Are you trying to figure out which drum machine is perfect for you? You are not the only one… Despite the rise in popularity of computer software that has replaced almost every standalone device, some people still prefer the sound quality and versatility of the old-fashioned drum machines. Some classic models from the 80s have influenced a lot the products that are available in 2020.
However this is not the 80s: dozens of models are currently on the market and make it quite hard to decide which one is right for your needs. Especially if you are a beginner, you might find it extra hard to understand the specifications of each model and pick one that will be easy-to-use. As a rule, getting a piece of hardware that is tricky to use, might discourage you from spending time learning it and eventually making music.
But there is no need to panic! To assist you in this quest, I have gathered a list of the 8 best drum machines currently on the market. You can find here a wide variety of different machines: some are completely analog, others are digital and there are some than even look like toys! Read on to find out more!
8 Best Drum Machines In 2020 Reviewed
1. Alesis SR-16
The first entry on this list is a classic: the Alesis SR16 is one of the oldest stereo electronic drum machines on the market, but it still remains popular with musicians. It is very user-friendly and easy to learn, while giving you lots of versatility to create complex stuff. It comes with 12 velocity-sensitive finger pads, a footswitch input as well as MIDI implementation. It features an LCD screen that helps you navigate the menu as well as four different outputs. The Alesis SR-16 features recordings of 50 different drum kits that you can choose from, along with 233 professional sounds. The dynamic articulation technology makes it sound like a real drum set. All the sounds are very realistic and this drum machine has been praised for audio quality. Its compact size and lightweight design makes it very easy to be carried around. On the downside, it doesn’t run on batteries, a feature that might be needed for those who need a portable drum machine. Overall, the Alesis SR-16 is highly recommended to those who are starting out to experiment with drum machines, and despite being one of the oldest 24-bit models, it can still satisfy demanding musicians.
Also Check – Top 8 Best Drum Set For Kids.
2. Korg Volca Beats
The Korg Volca Beats is part of the Korg Volca series that features mini analog synthesizers in a friendly price. It is essentially an analog rhythm machine that comes with high-quality analog sounds. It features 10 drum parts: four analog and six PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) based parts. The 6-part DSP synth engine gives you a lot of versatility to create your own sounds by choosing different oscillator waveform modes as well as three types of pitch modulator and envelope. Α 16-step sequencer with up to 16 sequences that can be chained provides you with a total of 256 steps. This drum machine features a built-in speaker and a 3.5 mm stereo out, and it can either run or batteries or on mains. The lightweight design and small size of the Korg Volca Beats make it truly portable. There are not many connectivity options but that is justifiable for the price. The Korg Volca Beats is a little fun drum machine to play with and it is highly recommended to those on a budget.
3. Boss DR-880
Boss is well-known among guitarists for the high-quality effects pedals it makes, but here we’ll take a look at the Boss DR-880 drum machine, also known as “Dr. Rhythm”. This electronic drum machine packs an impressive load of 440 pre-recorded drum and percussion sounds as well as 40 bass sounds. You can also create your own patterns, as it comes with 500 preset and 500 user patterns slots, along with the Groove Modify feature that lets you create complex stuff. The EZ Compose feature makes the composition process easier, without note-to-note programming. The 20 velocity sensitive pads makes the Boss DR-880 pretty intuitive, but some people might find them too small for their hands. An input for guitar or bass is featured, as well as four assignable pedal inputs that let you control the machine with your feet. Some effects such as EQ, compression and Total Sound Control are also included, along with COSM amp models. The Boss DR-880 can be used by all musicians, but it will be mostly appreciated by guitarists and bassists who are looking for a premium-quality drum machine.
You may also like my list of best digital pianos.
4. Arturia DrumBrute
The Arturia DrumBrute is the perfect drum machine for analog sound lovers. It comes with 17 analog drum sounds along with a wide range of controls that let you create your own sounds. The sonic quality is distinct and unparalleled to many other drum machines. There are 12 physical channels (Kick, Kick 2, Snare, Clap, Rim / Claves, Closed Hat, Open Hat, Tom Hi, Tom Low, Cymbal, Maracas/Tambourine and Zap), each with its own sets of buttons. The 64 step sequencer and song mode let you create drum patterns and songs easily. This drum machine has a lot of functions to provide you with, while remaining easy-to-use and beginner-friendly. On the other hand, it doesn’t have the versatility that digital drum machines offer (extra features, customization etc.). The analog build makes it quite heavy but it is still portable thanks to the compact size. Overall, the Arturia DrumBrute is highly recommended both for beginners who want something easy-to-use and for analog sound enthusiasts that will certainly be satisfied by the possibilities offered.
