Incredibly Cheap Drum Machine Plugins: AIR Drum Machine Legends Pack Tested.

Last weekend I was able to pick up both the AIR Boom VST and the AIR Drum Synth 500 VST for just shy of ten dollars thanks to an online deal – an incredible bargain when you consider AIR Drum Synth500 alone usually retails at over $100! Having installed both these drum machines and used them extensively over the past 7 days I thought I’d share my thoughts and opinions in an overview/review.

What is included in the AIR Drum Machine Legends Pack?

So usually Boom VST and Drum Synth 500 VST are sold as two separate software products but with the Drum Machine Legends Pack you get both drum machines bundled together.

Developer AIR are pretty famous for their special bundles, deals and offers so it does make me wonder how many people have been “caught out” over the years paying full price for an AIR product one day only to see it on sale for considerably less the next! My advice is that if you’re interested in any AIR products it’s best to wait until you can bag a special offer – such as a Black Friday deal – when one comes along, where possible.

AIR Drum Machine Legends pack bundles Boom VST with Drum Synth 500 VST for an incredible price (over 90% off in my case!). Of course just because something is cheap it doesn’t mean it’s any good so are Boom and Drum Machine 500 worth shelling out for? Let’s take a look at what you get for your hard earned bucks starting with Boom VST.

Boom VST Overview:

Fire up Boom in your DAW and you’re greeted with a 10 part drum machine on the right of the GUI, a step sequencer on the left (16 steps), a drum kit selector menu with 10 different kits and a preset selector menu at the bottom of the plugin (with 5 tempo based banks plus a small selection of ‘extras’)

Each of the ten drum machine parts (kick, snare, rim, clap, closed hat, open hat, hi tm, low tom, ride and crash) can host one suitable part from any from of the 10 kits (Urban 1 and 2, Dance 1 and 2, Electro, Eight-O, Nine-O, Fat 8, Fat 9 and Retro) so you can choose to have Urban 1 kick with Dance 2 rim, for example. You can load more than one kick or more than one snare etc into your kit nor can you import any of your own sounds. If you’re happy to use pre-mixed, ready to go kits just select Urban 1, Dance 1 etc from the kit menu on the left of the GUI. In practice I found that once I had selected a preset kit there was little to be gained in further adjusting individual drum parts by swapping one sound out for another.

With a kit set up your next step will be to create a beat and you can do this via the matrix style step sequencer on the left of the GUI. On my 17 inch laptop screen the step sequencer’s interface is small enough to be annoying and I can only imagine whoever put it together at AIR has perfect eyesight! Assuming you can see it well enough, it’s an easy to use if pretty basic step sequencer. You can use the preset patterns or hit the “clear” button and start entering your own by clicking on the matrix grid LEDs.

With your step sequencer pattern(s) set up you can trigger them in your DAW and you can also trigger individual drum machine parts too.

With your sequence playing you can make final tweaks to your drums by adjusting individual pan settings, levels, tuning and decay settings. There are also mute/solo buttons for each part and a very small screw icon that you can ‘turn’ with your mouse to make sonic adjustments to each drum part.

Finally you can adjust the overall swing, volume and dynamics globally.

The 10 kits themselves are decent enough although somewhat basic and hardly awe inspiring. There’s nothing here to rival the sheer depth and variety of something like Rob Papen’s Punch, Native Instrument’s Maschine or Sugarbytes Drum Computer but I found that for simple tracks where drums are not the main focus but instead sit in the background, Boom’s library of ‘bread and butter’ sounds are perfectly serviceable.

I particularly like the ‘Electro’ kit which has a nice old school vibe and I have used it in several 1980s inspired tracks. There are two dedicated TR-909 kits and two TR-808 kits included as well although I have heard plenty of better examples of both from other VSTs and sample packs.

I really don’t want to sound too negative about the included kits given the bargain price I was able to snap Boom up for. Playing through the 50 included presets (combinations of kits + patterns) I found there was plenty of useable material to start tracks quickly and with a minimum of fuss.

Can Boom VST import samples?

No. Boom comes with a number of preset kits and you can mix and match drum parts but you can not import samples.

Does Boom VST have multi-outs?

Boom VST only has one stereo out.

Drum Synth 500 VST Overview:

Firing up Drum Synth 500 for the first time I had high hopes for this plugin. Offering eight individual drum synth parts plus two sample parts as well as a comprehensive selection of reverbs, delays, compressors, saturators and much more, there’s plenty of good stuff to get stuck into. I was hoping this plugin might become my “go to” drum synth plugin.

Across the eight fully programmable drum parts – in the style of 500 Series rack modules – You get dedicated instrument channels for the Kick, Snare, Hats, Clap, Toms, Percussion synth sounds and two Sampler channels into which can load and manipulate any mono or stereo .wav audio files.

To get you up and running Drum Synth 500 gives you over 500 drum sounds, 500 drum samples, 50 drum kits and 500 MIDI drum loops.

The eight parts use various means to generate their sounds. The kick and snare parts are generated by oscillators. The clap and hats use noise while the toms and percussion parts use FM as a source. The sampler parts – obviously – use samples as their sound source of which you can get started with the varied sounds provided (909 style kicks, synth stabs, FX and more) or you can import your own.

When it comes to building kits you can get started with one of the included presets and then tweak the sounds to taste by deep diving into each parts numerous options – which vary from part to part – and/or by loading individual preset parts (choose from a variety of kick presets, or snare presets, for example).

