Last Updated on January 13, 2022 by Danny
With all the available devices in the market, it is overwhelming to find and choose the best drum machine for you. While no hardware drum machines are perfect, there are great products in the market that offer the best set of features and qualities at an affordable price.
Check out our top 3 drum machine choices
1. AKAI MPC Live II – Best Drum Machine – Check Latest Price
2. Alesis SR-18 – The drum machine for guitar practice, solo guitarists – Check Latest Price
3. Alesis SR-16 – Best for Home Recording, Songwriting and solo artist – Check Latest Price
A drum machine is one of the most in-demand electronic musical instruments for making percussion sounds, drum beats, and patterns. Whether you are a professional, beginner, or a music enthusiast, a drum machine is an excellent tool to recreate drum kits or percussion sounds that you can store, modify, and replay for future use. You can create rhythms, beats, and even whole soundtracks just by tapping the drum machine’s pads or twisting its knobs. Some of them also come with pre-programmed beats and patterns for popular genres and styles, such as pop music, rock music, and dance music.
The 10 Best Drum Machines on the Market Today
Here are our ten most recommended drum machines.
1. AKAI MPC Live II – Best Overall Drum Machine
The AKAI Professional MPC Live II is a standalone drum machine built to make music production more convenient, with high-end features that you can use for in-depth editing of sound samples, even without the use of computer software. It is a drum machine that features a lithium-ion battery, allowing you to work for prolonged hours, anytime and anywhere. Like its predecessors, it features functions such as note repeat, 16 step sequencing, and undo function useful for delivering consistent bass notes, hi-hat and ride cymbal hits.
It has a 7-inch Multi-touch display, 16 velocity-sensitive pads, 4 functional 360 Q-link knobs, and several buttons for sequencing and time correcting options, giving you access to a wide range of possibilities perfect for your professional music production. Touching the Q-link will show its current function on the touch screen, allowing you to work efficiently on your sound samples. The MPC Live has 1/4″ audio outputs which can be used to connect to any speakers that you’d like.
With its Wi-Fi/Bluetooth connectivity and powerful built-in workflow software, there’s almost no limitation with what you can do, integrate, and perform in this drum machine. It comes with 16 GB sampling memory, Splice integration, and Ableton Link allowing you to easily access a wide library of high-quality sounds, samples, and presets perfect for cross-platform collaboration.
Above all good features, it has some limitations too like there are only two inputs that you can work with inside the drum machine workflow software, limiting the number of instruments that you can monitor and add effects on. It also difficult to stream large sound samples from a hard drive or external hardware.
2. Alesis SR-18 – The drum machine for guitarists
The Alesis SR-18 is one of the most notable drum machines made by Alesis since 2008. It inherits several traits from the Alesis SR-16, combining the highly appraised features of the SR-16 with the cutting-edge technology and architecture of the present age.
This drum machine is ideal for guitarists, pianists, organists, bass players, or even a keyboardist giving you a variety of access to different sounds, presets, inputs, outputs, and lots of programmable samples at an affordable price.
Here are things you will get as a guitar player:
- You CAN change the length of the patterns
- use whatever tempo you want, 120, 140, etc,
- Make the patterns 4, or 8, or 16 beats long, etc.
- customize your own drum setup
- tweak each individual sound
- 100’s of different sound variations available for each kind of drum sound
It is designed to provide musicians and instrumentalists to play in tempo and develop their musical feel even without the presence of a session drummer. It has functions and features going beyond the traditional drum machine with easily programmable patterns.
The Alesis SR-18 contains 32 voice polyphony, a tempo range of 30-300 Bpm, 200 drum kits, and 500 different realistic sound samples, perfect for your music production needs. It provides massive connectivity, allowing you to directly plug in your instrument, and play along with the rhythm presets.
Depending on the mode, the 12 pads can be used to play drum sounds, percussion sounds, or bass notes following a chromatic scale. While the sounds and presets of the machine are good, some users reported the inability of some pads to properly respond to taps, making it almost unplayable. Some customers were unsatisfied with the product’s manual and poor customer service and support.