5. Native Instruments Maschine Mikro MK2
The Native Instruments Maschine Mikro MK2 is a high-quality digital drum machine that is perfect for travellers. Its small size and lightweight design makes it easy to carry around and play wherever you are. Despite the size, it comes with loads of features, including an 8 GB sound library that features 11 different instruments and a selection of 25 effects. Additionally, it incorporates 388 multi-sampled instruments, more than 400 drum kits, lots of patterns, loops and samples that provide you with countless sounds to choose from. The interface of the machine is beginner-friendly and sleek, with coloured, touch-sensitive pads as well as a monochrome screen. You can use this drum machine as a software plugin for your favorite audio program or make it a controller for your DAW. The low price tag of the Native Instruments Maschine Mikro MK2, combined with its intuitive environment, makes it a perfect choice for those who are just starting to experiment with electronic beats. On the other side, it might disappoint experienced musicians who are looking for more advanced features.
6. Akai Professional MPD218
The Akai Professional MIDI Drum Pad Controller (MPD218) is essentially a MIDI drum machine that is ideal for beginners. It comes with 48 pad banks that are velocity-sensitive and a Note Repeat function that makes it easy to create loops. It features 16 Thick Fat backlit MPC pads along with 6 knobs that give you control over the sounds. Both the pads and knobs are assignable, allowing you to customize the drum machine according to your taste and needs. Unfortunately, the Akai Professional MPD218 has no onboard sound as it is a MIDI controller, and you will need a computer to operate it. However, it comes with three banks of available preset sounds and styles. It is USB powered (no AC required) and compatible to use with your PC or iOS device. Its compact size and low weight make it easy to transport wherever you want. The Akai Professional MIDI Drum Pad Controller comes with free software, such as Ableton Live Lite and Akai Pro MPC Essentials, that increase its value. All in all, this drum machine is perfect for those who are looking for a customizable and portable drum machine.
7. Roland Rhythm Composer (TR-08)
It is impossible to make a list of the best drum machines without including Roland. The Roland Rhythm Composer (TR-08) is a high-quality digital drum machine that is actually a recreation of the iconic analog TR-808. It comes with a lot of built-in sounds in 96k/32 bit and a 16-step sequencer featuring 16 sub-steps for complex patterns. A four-character LED display that allows you to navigate the menu. Dedicated controls allow you to tweak features such as level, tone, decay, and tuning, with some instruments having also gain, pan, and compressor. Additionally, it comes with ten different audio outputs via USB, that you can control on your DAW. The greatest advantage of the Roland Rhythm Composer (TR-08) is that it is fully programmable and customizable, allowing you to adapt it to your needs. This drum machine demonstrates robust build quality and comes in a compact size to be easily transportable. All in all, the Roland Rhythm Composer (TR-08) is greatly recommended to musicians that are looking for the old TR-808 feel with digital capabilities.
8. Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator PO-12 Rhythm
Last but not least, the eighth drum machine on the list might look like a toy (or a calculator), but it is certainly not one. The Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator PO-12 Rhythm is an ultra-portable drum machine that can provide you with lots of fun. It comes with 16 built-in sounds, a 16-step pattern sequencer, 16 available patterns, and a bunch of different effects to tweak your sounds. An onboard Knowles speaker makes it a really standalone device and it incorporates a 3.5 mm jack to record your loops. It runs on two AAA batteries that can really last for long, offering maximum portability. You can sync it to other Pocket Operators or other gear easily. On the downside, this is not for musicians that are looking for advanced features, as it has limited possibilities. The Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator PO-12 Rhythm comes at a very affordable price, making it the ideal choice for beginners or musicians that need something very portable to carry around and have fun with.
Best Drum Machines – Buying Guide
Drum machines are still popular despite the rise in computer software that has not managed to replace them. There are literally dozens of models currently available on the market, making the choice of purchasing a drum machine a really hard task. The good news is that there is a variety of models for every level and taste. In order to pick the proper one for you, you ought to understand some of the specifications of drum machines. Below, I will guide you step-by-step to everything you need to know before purchasing a drum machine.
