“Rhythmic Robot have sampled every percussion voice at every accent level and have also provided a ‘Velocity Retrofit’ button, so that you can play with nuances no genuine DR55 could match. The neat and recognisable UI is the perfect setting for this recreation of the oldest Dr Rhythm” – Sound on Sound magazine
Detailed research conducted down the pub reveals that 100% of people had the Boss DR55 as their first drum machine. While this research may not be entirely reliable, the DR55 was popular for some good reasons: it was cheap, it was tough, and it sounded surprisingly good. Even now, that hard thud of a kick drum can hold its own in a track, and the hats are good, too. The snare is short and punchy, but we’ve found a way to make it longer if you want it to be. And there’s a neat little rimshot sound in there too, quite nicely high-pitched.
The real ace up the DR55’s sleeve, though, was its Accent control. You could input Accents in step-time just like another kit piece, and any kit pieces playing at the same time as an Accent would be “punched up” in the pattern by an amount corresponding to the value set with the separate Accent knob. This gave way more variation to patterns programmed on the DR55 than on most of its contemporaries: you could accentuate the backbeat, or go all James Brown and “put it on the One”, or have alternating 16ths have different Accents, or whatever you liked. The limitation, of course, was that all kit pieces playing on an Accented beat would be Accented by the same amount, which wasn’t as subtle as you might hope. But again, we’re ahead of the game here, and have solved that one for you.
Doctor 55 is the Rhythmic Robot take on the DR55. We’ve sampled every kit piece individually at 24bit, through the entire range of the Accent knob. You can control how much Accent each kit piece gets either from the front-panel knob (individually – set what you want for snares, hats, kick and rimshot); or you can vary the Accent level with velocity using our “Velocity Retrofit”. This enables really varied, expressive playing right from your MIDI keyboard (or you can draw in velocity variations in your DAW) – and it can really bring the instrument to life.
We’ve also found the solution to the Short Snare issue. The inbuilt snare sound of the DR55 is actually quite cool in its character, but it’s very short and that limits its usefulness. However, we fiddled around and found a way to get the instrument to glitch out a longer snare. There you go: a second snare sound, sampled alongside the original, with its own Attack and Decay controls hidden on the back panel of the instrument. This gives you access both to the authentic DR55 snare, or your own version of it – perhaps with a longer decay, or a slower attack for a “brushed” sound. Your call! Plus, there’s a UFO on the back panel too, because you can never have too many UFOs.
Of course, you also get individual control over kit piece levels and pan positions, and a raft of signal processors to pump up or grunge out your beats: bit crusher, tube saturation, distortion and output compression are all right there for the tweaking. It’s great to hear this little beatbox get really snarly with some Drive and Comp dialled in!
Doctor 55 is a great way to add some old-school analogue grit to your tracks, or to get back to your roots. After all, statistics prove that this was your first drum machine, right? Well, even it it wasn’t, we reckon you might end up wishing it had been. Doctor 55: the Doctor will see you now…
(All our Kontakt instruments require a full copy of Native Instruments Kontakt v4.2.3 or higher (including all versions of Kontakt 5). Kontakt Player is not supported: instruments will load, but will time out after 15 minutes. See the FAQ for further information.)
\\\”Rhythmic Robot are a small outfit dedicated to breathing life into the strange and the obscure via the medium of Kontakt. Their instruments require the full version of Kontakt rather than the player version, and V4.2.3 or later is recommended.
The samples behind each instrument are 24-bit mono, well balanced and natural sounding, and every parameter is just a right-click away from MIDI control. Also, since they\\\’re at \\\’app store\\\’ prices, it\\\’s hard not to be tempted to try one — or more than one. There are currently three main collections to sift through: Beat Room, Keyboard Vault and Laboratory. This month we start with a look at Beat Room and we\\\’ll continue our rhythmic explorations in the June issue of Sound On Sound.
