Category: Research

All research posts can be found here.

GUI Development : Interface Objects and Skeuomorphism

The GUI (graphical user interface) is an important part of the user’s experience with a piece of software. The GUI represents the visual elements of the program and good GUI design is key to ease of use. While ease of use and clear access to features are paramount in GUI design the visual aesthetics are also important. The aesthetics of the GUI allow the developer to create the visual identity and branding of the plugin. Visual identity can be used to reflect the features of the plugin.

A common design element used in audio plugins is skeuomorphism. Skeuomorphism describes interface objects that mimic a real-life object, for example, a knob or fader. This gives the user an instant understanding of how to use this feature as they are familiar with the real-world equivalent. Skeuomorphism can range from being highly accurate to a real-world object or piece of musical equipment, such as Universal Audio’s 1176 compressor plugin which is a faithful recreation of the classic studio rack compressor (fig. 1), to more abstract and simplified versions of knobs and sliders such as those used in Ableton’s interface (fig. 2).

Further Market research and development of our Kontakt library will inform the route we will take in designing our GUI and I will elaborate further on our process in future posts.

Fig. 1 UA 1176 Compressor is modelled after the real rack unit.
Fig. 2 Ableton uses a more simplified, abstract GUI design making each controls function clear.

Competitor Research: Toontrack Part 2: Superior Drummer 3

Continuing the analysis of Toontracks’ drum sample solutions in this post I will cover their flagship software, Superior Drummer 3. While EZ Drummer offers a useful tool for producers seeking high-quality drums with little work out of the box it is somewhat limited in customisation and tweakability of raw drum sounds, restricting the user to pre-processed drums with some basic mixing and additional processing features. Superior Drummer however gives the user a huge amount of flexibility when achieving their ideal drum sounds.

Superior Drummer offers many of the same features as EZ Drummer, a visual representation of the drumkit allowing the user to audition and swap between drums, a groove library offering a wide variety of pre-recorded midi files for different genres, a arrange view for arranging songs in the plugin itself and a mixer section. Superior Drummer however allows for far more in-depth mixing and processing options. The mix section allows the user to mix, pan, adjust bleed of each instrument individually on each mic, bus and group tracks, and further process the raw sounds using 35 included effects inserts. This gives the user a huge amount of freedom to get the exact drum sound they desire.

Superior Drummer offers a massive drum library with the core software with 7 different kits with different head and tool options (sticks, brushes, felt mallets, etc.) as well as over 250 electric drum sounds sampled from classic vintage drum machines combining to over 230GB of raw samples. All these samples were recorded by Grammy award-winning engineer George Massenburg at Galaxy Studios in Belgium with 11 room mics set up to offer up to 11.1 surround sound. In addition to the impressive library supplied with the base software, Superior Drummer like EZ Drummer offers a range of expansions or SDX as well as being compatible with EZ Drummer EZX expansions as well as 3rd party samples. This gives the user access to an enormous pool of source drum sounds.

Another unique feature new to the latest iteration of Superior Drummer is the Tracker. The tracker is a powerful tool that uses machine learning to convert existing multitracked drum audio to midi files. The tracker automatically works out what the source drum is by analysing over 500 frequency bands and transient shapes. The user can however change this if needed. In addition, the tracker will detect different articulations to replicate the drummer’s performance as accurately as possible. The user has access to a wide range of editing tools and features to ensure as accurate conversion as possible. Once the user is happy they can export either individual instruments or the whole mix as a single midi file either into the song view or onto their computer for use in DAWs.

Superior Drummer offers unrivaled drum shaping flexibility and absolute top quality raw drum samples allowing the user to achieve the best possible drum sound they can. One drawback however is that it can require a lot more work to achieve a finished drum sound compared to pre-mixed and processed drums and the amount of customisation can seem overwhelming. Less orthodox drum recording techniques such as the Glyn Johns method are also not supported meaning more experimental drum sounds may be harder to achieve. The super polished hi-fi drum sounds may also seem out of place with some genres of music where a more grungy “raw” sound may be more desirable.

