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Music is made up of rhythm, melody, and harmony. And while rhythm isn’t the domain of any one instrument specifically, it’s fair to say that drums and percussion are what immediately come to mind for most.
Drums help you feel the song. They hold down the rhythmic foundation. They play a vital role in keeping the beat. Whether it’s jazz, blues, rock, or otherwise, drums are a go-to in most genres. And, if you’re planning to use a drum VST in your mixes, you need the best of the best sounds available.
In this guide, we look at the best drum VST plugins to help you lay down your beats and grooves.
BFD3 by BFD – Best Overall
If you know anything about drum VST plugins, then you’ve certainly heard the name BFD. It may not command the weight it used to, because a lot of great, new solutions have popped up in recent years, but that doesn’t mean it’s lost its stride. Not at all.
BDF3, of course, is the third generation of the organic and realistic sounding software acoustic drum studio that put their name on the map in the first place.
Deadmau5 said “BFD sounds good,” Andrew Scheps thought it was the best way to get a natural sounding drum performance when you don’t have access to a great drummer, and Simon Franglen felt the latest version was a huge step forward.
In addition to a redesigned engine, BFD3 comes with plenty of new kits, mix-ready presets, modeling technology for tom resonance and cymbal swells, a revised interface with a new mixer and sound browser, and an all-new BFD3 library, recorded by the likes of John Emrich, Andrew Scheps, and Rail Jon Rogut.
You can also create and edit patterns right inside the built-in Groove section, which comes with many session drummer performances.
BFD3 comes with a stunning amount of detail, with up to 80 velocity layers. Rim-clicks and rimshots for toms, bells and splashes for hi-hats, modeled tom resonance and bleed… it’s all here.
Four of the kits were recorded at Ocean Studios in LA and come with mono room and hardware compressed channels and stereo overhead and room mics. The other three kits are stick, brush, and mallet iterations of a custom Mapleworks kit. These were recorded at Omega Studios in Rockville, Maryland.
There’s also a mixing engine with DCAM-modeled compression, filter, and additional effects, not to mention EQ and algorithmic reverbs. External signals can be used as a compression sidechain source too.
In total, BFD3 comes with seven new kits (rock, metal, jazz, and brush), tom resonance / cymbal swell modeling, new browser and workflow, improved audio engine, extendable interface, new effects including algorithmic reverb and DCAM EnvShaper, mix-ready presets, editable groove engine, rudiments tool, and grooves created by the likes of Steve Ferrone, Bobby Jarzombek, Brooks Wackerman, and more.
Yes, BFD3 is just as powerful as it sounds. There are both processed and unprocessed sounds, depending on how mix ready you want your kit to be. There are countless articulations for cymbals, toms, and anything else you can name. You get total control over the mix of the kit, the sequence, the effects, and more. BFD3 is worth checking out.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
Addictive Drums 2: Custom XXL Collection by XLN Audio – Best Premium Option
You’re not going to find a guide like this that doesn’t mention Addictive Drums, and for good reason – this is a phenomenal plugin!
But the Addictive Drums 2: Custom XXL Collection gives you maximum versatility and customizability. This collection gives you access to 10 ADpaks (kits), 10 MIDIpaks (beats), 10 Kitpiece Paks (single drums), and of course, the Addictive Drums 2 engine.
Plus, you get to choose the content you want most – drum kits, kit pieces, and MIDI beats based on your preferences and what you think you might need for your next project.
With Addictive Drums 2, you can take advantage of the 130 professionally designed presets or create a custom kit from scratch. It includes mixing and sound-shaping features, drag and drop audio and MIDI, rapid linking and layering, kit piece swapping, MIDI library (5,000 beats), specialty “Trig” sounds, and more.
The preset browser lets you filter your options from genre category, tempo, and even time signature based on the kind of beat you need. And the presets all sound great out of the box. They offer a great starting point for building any kind of beat, and of course, they can be used as is too. Addictive Drums 2 even comes with a ton of fills to choose from.
Addictive Drums 2 is indeed addicting, and it’s a powerful tool to have at your disposal for creating any kind of drumbeat. It sounds great, and it’s full of all kinds of features that allow you to shape the sounds of your beats too.
There are certainly some competitors to Addictive Drums 2, but there’s nothing exactly like it, so it’s a no brainer for our best premium selection.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
VQ Drums by Wavesfactory – Best Budget Option
Wavesfactory’s VQ Drums is a Kontakt instrument – specifically, a vintage 1964 Ludwig Hollywood drum kit recorded in a wooden environment.
