Interface Design in CSD Pro

Creating a modern virtual instrument requires more than just great recordings, editing, and programming – the user interface and layout of the instrument can make the difference between a great library and an unusable one. This is especially true with libraries that have a great variety of sounds, such as Cinematic Synthetic Drums PRO. Together with Constructive Stumblings, we’ve been building, testing, and iterating on an intuitive and powerful UI for CSD PRO, and we’d like to talk about that process here.

Organizing Patches

One of the first questions we had to address was how to make it as easy as possible for composers to pull up ready-made presets. There are two distinct approaches to this: one is to have each patch (in this case, a drum/FX kit) as a separate .NKI file on the hard drive. The other approach is to have presets switchable within the instrument interface. We decided to use a hybrid of these two options to get the best of both worlds. From the main patch, you can easily switch presets using up/down arrows and thus audition sounds very rapidly…

… but by hitting the Load button, you can browse for presets (in Kontakt’s NKA format) on your hard drive, allowing you to see at a glance all available options in a manner of seconds.

With this solution to patch browsing, the user gets immediate satisfaction from quickly paging through presets, but also the power of being able to quickly load something specific from a list of both factory & user kits.

Building Kits

At the heart of the percussion/FX patch of CSD Pro is the ability to customize presets or create your own from scratch. With over 400 (!) individual sounds in 14 categories, making this process intuitive and fast was no easy task. Our early prototype for the library used a rather unwieldy method where you would bring up sound menus, find the sound you want, and then click a button on the interface to map it. You would then click “Kit Mode” to actually play the constructed kit.

The Percussion patch map prototype.
However, this setup required quite a few clicks to put a kit together and was less than intuitive. We sought to address this problem by presenting the current kit in a “mixer” style interface, with each key getting its own channel strip. A channel strip can be assigned its own sound category, individual hit/drum, tuning, volume, and panning with a minimum of effort. Additionally, sounds can be browsed either by “sliding” the drum #, typing in a value, or using the up/down arrows.

The current perc/fx mixer layout.
Reaching this solution did take several iterations and plenty of testing. For example, originally, there were no up/down arrows below each drum sound and new sounds could only be selected by ‘sliding’. There was also no way to type in a specific sound, which is fairly important when some categories have 40+ unique drums or FX. The iconography for the category (kick, snare, thip, slam, etc.) proved to be an effective means of communicating the sound type without using text. A “key” is provided on the right side of the interface, which allows users to auditioning entire categories with a single click.

Drum sound categories in CSD Pro.
Clicking these buttons switches out of the normal kit mode and instead maps every sound within the selected category across the keyboard. The preset selector then displays the specific sound being played at any time (“Snare 5”, “Splash 12”, etc.), so finding a sound you like and mapping it to your current kit is very straightforward.

Effects and Processing

A few months ago we wrote about the sound design process for CSD PRO, and how much effort and care goes into each individual sample. However, no matter how polished a drum or effect is, there is always room for additional processing – especially when combined with other sounds! Kontakt is more powerful than ever when it comes to FX, and we made sure to use a lot of them in the preset design for this library. To make FX tweaking intuitive for the user, we created a “rack” of things like saturation, transient shaping, delay, reverb, and filtering, with individual controls available within each processor.

The FX rack in CSD Pro.
While many composers have their own suite of effects plugins to use in their host, we “pre-tuned” many of these controls to hit a sweet spot that works well with our samples. The “1-click-hype” button, for example, instantly makes any sound phatter and louder with a combination of saturation, transient design, and EQ shaping. Most preset kits take advantage of least one of these effects, leaving lots of possibilities for further tweaking beyond the actual design of the kit itself.

The Complete Package

The overall look of CSD Pro is inspired by the clean, sleek design of modern hardware synthesizers, which we felt was appropriate given the synthetic nature of the library. Gritty textures like metal didn’t quite fit the sound and feel of CSD, while emulating the look of analog synths is something we consider a bit overdone. Our goal was to design something that looks very clean and streamlined without much ‘fluff’ and I believe we’ve achieved just that!