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 2019.
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 2019 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.
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!