The sound performance is always a very important factor when talking about musical instruments. Analog drum machines incorporate complex circuits that allow you to create drum-like sounds and sometimes come with some presets for beginners. In digital drum machines, the sounds are stored in an internal library that lets you recall them to make your own beats. Some of the drum machines allow you to tweak your sounds by adding more filters such as compressors, decay, tuning. There are also drum machines that can accurately replicate the sounds of an acoustic drum set, while others have more electronic sound libraries.
Analog or digital
The classic dilemma of all electronic instruments also applies to drum machines: analog lovers swear to the superiority of analog electronic sound, while fans of digital technology claim that digital drum machines are more versatile and customizable. This is a matter of taste, but you should first determine your needs. If you want something old-school and feel that being restricted gives you creative blasts, then analog technology is for you. On the contrary, if you want to experiment with a lot of different parameters and sounds and you need a large library, then you might need to consider a digital drum machine.
While drum machines are very versatile instruments and can be used in many different ways, they can always substitute an acoustic drum set. The main reason why they can do that is portability. Although it is obvious that they are more portable than a drum set, not all drum machines can be carried with ease. Therefore, if you plan to carry your drum machine around, you should look for models with both compact and lightweight design. Don’t forget that this is an electronic instrument and should be protected from accidental bumps, so a carrying case is a must.
Not all the drum machines on the market are recommended for customization. If you want a drum machine that you can tweak completely to your needs, I advise you to get one to which you can add your own sounds in the library. There are also some machines that are programmable, while those that come with built-in effects will help you shape your sounds even more. In addition to that, there are certain digital drum machines that come with assignable knobs and pads, for those of you who also want to personalize the controls.
Inputs and outputs
Inputs and outputs allow you to connect other equipment to your drum machine along with connecting the instrument itself with a sound system. Most of the inexpensive models sacrifice this feature for a lower price. However, inputs are important as they may allow you to connect other instruments to the drum machine. There is also the option of a footswitch input to control the machine with your feet, which is very useful if you play multiple instruments live. In terms of outputs, a built-in speaker is always useful, but it is even better when the machine comes with a stereo output that lets you connect it to an external audio system.
Drum machines can be hard to operate if you are a beginner and find yourself with a complex piece of equipment. This experience can also discourage you from trying more and might lead you to eventually giving up. On the other hand, if you want to experiment a lot and you buy a simple drum machine, it might be useless to you after a couple of months. Consequently, machines that are easy to operate are usually aimed at beginners, while more advanced musicians are advised to get more complex ones, as they offer much more room for experimentation.
Control pads and knobs
Drum machines come with control pads and knobs in all shapes and sizes, and often incorporate LED screens for easier control. Some of them are velocity-sensitive, a feature that makes the machine more intuitive to play. Other controls might come touch-sensitive or even colored for easier operation. The machines that feature MIDI implementation give you more versatility, as they usually allow you to assign knobs and pads to whatever you want. Ultimately, back lit pads and knobs are useful in dark situations, such as certain live venues.
There are several other features that you might be interested to know before you buy a drum machine. An important one is power: some machines operate via AC power, others are USB powered and there are also the ultra-portable ones that work on battery power. Another useful thing to know is that there are really inexpensive drum machines (even some that look a lot like toys) for those of you who are on a tight budget, but still would like to experiment with such an instrument. Finally, if you plan to carry your drum machine a lot, you had better invest in one with sturdy build quality.
As you have probably realized by now, the variety and vast number of available drum machines on the market ensures that you can find one that will fit your needs. In order to make this process easier, I advise you to make a list of the features that are crucial for you, in order of importance. That will help you sort out the drum machines that are not suitable for you. I hope that this guide has helped you choose a drum machine and that you will soon start playing with it.
Drum machines are extremely useful and versatile tools for musicians. However, not all of the previously mentioned machines are ideal for every musician. So, how can you decide, out of these 8 top-quality drum machines, which one is for you? Well, you need to pay attention to a number of factors that will determine your purchase.
First of all, are you a beginner or do you have some experience in creating loops and patterns? If you are just starting out, you should probably look at some easy-to-use drum machines. On the contrary, if you want to experiment a lot with your device, a customizable drum machine is the one for you.
Another classic dilemma is whether you need an analog or a digital drum machine. That is a matter of taste, but I should say that as a rule of thumb, digital drum machines offer more features for the price, but analog sound quality is sometimes superior. Finally, don’t forget to check how to power your drum machine, as you might need to get some batteries or AC adapters.
All in all, whichever drum machine you pick, I can assure you that it will provide you with hours of fun and creative possibilities!