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The Making of Synth Drums

Posted on 22nd March 2013  · 
Two years ago we were contacted by Matt Urmenyi, a talented sound designer and synthesist. His vision was to create an extensive collection of unique drum samples using classic analogue synths - an idea which we believe has never been attempted before, at least not to the level of detail and quality that we both envisioned. His initial Jupiter 8 drum demo totally blew us away. It was obvious that the sample library we would eventually create together would be something very special.

Matt had previously listened to our Drum Tools library and appreciated our talents for processing and enhancing drum sounds. We agreed that it would be interesting to collaborate on such a creative idea; combining Matt's extensive synthesis skills with our unique signal processing techniques was something we were very excited about... and thus the idea of Synth Drums was born!

The goal with Synth Drums was to take ten iconic vintage synthesizers, carefully synthesize hundreds of raw drum sounds with each instrument, and then to process, layer and enhance each of these sounds individually to create something truly unique, whilst still retaining the distinctive character that each synth is known for.

See our previous Synth Drums blog post for the full list of synths used for the creation of Synth Drums.

In this article I would like to share some of the techniques used to enhance the raw synthesized drum hits throughout the creation of Synth Drums, as well as offer general tips and tricks often used by us to create 'our' drum sound.

EQ Techniques

The first step of treating the raw synthesized drum hits for Synth Drums was to critically listen to each sound's frequency content, carefully listening out for any unwanted or offending frequencies that were either dissatisfying to listen to or could potentially cause problems in the creative processing stage.
Although the majority of the raw sounds didn't contain problematic frequency content (due to Matt's excellent synthesis skills!), a very small selection did, and so Linear Phase EQ was carefully used to reduce unpleasant or harsh sounding frequencies prior to further processing.

A good technique to use in this situation is to open up a parametric EQ (preferably linear phase), choose a relatively narrow Q (bandwidth) and boost this bands level to maximum. Now, whilst listening to the sound, sweep this EQ bump through the upper mid and high frequencies until you find the unpleasant or offending frequency. Now simply remove the EQ boost and instead cut/reduce the offending frequency content whilst playing around with the Q settings for a more natural sound.

Throughout the post production stage of Synth Drums, EQ was also used creatively (rather than correctively) to add character to various drum sounds. The famous Pultec EQP1 equalizer for example allows one to boost AND cut the same frequency simultaneously, in turn creating a resonant shelf. I often use our A Designs EM-PEQ (Pultec style EQ); simultaneously boosting and cutting at its 60HZ setting can sound wonderful on certain kick drums and can drastically change the character of the sound.

Each EQ has its own unique sonic character. Understanding our tools and knowing how and when to utilize these different characters is one of the ways in which we are able to achieve our drum sound. It's kind of like painting a picture with sound.

EQ is a very important and highly useful studio tool, especially so when layering together multiple sound sources. It is very important to reduce competing frequencies that are prominent in both layered sounds, otherwise things will start to sound muddy very quickly.

Layering Techniques

Layering drums is something that we have become to enjoy over the years, and it plays a big part in the way Wave Alchemy drums sound.

I believe that choosing the right sounds - sounds that work well together to be the most important process in layering drums. EQ, sample placement and phase correlation are all also very important processes that will help to achieve effectively layered drum sounds.

A great way to create new kick drum sounds is to layer together 2 existing samples. I will usually start by searching for a suitable transient rich kick drum with a tone that catches my ear. I will often record a number of creatively processed transient heavy kick samples specifically for this purpose. The next step is to choose a second kick drum to layer with the first; this sound will be used for the body and release of the drum. 808 style kicks are often a great starting point!

At this stage we can line up the 2 kick drums above and below one another on separate audio channels within a sequencer or audio editor. Using crossfading we can now experiment with blending the transient portion of the first drum sound with the body/release of the second drum sound. Another way of doing this is to simply cut out the transient portion of the first sound, making sure you cut on a zero-crossing point in the wave. Now remove the transient of the second sample and paste the new transient in its place. Care should be taken to ensure that there is no phase cancellation as this will cause unwanted artefacts such as loss of loudness and problems in the bass frequencies.

After a lot of practice it becomes second nature to know which sounds will work together and which will not.

Further tips on layering

Layering drums is a creative process, try taking for example a transient 'slap' of an acoustic conga sound and layering it over the 'body' of a synthetically produced percussion sound. This type of layering can add both an abstract quality and interest to an otherwise completely synthetic drum tone.

Layering together acoustic and electronic snares is another process that I also use a lot. Synthetic snares can often be very clean and predictable sounding and so layering them with acoustic snare drums can add a touch of complexity, interest and character.

A trick I sometimes like to use to add 'dirt' or character to cleaner sounding snares is to take an acoustic snare drum sound and heavily compress it, thus bringing out and enhancing the hiss, dirt and other usually unwanted artefacts. I will then use a high-pass filter to remove the low frequencies and begin to blend this sound gently underneath the clean snare. I will often experiment with further processing such as subtle EQ, filtering and saturation to get a perfect blend of clean and character.

There are no set rules to layering drums... I believe drum layering to be a process of creative experimentation, practice and trial and error.

Creative Compression

We often use compression in a creative way to enhance the punch of a drum sample. We may take a snare drum for example, and compress it using a fast attack time to smooth the transients and in turn add weight to the body of the sound. We may then take a duplicate of the original 'un-processed' snare drum and compress this differently, this time using a slow attack time to enhance the transient portion of the sound.

At this stage we may also use creative EQ and/or saturation to further enhance and tonally shape the transient portion of this second snare drum. We can then experiment with layering the enhanced transient of the second snare with the body of the first snare drum to create a perfect balance of punch/weight.


Saturation can be a great tool for adding character, loudness and harmonics to a drum sound. We often subtly use our Empirical Labs Fatso to smooth out transients and add weight to a sound. Again, layering techniques and/or parallel processing can be used to obtain a perfect mix of the clean and saturated sound.

I often use our Thermionic Culture Vulture to creatively process drums, specifically the transient portion of the sound. I will sometimes run kick drums and toms through the Culture Vulture specifically to shape the transient portion of the sound. Once I have experimented and found a tone that I like, I will cut the transient portion from the processed drum sound and replace the transient of the 'un-saturated' version with the new 'saturated' version. This is a great way of changing the perceived shape/tone of a drum without saturating the body of the sound, which with the Culture Vulture can sometimes result in a loss of sub-bass frequencies.

A few last words

We hope you find the aforementioned processing techniques and tips to be useful. In our own experience we believe a very important aspect to designing sound to a high level is to fully learn, understand and appreciate the studio tools which are at your disposal. Understanding and experimenting with compression, EQ and layering will certainly help with creating well-defined and distinctive drum sounds. Have fun and be creative!

Stay tuned for future Synth Drums related blog posts, and if you haven't already done so, check out the 200 pre-release taster sounds... They are downloadable for free Here.

Comments below are welcome!

Written by Dan Byers of Wave Alchemy


Drum Tools 02






Revolution for Live


Drumvolution for Live


"This is a very VERY impressive sample pack! The sounds are super well produced and there is hundreds to choose from. This is something i will use for years.... Awesome!"

SFX Collection 01

Laurent Garnier - DJ and Producer