VQ Drums features six velocity layers, six round robin, and six samples per articulation (all samples normalized to 0 dB and 128 volume steps).
The main section offers a full view of the drum kit in sparkly detail. With the dedicated menu, you can control volume, pan, and pitch. There are two snares to choose from (WFL Buddy Rich and Ludwig Super Sensitive), two kick beaters (Plastic and Felt), and two ride cymbals (Constantinople and Avedis).
In the mixer section, you can adjust the eight microphones for kick, snare, toms, hi-hat, overheads (stereo pair), and room (stereo pair). There’s also a load / purge switch for each articulation, pan, volume, mute / solo, and output selector. There’s even a bleed control.
Then come the effects. With VQ Drums, you can insert any effect into any of the eight available slots, with EQ, compression (various types), modulation (chorus, flanger, phaser), distortion / saturation / tape, algorithmic and convolutional reverb (with 40 custom impulse responses), and amp simulators.
Finally, on the settings page, you can control the remaining parameters for round robin, dynamic range, velocity curve, remapping, and envelope.
Overall, the VQ Drums sound great, especially in the context of a mix. They’re weighty, punchy, and importantly, organic sounding, even when playing tom fills. While it does require the full version of Kontakt, overall, VQ Drums is quite affordable, offering up a very competent, near mix ready sound.
If there’s a downside, well it’s probably that it’s too specialized to be great for everything. It does rock, country, and blues quite well, and since it is fully adjustable, you can probably find settings suitable to various other genres too. But it is a bit of a one trick pony. At this price point, though, you can’t complain too much.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
Damage 2 by Heavyocity
Heavyocity’s Damage 2 is an orchestral drums VST and an improvement on the much praised original. This VST plugin features ensembles recorded at Skywalker Sound with 860+ loops, realistic sounding crescendos, swells, and flourishes, discrete engines, and more.
With over 40,000 samples and nearly 60 GB of content, many sounds, from conventional to esoteric are represented here – 24 to 72” gran casas, 24 to 60” Taikos, bass drums, snare ensembles, toms, ethnic drums, and even found sound elements, including those of a dumpster (recorded on a sound stage!). There are almost 1,600 sources in total.
Damage 2 also features five mic channels (Close, Room, Hall, LFE, and CRUSH), as well as a customizable performance and effects engine.
They do call it Damage for a reason though. The sounds range from brutal impacts to devastating hits, processed, and mangled by the developers. Endless customization awaits with the Ensemble, Kit, and Loop Designer for maximum flexibility.
In all, Damage 2 comes with 41,395 samples, 1,596 sources, 208 snapshot presets, three NKIs, intuitive browser for loading 700+ sources in octave banks and individual sounds, instant 3D positioning with updated stage, five mic positions, and MIDI Performance tool.
There’s also a redesigned Punish knob with three humorously named flavors (Gently Now, Hurt Me Plenty, Nightmare), customizable master FX chain, 16-voice drum kit layout, 50+ custom-designed kits, independent FX chains for every voice (compression, reverb, saturation, plus more), 864 Loops (216 loops with four stems each), 432 Straight (108 with four stems), 432 Triplet (108 with four stems), effects for individual loops (with a send FX layer), and much more.
Look, this thing is packed with incredible drum sounds. And yes, they are ideal for TV, film, and video game scores. Of course, you are free to use them any way you want. Metal producers, for example, may love the huge, weighty, brutal sounds of Damage 2 and even be able to use them to supplement the drum sounds they capture in the studio.
While it might be optimal for composers and sound designers, there’s certainly nothing stopping other producers from picking this up and giving it a go.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
MDrummer by MeldaProduction
MeldaProduction’s MDrummer is both a drum machine and virtual drummer. MDrummer lets you take advantage of any number of drum sets, drums in each drum set, layers and effects in each drum, sampling, synthesis, and other generators. From acoustic and electric drums to percussion and effects, it’s all here.
With a push of a button, MDrummer can generate an infinite number of drum sets, analyze and import your sample libraries, merge multiple drum sets, and more.
MDrummer can play rock, pop, jazz, drum and bass, R&B, salsa, rumba on congas, progressive metal in odd time signatures… you name it. You get complete control over intros, grooves, fills, notes at different velocities, basically everything you need to create an authentic drumbeat.
The rhythm generator can create an entire drum track for you based on a single loop, complete with all the variations you need.
Overall, MDrummer comes with more than 6 GB of samples, multisamples, subsample libraries, 300+ drum sets, 2,400 drum set components, 900+ samples, 600+ multisamples, 300+ rhythms, 200+ base rhythms, 12,000+ loops, and five sound generators (MSampler, MMultiSampler, MSynthesizer4NN, MSubSampleSynthesizer, MScratcher).
