Plugin Spotlight: Wave Alchemy Revolution, The Ultimate Sampled Drum Machine?

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Wave Alchemy have followed up on their respected drum sample packs and previous Kontakt instruments, bringing all of their accumulated expertise and passion for drum sampling to bear on their latest release, the vintage drum machine sample monster Revolution.

As this has come out since our recent 25 Best Drum Plugins post and so wasn’t featured there, I thought I’d go a little more in-depth and do a proper review, talking through some of the standout features and workflow, and a little background on the included drum machines.

What Is Wave Alchemy’s Revolution?

Revolution is Wave Alchemy’s most comprehensive product to date, building on their highly regarded sample packs and previous Kontakt instruments Transistor Revolution MkII, Digital Revolution and Revolution 606 (some of which, like the Revolution 606, are included here in souped-up new versions). At its core, it’s an obsessively detailed sample collection of 14 of the most influential and desirable vintage hardware drum machines. Rather than simply being a straightforward collection of samples however, these machines have all been deep-sampled (many thousands of times in some cases!) to capture every nuance and variation of the analogue originals, and are presented in a Kontakt sampler (or free-to-download Kontakt Player) instrument interface which includes emulations of the kind of controls you would find on the original hardware machines to tailor and sculpt the sounds to fit your production.

Revolution also goes a couple of steps further though, providing additional saturation, tone shaping and other processing and effects to significantly rework and “produce” the original samples and kits into modern production-ready drum tracks.

Finally, Revolution also includes a combination multi-track/step sequencer and built-in insert, return and master effects sections, providing a complete drum production solution.

So whether you simply want to find a single perc hit from a classic source to add flavour to an existing drum groove, or you want to create, edit and mix entire drum tracks within a single plugin instance, Revolution caters to a variety of uses and workflows.

The Included Drum Machines

Each drum machine appears inside a bespoke GUI module that echoes the aesthetics of the original hardware inspiration. Each drum machine or hybrid kit is made up of 14 sounds, each with their own mixer channels and sequencer lanes.

The various drum machine module GUIs.

Roland TR Rhythm Composer series: 808, 909, 606, 707, 727, 505 – Roland machines make up the bulk of the collection, with particular emphasis on supplying the definitive sampled 909 and 808 instruments, which I suspect might have been the initial core objective behind the project (here it’s a case of mission accomplished). Other TR machines are featured too, including the 606 which was previously available as the Revolution 606, and which has been updated with additional and rerecorded samples.

Roland CR CompuRhythm series: CR-78 and CR-8000 – Less ubiquitous than the x0x boxes, but the CompuRhythm machines have a great distinctively crunchy sound that is useful for many different contemporary styles.

Radiohead using a CR-78 in exactly the way the first drum machines were intended to be used, as a rhythm backing for guitars and vocals, but which now seems quite novel!

Linn Electronics Linndrum – Having developed his prototypical sampling drum machine concept with the LM-1 in 1980, by 1982 Roger Linn was ready to conquer the mass market with the follow-up Linndrum, which it proceeded to do, appearing on so many of the songs and soundtracks that we now think of as “that archetypal 1980’s sound”: from Prince’s When Doves Cry to John Carpenter’s ominous synth-laden horror movie scores.

linndrum drum machine

The original Linndrum, released in 1982.

Sequential Drumtraks – Sequential was co-founded by synth designer Dave Smith, who went on to work for Yamaha and partner with Roland on the first software synth, amongst many other career achievements, and who has more recently returned to drum machine design with the modern DSI Tempest. The Drumtraks was the first result of a business collaboration with Tom Oberheim and the founder of Roland Ikutaro Kakehashi to develop and establish MIDI as a universal protocol for allowing synths and drum machines from different manufacturers to talk to each other, something that had been impossible before 1983. The Drumtraks was the very first MIDI-enabled drum machine, and although it was soon superseded by other models, still possessed formidable editing and connectivity options and, most importantly, cool sounds!

E-mu SP-12

The original E-mu SP-12 from 1986.

