Review : Steven Slate Drums CLA Expansion

If you’re reading this site or any site about recording, odds are you know exactly what the letters “CLA” stand for. Even if you don’t think you do recognize the name, in reality you know the man by his work. If you’ve turned on a radio in the past 10 years, you’ve heard his signature sound on the likes of Nickelback, Green Day, and countless others. He is a mixing legend who is very well known for his in your face drum sound and BIG mixes. Enough can’t be said about this guy in my opinion. He is one of my favorite engineers.

So now lets take one of the greats in mixing and combine it with the man who is, undoubtedly, the king of drum libraries and drum related software. Steven Slate is hitting home runs in just about every digital aspect of audio and is even making huge waves in the analog world as well. When Joe Barresi uses a hardware compressor you made along side his multimillion dollar spread, you know you’re doing right. Legend has it that Steven Slate was throwing one of his would famous parties at one of these conventions and met up with Chris, and after a very long (and probably one of the most informative) conversations about drums, this project came about.
So this pair joins forces and we get the Slate CLA Expansion pack. This isn’t just recycled Slate samples with CLA EQ and Compression. Chris wanted to do this right, so they both headed over to Ocean Studios to their world renown drum rooms to personally track these samples together. He incorporated his own personal preference of mics as well as mic placements to really dial in his signature drum sound. The results of all of this work give you 11 variations of kick, 12 variations of snares, and 5 toms. With each variation you get multiple articulations and mic placements all the way down to a print of Chris Lord-Alge’s famous Sony reverb unit. This review is using the package for Trigger.
Install was very easy. Simply download the pack and license file, drag them into your SSD Instruments folder, go into settings in trigger and browse the license file, and you’re good to go.
The Kicks:
The 11 variations of kicks all come from either a DW 22 or 24″ kick with either hard beater or soft beater, snares on or off, or a dry version of each. You get the kick in, kick out, subkick, Sony reverb, 2 rooms, and overhead. The mics he used to capture this are an EV RE-20, a Fet47, and an NS10 speaker for the subkick feed. Add in Ocean Way’s Neve board with 1081 Pres and you have a deadly combo for getting the punch to bring a kick out front in the mix.
The Snares:
They really pulled out the stops on the snares giving you a DW Maple, Ludwig Black Beauty, Ludwig Chrome Plated Steel, Pearl Reference Brass, Pearl Reference Maple, Pearl Steel Sensitone, Tama Bell Brass, and a custom made “Dong” snare. Each give you a choice of 2 Rooms, Top, Top B (which is an AKG 451 taped to the 57), Bottom, Overhead, and the Sony Reverb.
The Toms:
With the toms you get a gorgeous set of DW maple toms coming in sizes 10, 12, 14, 16, 18″ . The main mics used on these are Sennheiser 421’s. You get a Close, Mono, Overhead, and 2 Rooms. Strangely enough, no Sony Reverb shows up on the toms. I know this isn’t a necessarily widely used thing, but in some cases reverb on toms are just the trick.
Put it all together and you get:
Well, you get a variable onslaught of rhythmic audio that leads a track with power and dynamics. The drums seem to find a way to stand out, yet fit in just about every type of music you could throw at it. What would you expect from these two? I mean… they used Vintage C12’s, M49’s, U87’s for overheads and rooms. Combine that with a Neve console in tracking, THEN sent back to Chris’s Mix LA studios with his SSL and his arsenal of gear and you cannot go wrong. One of the great things about using this kit is not just that you get these great sounds with minimal effort; you actually can load up the presets they have created and see just how Chris combines aspects to make the sound he creates in each of his mixes. It’s a great learning tool in itself even though it was not intended as such. I initially started out using the presets that were included but quickly ended up taking aspects from each and making my own. The snares can be combined with each other and somehow seem to perfectly mold into one perfect sound. You don’t have to sit there for hours trying to find the exact combo to make everything fit. It just does it on its own. I literally grabbed random parts of different snares and threw them together on a whim without thinking and it still ended up in something very useful. There is no wrong way to use these samples.
I’ve personally tried to find something negative or constructive to say about this kit, but I just can’t find anything bad to say. As a reviewer I have to give the good and the bad, but in most cases with Slate’s releases, they’ve pretty much thought of everything.  My only complaint comes from something internally with Trigger, but not the expansion. The complaint is that I spend 60 percent of the time away from my home studio and have to switch back and forth from my laptop to computer. I have directed the instruments library in documents of each Mac, and have everything as close as one can get but I have to manually add the samples each time. This is an inconvenience at times and there needs to be a button that will automatically link the samples by looking at the parent directory. But, that is a Trigger issue.
I even went as far as to peruse multiple message boards to see if anyone had a valid complaint. I found one… sorta… and will address it now. Some of the people complained that it lacks diversity in application and most of the samples lack variety from sample to sample. Basically they call it a one trick pony and all of the snares have the same sound. My answer is, that very well may be the case, but when an engineer puts HIS name on it and stamp of approval, it will be HIS sound. Others would cite some of Chris’ work and say “I don’t hear this snare in the library” when actually there is a variation present in combining the samples given as well as EQ and Compression that will in fact get you close. Pepsi is not going to give you the exact combinations and measurements of ingredients to make Pepsi are they? So why should someone who makes his living off of his signature mix? If you feel that way, you are in fact lazy and delusional. Would you do it? I doubt it. I personally feel Steven Slate and Chris Lord-Alge did more than their fair share and went above and beyond for this project.
So in summary I feel this pack is a home run. You get a solid kit of drums that can be used in any combination to get a very close CLA drum mix. The drums stay right in front with very little external processing but do not crowd up a mix. Perfection has become expected out most musical styles and most of us do not have the budget or equipment to get huge drum sounds. Steven Slate has brought that to you in spades.
Price at time of review:
For Trigger: $149
For SSD4: $149
For both: $199
For more info and to purchase, visit Steven Slate’s website HERE

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