With the release of Cubase 7.5 we are very happy to introduce the first family member of the new Groove Agent 4 series — Groove Agent SE 4.
Groove Agent SE ushers in the future of Steinberg’s virtual drum instruments with a sample engine built on latest HALion technology and based on a new concept superior to previous versions of the Groove Agent series. As I already explained in one of the earlier posts, Groove Agent 4’s new approach provides specialists for different drum purposes which we refer to as Agents. Clearly, a virtual acoustic drum kit with overhead and room miking has different requirements for the GUI and feature set than a drum machine with a sample editor and slicing tool. Groove Agent 4 will sport several different Agents for acoustic and electronic drum productions that can be used individually or combined.
Groove Agent SE on the other hand is limited to just one Agent at a time and introduces Beat Agent, the first Agent dedicated to electronic drums and MPC-like drum sample handling.
Beat Agent is a classic drum sampler with up to 128 pads in 8 groups, 8 sample layers per pad, a very nice editing section with filters, envelopes, sample and slice editor, a mixer section with lots of effects, and a pattern player. When comparing Groove Agent SE to Groove Agent ONE the amount of features has been multiplied while the new workflows lead to a faster and more intuitive editing and designing of your own sounds. Speaking of which, the fourth iteration of Groove Agent isn’t just another new feature in Cubase 7.5, and there’s certainly more to it than can be put down in a couple words.
Since Groove Agent SE 4 is basically the successor of Groove Agent ONE, here now some of the improvements we implemented:
- Playback modes (vintage and turntable) for authentic 12-bit sound emulation
- New filters (Classic, tube drive, hard clip, bit red, rate red)
- Envelopes for pitch, filter and amp
- New sample editor (Zoom, fade in/out, velocity start range, reverse mode)
- AudioWarp (music and solo mode)
- Slicing editor with direct mapping and up to 128 slices
- Mixer section with 27 effects and 4 Aux buses
- Pattern player with import and export of MIDI files
- Custom pad colors
There are some highlights in Groove Agent SE that I would like to point out.
Playback quality modes
Sometimes there are features that hold more than you’d expect at first. The new playback modes in the Beat Agent are these kind of features. Why is it that so many contemporary producers still relay on these old school drum machine heavyweights? It is the 12-bit special sound that adds crispness to your drums and samples. So, in order to make a serious approach to emulate this sound, the team analyzed some of the classic 12-bit drum samplers to get to the bottom of the sound, recorded different samples, from drums to sine sweeps, and experimented with different ideas to replicate the signal flow. As a result, we came up with two different modes: the vintage and the turntable mode. The vintage mode is basically a “high-quality bit-crusher-resampler” that reduces the bitrate to 12 bits and resamples to 26.04 kHz. Add some distortion with the hard clip filter and you will get pretty close to the vintage drum sound that is so popular in hip hop and electronic productions. But that’s only half the story. The limitation of the classic 12-bit drum samplers has always been the memory that only allowed a sample time of about 2.5 seconds. In order to get longer samples into the memory the samples had to be recorded by switching the turntable from 33 RPM to 45 RPM, recording the samples at a higher speed of about +35% and then pulling them back down by just about 5.2 semitones within the sampler. This workaround had significant impact on the sound since it created explicit aliasing artifacts. Exactly this aliasing side effect can be heard when you pitch samples in the vintage mode. In turntable mode the recording at a higher speed and down pitching is simulated in advance to include the aliasing automatically. It may sound strange that adding aliasing artifacts should be a desired effect to enhance a sound, but basically that’s the stuff.
We could have added fixed distortion or low-pass filters and even crackle noise as included with some of the other VST instruments, but that just didn’t feel right. The control of these aspects should be left in the users’ hands. What do you think differently about it?
The slicing editor is an adaptation of the one available in HALion 5, with differences in the workflow in order to meet the demands of modern beat production. The transient detection algorithm of the slice editor has been further improved to realize better results when dealing with drum samples. In most cases further editing of the slice points won’t be necessary. You will also notice that as soon as slicing is activated the slices are instantly mapped on the pads and are ready to play. It is basically a one-click solution and makes working with slices very convenient. Additionally, every change in the slice editor will provide instant changes to the mapping on the pads. In the manual mode there is just one slice when you start and with each slice marker added the resulting slice will be automatically mapped on the next pad, making the editing very fast and letting you instantly start playing your slice. Compared to other slicing approaches this workflow feels more like playing an instrument than processing a sample. Another point worth mentioning is that every time a sample is sliced, a MIDI pattern is created that can be exported to your Cubase project or instantly played on the pattern page. This brings us straight to the next feature.
With the new pattern player in the Beat Agent, MIDI grooves can be triggered directly in the instrument. All of the drum kits come with 8 full grooves and 8 grooves triggering just single kit pieces that can be combined and mixed, i.e., one loop for the kick alone and another for the snare. All grooves can be played in the Beat Agent or exported into your project, and when exporting the MIDI groove into your Cubase 7.5 project, drum maps can be created that read out the pad names from Groove Agent SE for further editing. Vice versa, MIDI files can also be imported into the Beat Agent from the project window, the MediaBay as well as any file explorer.
Deep editing or programming of grooves is not a part of Groove Agent SE though, but there will be way more features available in the full version of Groove Agent 4. We have only just begun…
And this leads us to the last question most of you’d like to have answered:
What about Groove Agent 4?
The development of Groove Agent 4 is now the main focus of the VST instrument team. The recordings of the acoustic drums have been completed, and we are now finalizing the groove recordings. In the tradition of the Groove Agent series the ability to control the complexity for grooves will also be implemented in Groove Agent 4, but that, of course, increases the efforts put into the recordings significantly.
Groove Agent SE or basically the Beat Agent is just one part of the new Groove Agent concept and shows you what Groove Agent 4 will be capable of. Nevertheless, please check out the SE version and let us know what you think. We listened closely to your comments to improve Groove Agent ONE in the past, and considered a lot of your feature requests this time too. Groove Agent 4 is on its way. Still, please have a little more patience. We will keep you up to date.