FXpansion has gone from basically one guy making cool little plug-ins to a company with acclaimed software instruments such as Guru, DCAM: Synth Squad (reviewed Nov. ’09), and the BFD2 drum module. Actually, drum workstation is a better name for BFD2, but it is a behemoth, and eats computer resources. Enter BFD Eco (formerly known as BFD Nano), which follows the current trend towards downsizing. It makes fewer demands on your computer, your hard drive, and perhaps most pertinently during these days of the Great Recession, your wallet.
Review continues after these online extras
- Keyboard Video: Craig Anderton takes you through BFD Eco's interface. (Note: this replaces "Original BFD grooves and examples from Craig Anderton," which is the notation that appeared on page 57 of the July issue. We asked him for audio; he went one better and made a video!)
- More Audio demos from FXpansion.
BFD Eco is available as a packaged retail box, and lets you install the program and content separately. You can also pick one of three 16-bit libraries: Full (1,978MB and kits with up to 24 velocity layers), Medium (1,357MB and 16 velocity layers), and Small (600MB and 12 velocity layers). Go for Full if you have a decent amount of RAM and sufficient hard drive space.
Authorization is a simple online process, and restrictions are minimal:You can install BFD Eco in up to three computers as long as only one is running at a time, and you can’t use the sounds in a sound library (or loop library) without permission—but of course, you can use them freely in musical productions.
There are 86 presets that include a drum kit, mixer settings, and MIDI grooves. Within this, you can choose among 61 drum kit presets and 61 independent mixer presets, so you can mix and match the two as well as save and load any preset type. The complement of drum sounds comes from BFD2: five kicks, six snares, 12 toms, three hi-hats, and 11 cymbals, with further percussion instruments courtesy of the BFD Percussion expansion pack.
You can also customize kits by loading different drum sounds from BFD2 expansion packs (subject to the same number of layers and bit resolution as BFD Eco), but you can’t load expansion pack presets or kits wholesale, as BFD Eco’s fundamental architecture is different from BFD2.
This is a standout feature, as you can process drums into entirely different sounds—at first I thought some of the snares were wimpy, but a trip to the mixer fixed that.
There are 12 drum sound channels, two ambience channels (overhead and room mics), two aux buses, and a master channel. Each channel offers drum sound controls (dynamics, damping, tuning, an additional parameter for some drums, aux sends, and ambience sends), four-band EQ (high shelf, low shelf, and two parametric mids), and two effects slots you can fill from a roster of 14 effects plus a gain option. Each channel can have different effects, which include goodies like ring modulation, drive, filtering, flanging, tempo-synced delay, compression, a quality reverb (Overloud Breverb plate), and the like. They’re all useful and add major flexibility.
The mixer faders and some drum controls can be automated in your DAW, but the effects parameters and sends cannot; however, just about every possible parameter can be tied to MIDI control through a simple “Learn” function. Hook this baby up to a control surface—you won’t regret it.
The 12 channels have individual outputs, but in practice, BFD Eco’s internal mixing and processing took care of 95% of my needs, letting me run it as a stereo instance.
You can of course trigger BFD Eco via MIDI, but there’s also a selection of MIDI grooves that you can filter by genre (13 different types), tempo range, library, author, and type (fill or groove). This section is actually quite versatile, as you can play individual grooves as loops, drag-and-drop them into a “drum track” (with its own looping and start point options), or just ignore the playback options altogether and drop grooves into the host MIDI track that drives BFD Eco. You can even “roll out” loops in the drum track, as well as adjust quantization, swing, and humanizing functions; a “simplify” algorithm is available for making parts more basic—too bad Mozart didn’t have this when Emperor Joseph II said he used “too many notes.”
The drum track is good for more than just creating a part while working with a host program. If you come up with a really good loop that you’d like to make part of your own personal loop library, you can export the track as an audio file.
For global controls, you’ll find velocity, humanize, tune, bleed (more limited than with BFD2, though), and volume. Being able to change these kinds of parameters on the fly can really help match the drums to specific contexts.
BFD Eco is straightforward. You can just load a preset and hit the thing with MIDI notes, or delve into really detailed editing—your choice.
It’s not necessary to edit—you can simply get great drum parts right out of the box—but tweakers can take BFD Eco into totally different places if that kind of activity gets you all tingly. I’ve even been able to make some pretty cool beatbox-type drums by raising the pitch via Global Tuning, and inserting some of the lo-fi effects.
When you consider that the Eco version is half the price of full-on BFD2 ($149 versus $299 minimum advertised price), there’s an obvious economic consideration—but you also have to ask yourself if you really need all of BFD2’s sophistication. Frankly, Eco’s 16-bit resolution doesn’t bother me, and of course, it saves on computer resources.
With complex projects that load down a CPU with soft synths, amp simulators, and other devices that demand low latency for realtime playing, BFD Eco might not be the “almost as good as BFD2” choice, but instead the “right tool for the right job” choice. The more you play with BFD Eco, the more you realize that it’s an unusually flexible drum module whose adaptability belies the low price and acoustic-only sound sources.
PROS Sophisticated mixing and processing. Fine sound quality, captured with multiple microphones and articulations. MIDI Learn for just about everything. Less demanding on system resources than BFD2. Cost-effective.
CONS Acoustic sounds only. Can’t load your own samples. Resolution is 16-bit only.
CONCEPT Drum module with built-in mixing, processing, ambience, and MIDI grooves.
FORMATS Mac or PC. AU, RTAS, VST, and standalone.
SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS Mac: OS 10.5.7 or higher, Intel CPU. Windows: 32-bit version of XP SP3/Vista/7 (runs as 32-bit app in 64-bit systems, but not officially supported), Pentium 4 CPU or better. Both: 1GB RAM.
Approx. street: $149*
*$50 instant rebate through July 31, 2010 makes actual price $99