Review of Fxpansion Tremor: the latest drum machine coming out from the labs of Fxpansion focus entirely on synthesis. Another 909-clone you might ask? Far from it. Tremor takes drum synthesis way more serious than that.
In all its essence, Tremor is a drum synthesizer combined with a pattern sequencer. The synthesis method in Tremor is built upon Fxpansions DCAM Synth Squad engine. If you've been using DCAM before, you probably know what this means: authentic analog tones, excellent modulation capabilities, no support for samples, and hard on the cpu.
The synth engine.
There are eight separate engines in Tremor, which basically is eight simplified DCAM synthesizers. This review is not meant to be a comparison against the old Sonic Charge Microtonic - but since there are many similarities with both it's almost impossible not to compare the two. For example - just as with Microtonic, there is just one type of sound producing module - one generalized module capable of creating sounds from claps, crashes to bass drums and synthesizer sounds. As I've discussed earlier, this approach is both good and problematic. The good thing is that you can create a much wider variety of sounds. The bad thing is that it's way more complex to dial in a good kick drum, than it is with Audiorealism ADM, D16 Drumazon or Drumspillage for example. If you're not used to create drum sounds yourself, you'll be most likely to rely on the provided presets.
The presets are - in my highly personal opinion - so-so. The pre-programmed patterns are quite good actually - especially those who make use of the built-in effects (Tin Can Verb - yum yum) - but I had expected more from the drum sounds. Comparing with Microtonic is unfair - Microtonic has been around for a long time and have a whole ecosystem of sounds. But browsing sounds in the little tonic generates far many more 'wow's than with the preset drum sounds in Tremor. This is quite possibly a temporary problem - it wouldn't surprise me if Fxpansion is already planning free preset expansions for Tremor. I'll say it again. The presets aren't bad. I just expected more from them.
What totally shocked me though was the amount of processing power Tremor uses. I can guarantee you never have seen a drum machine use this much processing power before. On one extreme occasion, I managed to reach 75 percent of the cpu on an Intel i5 3.1 GHz iMac, with only four sounds and one (although intense) modulation. No other plugins were used. While this was an extreme case - and my normal patterns reach around 20-40 percent of my cpu - Tremor is exceptionally processor hungry. How much I like and respect Fxpansion as a developer, I firmly feel they made a miscalculation here. I don't agree with the idea of releasing products that can only run smoothly on the absolute high end machines, no matter how cool the inner workings is.
As suggested on Kvr Audio - one way to get around this problem would be to have a way to change the quality of the sound engines. DCAM already have this, and it definitely makes sense that Tremor should have a similar option.
"while Microtonic feels like a drum synthesizer in its core - Tremor feels more like you squeezed in eight very capable synthesizers in one single package"
But with that said, you do get some very cool stuff in exchange for straining your poor processor. If I were to compare Microtonic and Tremor again, I would say that while Microtonic feels like a drum synthesizer in its core - Tremor feels more like you squeezed in eight very capable synthesizers in one single package.
If you've ever programmed DCAM Synth Squad you'll know it has got a personality of its own. When I am programming the power horse Cypher, my constant mantra is: have a plan from the beginning & take it slooow. If I don't I always end up with a cool - but practically unusable sound. In this respect, Tremor is similar to DCAM. You need some focus not to only be creating interesting weird percussive sounds and noises. DCAM is not like the foolproof Minimoog where you can turn the knobs to any settings and it still sounds good. Tremor is like riding a car with a stick.
Although the synth engine let you decide which direction you want to take Tremor - I felt Tremor to be drawn to the rough, almost the industrial. Sure, there are a couple of 909-esque sounds among the presets, but I felt them to be equally misleading as the 909 sounds in Microtonic. Tremor is not a 909 and I cannot say it even does a good job emulating the 909. But that's not its job and after the first hour when I was trying to recreate the typical sounds we've heard a million times - I felt 'to h*** with it' and I started to take Tremor for what it is.
The coolest feature of the pattern sequencer is without a doubt the possibility to alter the length of each individual track. The bass drum can be four steps long, the snare eight, the hi-hat six steps and the bass can be eleven. What makes this absolutely genial is that just by altering the length of tracks you can transform even the most simple drum pattern into something way more interesting. I hope dearly that Fxpansion plan to expand Geist with this functionality in the future. A wonderfully inspiring feature that is one of the highlights of Tremor.
Let's put things straight. There are three problems with Tremor: the presets, the processing power required and if you're a novice, creating your own drum sounds is really not that intuitive. These three issues are not something you just can neglect. If you're not sitting on an Intel i5 or more powerful processor I would personally not even bother with Tremor. With that little processing headroom you'll have left when you start using it for real, you will just end up by getting annoyed by it.
With that said, Tremor is not a joke. Sure, it's absolutely not an all-rounder and there will be equally many who will be left cold by its sound as many who will hail it to the skies.
To end my thoughts, I'll just say this. I definitely won't be replacing Geist with Tremor. In my book, nothing beats Geist. But when it will be time to start the production of my next album - I will most definitely be looking at the possibility to create the whole audio backbone on Tremor alone. It got all the muscles and attitude to stand on its own.
Price: 99 pounds, 119 euro or 149 dollar.
Good: Very inspiring, unique sound.
Bad: Presets are a bit meh, processor usage is hard.
Review copy: thanks to Fxpansion for NFR copy.
IF YOU LIKED THIS YOU'LL LIKE:
Best drum sampler ever. Period. - Fxpansion Geist.
Three heavy-weight synthesizers - Fxpansion DCAM Synth Squad.