You also get 30 effects, drum set generator and merger, effect generator and merger, human-like rhythm technology, MIDI command, sequencer, jamming functionality, and a rhythm generator and merger.
Sounds kind of crazy, right? That’s because it is. So, I would suggest watching the video, because you’re not getting the full meal deal if you don’t.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
XO by XLN Audio
XLN Audio’s XO is a unique beat making VST plugin that automatically sorts your samples by likeness.
It’s all too common that beat makers end up with sample files stored in a variety of places on their hard drive, in different folders, making them hard to locate and keep organized. XO will do the heavy lifting for you, and it supports multiple file types, including WAV, AIFF, FLAC, MP3, OGG, and WMA. It even has powerful search and filter functionalities.
Of course, it doesn’t end there. XO also comes with a variety of preset playlists and 8,000+ factory samples, Groove Templates, a sequencer, as well as drag and drop functionality, so you can bring your beats into your workflow with ease.
Now, while you might think XO is only for beat makers, the truth is there are so many great sample presets that just about any producer could benefit from this plugin. Plus, the samples are configurable, and you can customize the beats using the sequencer and onboard parameters.
To see just how fun, unusual, quirky, and powerful this tool is, you’ll want to check out the video below.
Learn more: Splice
BreakTweaker by iZotope
iZotope’s BreakTweaker beat machine, drum sculpting, and beat sequencing environment was designed by BT and developed by iZotope. They say it’s ideal for EDM producers, beat makers, and composers.
With BreakTweaker, you can control the pitch, rhythm, and texture of any beat, create complex polyrhythmic beats (with isorhythm and playback speed settings), take advantage of various presets, drum samples, and wavetables, blend drum samples with the built-in synthesis features, and even trigger and sequence complex patterns and samples with a MIDI controller.
BreakTweaker is made up of three modules – the Sequencer, Generator, and MicroEdit Engine. The Sequencer comes with six tracks and can store up to 24 step patterns, launchable via MIDI for remixing. The isorhythmic step sequencing lets you have a unique tempo and step length for each track.
The MicroEdit Engine can turn a division of one step in your pattern into potentially thousands of slices. Slices can be contoured and shaped, which means you can add all kinds of textures to your beats that stimulate and surprise the ear.
The factory library comes with over 80 global presets, and over 2 GB of royalty-free sample content.
For those times you’re stuck on a groove and are having trouble coming up with a unique and compelling beat, I could see BreakTweaker coming in handy. If you require more of a traditional drum sound, though, this VST probably isn’t for you.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
Spark 2 by Arturia
Arturia’s Spark 2 is a 16-track drum machine with a multiple synthesis engine, advanced sequencing functionality, real time performance tools and effects, as well as a sound library covering all musical genres, more than 2,800 instruments (drums, one-shots, synths, FX), and multiple banks of patterns for each drum kit.
Trentemøller found it easy and quick to get results with Spark 2, UMEK liked the quality of samples, and Yousef liked how it added authentic dimension to his beats.
Spark 2 comes with TAE virtual analog, sampling, and physical modeling sound engines, pattern-based sequencing (real-time sequencer and classic TR-style step sequencer), mixer with studio effects, modular synth engine, as well as real-time performance loopers and effects.
Some of the new features in Spark 2 include new graphics, extended REX support, modular drum synth editor, custom instrument macro control modules, song mode, multiple synthesis modes, physical models, and more.
For those who love drum machines, there is a lot to get excited about here. And let’s face it – a lot of musical styles today utilize drum machine sounds, be it pop, EDM, hip-hop, or otherwise. This is one of those special drum machines that can spice things up for your projects.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
EZdrummer 3 by Toontrack
Toontrack’s EZdrummer 3 features seven kits (with additional snares, kicks, and cymbals), a grid editor, step sequencer, roughly 15 GB of drums, cymbals, and percussion, MIDI library (with grooves and fills), mix-ready presets, a fully scalable and resizable interface, and more.
Ezdrummer 3 also features Bandmate, which will help come up with rhythmic ideas to your riff, regardless of whether it’s audio or MIDI.
It’s no surprise EZdrummer 3 is so popular, really. It sounds great right out of the box, you can take advantage of the MIDI library to develop your song, utilize Bandmate to explore rhythmic ideas, and even use the grid editor to create your own beats.
