There are many ways to make your drums big, bold, and punchy. From traditional recording practices to extensive editing and extreme signal processing, all methods are equally valid in your quest for slamming beats.
Among the most potent secret weapons in many producers’ bag of tricks are Waves plug-ins, many of which have been developed specifically for drum processing.
Waves is, of course, known for some of the most versatile and best sounding plug-ins in the audio industry, and their products have graced countless productions all over the world. Check out this rundown of some of the best Waves plugins for drums to see how they can help you create professional-sounding drum tracks.
Best Waves Audio Plugins for Drums
Solid State Logic’s 4000-series consoles are among the most revered in the recording world. A key ingredient in countless classic recordings, it’s still a sought-after studio piece that is unfortunately beyond the reach of most recording engineers. But with Waves’ SSL E-Channel, you can get some of the magic of that legendary console in your own productions.
The SSL E-Channel aims to capture the unique warmth and character of the original console’s all-discrete circuitry and Class-A VCA chip. Combining high and low pass filters and a four-band parametric equalizer, it lets you add gobs of mojo and vintage vibe to your drum tracks and recorded stems.
Specs and useful features
The SSL E-Channel has a high pass and a low pass filter that allows you to fit individual drum elements neatly into the mix or make it stand out with a distinctive vintage character. These filters are a large part of what makes the plug-in so useful, but there is so much more to the SSL E-Channel than filtering.
Also onboard are a soft-knee compressor/limiter and an expander/gate that gives you total control over the dynamics of your source audio. As in the original console, these components can be placed before or after the 4-band EQ, so you have plenty of scope for creative sound-shaping.
Users that have tried both the Solid State Logic 4000-series consoles and the SSL E-Channel were pretty impressed at how closely the plug-in captures the character of the original. The way the compressor works with the EQ section is nothing short of remarkable, and many have come to rely on the plug-in for the majority of their drum mixing duties.
The SSL E-Channel is one of those plug-ins that you will probably want to use on every track. It is practically tailor-made for drum busses, gluing drum kits together in a musically-pleasing manner. For character sounds and even more subtle coloration, the SSL E-Channel is a must.
SSL G-Master Buss Compressor
As the name implies, the SSL G-Master Buss Compressor was designed to be strapped onto the 2-buss of your DAW’s mixer. Even so, the magic that it works on drum tracks is such that we couldn’t resist adding it to the list. Developed under license from Solid State Logic, it comes with a handful of presets from respected mixer and audio engineer Chris Lord-Alge. As expected, it does a superb job of sweetening up drum tracks, full mixes, and most any other audio material.
The SSL G is based on the center compressor of the legendary SSL 4000 G console. By replicating the console’s circuitry, the plug-in gives you all the warmth, punch, and gluing qualities of the original at a fraction of the price.
Specs and useful features
The SSL G was designed to capture the behavior and sonic character of the original console’s input stage and amplifier section. This software approximation helps glue the individual elements of a mix together, so it really is best suited for processing entire drum sub mixes. You could certainly use the SSL G to process individual drums if you wish, but its gluing capabilities become especially apparent when you pump an entire drum ensemble through it.
In many ways, the SSL G works more as a finalizer than a sound-shaping signal processor. However you use it though, there is no denying its transformative power on drums and other source material.
The SSL G manages to consistently impress users with its ability to make tracks sound warmer and more cohesive. A useful tool for gluing different drum elements together to make them sound like a unified drum kit, it has proven to be an essential ingredient in many rock, hip-hop, and dance producers’ mixing setup.
Admittedly, the SSL G imparts its own distinctive color to drum tracks. Those in search of a more neutral sounding drum compressor should probably look elsewhere. But if you are after that warm and vibe-laden character reminiscent of one of the most-revered hardware consoles in the history of recorded music, the SSL G is for you.
Developed in conjunction with renowned mix engineer Chris Lord-Alge, Waves Audio’s CLA Drums is a virtual playground for drum tweakers. Like all of Waves’ “signature” plug-ins, it remains very easy to use despite its ability to shape drums to an extensive degree.
CLA Drums was designed to make crafting great-sounding drum tracks simple, straightforward, and fun. It has six modes for processing different parts of the drum kit, as well as the overhead and room mics. Color-coded presets make it easy for anyone to get started right out of the gate, and there is also a compressor, a noise gate, and a reverb onboard.
