Best Drum Machines – Buyer’s Guide

Best Drum Machines of 2019

Product TypeFeaturesWeightDimensions 
Roland TR-8S (Editor's Choice)Roland Tabletop SynthesizerAnalog drum machine128 patterns-each with eight variations and three kinds of fills-and patterns or variations8.15 or 4.2 pounds10.4 x 16.1 x 2.4 in or 15.7 x 10.2 x 2.6 inCheck Price
Teenage Engineering PO-12Teenage Engineering Rhythm Drum Machine and SequencerBudget drum for beginners16-step sequencer with 16 or 128 patterns and pattern chaining0.8 ounces7 x 3.5 x 0.2 inCheck Price
Native Instruments MASCHINE JAMNative Instruments MASCHINE JAM Production and Performance Grid ControllerDrum pad for beginners8x8 multicolor click-pad matrix for pattern jamming, note input, and step-sequencing7 pounds15 x 4 x 14 inCheck Price
Alesis SR18Photo Savings Alesis SR18 Portable Drum MachinePortable drum machine32MB sound set with over 500 drum and percussion sounds and 50 bass sounds5.7 pounds9.2 x 13 x 4 inCheck Price
Korg Volca BeatsKorg Volca Beats Analogue Drum Machine BundleAnalog drum machine for live performance16-step sequencerVarietyVarietyCheck Price

 

1. Roland TR-8S – Premium Analog Drum Machine

When you decide to invest in your musicality, you will need a top quality drum machine. With some of the highest ratings from critics and customers, the Roland Tabletop Syhthesizer TR-8S is a high-quality synthesizer and drum machine. You’ll have the ability to mix authentic TR drums, sampled sounds, and all kinds of other effects with this professional board.

However, the price is pretty steep. We think it’s worth it for the 128 patterns board, but if you don’t need as many effects or want to build enough of your own samples, you can settle for the 16-pattern tabletop synthesizer for much less.

One of the best features of this synthesize is the modern features that allow you to mix practically any sound from other drum machines with your own unique effects and samples. You can create a kit using just your samples or match up with the sound effects from the board. This will probably be the only drum machine you’ll need.

If you have the budget and want to invest in your own music, this is the drum machine that will beat any other. This is also highly evolved equipment for professional stage and studio sounds. You will get to sample from all kinds of drum sounds, as well as mix in your own effects and samples. You can replicate almost any beat that you hear just using the samples on the board itself.

PROS:
  • Professional tabletop synthesize with 128 and 16 pattern models
  • Design your own unique kit or choose from almost any drum machine or popular sound effect (built-in)
  • Upload your own samples
CONS:
  • Quite expensive for either model
  • Some customers complained of shipping problems and DOA boards

 

2. Teenage Engineering PO-12 – Cheap Sequencer for Beginners

While we say beginner, anyone can get a lot out of this stripped down drum machine and sequencer. It’s also one of the tools that every producer has played before, so it’s a rite of passage to use one of these things. The Teenage Engineering Rhythm drum machine is the perfect drum machine for your tabletop rig. There are 16 samples included, including synthesized drum sounds and two real-time parameters.

However, the synthesizer is not going to give you every drum beat out there or let you mix in your own samples. That said, if you are looking for fun sounds like simple percussion, chord stabs, and 8-bit arcade noises to enhance what your beats, you’ll get that here. Our favorite drum sounds include stutter, bit crush, delay, snares, and so much more. You’ll be able to create entire songs just using this simple sequencer.

For your first drum machine or as a gift for someone who’s getting started in music production, this drum machine works really well to provide basic percussive instrument sounds as well as a few retro extras, such as the 8-bit Mario fireball effect. You really can’t beat the price for the functionality and high-quality design. You can take it with you easily to modify any tabletop setup and mix in your own pattern sounds.

PROS:
  • Low-cost
  • Excellent durability and sound quality
  • Popular drum and arcade effects included
  • Very easy to get started
CONS:
  • Not as many sound effects
  • Won’t use all of the effects, some are pretty dated

 

3. Native Instruments MASCHINE JAM – Top Rated Drum Pad for Track Building

For half the price of the Roland synthesizer, you can get the MASCHINE JAM, a production and performance grid controller that is one of the most modern digital instruments available. You can capture all of your song ideas and create tracks on the fly using this incredible production system. Native Instruments really has put together a top-of-the-line, every-dj-should-have-one sound machine that allows you to perform sounds with an 8×8 multicolor click-pad matrix.

In addition, it has a dual-touch Smart Strip that allows you to record patterns quickly, bringing it all together using the MASCHINE software. This is next-level for anyone who likes to record, mix, and produce all at once, as you can instantly save your patterns and upload samples, weaving it all together using provided software.

The MASCHINE factory library is also extensive and allows you to access all kinds of new samples and effects with just a click of a button. The intuitive part of this hardware allows you to set a one-touch play button for instant spontaneous arrangements as well.