Overall I will say if you’re a heavy metal guitarist, the SR-18 will remain one of the top choices for drum machines because of its flexibility, portability, and user-friendly interface, enabling you to make songs from your patterns with ease. Moreover, it even works very well with the metal genre, or rock, or any genre at all.
If you are still stuck with SR-16 just because of its simplicity and low price, and being a guitarist hates to ‘program’ anything, I will say it’s time to UPGRADE to SR-18 drum machine because this is your BEST BET. Read our full review here .
3. Alesis SR-16 – Best for Home Recording, Songwriting and solo artist
For almost 30 years, the Alesis SR-16 has consistently been in the top choices of many professional songwriters, solo artists, music producers, remix engineers, and live performers. You can easily program full length songs, and also make up your own rhythm tracks.
It remains one of the most wanted drum machines because of its realistic sound quality, the excellent 24-bit sound engine, and high-end drum samples that are all guaranteed to exceed your expectations. The 50 drum presets and 233 drum sounds are recorded from the performances of professional studio drummers, ideal for creating solid beats and grooves.
The machine offers 50 customizable kits and can be programmed to provide solid drum accompaniment for almost any type of music genre. With its four-line Audio Outputs, MIDI In/Out, and two footswitches, the Alesis SR-16 offers massive connectivity and compatibility to a wide range of devices, essential for music production, and live rehearsals.
It has a Dynamic Articulation feature that responds precisely to the intensity of your stroke, giving a more realistic feel in generating sounds worthy for your studio and live performances. The hundreds of reviews and positive feedbacks all over the globe affirm the machine’s durability and high sound quality even after 30 years of production.
The next best thing after this machine is a real drummer only if that drummer is so good
Even after the emergence of Pro Tools and other PC based DAW software, you can still find SR-16 in many professional and home recording studios around the world.
Why most songwriters and solo artists like this very much:
- one of the easiest rhythm machines to program
- convincing sound quality
- Easy to read for solo musician
In terms of downside, The machine has no backlight, which makes it difficult to see the menu at dim-lighted places and offers little customizations. Read its detailed review here
4. Roland TR-08 Rhythm Composer – Best for Hip-hop
Roland has a rich history of making drum machines for music-making and production. The Roland TR-08 is a replica of the famous TR-808, the quintessential drum machine during the early 80s, and the most iconic invention that has influenced the development of EDM, and Hip hop. The classic design and intuitive interface of the TR-08 drum machine allow you to easily navigate and make adjustments. Individual tone control for each instrument allows you to easily adjust the sound, power, and attack of the drum sounds you wish to use.
It also supports real-time sound adding on the sequence through its tap feature, allowing an easier groove making. Its Basic-Variation switch allows transitioning between two sound sequences to play them individually, or in an alternating manner.
It is a digital drum machine with a circuit designed to generate the same inconsistencies that musicians seek in an Analog drum sound. You can also make creative rhythmic patterns with shuffle grooves and accented notes using advanced hi-hat controls. Connecting it to other MIDI devices automatically makes sound sequences in sync.
You might need additional cables for outputs to use this drum machine with your DAW. Some users find it difficult to adjust the knobs without hitting the adjacent knob due to the little gaps between them.
Korg’s Electribe drum machine is one of the most advanced music production tools currently available today. With features combining the function of a sampler, a 16-step sequencer, a drum machine, and a synthesizer, this is one of the most recommended pieces of gear that brings music production at your fingertips. One of the major edges of the Electribe among its competitors is the pattern chaining feature which allows you to string your created patterns together to produce a dynamic sequence.
With its 200 presets, MIDI, USB, and Analog In/Out connections, it is not surprising that the Electribe is part of every music producer’s arsenals. It has several knobs designed to give you maximum control over different parameters in your workflow all at once. Upon purchase, you are entitled to over 400 additional downloadable patterns without spending a single dollar.
