Review: Boutique Drums Penny & Medusa by Musical Sampling
Top tier sound quality
Good range of mix presets - basic to extreme
Simple ‘no manual required’ interface
Hi-hat loops with a useful crossfade to open the hats up
Lovely dampened drums and ghost snare roll on Penny
The Gorgon preset in Medusa is trailer drums gold!
A small but very useful collection of sound design in Medusa
No choke for the cymbals
A latch for the hi-hat loops would have been useful
Lacks in-depth parameters if you need that level of control
Premium pricing for just single drum kits
Musical Sampling have nailed it again with a no-nonsense and highly playable pair of drum libraries. Penny gives us a brilliant take on tight vintage rock drums, whilst Medusa provides thumping ensemble drums and powerful cinematic sound design patches. Using them is pure fun with drums!
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Review: Boutique Drums Penny & Medusa by Musical Sampling
It can be a tricky move when a developer known for orchestral samples moves into a distinctly different area, but Musical Sampling have made the transition to drum sampling with much success. We have covered their rocky Ruby and more indie Jolene previously here at SLR and they covered a wealth of styles between them. The two most recent releases in their Boutique Drums series move into slightly more niche areas. I will be checking out both of them in this review: the retro inspired Penny and the aggressive ensemble drum set, Medusa.
Penny consists of six instrument types across the top of the GUI and eight mix presets below. These mixes can’t be further tweaked, but they all sound great and with enough variance that you should find what you want. They can be mixed and matched too, so you can have a different mix for each kit piece. Beyond that the controls are minimal with just volume faders and Kontakt outputs. Some might find this restrictive, but it’s actually a savvy move on the developers part. There are plenty of amazingly detailed drum collections out there, but not so many that are simpler yet also sound just as good. This is exactly where the Boutique line comes in.
In terms of what you get there is snare, ghost snare roll (love this!), cross stick, rimshot, three toms, five hi-hat states (tight, normal, slightly-open, mid-open and all-open), hi-hat chick (which also functions as a hi-hat choke), two crashes, ride rim/crash and ride bell. All the drums are mapped across duplicate keys and with the addition of repetition sampling for the hats and toms this enables fast and realistic fills to be played with ease. The hats have basic 8th note phrases at three tempos for every state – tight to open. There is also an option to open out the hat during a phrase using the modwheel, which can give a good dose of realism riding it into a chorus. A groove speed control at the bottom of the GUI can half or double the tempo. Next to that is a humanisation control with 4 levels of ‘looseness’ – useful if you hard quantise your beats and need to free them up a touch.
The kit used for Penny consists of some rare custom pieces and the result is a retro sound, but with a modern punch on certain mix presets. The snare and toms are covered with cloth so have a short and non-ringy decay and a host of vintage mics was used during the recording to further help capture that authentic 60s and 70s rock kit feel. However, it’s actually way more varied than that once you dive into the mix presets. These are not just different mic balances, but also seem to incorporate a good dose of external processing with EQ, compression and saturation. They cover a wealth of ground from super dry to roomy, trashy to dirty warehouse and a couple of Beatles references judging by the preset titles of Abbey and Lane. Mixing presets between different bits of the kit with Penny should be done with taste if you want to maintain some sense of the drum kit as one instrument. Having a super dry snare alongside a gritty reverb soaked hat does not work too great, though different mix presets of a similar type do blend well.
Overall Penny is just really fun to play and gives quick and professional results. I found that with less parameters to tweak I paid more attention to the subtleties of the deep multi-samples themselves and the groove that they inspired me to play.
Moving onto Medusa and it is clear that this is a totally different animal in terms of the genre. We are firmly in heavy hitting trailer and blockbuster film territory here. Huge sounding ensemble drum libraries are nothing new of course, but mostly they sample orchestral drums which is why Medusa is so refreshing as it focuses on ensemble drum kits, with a group of 4 players for each kit piece. It comes with the same drum selection as Penny, apart from the ghost snare roll being replaced with clacks played on the side of the toms.