E-mu Drumulator and SP-12 – The SP-12 was originally going to be called the Drumulator II, as it was the successor to that machine. The name SP-12 stands for sampling percussion at twelve bits, which at the time was a significant drum machine milestone and paved the way for the later E-mu SP-1200 sampler – which itself has been used on some of the processed kit options in Revolution.

Oberheim DX – Released as a lighter variant of the famous DMX in 1983, the DX featured relatively realistic (but crunchy by todays standards) 12-bit sampled drum sounds which made it an early-80s Hip Hop production staple. Also significantly used later by Daft Punk, amongst many others.


Revolution In Use

The drum machine module GUI echoes a typical Roland TR series hardware box, with four knobs for volume, pan and send levels to the incorporated reverb and delay effects sections. Further sound shaping controls for the individual selected drums can be found below, most notably a Character knob that allows you to scroll through a selection of Analog, Tape, S1200 (classic sampler reduced sample rate) and Bitcrush algorithm to add a subtle (or not so subtle) grittiness or saturation to the sound.

Load up one of the drum machines, and you can immediately begin programming a pattern and simultaneously rotating through the various processed versions or simply jump to individual hits from any of the other machines. Creating hybrid kits of your favourite drum machine sounds is as easy as loading one of the default kits, then selecting the individual kit pieces in the main mixer and cycling through the various drum machine versions of that sound. For example, load up the default RV-808 kit, select the SD1 snare channel, and in the details window below you can use the left and right arrows to cycle through the snares from all the other classic machines.

Once you’ve settled on one that works in context, you can use the envelopes, pitch and filter controls to further sculpt the sample sound to fit with the rest of the kit, and indeed with the rest of your production as a whole. In this way, creating a customised dream drum machine featuring all of your favourite classic drum sounds can be created and tweaked literally in moments, and all with a depth and sound quality that is effectively indistinguishable from the real hardware.

For many, I would think this will be the key USP of Revolution – it’s so easy to build composite kits of classic sounds that can then be further shaped and gelled together, that it appears to breath new life into the sounds themselves. 808 toms or a 909 kick are so familiar it’s easy to forget why they have become such mainstays – with Revolution, familiar sounds come alive with possibilities again.

In terms of computer performance, when loading kits and rotating through individual sounds, Revolution dynamically removes and loads only the necessary samples, sparing your computer from a RAM-induced panic from the number of samples involved every time you make kit changes. On my 2013 Macbook Pro, pauses for loading are minimal considering the amount of data involved, and importantly don’t interrupt the flow as you build kits and patterns on a modern system. Plus, I can’t imagine a scenario where you’d want to use more than one plugin instance in a single project due to the number and routing flexibility of each drum voice on offer within a single instance.

revolution-drum-machine-module,-character-controls

The 707 drum module, with controls for Sample modulation, Tune, Grit and Character, which can here be set to Digital, SP1200 or Mastered.

Plenty Of Character

The Character knob setting determines the selection of round robin samples being triggered for that sound, with the options changing depending on the specific sound module currently selected. Generally they include some combination of Analog, various grades of Tape (from a Studer tape machine), SP1200 (with the drum samples run through the classic 12-bit E-mu SP1200 for that specific 80’s/90’s digital crunch), Mastered, Biscuit and Bitcrush modes.

Below the individual drum selector window, we have the controls for fine shaping of the sound. The sample start time and overall envelope settings can be set here; choose from 20 different Low-, Band-, and High-Pass filter types that mimic particular drum machine features in the same way as the samples themselves; and on the far right side the Randomize section provides you with four controls for adding varying degrees of randomization to the sample Start point, Volume, Pan position and Tuning – it’s a simple but incredibly effective bunch of controls for adding everything from analogue-style micro-variations to more full-on modulation effects.

Text explanations for each control and parameter show up at the bottom of the Kontakt window, so in the few instances where it’s not obvious or completely clear what a control is doing, the line of text here should enlighten you.

