, but for recording drummers it definitely offers a useful level of flexibility when replacing/layering samples into your recorded sounds, particularly at the mixdown stage. I found myself using it within Superior Drummer 3 with Tracker for this very purpose to great effect. I can also see this being useful when triggering in a live environment to easily beef-up your kit sound, or help snares to cut through walls of guitars with clarity. Think of Kicks and Snares as your drum sound toolbox, regardless of what genre you play, and for just over £50 it’s an investment that you’ll keep coming back to."