Specs and useful features
Anyone who has ever struggled to get great sounding drum tracks from a mic’d kit will appreciate the ease and simplicity with which CLA Drums gets the job done. The various modes work remarkably well for the parts of the drum kit for which they are intended, and there are even two modes dedicated to processing overhead and room mics.
Each mode gives you control over the bass and treble bands, as well as compression, reverb amounts, and noise gate setting. With these controls, drum mixing is about as simple as it gets. Hardcore tweakers might want to have more control over the different parameters, but CLA Drums’ architecture should be more than adequate to cover a variety of drum mixing scenarios.
Users of CLA Drums were pleased to find out how easy it was to come up with professional-sounding drum tracks. Even those with relatively little production experience were able to crank out sonically impressive beats with just a few slider tweaks. For many, CLA Drums is a quick shortcut to sounding like a seasoned pro.
It’s hard to go wrong with CLA Drums, even if you don’t have a lot of experience mixing drums. The presets get you in the ballpark quickly, and only a few tweaks of the well-thought-out sliders should get you the rest of the way. As one user puts it, this plug-in will have you sounding like a pro with very little effort.
Designed by legendary producer and audio engineer Jack Joseph Puig, JJP Drums makes it possible to perform many of the processes typically expected of drum plug-ins, plus many others besides. It utilizes the familiar slider interface of Waves’ other signature plug-ins, giving you a considerable degree of control over the essential aspects of a drum sound.
Mixing drums often involves setting specific sonic objectives and attempting to achieve them. Whether you want to add ‘snap’ to your snare, give it a ‘woodier’ character, or get your kick drums to boom, JJP Drums offers a quick and easy way to achieve those goals.
Specs and useful features
JJP Drums has five modes that cover specific components of kick and snare drums and toms. Within each of these modes, you can control various elements of the drum sound, including attack, sustain, ‘attitude’, punch, and sub and reverb amount. There are also knobs for adjusting bass and treble levels, as well as gate and compression amounts.
Although JJP Drums doesn’t offer the same degree of control that you would get dedicated EQs and compressor/gates, the available controls do a decent job of polishing up your drum sound. The ‘attitude’, ‘punch’, and sub sliders are especially useful, enabling you to liven up even the most anemic drum hits.
JJP Drums is a popular choice among beat merchants looking to add beef, body, and low-end oomph to their kick drums. The sub and punch controls are especially useful for fattening up kicks for techno, house, and hip-hop productions. Many producers also find the ‘attitude’ control indispensable for thickening up snares, giving them substantial amounts of weight and authority.
JJP Drums is an essential add-on for anyone in need of thick and meaty drums. Although it could be dialed down for more subtle and laid-back tones, it is best used for giving weight and body to individual drum sounds.
Eddie Kramer Drum Channel
Eddie Kramer’s name is inextricably tied in with the history of rock music. As one of the few bona fide sonic architects of the form, he is responsible for some of the most iconic recordings ever made. With Waves Audio’s Drum Channel, producers of all levels can get a taste of the studio magic that has made Eddie Kramer such a sought after producer and audio engineer to this day.
Drum Channel helps you transform even the most mundane drum tracks into attitude-laden beats to massive, stomping grooves and everything in between. With modes for different elements of the drum kit and a few select controls, Drum Channel provides a simple way to get impressive-sounding drums.
Specs and useful features
Drum Channel is clearly meant to help producers and mix engineers replicate the classic 1960s and 1970s sounds from rock’s golden era. Although you could tweak it to produce more millennium-appropriate tones, its sonic character is clearly in the classic rock mold.
But there is plenty of range to tweak your drums to perfection. Six different modes are provided for individual elements of the drum kit as well as overhead and room mics, making this plug-in more than just a one-trick pony. Within each of these modes, you have control over the bass, treble, compression, gate, and sensitivity amounts, and over the effects level. Although fairly modest compared to other plug-ins, these controls give you pretty much everything you need to crank out some fat beats.
Some users were surprised to find how Drum Channel noticeably improved the sound of their drums simply by patching it onto the drum buss. Tweaking the controls even just slightly allowed the plug-in to work even more of its magic into the mix, creating radio-ready tracks with minimal effort.
Other producers did wish that Drum Channel had more controls. But for those that were satisfied with the plug-in’s base character, the available options were more than sufficient for tweaking drum tracks to perfection.
Drum Channel’s unapologetic ’60s/’70s sonic character isn’t for everyone. You do have to work it a bit to get something that doesn’t scream “classic rock”. But if that’s the sound you’re going for, Drum Channel is just about the easiest way to get it.