The one-level undo feature proves to be useful especially when you made mistakes, saving your time and effort from starting over. It also allows expansion of storage space through an additional SD Card and easy conversion of your rhythmic patterns as Ableton export files.
Some buyers reported that upon playing some effects, the tempo of the sequence and the drum voices become inconsistent. Also, Users have a difficult time reading the product’s manual, as there is little to no explanation of its essential features. Compatibility with other MIDI devices might have varying responses, leading to a slight delay between sound sequencing.
6. Korg Volca Beats Analog Drum Machine – Best for Beginners
One of the most famous and affordable drum machines today is the Korg Volca Beats. It has a default 16-step sequencer, which allows you to assign a particular drum voice for sixteenth different subdivisions. Its MIDI input allows you to connect the machine with other devices to modify its tempo or add samples to your drum sequence.
For such a small kit with tons of impressive features, the Korg Volca is way ahead of its price. Some buyers find that it was too small than they expected it to be. It is easy to use and explore, which allows even the most professional producers to enjoy using it for their practice sessions, or leisure time.
With its built-in speaker and portable battery power, you can use it anywhere and anytime. Most reviews praised the product’s powerful kick drum and PCM section which allows you to recreate and modify unique sounds such as claves, claps, crashes, etc. Even though Snare sound is a little weak but could be enhanced with the machine’s stutter effect.
It supports motion sequencing, ideal for on-stage performances, and creative improvisations. The stutter effect is useful to replicate small sections of an audio sample to improve the sound, power, or melody of a rhythmic sequence. Whether you are a beginner looking for a good investment, Volca Beats is sure to help you attain your beat production goals.
7. Arturia DrumBrute – Best compact drum machine for all-analog beat making
The Arturia DrumBrute contains 17 different drum and percussion analog sounds, perfect for several music genres such as EDM, house, and hip hop. It has 64 patterns and 64 steps which offers a massive workflow that you can use to experiment with beats, rhythms, and sounds. This product is ideal to create more dynamic loops, sequences, and recordings. It allows polyrhythmic step sequencing and chaining patterns which is a must for creating unique soundtracks to whole structured songs.
With its versatility, it has become a popular choice for several DJs and producers such as Luciano, Keith Harris, Kink, Carl Craig, and Martyn Ware. It is a compact all-analog beat making machine. It even goes beyond the expectations of music artists and producers by adding randomness, accents, and swings, giving you several options to create more dynamic grooves.
It has a very user-friendly sequencer, featuring analog synthesized drum sounds at an affordable price. By connecting it within your Digital Audio Workstation, functions such as effects and side chaining are all possible. With its sturdy build, aesthetic interface, and intuitive architecture, programming beats, sequences, and polyrhythms have never been more fun, entertaining, and easier.
Unlike the Korg Volca Beats, the Arturia Drumbute does not allow you to perform motion sequencing by twisting its knobs while a song or a soundtrack is playing. Also, it does not support sampling or the recording of created sequences and samples. Although this drum machine allows tweaking of the drum sound, some buyers were not satisfied with how the kick and the snare drum sound even after tweaking.
The Elektron Digitakt is Elektron’s first digital drum machine, designed to endure and make a difference in the beat production industry. It combines the functions of a drum machine, sequencer, and a sampling instrument, which enables you to send samples from your computer to other external gear. You will get over 400 factory sound samples, containing readily made electronic/acoustic drum kits, synth pads/tabs, one-shots, and various noise loops that you can use anytime.
With its compact size, extremely durable buttons, hi-res encoders, and professionally designed sequencer, you can bring your sound sampling and rhythm sequencing to the next level. It contains eight channels for sampling and another eight for MIDI and Audio sequencing. The powerful sound engine that allows you to play melodic sounds or create your original sounds from an existing sample guaranteed to stand out.
