AudioSpillage may remain a company name with which you're unfamiliar but if it does ring a bell, it may be because you were persuaded to try DrumSpillage, the Mac-only drum plug-in which I reviewed in May 2011. Despite some gentle misgivings about the darkness of the GUI, I hugely enjoyed the flexibility DrumSpillage provided and it's one of a number of software drum synthesizers enjoying popularity now. If DrumSpillage wasn't enough to tempt you to check out AudioSpillage's wares, Elecktroid may prove harder to resist if you're a Mac user. Whereas DrumSpillage bases its rhythmic foundations on comprehensive drum synthesis techniques, so Elecktroid is a fully-fledged drum machine, with synthesis, sample-playback and sequencing capabilities all contained within. Despite this, it costs less than DrumSpillage and is offered via a GUI which is a good deal more attractive and easier to work with.
Whereas DrumSpillage provides 16 separate drum pads within which you can use synthesis parameters to design percussive sounds, so Elecktroid provides eight, which lie in the upper section of its main page. However, each of these can actually house two sound sources which, while triggered "as one," can benefit from plenty of independent parameter control, as we'll soon see. As with DrumSpillage, a certain amount of editing can be done to pads within this main window but, for more under-the-hood control, it's best to click on the "sliders" icon beneath any pad which launches a fuller edit window. Doing this provides a much better insight into how Elecktroid is structured.
It soon becomes apparent that each pad can be set up either with two samples triggered from each pad or with a combination of a single sample and a synthesized waveform. Choosing the latter option, the second, synthesized sound source provides a choice of four sonic start points: Bass Drum, Snare Drum, Wood Drum or Hi Hat. However, as a range of synth parameters then lie in store for you to subtly tweak or wreak havoc upon your choice from those four, it only takes moments to render the relevance of these names null and void, if you so desire. Alternatively, clicking the Synth button to the right toggles the second source back to a sample and, allied to the sampled first sound source, this is where the main part of Elecktroid's power lies.
Bringing samples into either of Elecktroid's "sample layers" is child's play; they can either be dragged and dropped from the Finder, or incorporated from the audio files area within your chosen DAW. This makes set up of a full kit extremely easy if your sound sources are ready to go—simply select each in turn and drop them onto the pads of your choice. By default, playback will be at the original pitch/speed with velocity routed to volume, so if you're looking for a quick way to assign and playback samples, Elecktroid is a great solution.
However, things can get much more interesting if you want them to. For starters, if you edit a pad so that you can see its individual sample layers, you can place the samples of your choice onto either layer, with the benefit of seeing waveform displays for both. Then, audio and synthesis manipulation tools can be introduced to shape sounds to your requirements. In the former category, these include sample reverse and normalize functions as well as a great-sounding random start control which lets you choose a percentage amount of offset so that each time a sample triggers it picks a different start point to begin. Equally, sample loop points can be set up for each layer here too. On the synthesis front, sound sources can be manipulated by amplifier, pitch and assignable auxiliary envelopes, a pair of tempo-sync'able LFOs with six waveforms each, a comprehensive distortion pane and a multi-mode resonant filter section. That's not all: there are also auxiliary effects within Elecktroid including a decimator, frequency shifter and a ring modulator, and you can decide which sample(s) within a pad should be fed to these.
As you can imagine, all of this control leads to some great sound design possibilities with Elecktroid, but it's not merely a place to import and manipulate sounds. Indeed, it's also a drum machine, with the lower half of the main screen dedicated to pattern programming. Once you've programmed a single pattern, you can then move onto the next, with up to 24 patterns programmable within a single instance of Elecktroid. Again, things can go deeper if you like. Each pad also allows for two layers of step automation, whereby you can choose two parameters and create per-step offsets for these. By default, these are set to tuning and the release time of envelope 1 but, from drop-down menus, you can select almost any part of Elecktroid's sonic "structure," on a per-sample basis. So, for instance, if you wanted to create pitch offsets for sample 1 while creating contrary tuning offsets for sample 2, no problem.
While Elecktroid is billed as a drum machine, it's capable of stepping out of this bracket altogether. I had huge fun loading 16 different vocal samples across the eight pads and then setting up pitch offsets, tempo-sync'd LFOs and random start and loop points, to create a weird, ethereal texture of which a plug-in like iZotope's Iris would have been proud. As Elecktroid is largely reliant on samples, it can be anything you want it to be and it certainly works brilliantly as a sequencer of basslines and pitched phrases. However, if your interest in it has been piqued due to its drum credentials, I can certainly endorse these too. Layering samples, editing them to length, tuning and taste is a doddle, before more complex effects layering, enveloping and LFOing can create some radical results. Add in the step sequencer both as a note and parameter programmer and Elecktroid becomes an intuitive, inspiring tool which will surprise you with its capabilities. At the price, it's a steal.