Fxpansion BFD3 Review Including Show & Tell Video

09-30-2013 05:30 PM

FXpansion’s BFD drum VI has been a much loved part of the music production landscape for several years and so version 3 has been long awaited, if for no other reason for our community than that Pro Tools users now get AAX 64 bit to use with Pro Tools 11. Pro Tools Expert have been fortunate enough to have been given a pre-release copy of BFD3 to test and get fully up to speed with, so that once it hit the streets we could give you an extensive written and video review.
What’s New?
Apart from the obvious visual and format changes, now VST, RTAS, AU, AAX 64bit and standalone, there have been some changes to terminology and workflow. Here are the highlights plus a link to a full document on the changes.

  • New audio data
    BFD3’s new factory Core Library contains 5 new kits, one of which is recorded in a separate studio in 3 versions with sticks, brushes and mallets - 7 kits overall. In total, the library has 118 new kit-pieces.
  • New articulations: Snare Rim Click Hi Hat Splash and Bell Tip Tom Rim Shot and Rim Click
  • Lossless-compressed data
    BFD3 features a built-in lossless audio decompression system - the BFD3 factory data is supplied as a special proprietary format, .BFDLAC (BFD3 Lossless Audio Compression). This means that the audio takes less space on disk and uses less resources when streaming from the disk. The compression results in files that are 3x smaller and are decompressed with minimal CPU load. Equivalent data/detail settings use a third of the RAM that would be used by BFD2 - the BFD3 audio data would be approximately 160GB in size without using any compression.
  • Notable changes in terminology; Kit-pieces are now called Drums, the Kit-piece inspector is now the Drum editor
  • Interface changes - Extendable interface
    BFD3’s interface can be extended horizontally to achieve a larger working area. Note that the interface is not scaled to be larger - it simply offers a larger area of the mixer, FX slots and Groove Editor on-screen at once.
  • Layout changes
    BFD3 features a Browser on the left side of the interface, replacing the pop-up ‘modal’ chooser panels in BFD2. It is permanently visible except when using the Key Map or Automation panels, or it can be hidden when required.
  • The Kit page and Mixer page are now consolidated into a single main page - the top is switchable between the Kit display and Effects Editor while the lower part features the mixer channels.
  • The Drum Editor is shown at the right of the interface and can be hidden when required.
  • The Key Map panel has a substantially different layout, allowing more flexible methods of making assignments.

As we say this is just the tip of the iceberg, you can read an extensive document on the changes here.
In Operation