Library browser view

Flexible sequencing and MIDI pattern options to suit your own preferred workflow

Revolution includes over 1000 sequencer preset patterns and grooves that load into the 32-step multi-track sequencer. The Processed Kit sample presets also correspond by name to a section of the  presets in the pattern library, so you can match these up if you wish, perhaps as good starting points, and then begin chopping and changing patterns, individual hits and individual kit sounds. Within moments you can have original grooves playing.

Global Sequencer: As well as the essential basic editing of patterns, there are Accent and Slop controls. Accent will be familiar to drum machine users, adding a simple extra emphasis to selected beats; Slop, meanwhile, is a randomiser function that pushes and pulls the hits on the sequencer grid to loosen up and inject a less metronomic, more imperfect, human quality. Slop can be applied globally on the left (smartly, it applies to all the drums except Kick 01, ensuring you still have a rock solid backbeat against which the other hits can be slid around), and then offset or further tweaked for each step individually if desired, making it very easy and, again, fun to create grooves that are not just robotic or mechanically swung, but more subtly individualised.

Step sequencer: As an alternative to the main sequencer, the 16 step-sequencer buttons at the bottom of the interface are not just an affectionate nod to the Roland TR drum machines but offers another workflow approach. As any hardware aficionado will tell you, designing grooves in the classic style using these buttons is quite different to programming via the main sequencer or drawing in MIDI notes in your DAW, and often throws up quite different results – if you’ve only ever programmed beats with the pencil tool, by chopping up loops or hitting pads to trigger samples freestyle, using the step sequencer can provide an interesting insight into how and why a lot of classic house, techno and electro grooves sound the way they do.

The workflow between pressing in a basic pattern on the buttons, and then hitting the SEQ tab to open up the Global Sequencer window for more detailed editing and fine-tuning if desired, is deceptively smooth and fun to use, combining the fun of vintage machine jamming with modern editing features.

Global sequencer view

MIDI Export and DAW integration: At any point, the current sequence can be converted to standard MIDI data at the click of the “MIDI build” button and simply dragged across as a MIDI file into your DAW for conventional MIDI editing.

If you’re perhaps thinking that the sounds of these classic machines are only half of the equation and you’re missing the tactile experience of the original hardware, Revolution still has you covered with full NKS integration for users of Native Instruments’ Komplete Kontrol keyboard controllers and Maschine hardware and, with the just-released 1.1 first update, full integration with Ableton and Push 2, allowing you to manipulate Revolution’s main parameters and controls directly from within Live. So there are myriad ways to engage with the interface in physical ways that avoid using a mouse altogether, and yet you then have the option to dive back into your MIDI performances and edit and adjust to your hearts content afterwards if you desire – the best of all worlds.

revolution-send-effects-module

The Send effects section, for selecting and adjusting Delay and convolution Reverb parameters.

Insert, Send and Master effects

Being built on the Kontakt platform, it’s no surprise that the effects are of a high standard. In the Insert and Master FX sections, you’ll find a Compressor which can be set to operate in a straight modern digital style or emulate classic FET (e.g. 1176) or VCA (SSL G-Bus Comp) models. The Shaper and SSL-modelled EQ sections feature a range of Filter, Tape Saturation, Bitcrushing and Transient Shaping options. The order of these processors both within the overall effects section, and within the Shaper module can be selected from drop-down menus just below, so whether you want to EQ before compression or degrade the signal with Lo-Fi before or after the other effects, this is all configurable.

The Send effects section comprises two simple but well thought-out, tempo-syncable Delays, and two Convolution Reverbs. For the reverbs, you have a choice of 160 different impulse responses created from a whole range of room types, classic and boutique hardware reverb units (Lexicon 300L, AKG BX20 Spring and AMS RMX16 amongst others), and various microphone selections.

As with the drum samples themselves, the impulse response collection is detailed, incredibly wide-ranging and has clearly been a similar labour of love. And significantly, these exhaustive efforts aren’t a distraction from the core functionality of Revolution, but rather come as a welcome surprise further enabling Revolution to act as a complete production environment for your drum tracks.