Lovers of old drum machines will recognise some of this batch, but there\\\’s at least one you won\\\’t have come across. Starting with the best known, Doctor 55\\\’s samples are sourced from a Boss DR55: the first Dr Rhythm. With a kit consisting of just a kick, snare, hi-hat and rimshot, the DR55\\\’s best patterns arose through creative use of accents. Understanding this, Rhythmic Robot have sampled every percussion voice at every accent level and have also provided a \\\’Velocity Retrofit\\\’ button, so you can play with nuances no genuine DR55 could match.
The chink in the DR55\\\’s sonic armour was always its snare. It was just a fraction too short, at least without a spot of internal tinkering. Fortunately, Rhythmic Robot have tinkered on our behalf, and so are able to offer the original snare plus a second, boosted with variable attack and decay. With its large rotary dial delivering a selection of progressively brighter tones, the neat and recognisable UI is the perfect setting for this recreation of the oldest Dr Rhythm.
Next up is the SR88, its samples taken from a Sound Master Memory Rhythm. This was an analogue beatbox from the 1980s, its most unusual feature a basic low-pass filter acting as a master tone control. Filled with samples of each drum at every available filter setting, this simple Kontakt instrument slips into a mix as effortlessly as any Roland drum machine. With \\\’Velocity Retrofit\\\’ active, dynamics are routed to tone, opening doors to surprisingly subtle and expressive patterns.
As we know, analogue sounds tended to be labelled with a certain optimism, and here the SR88\\\’s \\\’crash\\\’ is of that ilk; it\\\’s actually a cute metallic plink. However, the kick is fat and meaty and, when tuned down low, could justify an SR88 purchase by itself. True, the snare suffers from the same affliction as the DR55 (it\\\’s a little \\\’premature\\\’) but, again, the Professors at RR found a way to prolong it, and to extend the duration of other voices. There are thus alternate versions of the snare and cymbal, plus two extra hi-hats, all with independent two-stage envelopes. The SR88 is a great little instrument — and a discovery for yours truly, who never owned one.
Yamaha aren\\\’t a company often associated with analogue drum boxes; their MR10 didn\\\’t exactly set the world\\\’s foot tapping and was most notable for the pads that were provided to accompany the preset rhythms. In the MR11, you get all the MR10\\\’s sounds primed to play original patterns via your DAW.
The MR11 has no global tune control like Yamaha\\\’s machine; instead, each voice has been sampled at different tunings. I was pleasantly surprised by how the MR11\\\’s kick and snares cut through; they\\\’re way better than my (admittedly foggy) memory suggested. Only the toms still fail to move me — they\\\’re naff and cheesy as ever — but, in compensation, drums not previously available to the user (conga, guiro and the second snare) have been liberated from their preset patterns, to be played like any other. Velocity can be switched in to drive instrument pitch, which has a disturbing effect on the otherwise cool snares, but is decidedly funky when applied to hi-hats. Another cracker.
The last resident of the Beat Room that we looked at (more are being added) is the StyloDrum: a drum machine that never existed before. It was built from the pops, crackles and glitches of a hoard of Stylophones, some distinctly tetchy after years of being forced to play \\\’Amazing Grace\\\’. StyloDrum\\\’s character is anything but graceful. It brings to mind circuit-glitched nastiness, yet its percussive wonders were created not with a soldering iron but via external processing such as looping and time-stretching. There are four preset kits spread over four octaves and, although control over these is minimal, there is sufficient variation in the lo-fi thumps and howls to deliver reliably whenever you\\\’re inclined towards the dark side.
As well as typical controls for level and pan, every Drum Room instrument is fitted with a set of basic effects, typically bit reduction, saturation, drive or distortion, and a compressor. It\\\’s a decent little toolset for injecting bite and punch into these dinky analogue kits without losing that all-important simplicity. At these prices, this collection certainly deserves its four stars.\\\” – Sound on Sound magazine
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