It offers a variety of high-quality sounds that will surely give you the best beat making and music production experience. The backlit buttons and deep functional keys produce less noticeable clicks compared to other drum machines. The OLED display is very useful for showing relevant information which aids several users to access and use numerous features.
Digitakt provides the users amazing control over reverb and delays effects through its Trig, Filter, and Amp features. So as a beginner, it takes time to get comfortable with the product.
9. Teenage Engineering PO-33 – Best cheap drum machine under $100
The Teenage Engineering PO-33 KO offers 8 melodic instruments that you can sample, together with 8 drum sounds that you can later customize by adding your samples. With 40 seconds of sampling memory, 16 onboard effects, and a default 16 step sequencer, this pocket-sized technology is able to bring music production and beat making to a whole new level.
You can sample sounds with ease by using its built-in microphone or by connecting a line input cable on the top left corner of the device. Samples with high pitched sounds are easier to improve with the machine’s filter and resonance control.
It allows quick melody creation by generating harmonic notes on the buttons based on the sample you recorded. Upon recording a created beat using the available drum sounds on buttons 9-16, the machine automatically chops the sounds and assigns the smaller samples to the available slots. The two knobs together with the FX button, allow adjustment of certain parameters such as volume, pitch, filter, resonance, and sound sample size.
In terms of downside, the device requires a minimum sound level before it starts recording, and it has to be done with two fingers pressed on separate buttons, which could be difficult if you will use your hands to generate sounds. The product’s manual does not include all features and information, so you have to discover some of its features yourself by practicing or watching available videos on YouTube.
Overall for a price under $100 you can’t ask for more. It contains features and effects unimaginable for its size.
10. Dave Smith Instruments Tempest– Analog Drum Machine
The Tempest is an excellent choice with unmatched features such as roll and reverses function, song mode, 6 voice polyphony, and stereo analog compression/distortion.
With its powerful sound engine, you can access exclusive samples such as Linn Drum sounds, or replicate sounds from other drum machines such as Roland’s TR-08, Maschine, etc. It functions as a hybrid drum machine, providing the realistic randomness and inconsistencies of an analog kit while delivering accurate processing through its built-in digital workflow system.
It has 16 back-lit touch-sensitive pads, an OLED display, 90-panel controls, 2 digital and 2 analog oscillators, that are all designed in one drum machine capable of acting as an analog synthesizer as well.
Like the MPC’s Note repeat, this drum machine features a Roll and Reverse function, which you can use to easily make awesome fills for one whole beat or specific measure within a beat. The onboard mixer allows you to further customize solos, delays, and mutes, which could be reprogrammed even while a sequence is playing. It also provides extensive synthesizing functions that allow for easier music production and beat making either by manually programming per sequence step or by modifying sounds of a playing sequence.
With these features, it is no surprise why Dave Smith Instruments Tempest has been one of the top choices of famous artists like James Bernard. There are minor issues with the machine’s workflow operating system. It is also quite challenging to master and operate this machine.
What’re the advantages of buying a drum machine?
There are many advantages to buying a drum machine.
First, you get access to an extensive sound library. You can have everything from traditional acoustic sounds to purely alien-sounding beats from just one device.
Two, you get comprehensive control over the sound output. You will be able to customize your sounds extensively.
Third, it makes sure that you are no longer dependent on a session drummer, therefore saving you money and personal problems in the longer run.
How to choose the perfect drum machine for you?
There are so many different drum machines available now that just looking through the top models can take you hours. It is a challenge picking out the best drum machine for you in this sea of options. You can save yourself time and bad purchase decisions by looking at just the key features that matter to you and ignoring all the marketing terminologies. So, what are the key elements to look for? We are glad you asked. We have listed and discussed all the essential features you need to keep an eye on to help you out.
Analog or digital drum machine? What is the difference, and which is better?
An analog drum machine sounds richer and has a more realistic feel to it. However, they have limited options to alter the sound output. On the other hand, you can pan, shape, and tune your output sound with a digital drum machine, but you lose out on some of the “authenticity” of the sound. Neither of them is intrinsically better than the other; it all comes down to the type of music you want to make. If you want the best of both worlds, there are hybrid drum machines that are part analog and part digital, such as the Roland TR-909.