While you can’t route the Send FX through the Master Out (a limitation of the Kontakt host framework rather than an oversight by the Wave Alchemy team), you can of course route all of the individual drum modules to separate outputs/DAW channels for further processing and mixing adjustments. The preset DAW templates for Logic, Live and Maschine enable you to set this up instantly on these platforms.

The Send effects section as it appears in the central window.

Conclusion

The sound quality of the collection is uniformly first-class. But Wave Alchemy have clearly also put a lot of thought into making these instruments fundamentally useful and relevant to todays productions. Their passion for these sounds shines through the whole project, but this isn’t an exercise in nostalgia – these drum machines want to be played!

Revolution’s deceptively simple and intuitive controls mask a deep and hugely flexible drum sample instrument lurking beneath. It cleverly bridges the divide between the nuances of vintage analogue sound quality and the speed, ease, flexibility and fluidity afforded by software. One of the most powerful drum plugins available, it invites play and experimentation, exactly like the original machines.

In fact, to give you some idea of how fun this plugin is to use, I should add that this review took about a week longer than originally planned, as I kept getting sidetracked into creating whole new production ideas as I explored the available kits and processing options. Within an hour I’d got to grips with how to best toggle between the various windows and controls to create an amazingly fast but flexible workflow, building custom kits, editing and shaping individual hits, selecting and editing effects, and configuring the Strip and Shaper routing options to create a completely bespoke drum buss solution from raw samples to a fully processed drum submix. Knowing that I’ll simply be inspired every time I load the plugin makes Revolution a fundamental success for me.

Is there anything missing? There are no glaring omissions, so it’s little things like a multi-step Undo function, as seen in the likes of FXpansions Geist and Tremor, that would be a bonus and make it easier to avoid accidentally clearing whole patterns (currently a slight hazard!), and perhaps encourage further experimentation knowing you can always jump back to previous pattern and processing settings.

Some additional sequencer lanes for programming modulations and controlling key parameters like filter cutoff, pitch and decay would be cool, and the option to set the number of steps for each lane independently would be great, but not essential.

Perhaps in future updates Wave Alchemy will also expand the selection of drum machines, although there is plenty to keep you occupied for now.

Overall, I think they’ve got the tricky balance between providing genuinely useful feature additions without obscuring the key functionality of the instrument very well indeed.

In terms of value, £150 may at first seem a lot to spend on a drum machine sample collection, but once you see how Revolution works in practice, and consider that you’re effectively getting the genuine sound and to a large degree the operational and authentic tone-shaping functionality of 14 classic drum machines, it soon stacks up to look like a bargain, and an essential purchase for producers of all types of electronic music and beyond who require top-quality sound sources.

Is it for everyone? While it might at first appear to be more of a specialist instrument for aficionados, I think it actually is for everyone – it should go without saying that underground house and techno producers should lap this up, but also the glossiest pop, urban and EDM tracks can benefit hugely from some subtle grit, authentic weight and character to add dimension to a highly polished overall mix sound.

The Highlights

  1. Depth and sonic detail – The depth and attention to detail is admirably obsessive and exhaustive, involving some 40,000 individual samples. Two different TR-808s were sampled to capture the full range of tones not just from a single machine but including the variance in tonality between different machines of the same type, and for the 909 kick drum alone, the team recorded 20,000 samples at a 96k sample rate, in order to capture every possible tonal characteristic and variation of the original. Along with the envelopes, filters and other sound sculpting controls Revolution makes use of multiple round robins to ensure that this extreme level of authentic nuance is heard and felt in use.
  2. Custom kits – Revolution comes into it’s own as a sort of best-of-both-worlds hardware/software hybrid in the way it allows you to easily mix and match drum sounds from any of the sampled machines to create your own fantasy drum machine kits, all while retaining the full character of a deep analogue instrument. Anyone familiar with any of Wave Alchemy’s previous sample packs will also recognise the format of the drum machine library options, with several pre-processed versions of the same drum machine being available alongside the raw unprocessed originals, each using varying combinations of outboard gear such as Studer tape saturation, SP1200 sampler grit, or “Mastered” to a more immediately smooth and balanced sheen.
  3. Workflow – Open-ended workflow options: Whatever your preferred production style, whether you tend to work with a very clear sonic goal in mind up-front that you aim to recreate with a minimum of fuss, or you prefer a more free-flowing process of jamming and discovery when building up your rhythm tracks, Revolution will lend itself to either approach and everywhere in-between. The speed and fluidity with which you can work makes it as fun and rewarding to use as the original machines that inspired it.
  4. Effects and Processing – Where Revolution really shines is that it’s not just the accurate recreations of classic analogue and digital gear, but Wave Alchemy have thought about how producers will want to incorporate these characterful but decidedly old-school sounds into modern productions, which generally demand larger, louder, punchier and crisper drums than these old machines could typically manage on their own. This “complete drum production solution” idea only really works if the supplied effects and processors are well-implemented in the workflow and of a high enough quality that you won’t just resort to your usual third-party plugins, so it’s great to find that the developers have taken a lot of trouble to go above and beyond, making the effects and processing features not just a token addition to the drum machines themselves but a strong and inspiring feature of Revolution in their own right.