You will truly love getting to play with your drum machine every day using this equipment. It’s easy to put together beats with the intuitive click-pad matrix, and it’s also got incredible pattern controls that let you mix to your heart’s content, saving your samples instantly. The touch strips were out favorite part. These played much better than the previous S88. If you are a DJ or work in low-lighting, then this drum machine is also perfect with its multi-color illuminated buttons and displays.

PROS:
  • Excellent sound effects and pattern tools
  • Easy to use
  • Comes complete with production software
  • 64-multicolor step matrix buttons
CONS:
  • On the expensive side
  • Pads are not touch sensitive and can be hard on your fingers
  • Some customers reported issues with activating and using the software

 

4. Alesis SR18 – Great Option for Beginners

Photo Savings is an older company that has made drum machine equipment for many years. Their 18-bit portable drum machine has everything you’ll need to get started. There are 500 drum and percussion sounds. You’ll be able to create any using the 50 bass sounds as well. The accessory bundle includes all the cables, mic equipment, and batteries that you’ll need to start making beats on the go.

The effects engine on the Photo Savings Alesis is pretty extensive and comes with 12 velocity-sensitive pads, dynamic articulation, reverb, EQ, and compression. If you want a tool that easily fits in with the rest of your rig, then the Alesis is the go-to instrument. It comes with a MIDI cable, ¼” TRS, and ¼” right angle phone male.

If you want a drum machine that will give you all the drum beats you desire, then the Alesis does a great job. You’ll find every sound is accounted for, but you won’t find some of the pattern options and digital features like with Native Instruments’ drum machine. For the price, however, you get a lot of equipment in one. The Alesis is best for stage use, but it can work for studio with the right setup.

PROS:
  • Everything’s included
  • Very lightweight and portable
  • Includes over 500 drum, percussion, and bass sounds
  • Lots of effects included
CONS:
  • Not as modern as other drum machines
  • No digital features or modern storage

 

5. Korg Volca Beats – Top Rated Machine for Live Performance

For many production artists, the Korg Volca beats all others. This drum machine bundle comes with a power supply and cleaning cloth in the bundle. It includes a 16-step sequencer with eight memory modules. The sound effects sound incredibly realistic and give off a high fidelity signature that’s perfect for stage and studio use.

This drum machine also includes a stutter function that allows you to trigger repeat samples or make dramatic, spontaneous arrangements. There are six analogue parts that can be edited quickly using the knobs. It also comes with a built-in speaker and optional battery power for those musicians who are taking the act on the road.

You can get nearly the exact same sounds as more expensive equipment with the right settings using the Korg’s synths, and it’s perfect for creating studio-quality beats or setting up for spontaneous performances.

Want something that can pull off studio and stage sound? The Korg Volca beats can do everything and more. It’s a handy little drum machine when you want to perform live, or you can set up intricate patterns and beats at home using the sequencer and storage functions. It’s a great bundle for the price.

PROS:
  • Includes everything you need
  • Very portable
  • Comes with built-in speaker
  • 16-pattern sequencer
CONS:
  • Takes a bit of tweaking to get the sounds right
  • Some customers complained they received the wrong order size

 

Buyer’s Guide

First off, what kind of drum machine features are important to you? If you are looking for something that can make simple drum beats, then you probably won’t be spending too much money on other effects and features. However, if you want more than percussion beats, such as synthesizers that let you save and upload samples, then you’re going to spend a bit more.

This buyer’s guide goes through all of the shapes and sizes, as well as different features, that you’ll find with top drum machines on the market. While drum machines are mainly used for electronic music, the latest machines can replicate drum and percussion sounds that are highly realistic. In fact, that’s what makes them so much fun to play with when creating new music.

As musicians have developed their styles based on certain instruments, it’s clear that the synthesizers with more drum sounds are able to create more impressive tracks with intricate sequencing and high-fidelity sounds.

Before you start to look at any drum machines, you should think about what types of sounds you want to create and how you plan to write music. If you know that you need a drum machine that can let you play with samples and other sound effects, then you’ll want a machine with more features than just a few snares, kicks, and cymbals.

Main Features of Drum Machines

If you are an electronic musician, then you probably love the sounds created by drum machines. You can instantly access hundreds of percussive instrument sounds and beats in some of these tools, but will they all sound the same? What features are more important than others? Typically, drum machines have a few standard features to help artists arrange and replicate musical patterns, but the high-quality synthesizers also have tools that let you intuitively integrate your unique samples.

Here are a few of the features that a high-quality drum machine will possess:

Step Sequencer

Every drum machine needs a way to create a beat. The step sequencer allows you to create beats using the step. You can enter a bass drum loop on a 16-beat (or step) to create a sample. Once you step on the sequencer, it will record your beat then play it back as a sequence. In this way, you can map out exactly where each drum hit should land at the exact time of beat you desire. This is the basic for organizing all of your beats on a track, and it’s one of the most crucial features of any drum machine.