Being that a drum machine is an audio device, sound quality is paramount. There is no way any written review or description will give you a clear idea of how good or bad a drum machine sounds. While expensive ones usually say better, it is always not so. Always listen to the drum machine you want to buy, either at your local store or on youtube, before purchasing anything. Also, remember that perception of sound quality is subjective, so do not worry too much if your opinion clashes with some online review.
Must be loaded with library for a variety of sounds
The main selling point of a drum machine is its wide variety of sounds. A single drum machine can replicate the sounds of a hundred different drum sets, sometimes more. Having a vast library of sounds gives you a sizable creative playground to experiment on. Sure, reggae sounds might seem pointless now, but what if you are called for a world music concert. You can never know which sound might come in handy in which situation. Therefore, it is always essential to get a drum machine with an extensive sound library.
Must have custom kits to allow the user to expand or install new kits
The ability to expand or install new kits gives you an infinite amount of options when it comes to sound. You will no longer be limited to the default kits that come with the drum machine. If you are a professional, this feature is crucial. You can add everything from the sound of a cowbell to your keys jingling to your drum set. However, if you are a beginner, you do not need this feature.
Enabled with pressure-sensitive pads
This quite an innovative feature that is usually found in only premium drum machines. These pads are sensitive to your strokes’ pressure and velocity; this allows the device to recognize the nuances in your playing style that a standard pad simply cannot. It gives you much greater control over the sound and makes the whole playing experience much richer. However, as stated before, drum machines with pressure-sensitive pads can be quite expensive, so ensure that the extra cost is worth it for you.
Dual power supply (Battery vs. Plugged into a socket)
The type of power supply you should get comes down mainly to how portable you want your machine to be. If you have a home studio and are probably not going to go to many gigs, a drum machine that can be plugged into a socket would be ideal for you. You won’t have to spend time changing, buying, or charging batteries.
If you are someone who moves around a lot, battery-powered machines would be better for you. They are usually smaller, and you will no longer have to carry a power adapter or an extension cable to your venues. Just make sure you always have spare batteries with you. Also, nowadays, many dual power supply machines can run off either battery or from a socket.
Does it come with a protective case?
If you gig a lot, having a drum machine with a protective case is crucial. You can never know what might happen during transit and the last thing you want is for your expensive drum machine to be completely ruined because someone dropped it by mistake. If you are going to use it at your house or studio and aren’t going to move it around a lot, then the case isn’t that important.
If you need a case, try to get a machine that comes with it. This is because getting third-party cases for your specific drum machine can be expensive or even impossible at times.
This is something very crucial that many people ( even experienced producers) tend to forget about. If you are already used to a DAW, make sure that the drum machine you buy is compatible with it. You won’t have to go through an irritating return process if you do this beforehand.
The portability of a drum machine is primarily dependent on its size and weight. Gone are the mammoth-sized drum machines of the twentieth century; you can now find drum machines that are quite compact. These small machines are ultra-portable, making them suited for musicians that gig a lot. If you need something gig-friendly, look for something that can be powered by batteries. You will no longer have to carry power adapters to gigs. You will also not have to take extension cables to reach power sockets.
If you are not going to be moving around a lot, a large, heavy drum machine will be ideal for you. These are much more durable and usually have bigger knobs, making it easier for you to control the various settings.
Right now, there is a wide range of different drum machines available. Therefore you also have a wide range of prices. Usually, the more expensive a drum machine is, the better the quality of sound sample it has and the more features it has. You can expect to pay a steep premium, especially for machines that use some ultra-new innovative features.
Mid-ranged drum machines are no slouch though, they usually have good sample quality and come packed with all the essential features you would need. Unless you are some drum machine savant, you will not need anything more than these. If you are a beginner, stick to low-cost budget machines. You will learn most things about drum machines with these and hold off purchasing an expensive drum machine until you get a bit more proficient.
