Getting to know Hydrogen

By | June 4, 2015

Hydrogen is a free and open source, advanced drum beats synthesizer that works on Windows, Linux and Mac. It uses a simple system to compose beats by combining a track and playlist editor. You can start producing some sound by adding an instrument set. There are quite a lot drum sets available out of the box, but more can be downloaded from the project’s page on sourceforge.net. All these drum sets provide different sets of sounds, and thus are suitable for different music genres (electronic, pop, rock, jazz, etc).

What Hydrogen can do

You can start editing the drum patterns by adding dots on the corresponding points (pattern editor). You can create as many different patterns as you like, and then add them on the pattern sequencer on the top by single clicking on the song editor. Songs can contain as many patterns as you like, or simply put in repeat mode for a non-stop beat. The sound of the individual instruments can be further tuned by changing sustain, cut-off, release, gain and resonance, among others.

hydrogen drum synthesizer

The mixer is another vital part of the app. You can check and set the sound levels of each instrument as if you had a dedicated microphone for each one (studio conditions). From this tool, you can also add effect plugins that will provide that extra needed uniqueness to your beat.

hydrogen mixer

I only played around with Hydrogen a little bit, but what I found interesting is the Humanize tool that is embedded into the mixer. Users can introduce velocity, timing and swing random values within a set range, thus making the produced drum beats sound more like they were played by the hands of a real drummer, and less like they were calculated and produced inside a silicon microchip.

The player can playback either the pattern from the pattern editor (lower left), or the song from the pattern sequencer. The tempo is also adjustable (30-400) and the instrument sounds retain their natural sustain and resonance no matter what the changes in the beats per minute. This can create some pretty realistic metal and rock drums where sounds from cymbals combine in high tempos, but sustain should be set to lower values for electronic music compositions to avoid confusing side effects.

hydrogen instrument selection

To get a new drum kit, select Instruments > Clear All. Now you have 32 blank instruments (to edit), and you can export the drum kit out later when you are done. Each instrument inside the drum kit can be loaded with samples and edited. The possibilities are myriad, beyond the scope of this post.

The Qt4 user interface is both beautiful and helpful for users. All user actions on a field that have an affect to another field are highlighted immediately so the user knows what else was affected. Patterns and songs can be exported individually for use in an external sequencer. The exporting file formats that are supported by Hydrogen are MIDI, cd-quality WAV, AIFF and OGG vorbis. For higher quality results there is also the loseless FLAC audio format and 48 and 96 kHz WAV.

Hydrogen should be complex enough to satisfy even semi-professional studio productions. YouTubers who have a bit of technical sound engineering knowledge and are interested in creative drumbeats should give Hydrogen a try. The sample rate of the exported file can theoretically reach 192 kHz at 32-bit, but I reckon this would take ages to export on a standard-hardware machine. For most needs, this software will help you write beats for your music, accompany you if you’re a musician in need of a virtual drummer, or just help you learn a bit more about sound production software.

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