Are You Obsessed With Kick Drums?

How much do you care about your kick drums? Do you spend hours poring through samples or meticulously synthesising every drum hit? Or do you just have a bank of go to ‘favourite’ samples that you can quickly load up without worrying too much about finding ‘that perfect kick’?

Whichever camp you fall into will determine how interested you might be in the Ultrakick, High Precision Kick Drum Synth from Daan Pothoven x Isotonik Studios.

I was recently given a chance to take Ultrakick for a test run and I wanted to write a post to help you decide whether or not its for you. Before we go any further its worth noting that Ultrakick is a MaxForLive device so it will only work with Ableton Live Suite with MaxForLive.

For Those Committed To Kick Drums

Let’s save some time and jump straight to the conclusion. If you consider yourself a producer who meticulously crafts each and every kick drum to perfection then you absolutely need Ultrakick. Its a whole other animal when it comes to creating precisely detailed kick drums and has everything you’ll ever need for making any kick sound you could ever dream of.

If, on the other hand, you just want something simple and quick then Ultrakick is probably not for you. You’d be better off sticking with samples or something simpler like my own EARTH Drum Synth (there’s a completely free version that features not only a kick drum synth but also a snare, clap and hi hat synth. Sorry for the shameless self-plug 😙).

If you fall into this second group then you need not read any further (unless of course you’re interested). If, however, you fall into camp-dedicated-to-kick-drums then you should definitely consider adding Ultrakick to your arsenal. I’ll spend the rest of this post showing you exactly why you need Ultrakick in your life.

One last disclaimer. If you’re not very comfortable with synthesis and working with things like oscillators, filters and envelopes then you’ll probably want to give Ultrakick a miss too. There aren’t many included presets, but that’s kind of the point. If you’re not prepared to spend a good deal of time sculpting the sounds yourself then you’ll very quickly get frustrated. Best stick with samples. But if you’re dedicated enough to spend some time on your kick drums then Ultrakick is well worth it.

Ultrakick Overview

With all that out the way let’s dive into what makes Ultrakick such an essential tool for the intrepid kick drum architect. Here’s a run through of what you’ll find inside (with more detailed explanations of each below):

  • 2 Oscillators, each with highly detailed, numerically editable Pitch, Amplifier and Filter Envelopes
  • A dedicated Noise Oscillator, also with a highly detailed numerically editable Pitch, Amplifier and Filter Envelope
  • Each Oscillator has up to 8 partials that can be edited directly or easily transformed via a number of Macros
  • A 32-band Noise Shaping EQ, because, you know, simple white noise is so 1980
  • A 5-band Paragraphic EQ for each Oscillator and the Noise section (because a 32-band EQ wasn’t enough)
  • Dedicated Overdrive, Hipass and Lopass controls plus an additional Multimode Filter for each Oscillator and the Noise
  • MIDI Velocity Mapping
  • Global Envelope adjustment so you can affect the envelopes of all elements simultaneously
  • Global Length control to easily adjust the overall length of the sound
  • Global Tuning to easily adjust the overall pitch of the sound
  • .wav file export, so you can export your magnificent creation as a sample for use in any sampler

Ultrakick has a feature list that you might expect to see on a high end polyphonic synth! The fact that all of this power is dedicated to synthesising only kick drums should give you an idea of just how much control you have over the sound of your kick.

Oscillators And Tuning

The heart of the device are its 2 Oscillators and Noise section. Each Oscillator has a dedicated envelope for Pitch, Volume and the Filter (see below), each of which is completely customisable; you can click anywhere within the envelope to add a breakpoint or you can use the precise ‘Create Point’ control (bottom left in the image below) to input a point at an exact value in the envelope. This allows you to create pretty much any possible shape of envelope you can imagine.

The Pitch and Filter Envelopes also have Tuning controls so you can easily adjust the tuning of the entire envelope in semitone amounts which makes it completely trivial to precisely tune your sound. There is also a Global Tuning amount which adjusts the tuning of all the envelopes simultaneously.

Each Oscillator has a dedicated Partials Editor where you can adjust the amount and tuning of each of the 8 Partials for each Oscillator. There are some basic transform controls (Overtones, Phase, Amplitude) you can use to apply transformations to the generated waveform allowing you to sculpt an endless variety of source waveforms to use for the basis of your sound.

Ultrakick Oscillator Partials
The Partials Editor

The Noise Shaping section gives you a 32-band EQ (essentially 32 Bandpass Filters) to shape the tone of the noise. You can use this to create the ‘click’ part of the kick drum (the sharp attack at the beginning of the sound) or add a bit of ‘woof’, and with 32 bands of detailed shaping you can easily create any kind of ‘click’ or ‘woof’ your heart desires.

The Ultrakick Noise Shaping section
The Noise Shaping Section

The Equaliser page gives you access to a simple 5-band Paragraphic EQ for each Oscillator as well as the Noise, so if you didn’t already have enough tone shaping options between the Partials Editor and Noise Shaping sections then there you go.

The Ultrakick EQ section
The 5-band Paragraphic EQ

The Audio Flow tab presents you with an overview of the entire signal path of your sound and also serves as a sort of ‘master’ area where you can control elements from each of the synth’s different sections. You get access to an additional Overdrive, Hipass and Lowpass section for each Oscillator and the Noise which come before the main Filter and the 5-band EQ. All 3 signal paths are summed together and passed through a final Limiting stage. There are even Gain controls between every stage of the signal path for ultimate gain staging control.

The Ultrakick Audio Flow tab
The Audio Flow tab serves as an overview as well as a sort of 'master' control area.

The last page, the Settings page, gives you access to some global settings for example the Tuning Reference Note for the sound as well as the MIDI Velocity Mapping where you can set how the sound responds to Velocity. In this section you’ll also find the ‘Save as WAV…’ control that lets you render your entire sound to a single .wav file which you could then import into a separate sampler. That being said, Ultrakick is pretty CPU efficient so there’s no reason to not just leave the device running in real-time.

The Ultrakick Settings tab
The Settings page is also where you find the 'Save as WAV...' option to output your creation to a .wav file.

Most of the sections also feature advanced menu based ‘Actions’ that let you do things like randomise all the parameters within a section, or quickly clear the section to start afresh.

So How Serious Are You?

Attention to detail is definitely a theme that runs through Ultrakick both in its design and its use. Each section features very detailed technical labelling, for example in the Pitch Envelope every breakpoint is labelled with the Note Name, corresponding Frequency as well as that breakpoint’s exact position in time, so you always have maximum control over the precision with which you edit.

With so many options Ultrakick does have a little bit of a learning curve, but the included User Manual does a very good job of explaining all the elements of the device and it shouldn’t take you too long to get to grips with it, with great reward once you do.

As detailed as it is Ultrakick almost feels more like a scientific instrument than a musical one, but if you want the absolute ultimate in control over your kick drums then it certainly is a worthwhile investment. The device is available to buy from Isotonik Studios for a little over £30. For what you get that’s an absolute bargain.