Why would musicians or producers use drum machines instead of an actual drum set?
While having an actual drummer play on a real drum set has many great things going for it, like giving the audience someone to watch and adding a human touch to the beats, a drum machine offers significant advantages for a musician or producer. Since a drum machine is just a machine, there can never be any personal issues with it. It will always be present in every concert and every event you need it to be; it will never be late, nor will it suddenly fall sick. A drum machine can also have the sounds of hundreds of different drum sets packed into a small box. Again, some music genres like hip-hop have been using drum machines since their inception, so using an actual drum set would actually go against the genre.
However, the most significant advantage of a drum machine is that it’s way cheaper than hiring a drummer for each event. With budget restrictions hitting everyone, this lowered cost is significant for producers. However, this does not mean a drum machine doesn’t have its problems. It could stop working out of the blue or could be mind-numbingly challenging to program.
Frequently Asked Questions About Drum Machine
Which is the easiest drum machine to use?
In terms of interface, connectivity, and features, the Korg Volca Beats is the easiest drum machine to use. It has a simple workflow with self-explanatory labels, keys, and functions, but still, encourage creativity. With its affordable price and features, it is the most recommended drum machine for beginners who are still in the process of learning, and professionals looking for a simple yet powerful tool for music production.
Why Do you need a drum machine?
Whether you are a producer or a music enthusiast, drum machines make music production easier and more entertaining. While virtual software can do some of its functionalities, you can save time by investing in a drum machine. With a drum machine, you can edit and sample sequences, and enjoy finger drumming, anytime and anywhere. If you think that’s cool, you’ll not regret buying one.
The difference between drum machines and drum pads
Drum machines are capable of creating their sounds with their hardware. They are usually more expensive and are capable of producing unique sounds. On the other hand, Drum pads are not capable of producing sounds by themselves and need to be hooked up to a computer to generate the sound. They are typically more affordable, and being hooked up to the computer allows them to have a much vaster library than a drum machine.
Should I buy a drum machine?
If you have just gotten into music production, you probably do not need a drum machine. However, getting one is not a bad investment. You will be able to dish out sick tunes in a more immersive way than, say, using software on a computer. That said, a drum machine is a pretty significant investment, so make sure you are in the production game for the long run before you buy one.
Do you need a computer for a drum machine?
This depends on what drum machine you are using. An analog drum machine is a stand-a one unit and is capable of fully functioning without a computer. However, nowadays, most drum machines are digital, and these digital drum machines need computers and software to work.
What is the difference between an MPC and a drum machine?
With a drum machine, you will only use the built-in sounds, while an MPC has a sampler that lets you sample your drum sounds and use them.
If you are serious about beat and rhythm production, there’s no better device than a drum machine to get you started. Choosing the best drum machine requires patience and critical decision making. Your goals, preferences, and budget are some of the most important considerations that will guide you in purchasing the right model.
Whatever your goals are, investing in the right drum machine will not only make your music production more convenient but also more engaging and fun. Rather than sitting for hours in front of your computer mixing and trimming sounds in your software, try and see for yourself how music and beat making become more enjoyable with a quality drum machine.
From the mentioned devices above, we can see that the sound quality, features, interface, connectivity, and programmability of a drum machine are some of the things that you must evaluate before investing in the right machine.
If you are planning to use your samples or record your created rhythms and patterns, you might want to consider buying drum machines offering sampling and sequencing features such as the AKAI MPC LIVE II, or Digitakt.
The dimensions and weight of a drum machine vary from model to model. If you are interested in a portable jamming device that you can use anywhere, opting for a smaller drum machine such as the Teenage PO-33 KO might serve your needs well.
Whether you are a musician, or a producer looking for a machine that will bring your practice and recordings to the next level, Alesis, Roland, Arturia, and Korg provide some of the best drum machines that would get the job done.