Toontrack - Orchestral Percussion SDX - reviewed by Tony Cliff

Toontrack - Orchestral Percussion SDX - reviewed by Tony Cliff

When Toontrack announced their new ‘Orchestral Percussion SDX’ expansion for Superior Drummer 3 at first I was slightly surprised as it seemed such an odd new direction. Previous Toontrack drum releases related to jazz, pop, metal, blues, electronic, country and all types of commercial music, so for Toontrack to move in a classical music direction seemed unexpected. However when I thought more about it I began to see that an Orchestral Percussion expansion would prove very useful for film/media composers and arrangers and could also find use in many commercial songwriting genres.

The Orchestral Percussion library was recorded in the same room as the Superior Drummer 3 core library and with the same 11.1 microphone positioning philosophy. Moreover Toontrack included authentic MIDI performances of the instruments in this vast collection so you can easily slot the perfect sounds for your music. The whole collection is huge with more than 120 individual instruments. Naturally to use the ‘Orchestral Percussion SDX’ you must have Superior Drummer 3 installed and the product is available as a bundle complete with Superior Drummer 3 or as a separate SDX expansion for existing users.  

Installation and Setting Up
Orchestral Percussion SDX Toontrack Product Manager
Installation and updating of all Toontrack products is so seamless and straightforward now with the advent of the Toontrack Product Manager. This software takes care of the download and installation allowing you to decide where to place the large sample files.

Overall the installation comprises two sets of samples called Orchestral I and Orchestral II. The first folder is larger and comprises about 47GB and the second folder is smaller with around 13GB. It is better if the samples are placed on a fast drive like an SSD but this is not essential. The Toontrack product Manager will also check installed Toontrack products for any necessary updates.

Sound Quality and Operation
On loading Superior Drummer you will find Orchestral Percussion I and II now available to choose from your drum-kit list. When you load Orchestral Percussion you will witness the vast array of percussion instruments presented in the usual Toontrack visual delight.

SDX Orchestral Percussion I

The instruments have default set ups you can choose a huge number of alternatives and also changes like soft or hard beaters, different snares, different tunings for the tympani and so on. Looking at the drums you will see four tymps, a bass drum, a snare, four concert toms of different sizes and small, medium and large Taiko drums.

Then looking at the metallic struck instruments there are two sets of clash cymbals, three different suspended cymbals, a Chinese cymbal, a spinning moon gong, and a leaf gong. It is always good to have some exotic-sounding percussion at hand. At the rear there are both the large Tam Tam and and Indo Gong (with four to choose from in the drop-down list) plus a full set of Tubular Bells. In practically every case you can substitute the default for a different version or different beater so the choice available is huge.

Toontrack SDX Orchestral Percussion II

Just to start with I played through some of the sounds and was immediately impressed with the life and power of the sounds. I played a single Tubular Bell and it rang gently sustaining for a full twenty seconds. The gongs rang through as if I was in the orchestral hall and were incredibly vivid. Naturally there is a full set of accompanying MIDI performances which will help to produce a truly authentic result.

On calling up Orchestral Percussion II you are presented with an impressive selection of extra percussion instruments such as Congas, Bongos, Ocean Drum, a set of Boobam Drums, Tambourine, Triangle, Bar Chimes, Wind Chimes, Spiral Cymbal, Vibra-slap, Agogo Bells and Cowbell. Additionally you have Shakers, Cabasa, Guiro, Rainstick, Bell Tree, Flexatone, Binzasara, Temple Blocks, Sleigh Bells, Kalimba, Ratchet, Whip, Castanets, Finger Cymbals, Soft Shaker and Woodblock. In addition there are sounds like finger-clicks, hand claps, soft and hard shoe foot-stomps and small and large group foot stomp/hand clap combination.

All in all a veritable treasure trove of exciting and sometimes pretty exotic sounds which would come in very useful for many different musical genres. Film and media composers are going to find all these sounds a great addition to their musical armoury. 

MIDI Goodies
Naturally you can record all the instruments directly from your MIDI controller of choice but unless you are a trained percussionist with the correct equipment then there are many percussion performances that are very tricky to replicate. Fortunately Toontrack has solved this through including a great set of accompanying MIDI performances designed for both Orchestral Percussion I and II.

The most obvious area here firstly to investigate is the range of techniques available to the snare drummer which I believe drummers refer to as the ‘rudiments’. These include snare rolls with or without crescendos or diminuendos rolls with an accent at the start or the end, paradiddles, drags, flams, double sticking, triple paradiddle and many more. These are very difficult effects to program yourself so having such MIDI performances is a fantastic resource.

Naturally they can easily be further edited directly in the program’s ‘Grid Editor’ or of course in your DAW if you have transferred the MIDI. I tend to do my programming and editing directly within the Superior Drummer 3 interface as the whole operation is so seamless.

The MIDI Editor

There are also brilliant grooves for cymbals many of which include other instruments such as bass drum and snare. These combination performances can also quickly be modified in the ‘Edit Play Style’ to make one or all of the players busier or less busy or more or less dynamic. It is fantastic to have all the great features of the Superior Drummer 3 interface to edit these great Orchestral Percussion sounds and performances. The Taiku and Bass Drum grooves practically blew my speakers through such is the power of the sounds!

Switching over to the Orchestral Percussion II instruments there is an equally useful set of MIDI performances for this collection. Grooves for sleigh bells, tambourines, castanets, triangle, congas and many others. Once again the grooves included are the ones which would be difficult to play in via a keyboard and would take so much careful programming to achieve. These are all played by real percussionists so they sound totally convincing performances. 

Practical Usage and Conclusions
Whilst I first thought that this collection might be slightly specialist and erudite I quickly revised my opinion. The Orchestral Percussion SDX is an invaluable collection for anyone writing music for film or other media and if you need to create dramatic percussive effects then everything you require is here. They will also be very useful in many commercial music genres since there is such a huge variety of percussive sounds to choose from. Also having this powerhouse of sounds all available within the Superior Drummer 3 song-building interface makes it all very easy to use and edit.

Overall this is a fantastic collection of beautifully-recorded percussion which also offers huge scope for modification to your own needs. The only missing instruments are some of the tuned percussion such as vibraphones, xylophone, marimba or celeste but I can wholeheartedly recommend this amazing collection which proves a worthy addition to the Toontrack family.


Tony Cliff is a published musician, producer, and multi-media composer trained at Royal Holloway College. He is a lecturer in Jazz Composition and Jazz Piano and regularly reviews music software for Time+Space, as well as other publications.