Trans-X is a Waves Audio plug-in that has been around the block a few times. Part of the earliest Waves bundles dating back to the 1990s, it is still a powerful and versatile transient designer that can breathe life into the most mundane audio tracks. Patched into the drum buss, Trans-X offers an easy way to get slamming beats that cut through the densest mixes.
Specs and useful features
Trans-X is essentially a transient designer, although that describes only part of its capabilities. It helps liven up bland and unremarkable audio material by accentuating the transients and modifying the perceived room character. It equally well on individual drum elements and even full mixes, so you do get a lot of bang for your buck.
Trans-X isn’t just useful for making drums punch through the mix. It could also attenuate drum attacks if necessary for those times when you need certain elements of the kit to sit back and make the kick and snare shine. In fact, Trans-X is one of the few transient designers that are just as suitable for softening edges and mellowing out overly aggressive drum hits.
Trans-X consists of two components: the 4-band Multi and the wide-band Wide. This combo gives you the versatility to handle a wide variety of audio material, essentially giving you the capabilities of two plug-ins in one.
Users of Trans-X find it to be a surprisingly straightforward and easy to use plug-in. Even with its sliders, input boxes, and graphic display, it is a simple task to shape drums to fit any given mix application. The plug-in is especially useful for kick drums and toms, allowing users to shape these elements to a considerable degree without having to resort to triggering and drum replacement.
Trans-X is definitely a time-saver in the studio, enabling you to get all the snap and smack and boom out of your drums without having to do extensive editing or retriggering. It works well on non-drum sounds too, so expect to get a lot of use out of it during your mixing sessions.
Renaissance Compressor has been around for many years now, but it is still one of the most popular and most commonly-used plug-ins in Waves Audio’s catalog. Although many compressors plug-ins have come and gone since Renaissance Compressor was unveiled to the public in the 1990s, it remains a well-loved studio standby that can still deliver the goods.
Renaissance is marketed as a “multi-purpose compressor”, and it does work pretty well on most audio sources. But it has repeatedly proven its worth as a drum buss compressor, resulting in warm and present tracks. You can even dial down the parameters to make Renaissance as you need it to be.
Specs and useful features
Renaissance is about as basic as a compressor can get. Onboard are the expected threshold, ratio, attack, release, and gain controls, along with three buttons that change specific characteristics of the compressors circuitry. From left to right is a “Manual” button that allows you to set the release time via the release slider. Up next is a button that allows you to switch between vintage “Opto” and modern “Electro” modes. Finally, there is a “Warm” button that you can use to tame the high end a bit.
The Renaissance Compressor also has an internal brickwall limiting feature that prevents output clipping. Setting the ratio from -12dB to 0dB lets you use the plug-in as a standard compressor. From 0db on up, the Renaissance works as an expander.
It is interesting to note that many users still turn to the Renaissance Compressor when they need a transparent and clear compressor for drums. Even with plenty of other fine compressors available on the market today, many still consider the Renaissance an essential addition to the drum processing chain. For its users, the ease and simplicity by which it is possible to get a smooth and even-sounding rum track has a lot to do with its unwavering popularity.
Waves’ Renaissance Compressor is practically a relic in the software plug-in world, but it is by no means obsolete. If you are looking for a clear and transparent compressor for your drums, Renaissance is still a worthy contender despite its age.
The aptly-named Smack Attack is designed to add smack and snap to your drum and percussion sounds. It works equally well on full loops, synth hits, and anything else that has a pronounced transient.
You can set Smack Attack to be as subtle as you want if you’re just looking to give your drums a bit more ‘oomph’. You could also crank it up for extra grit and not thrash the sound’s natural character unless you reach the more extreme settings.
Specs and useful features
Smack Attack is more than just your average transient tool. It gives you total control over the attack and sustain levels, but it also lets you mold the shape and duration of transients to an accurate degree. You can make even the flabbiest kick drums tighten up nicely, and tweak snares to crack powerfully.
One of the most useful features of the plug-in is the ‘sensitivity’ control, which lets you select which transients to process. By allowing selective shaping, you can make all the transients pop out of the mix, or just tweak the loudest ones.
Smack Attack has proven to be a versatile mix tool for many users. It performs many of the standard functions of a typical transient shaper, but does so much more besides. Trap and hip-hop producers have used it to marvelous effect on 808 kick drums, taming clicky attacks and extending boom tails.