In conclusion, Toontrack is an industry leader for a reason, they cater to various levels of producers and songwriters of all genres with the ease of use and creative inspiration or EZ Drummer and the deep dive customisation of Superior Drummer with world-class drum samples recorded by some of the best producers, engineers and drummers around.

Competitor Research: Toontrack Part 1: EZ Drummer 2

Toontrack is an industry leader in high-fidelity drum production suites. Through their products Superior Drummer 3 and EZ Drummer 2 they provide self-contained plugin-based or standalone drum sample libraries. EZ Drummer acts as the entry-level software for producers looking to use out-of-the-box pre-mixed and processed drum kits. The base software comes with 5 fully mixed and processed kits as well as additional percussion elements. This acts as a starting point with 2 separate sound libraries, modern and vintage.

In addition to the base program, Toontrack offer a wide range of “EZX Expansions” which contain different kits, mixed and recorded by a wide variety of engineers in several different studios. These are themed to specific genres with several different flavours of kits, for example, Metal Machine, Made of Metal, Modern MetalĀ andĀ Death Metal all cater for different styles of metal production with kits recorded by industry engineers such as Andy Sneap, Mark Lewis and Jason Suecof.

EZ Drummer provides the user with a clear interface, the main page contains an animated drum kit that the user can interact with, clicking a drum or cymbal to trigger the sample. this allows easy auditioning of individual instruments to create the perfect kit. In addition to the drums tab the user can further tweak their sound using a basic mixer tab, with faders and panning for each drum group as well as a simple effects chain with one knob operation for reverb, compression, cymbal and head pitch as well as mic bleed. This allows the user to tweak the predefined drum libraries more to their taste while being somewhat limited to the predefined processing.

A unique selling point of EZ Drummer is its “song creator” feature. here the user can use the browser tab to search midi packs, included in EZX Expansions and standalone midi packs, and drag and drop blocks of premade midi files into a timeline in the plugin and arrange their song completely in the plugin. This allows producers to quickly arrange an outline of their song using the provided midi files which can be dragged and dropped into their DAW of choice to edit further in their drum roll.

The pros of EZ Drummer depend on the users’ needs. the song creator, robust midi library and quick setup of the predefined drum sounds make EZ Drummer an excellent creative tool when arranging and composing music and is ideal for producers that want Pro Quality drums with little work to get them to sound good. The drawbacks to this however, are that user editing of individual drum sounds are limited, meaning that in a world where more and more producers are turning to in the box solutions for drum production these sounds can sound overused and lack the tweaking capabilities of other products to create a more unique drum sound. Another point of note is there is no support for 3rd party samples, which limits the scope of user customisation further.

In part 2 of this analysis I will look at Superior Drummer 3, Toontrack’s flagship drum suite, comparing the differences between the two as well as it’s pros and cons.

Introduction and Aims


For Audio Project 2 I will be undertaking the development of a drum sample library for rock and metal producers. This undertaking will require several stages of research and development. Firstly we shall outline our overarching aims and learning outcomes.

Once our goals have been established we will begin research. This will include market and competitor analysis, enabling us to find a niche market for our sample library; Sampling techniques to inform our recording and compilation of the samples. The most challenging aspect of research will be deciding how to package the sample library for consumer use.

We have several options for how to package our library, Kontakt Library, VST/AU standalone plugin, and Max for Live instrument for example. Our research will inform what will be the best way to present our sample package for ease of use.

Aims and Objectives

Our goal for this project is to have a fully working, finished product that is ready for commercial release, however, in the time frame of this project that is very unlikely. Because of this, we will be aiming to create a functioning prototype with a limited feature set to showcase. This will require research to decide what features to focus on and what we would like to add for a final product; creating a development timeline.

Market research will be key in creating a successful product and therefore being able to conduct market analysis and research will be an important objective. Features will be decided by this research, giving us an idea of what competitors offer as well as what consumers want. This will allow us to prioritise development to have a prototype with the features deemed most important.

Careful planning, logistics and organisation will be essential to this project with the ability to organise the different stages of production and development being a core objective. We aim to have our core research completed before beginning the production stage so we can focus on the recording process and development completely.