There are four mix presets and it defaults to the epic trailer style Gorgon – in your face, super hyped and with a wide stereo field. Hermes covers close and punchy, Centaur is a balanced all rounder and Zeus provides plenty of the room ambience. All of them sound superb with the rimshot and the low toms being standouts in their power and tone. The rest of the controls are the same as for Penny, so please refer to the paragraphs above for more information.
For Medusa, Musical Sampling also expanded the kit to include percussion and this comes in an extra patch called Auxiliary. There are claps, stomps, tambourine (hits and a modwheel controlled shake), gran casa, and cymbal swells (with both release tail and non tail versions – nice!). These sorts of sounds may not appear as exciting as the main drums, but they really add that extra bit of character and drama.
As a final treat and a nod to the intended end use of this library there is a folder jam-packed with a range of sound design goodies. They lack the variety and manipulation that some users might require and focus on the darker hybrid side of things, but that does not mean they come up short in quality. Like the auxiliary instruments these are designed as workhorse tools that will often just simply work straight out of the box. You get pads, basses, ethereal piano, various pulses (with mod wheel for intensity) and even some epic ensemble shouts. The full list can be seen below.
I urge you not to overlook what might appear to be a bonus add-on pack as there is some gold in here. Highlights for me are the hugely flexible guitar chugs, the Bottom Line bass and the Concussion Hits. The 49 sounds in the latter are so useful because they are relatively simple sounding hits which can be hard to find with so many developers focussing on hugely complex hits that might sound great in isolation, but can be tricky to fit in a complex arrangement. There are some great workhorse hits here (that sound like they might come from the original drum kit recordings) covering subs, distorted kicks, pounding toms, brutal snares, shimmering highlights and shouts. Both the hits and risers come as WAVs too, which will be welcomed by those of us who like to drag and drop audio into the DAW.
As I mentioned in previous reviews of this series the only functional improvements would be a choke function to cut off cymbals and the ability to latch the hi-hat grooves on, so both your hands are then free to play beats over the top. Also, something to be aware of is that neither of these libraries come with files for Stephen Slate Trigger 2 currently, which both Ruby and Jolene did.
Media composers and music producers have plenty to get excited about with Penny, which lends itself to quick turnarounds without any sacrifice in quality. It is far beyond just a retro kit and proves very flexible in practice. Medusa will no doubt find favour with trailer composers and anyone else who needs heavy cinematic beats and sound design. In a crowded market for ensemble drums it does something different to most stuff already out there and the sound design aspect of the library should not be overlooked at all.
Both of these libraries very nicely round out the Boutique series so far, complimenting the heavy, roomy Ruby and the beefy, more intimate Jolene. It’s worth pointing out that they all share the same basic layout in the GUI and across the keyboard, so moving between the different libraries is a breeze. Shout out to the drummer too, Brian Scoggins, and everyone on the sessions at Hey Hey Studios in Griffin, Georgia, who did a mighty fine job curating the kit pieces, playing, and capturing the sounds. Both Penny and Medusa get a massive thumbs up from me and I am eager to stop typing now, so I can get back to having loads of fun playing them!
Musical Sampling Boutique Drums – Penny and Boutique Drums – Medusa are 7.2 GB and 5.2 GB respectively and require the full version of Kontakt. The samples are 48khz/24bit, compressed to NCW format as watermarked libraries downloaded via the Continuata Connect downloader application. Medusa also includes WAV files of the hits and risers.
Contributor Sam Burt reviews Boutique Drums – Penny & Boutique Drums – Medusa by Musical Sampling
“Musical Sampling have nailed it again with a no-nonsense and highly playable pair of drum libraries. Penny gives us a brilliant take on tight vintage rock drums, whilst Medusa provides thumping ensemble drums and powerful cinematic sound design patches. Using them is pure fun with drums!”