Interestingly, other producers use the plug-in to soften overly-aggressive kicks. The ability to control all or just some of the transients is especially well suited for this purpose. This feature alone makes Smack Attack more versatile than most other transient designer plug-ins.
Smack Attack is a versatile transient designer that sounds great and is easy to use. It’s useful at subtle to extreme settings and all points in between and works equally well on drums and other high transient audio material.
Torque does something that few other drum plug-ins do. It shifts the pitches of mistuned drums and enhances their tones while leaving the original sonic character intact. Although traditional wisdom dictates that you get the sound right at the source, Torque is the next best thing for fixing what would otherwise be an unsalvageable disaster. If you frequently have to fix up badly-tuned or poorly-recorded drum tracks, you will definitely get a lot of use out of Torque.
Specs and useful features
Torque is more than just your average pitch-shifter plug-in. It lets you tune individual drum elements to specific keys without introducing sonic artifacts, and leaves the body, attack, and resonance intact. It works well on any part of the drum kit, including the kick, snare, and toms. Best of all, it works its magic without you having to retrigger or replace any part of the recorded audio.
At the heart of Torque is Waves’ unique Organic ReSynthesis technology, which detects specific properties of the audio such as formant and amplitude. This information is analyzed and reassembled according to your settings, allowing you to manipulate the tone and pitch characteristics of the source material while leaving its original attack and resonance qualities untouched.
Torque lets you retune drums by as much as 12 semitones in either direction, so you could just as easily use it for more creative sound processing. Even at extreme settings, the resulting audio is free of artifacts and virtually indistinguishable from the original recording.
As expected, many users rely on Torque to get drums to sit nicely with the rest of their recorded tracks. It is especially useful for tweaking the kick drum to work better with the bass, which is essential for most types of music. Hip-hop and R&B producers especially like how it enhances the bottom end of kick drums, giving it loads of body and fullness.
Torque is a specialized drum plug-in that could save a potentially disastrous mix session. Although you probably won’t need its pitch-shifting capabilities all the time, its ability to fatten up drum makes it more useful than your typical pitch-shifter plug-in.
Infected Mushroom Pusher
The sonic wizardry of the creative duo behind the psytrance act Infected Mushroom is undeniable. Responsible for some of the most twisted and brain-melting sounds ever committed to recorded media, Infected Mushroom represents the pinnacle of electronic music sound design. So when we heard about Pusher, we just had to take a closer look.
Pusher is marketed as a multiband sonic enhancer and limiter/clipper, but it is quite a bit more than that. Bringing together Infected Mushroom’s bleeding-edge processing and mixing capabilities, the plug-in allows you to boost frequencies, enhance drums and percussions, and even master entire tracks. As the psytrance duo says, Pusher combines the mixing and mastering tricks that they’ve been working on for 20 years.
Specs and useful features
Pusher has “Low” and “High” controls that work on the low and mid and high frequencies, respectively. The “Low” control allows you to specify the note or frequency where the processing begins to take effect, making it an excellent tool for crafting massive kick drums.
The plug-in also has a “Magic” control that excites and boosts the dynamics of all the frequencies simultaneously. If you already have your drum mix close to where you want it, but you want to add just a bit more push and sparkle, the “Magic” knob is just what you need.
Rounding out Pusher’s controls are “Stereo Image”, which widens the stereo image of the higher frequencies, and “Push”, which adds a nice bit of musical clipping to the audio.
For many users, Pusher’s presets are right on the money. In most cases, only a little tweaking was necessary to get lively and full-bodied drum tracks. For some users, even just strapping on the plug-in to the drum buss was enough to make the drums wider and close to radio-ready.
Pusher packs an impressive amount of power into a deceptively simple interface. If you like your drums big, bold, and hyped-up, this is one plug-in you need to add to your studio toolkit.
You gotta love a plug-in named “Phatter”! And with only a single knob to deal with, you can bet that we were intrigued. As it turns out, the aptly-named OneKnob Phatter is a surprisingly versatile and great-sounding plug-in that works wonders on drums and any other instrument you care to route through it.
As the name suggests, OneKnob Phatter makes source audio bigger, more present, and…well, fatter. Adding abundant amounts of bottom and body to thin and unremarkable audio tracks, it does seem like a quick fix for drums that have about as much weight as a feather.