Existing owners of BFD3 may feel a little shocked by the new minimalist GUI, it’s almost as if Jonny Ive (iOS7 creator) was hired to create the new GUI, disposing of most of the skeuomorphic layout and gear-porn images of drums for a much slicker looking and may we say more intuitive, faster and responsive instrument. Some users may hate the new design, but it depends if you want your eyes to think there’s a real set of drums sat in front of you, or your ears? I know which I would choose as a music producer. I think it’s a brave move in a world where every designer is trying to make plug-ins that sound and look like the real thing, it does make one wonder if other plug-in manufacturers will follow suit? This new design is more grown up, flat and clean and irrespective of taste, having everything to hand, or just a couple of clicks away makes for a fantastic user experience. Having the extendable GUI, which allows the user to see both as much (or as little) as they wish also helps in the production process.
If you’ve not used it before then there’s some well thought out little touches in BFD3 retained from earlier versions. For example when you hover over channels, or drums, small coloured lines appear to show you where things are connected, so if you have a snare drum going to several busses then you can see that in an instant. This is really useful when you are trying to pull down the volume of a drum, or adjust a reverb and nothing seems to be happening - simply follow the lines to see where all the routing is going to.
Auditioning of Presets, Kits, Drums and Grooves is a doddle with the left hand browser and even those new to BFD should be able to do most things without even reading the manual.
Moving to the large centre panel this is where users can get under the skin of the kit, the effects for each drum, the Groove Editor and also the Key Map where both grooves and drum articulations can be set up across keys.
Of all the sections the one that takes a little figuring out is the Groove Editor, partly due to its almost limitless possibilities, but hovering over anything gives tool-tips both within context and in a menu at the top. Users can either draw Grooves or play them in real time - in practice I found myself doing both as I tried to create a few of my own grooves - although none got close to the playing of the supplied grooves, which feature everything from Pop and Rock to Jazz and Reggae. It is perhaps important to say at this point that out of the box BFD3 is about real drums and more conventional rhythms, not electro beat boxes and electronic beats. This is not a criticism, simply to say that of if you are expecting lots of mashed up, dubstep or electronica then you won’t find it. What you will find is around 160gb of amazing sounding live drums and grooves to match by Steve Ferrone, Brooks Wackerman, Bobby Jarzombek, Peter Erskine & Stanton Moore courtesy of Platinum Samples. Of course users of BFD2 can load their existing content into BFD3 and there are plenty of expansion libraries already available to satisfy many musical tastes.
BFD3 also has extensive import and export functions, one of special note for those not making the move to Pro Tools 11 is the extensive export options that will in fact give you more options then even using offline bounce in Pro Tools 11. It offers varying complexities of realtime bounce as well as 16, 24 and 32 bit depths for the audio. So both RTAS and AAX users should make sure they check this out if they want maximum control over the audio in their mixes.
Pimp My Kit
All that said, the ability to load some great sounding kit pieces (as well as you own samples), use the extensive supplied plug-ins such as compressors, filters, eqs, plus new effects including reverb and DCAM EnvShaper means that within BFD3 there’s a great deal to help you get your kit sounding just how you wish. As we have already said, there is also a large set of expansion options available from both FXpansion and some third parties.
How Does It Sound?
Best to watch the show and tell video here - trying to explain how it sounds would be a little silly.
The Key Mapper with both sounds and grooves assigned
What Do We Think?
It could have been so easy for FXpansion to sit on their butts and simply live on the enviable reputation that BFD already has, add a few more kits, a few extra formats and a bit more candy and still made most people happy. However BFD3 is a rethink of a trusted product and in rethinking and changing many things including the GUI, the workflow and in some cases the terminology, plus adding the aforementioned new kits, grooves, new effects and other candy, they’ve been brave and I think in doing so have come up with a winner.
The sounds, grooves, and new workflow are all on the button and as I have already said 99% of the stuff is possible without reading the manual. I got caught on a couple of things but soon had them worked out.
I did feedback some stuff to FXpansion as I was reviewing BFD3, the first was that whilst I appreciate the way the GUI can be extended in width, I felt like I wanted to grab the GUI and resize it with my mouse, I’m assured that they are aware of this. I also found the “Are you sure you want to do this” nag when I tried to load kits annoying, but this can be turned off in the options menu.
What FXpansion have succeeded in doing with this reinvention of BFD3 is to offer a seriously powerful real drum VI and at the same time make it easy to use - right down to creating the new lossless format, that makes both installing from the supplied 64gb memory stick faster, it also ensures you don’t have to think about buying a new hard drive squeezing over 150gb into 55gb of drive space - magic!

I loved using BFD3, both because of the great sounds and also the sheer ease of use from a powerful piece of software, plus of course it’s AAX 64 bit! BFD3 will appeal to both existing users and to those looking for some hot real drum kits, plus the possibility of expansion. There is so much more I could write about BFD3, I’ve hardly scratched the surface of elements such as the Grooves, the sound editing as well as the comprehensive import and export formats, but this review would extend over several browser pages - again watch the video for more.
It is for this reason that I have no hesitation in giving BFD3 an Editors Choice Award - if you need real drums and a real drummer but don’t have the space, time or money, then BFD3 is a worthy alternative! Check it out.
More here

  • Library size : 162 GB (uses BFD3 streaming, lossless compression so only requires 55Gb of disk space)
  • Plug in formats supported : VST, RTAS, AU, AAX
  • Standalone : Yes
  • 64bit: Yes
  • Platforms : Mac, PC
  • Compatible with BFD1/BFD2 expansion packs
    • Cymbals: Bell, Edge, Bow. Snares: normal hit, off-centre hit (half-way between the centre and edge), side-stick, rim shot, rim click, drag.
    • Hi-hats: Closed tip & shank, 1/4-open tip & shank, 1/2- open tip & shank, 3/4-open tip & shank, open tip & shank, pedal (foot-chick), splash, bell tip.
    • Toms: Hit, rim shot, rim click

  • Articulations :
  • Kicks: ‘snare’ and ‘no snare’
  • Ambient channels
  • Number of kit pieces : 119 (across 7 kits)
  • Number of mixer effects : 33
  • Number of mixer effects slots : 6
  • Cymbal swell modelling
  • Tom resonance & spill modelling
  • Rudiments tool for easy drum programming
  • Resizeable window
  • Loudness matching technology
  • Hundreds of workflow enhancements to kit building, browsing, content management, key mapping and mixer.