If Ezdrummer 3 isn’t enough for you, Toontrack also offers Superior Drummer 3 with a ton of additional content, surround playback, audio to MIDI conversion, electronic sounds, individual bleed controls, pitch envelope control, and much more.
Of course, Superior Drummer 3 does cost a little more than Ezdrummer 3.
Learn more: Toontrack
What Should I Look For In A Drum VST Plugin?
So, you’ve reviewed the options, and now you’re trying to figure out which drum VST plugin is right for you.
With so many great options offering amazing sound and features, it can be hard to pick one that’s going to be suited to your project – present and future.
Naturally, you can always buy more than one plugin, even if it means putting it off for a few months.
But it’s always nice to get off to a good start, especially if don’t have other options at your disposal. To get your VST library started, it would be wise to add a solid all-rounder toyour arsenal.
With that in mind, there are some key factors worth considering when trying to decide which VST to pick.
Here, we look at:
- Type of drum plugin
- Sound quality
Let’s get into each.
Type Of Drum Plugin
Are you planning to make beats? Create epic film scores? Write your next adrenaline packed rocker?
Generally, there’s no such thing as an all-in-one solution. MDrummer is perhaps the closest thing to a comprehensive answer, and even then, it’s not for everyone and it might not be optimal for certain projects.
If an authentic acoustic kit sound is what you’re after, you’ll likely enjoy products like VQ Drums, BFD3, Addictive Drums 2, and Ezdrummer 3. BFD3, Addictive Drums 2, and Ezdrummer 3 specifically all offer similar functionality, while VQ Drums is a little more limited (but still great sounding).
MDrummer would also be able to fill the role, but it would probably be of more interest to you if a virtual drummer is what you require.
If you’re making beats and electronic music, then a drum machine or sampler is likely to be more your speed. Spark 2, BreakTweaker, and XO would all fall under this category.
Each of them is quite unique and powerful, so it’s worth comparing the features and functionality if you’re not settled on which one to buy yet.
Finally, we have virtual instruments best suited to composers. Damage 2 is obviously in this category.
Depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, you might purchase multiple plugins, but it’s fair to say the ones featured here all come with extensive functionality. So, you can compare the options to get a better sense of which are going to be right for you.
Sound quality will likely be a major consideration, unless you’re buying a plugin you can use to import and manage all your samples. And even then, if you don’t have the capabilities to create the samples you want, you’d be better off purchasing a plugin that comes with sounds you like.
Regardless of whether you’re looking for acoustic, electric, FX, or even sound design type sounds, you should be listening to each of the plugins to get a sense of what they sound like all by themselves, as well as in a mix.
Whether it’s a software-based acoustic kit or a drum machine, sound quality is always going to be a factor. After all, VST plugins are almost inevitably emulating classic kits and drum hardware.
If you’re planning to use the sounds in your releases, that’s even more reason to ensure you’re happy with the sound and that you’re able to configure and tweak them to work within your mixes and projects.
Plugins in similar categories do tend to feature similar functionality.
The most realistic sounding acoustic kits – BFD3, Addictive Drums 2, and Ezdrummer 3 – all have roughly the same functionality. Which means that if you’re buying a plugin in this category, you’ll probably be basing your purchase on workflow and price more than anything.
The same could certainly be said for the array of drum machines featured here too.
MDrummer and VO may be among the most unique offerings here, though again you can find some of the same features in other plugins.
Basically, what I’m saying is this:
Features are obviously important. You should investigate each plugin in depth and understand what they can offer.
But when shopping for a drum VST plugin, chances are you will only be comparing subtle differences in functionality.
From $50 to $500, a drum plugin can obviously cost a lot. At the same time, it’s one of those plugins you’re sure to get a lot of usage out of. After all, drums are the backbone of most tracks. So, unless you’re only using the drum VST for the occasional sketching, it’s bound to play a vital role in your VST arsenal.
Budgeting for a drum VST would be a wise move on your part. You might even want to prioritize it over other VSTs, especially if you’ve already got the essentials (like EQ, reverb, compression, etc.) covered.
But we do recommend spending responsibly. Under no circumstance do we advise going into debt to purchase musical gear. Consider your budget before making a purchase and you will have no regrets.
Top Drum VST Plugins, Final Thoughts
Even those who generally capture drums off the floor can benefit from drum VST plugins, as they may allow you to enhance the sound of the drum sounds you capture in your studio.
Whether you’re sketching, composing, making beats, writing the next top 40 pop hit, or setting up a mean rock groove, there are solutions for every situation imaginable. Drums are at the foundation of every song, so having the right tools does make a difference.
We hope you enjoyed this guide and wish you all the best on your musical journey.