You can the further shape each part by adjusting its effects section starting with various types of distortion, filters, compression and then adjusting insert effect reverb and delays.

Over on the far right of the GUI you can find the insert effects section where you can tweak saturation type, 2 reverbs and 2 delays. Both the reverb and delay effects come with excellent presets which you can further tweak to taste.

Finally there’s a master output section with DJ style kill EQ and compression.

There’s certainly a lot of options and parameters to tweak in this plugin so it’s a great synth if you’re into deep sound design.

I had a lot of fun with the two sample channels. Using some of the ‘stab’ presets as a starting point I was able to quickly cook up a variety of old school Techno sounds.

Overall I was pretty impressed with Drum Synth 500 however a couple of minor niggles and interface bugs spoilt the party for me. I had problems setting things up in FL Studio so that the kick, snare etc would be triggered by the piano roll in the way I wanted (and expected) and there was also the occasional graphic glitch where bits of the GUI would be blank. Neither of these bugs are major deal breakers but they did become irritating. I do not know if these bugs effect everyone or just my particular computer set up.

Can Drum Synth 500 run Standalone?

Drum Machine 500 works on MAC and PC as a 64 bit AU, VST, AAX plugin and it can run as a standalone application without a DAW.

Do you need an iLok account to install AIR Drum Machine Legends?

Yes, both Boom and Drum Synth 500 require an iLok account. If you do not already have an iLok account then you can create one for free.

AIR Drum Machine Legends Pack concluding thoughts:

Given that I paid under 10 dollars for two pretty decent drum machines it does seem a bit churlish to quibble about this bundle! That said, it’s a real shame that neither Boom nor Drum Synth 500 could fully satisfy my beat making needs! It’s a case of ‘Very, very close but no cigar’ with both these VST beat makers, I fear.

By some margin Boom VST was the drum machine I ended up using the most thanks to the fact it is incredibly easy to use. As a fast, handy preset ‘rompler’ type drum machine for laying down beats with a minimum of fuss Boom has a lot going for it. The interface – especially the tiny step sequencer – could really do with a modern makeover and producers who like to get deep with their drum design will end up looking elsewhere but if you just need a selection of quick, ready to go, basic beats which you can trigger via your DAW’s piano roll then Boom and its numerous presets could keep you satisfied for some time.

Drum Synth 500 was the most frustrating of the two drum machines for me. When bought separately Drum Synth 500 is considerably more expensive than Boom and yet I found it the less satisfying of the two. Niggles with the interface aside, my key annoyance with Drum Synth 500 was the lack of a step sequencer – yes it’s possible to trigger individual notes via your MIDI keyboard or pad controller but I found it a pain to set up in FL Studio. I really favor a step sequencer based workflow (especially when I’m already in a DAW and using my mouse to sculpt sounds, adjust send effects and mixing on the fly etc).

Is the AIR Drum Machine Legends Pack worth it? While neither drum machine is perfect I can say that if you can pick up both for a pocket money price you’d be foolish not to. I personally would have been less happy if I had paid full price for Drum Synth 500 but considering how little I did pay, it was well worth the asking price.

If you already own Boom VST is it worth buying the AIR Legends Pack to get hold of Drum Synth 500 at a bargain price? Your best bet is to download the Drum Synth 500 trial version and seeing if it suits your production needs. If it does then it is worth keeping an eye out for an AIR Legends Pack promotional offer (I got mine in a Summer season sale).

Alternatives to Boom VST:

Looking in my plugins folder for the best alternatives to Boom VST I wanted something that was equally easy to use and with a similar variety of presets. For dance music orientated tracks I settled on Ujam’s Eden 2 plugin which offers a more contemporary set of sounds compared to Boom as well as 10 separate kits, 12 smart-mix presets and easy to use mixing and FX tools. I can also give a big thumbs up to my Ujam Dope 2 plugin – its collection of hip hop kits and ready to use styles plus mix effects is a bit more “current” than Boom.

Alternative to Drumsynth 500:

Looking in my plugins folder once again, I wanted to find the best drum synth plugins that could compete with Drum Synth 500. For me, my copy of Microtonic from developer Sonic Charge remains one of the best drum synth plugins on the market despite its age. Microtonic gives you eight individual drum and percussion synths with which you can quickly knock up countless electronic kits and there are thousands of presets to get you started and, unlike Drumsynth 500, it has a built-in step sequencer too. Note that I paid ten times as much for Microtonic than the Drum Machine Legends Pack. (I’ve written more about Microtonic in my guide to 5 of the best VST drum machine plugins.)

Overall Scores:

Boom VST: 3.5/5

Pros: Incredibly easy to use. Lightweight. Cheap. Basic but decent sounds.

Cons: Small step sequencer. Only 10 kits with limited options to tweak the sounds and no ability to import your own sounds. No individual outs. You might tire of the included sounds quickly.

Drum Synth 500: 3/5

Pros: Interesting synth parts. Useful effects. Individual outs. The ability to load samples (on two parts). Plenty of decent presets.

Cons: No step sequencer. MIDI set up was buggy for me (in FL Studio). GUI redraw issue when moving plugin window around – does not always work/slow to update (occasionally black GUI in FL Studio). Slightly unispiring and “dull” to use when compared to the competition (such as Sugarbytes Drum Computer or Microtonic Sonic Charge).

(Test Machine: Intel i7 PC with 64GB Ram running FL Studio 20)

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