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Groove Agent 3 lets you synch up two different drum modules, for extremely dense and
Anyone who makes—or listens to—music is well aware that, in the end, rhythm is the thing that keeps it all together and makes it gel. If you create your own tunes, you might feel constrained by using existing drum loops, and that’s where Groove Agent enters the picture: It’s a unique software drum machine that incorporates some innovative MIDI and sampled drum technology, and the result is one seriously groovy virtual skin beater.
Groove Agent is installed as a standalone application, an Audio Units plug-in, and a Steinberg VST plug-in. This last option will only appeal to those using Ableton Live or Steinberg’s own Cubase sequencing software, as they’re the only ones really capable of loading and using VST plug-ins on the Mac. The standalone version is not very useful in a practical sense, so we’ll focus this review on the AU version.
Our first gripe: Groove Agent is one of the last Mac music plug-ins that still requires a USB protection dongle, and to our surprise, one is not automatically included in the box—you’ll have to shell out an additional $30 for the privilege of using the software. In this day and age of software activation, this is no longer acceptable, and while we totally understand the problem of piracy, it’s clear that software-only activation is totally workable.
That aside, the interface for Groove Agent is clean and intuitive, and you’ll be floored to find over 100 different types of drumming styles spanning a wide range of musical flavors, from jazz, Latin, bossa nova, and blues to hard rock, dance, rap, and just about everything else. Each of the 108 styles has 25 levels of pattern complexity, starting at the most stripped-down instrumentation (think time-keeping beats) and gradually building up to insanely complex arrangements of drum sounds. Groove Agent will play fills between variations of a pattern, either when a new pattern of a style is selected, or automatically at specific intervals. Each style has a custom set of sampled drum sounds perfectly tailored to the music, and you can mix and match styles and samples, opening up a vast creative palette. You can load up your own samples, and there’s even a built-in compressor and equalizer, perfect for punching up the sound and making the drums stand out in a mix. You get extensive audio routing options, allowing each separate component of a drum kit (bass drum, cymbals, toms, snare, and so on) to be sent to its own output channel, perfect for exercising absolute control over the mix of an entire percussion performance.
Version 3 introduces some sweet new sounds, including 15 new styles (each with
25 different patterns) played by a real drummer in a module dubbed Special Agent, as well as the ability to have two different drum patterns playing simultaneously. The overall sonic quality is stellar, and all of the styles are quite useful for making music.
Our other major issue with Groove Agent 3 is that the automation feature is poorly supported by most recording software—we tested it with Ableton Live, Logic, and GarageBand, and found that we could successfully change patterns by sending MIDI changes with a keyboard, but we were unable to tweak any other settings and have the changes recorded into sequences. This is a frustrating limitation that Steinberg needs to fix yesterday.
The bottom line. We took a full star off our score for the hardware protection hassle, and if Steinberg fixes the automation issues and removes the dongle, we’ll happily give this outstanding plug-in 5 stars. If you make music and don’t happen to play like Buddy Rich (or Neil Peart), you’ll definitely want to give Groove Agent 3 an audition.
COMPANY: Steinberg Media Technologies
PRICE: $249, $29.99 extra for Steinberg hardware key, upgrades $89.99 to $129
REQUIREMENTS: G5 or later or Intel CPU, Mac OS 10.4 or later, 1GB RAM, Steinberg USB hardware key
Outstanding range of drums styles and sounds. Special Agent module is next best thing to a real drummer. New ability to load custom samples significantly extends creative possibilities. Universal binary.
Hardware dongle, automation limitations with many sequencers.