Specs and useful features
The beauty of OneKnob Phatter is that it lets you beef up drums, bass, and even vocals simply by turning a single knob. Need to have a big, weighty kick drum that fills up the lower end of the audio spectrum? Crank it up. Too much? Back it down a hair. That’s as simple as OneKnob Phatter gets, and we really like how it lets us get on with the other essential aspects of the mix without having to spend time on endless tweaking.
OneKnob Phatter more than just adds bottom end and body. Under the hood is a pretty sophisticated processing chain that takes the place of several different signal processors. So instead of just piling on the low end, OneKnob Phatter actually makes sounds fuller and more present in the mix without adding sonic artifacts. It works equally well on mono, stereo, and even mono-stereo signals as well, so it is a lot more versatile than its simple interface would suggest.
As expected, OneKnob Phatter works amazingly well on kick drums. Adding gobs of thump and boom to acoustic as well as electric drums, many users simply leave it on the kick drum channel all the time. It also does a great job of fattening up bass tracks, giving them some much-needed weight and authority without being too overwhelming.
OneKnob Phatter is about as close as it gets to a “set-and-forget” plug-in. Useful for drums, bass, and anything that should sound big, bold, and bassy, it could be an indispensable tool for hip-hop, EDM, and even pop production.
Quick Tips for Mixing Drums (and choosing the right plugin)
Mixing drums is one of the most important aspects of modern music production. Given the predominance of beat-heavy music nowadays, it isn’t unusual for music producers to devote most of the mixing process to getting the drums just right. Whether you are mixing hip-hop, EDM, rock, or pop, these tips should help you get slamming, radio-ready drum tracks.
Get it right at the source
You can spare yourself a lot of grief later on by getting your drums sounding as good as you can right from the start. Although drums aren’t actually melodic instruments, it might be beneficial to consider how their tuning affects the entire production. Some producers insist on tuning the drums to the root or fifth of the song’s key, while others simply go by ear. In any case, taking the time to tune your drums could improve your drum track considerably.
Consider the effects of dampening as well
Even if you prefer the natural sound of un-dampened drum skins, a bit of judicious dampening could eliminate troublesome overtones and make your beats sound tighter.
Check for phase issues
Mic’ing a full drum kit and assigning each piece to multiple tracks will almost surely result in phase issues. Out-of-phase tracks cause drums to sound weak and indistinct, and decidedly lacking in punch.
DAWs and professional mixing consoles have switches that allow you to reverse the phase of individual tracks as needed to prevent phase cancelation. If this doesn’t solve the problem, you will have to go back and adjust the mic placement of your drum kit.
Shape your transients
Transient shaping is one of the most neglected aspects of drum mixing. As good as your drums may sound, you will probably need to boost the transients or the initial attack stage to make them pop out of the mix. There are several hardware and software solutions for shaping transients, and they could spell the difference between slamming beats and drum tracks that have about as much sonic impact as punching a plush toy.
As with most types of processing, a little goes a long way when shaping transients. You don’t necessarily want everything to punch through, so decide on the elements that you want to stand out (typically the kick drum and the snare) and boost the transients on those. Go easy on the boost and back it off a bit if it sounds too much because it probably is.
Sweeten it with EQ
EQing is as much about making tracks blend with the overall mix as it is about making them stand out. Most novice producers crank the level of the frequencies that they like when cutting the other frequencies would produce better results. Always consider subtractive EQing, which involves cutting the adjacent frequency bands instead of boosting the dominant ones. If you want to increase the perceived low end of your toms or kick drums, for example, you could reduce the high frequencies slightly instead of cranking the bass.
Of course, there are situations wherein additive EQing–which involves boosting the desired frequencies–is warranted. But knowing the differences between each and knowing when to apply them will help you produce punchy and lively sounding drums without excessive low-frequency boom or top-end harshness.
Know your compressor
You simply can’t have phat beats without introducing a compressor into your signal chain at some point. Compressors make individual drums punch through dense mixes, giving them character and body. They can also tighten up flabby or loose sounding drums. Applied to the entire drum sub-mix, they can glue the drums together, making the whole more impressive-sounding than the sum of its parts.
There are so many different hardware and software compressors available today that choosing only one or two can be a daunting task. For drums, it is generally a good idea to go for compressors modeled after traditional analog designs, which tend to impart warmth and a vintage vibe that goes so well with beats. Whatever compressor you choose, don’t be afraid to experiment with subtle as well as more extreme settings. Mixing is as much an art as it is a science, so if it sounds good to you, then it is good!