Wave Alchemy Revolution – Tech details

Price £149.95 / $192.37 / €178.83
Minimum System Requirements: Kontakt Player 5.6.5 (free download) or Kontakt 5.6.5, Mac OS X 10.10, Intel Core 2 Duo, Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 10 (latest Service Pack, 32-/64-bit), Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD Athlon 64 X2, 4 GB RAM
Buy now: Plugin Boutique


Drum Machine Plugins & Samples: Some Alternatives

Of course Revolution isn’t the only way to achieve authentic analogue-electronic drums in the box – as highlighted by many of the selections in our 25 Best Drum plugins post – but it does offer one of the most streamlined, fun-to-use and professional-quality routes towards drum tracks that both exude gritty character and provide the punch and presence that modern electronic mixes demand. In case it doesn’t suit your personal preference, here are some key alternatives:

  • Arturia Spark 2 - Edit View

    Arturia Spark 2

    Arturia Spark 2 Drawing on a combination of Arturia’s proprietary TAE algorithms and samples for some of the kit sounds, Spark is another great example of an alternate approach to capturing the desirable character of old sounds in a way that still allows malleability and liveliness and doesn’t feel too digitally vacuum-sealed.

  • Fxpansion Tremor, or Geist2 with a suitable sample collection – Tremor is particularly good for sharper and quirkier modern drum machine sounds so could be considered more of a competitor to modern hardware drum machines like the Elektron Machinedrum and DSI Tempest rather than Revolution’s vintage drum sounds, but regardless the FXpansion drum machines have a lot going for them, with the TransMod system for fast and easy modulation, multiple Undo and adjustable lane lengths for each sound in the sequencers that allow for polyrhythmic pattern creation.
  • D16 drum machines Nepheton, Drumazon and Nithonat (modelling the 808, 909 and 606 respectively) are the original scene leaders in terms of quality drum machine plugins, and they certainly still hold up.
  • Softube Heartbeat Another more recent vintage modeller from the modelling experts, Heartbeat captures the essence of analogue favourites without tying itself to directly emulating a specific drum machine.
  • wave alchemy drum tools 02 cover

    Wave Alchemy’s Drum Tools 02 is also highly recommended

    Wave Alchemy’s other sample collections For example, Drum Tools 02 and Syncussion Drums are standouts, but all are top quality and could offer a more affordable taste of the Wave Alchemy aesthetic if your budget won’t stretch to Revolution.

  • Samples From Mars sample packs Not sampled to the same obsessive depths as Revolution, but you could check out the bundle of tape-saturated 808, 909, Simmons and Drumtrax samples ($69).
  • Samplephonics Kontakt instruments Samplephonics also do versions of the 808 and 909 in the Kontakt instrument format (£49 each).

 


1 Comment

  1. Absolutely love this machine! Must be the best drum machine ever made! Full control and clear GUI. Just hope they pay some attention to the small problems they still have with using multiple modules. But in comparison with the exceptional sound, this is just a minor issue!

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