Onboard Effects

You want to be able to expand upon the original percussion sounds and beats created by the drum machine. This is how you create classic, high-fidelity samples or entirely new beats. Any drum machine will have some effects built-in as well as a way for you to add different pedals, such as distortion and overdrive. Distortion is probably one of the most popular effects as it can add different tones and character to your music. Kick drums and cymbals will sound amazingly different using effects like distortion with a drum machine.

Pressure Sensitive Pads

You definitely want pads that are easy to tap and play so that you can create beats easily without having to push down. The best drum machines let you tap in beats quickly, recording the patterns, and even storing your samples instantly. Some drum machines even can sync up with cloud storage to instantly save a beat.

More Controls

Other drum machines will have different controls for tempo adjustment, roll, accent, flam, and swing. You can use a combination of effects and dynamic controls to make really creative music in any style that you choose.

Editing and Mixing Capabilities

Most drum machines will allow you to record and store different patterns, but you want to be able to layer those using the editing and mixing tools. Analogue machines and digital machines handle this very differently. While analogue machines will save on the machine for you, a digital drum machine will allow you to save endless samples to USB or cloud storage. If it comes with software capabilities, then you can also automatically start cutting it up and layering your sounds for faster production.

Important Things to Consider for Drum Machine Buyers

In addition to features, you want a drum machine that suits your style of music. For example, a performing musician may have different needs in a drum machine than one particular for professional, studio use. You may also be looking for unique sounds made by vintage drum machines.

Analogue vs. Digital System

The main difference between digital and analogue is the storage and range of sounds. Most drum machines with modern, digital capabilities will have access to way more sounds. You’ll also get more pattern and preset storage, so you can really personalize your sounds and create tracks with far more range.

However, analogue drum machines are funner to play in some cases because they have real, hardware components. These things add more character to the sound, which is better for studio recording in some cases. Vintage analogue sound effects are also prized for their quality. These are not always great for live performances unless you are very familiar with the hardware and have a simple, portable setup.

Studio vs. Stage Use

The studio is a place for experimentation, so you can use any drum machine to record beats. After all, you can make any beat sound better in production. However, if you want more unique sounds, then you’ll go with a machine that can produce incredible sound effects and patterns quickly. You’ll also want a machine that can store everything and even upload it directly to your mixing software.

Stage use drum machines need to be more portable and functional. You want digital equipment that’s going to have scatter effects and blinking LEDs that you can see at night. While there is something beautiful about DAWless jamming, you’ll want to forego the old school hardware if you are just starting out with live performances.

Connectivity for Mixing and Performances

Most modern drum machines use MIDI now to record and transmit beat information and notes. Even if you plan to use a classic drum machine with a DAW and computer, you will still need a way to get MIDI information to the machine. There are some machines that come built with in and out MIDI ports, which make it easier to record and transmit your music.

However, the latest drum machines also have Bluetooth and USB connectivity. This gives you faster storage and playback options.

In addition, while it’s kind of old, a traditional drum machine still needs a DIN sync, which uses the same 5-pin cables as MIDI. You’ll be able to sync more machines together for your rig if you purchase a machine with compatibility for DIN and MIDI.

Accessories for Drum Machines

When you get started with your drum machine, you’ll soon realize that more effect units and pedals make for more interesting music. Here are some of our top recommendations for more gear that you can add to create the ultimate percussion sounds and beats.

Korg Mini Kaoss Pad 2S Dynamic Effect Processor

This is a very portable and easy-to-use effects processor that allows you to create new , versatile sounds using an all-in-one effects gadget. You can create new effects with a touch pad, intensity sensor, and tap features. It also includes delay time signatures, arpeggiator patterns, and swing patterns. You can pack it with loops and use distortion, as well as endless other effects, to make incredibly unique sounds.

 

Koma Elektronik BD101 Analog Gate/Delay

If you don’t have any analogue sounds on your beats, then you can pick up this quick analogue delay pedal that has wonderful gate functions. You can add gnarly gritty stutter effects to your sounds, or you can manipulate sounds for spacey, other-worldly beats.

 

Waldorf 2 Pole Analogue Filter

For those producers who like filters and wavetable synths, this is the dream effects tool for you. It has a pure analogue signal path and lots of distortion capabilities. You may compare its sounds to those made by Greg Beato and Floridan Kupfer, two musicians who love the 2-pole Analogue Filter.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the best way to set up a drum kit?

This is really all up to the artist, so they say. There is no right or wrong way to rig your drum machine. It’s more about your personal selection, functionality, and taste. You can follow drummers and producers on YouTube to see what type of rigs they set up to create different styles of music.

At the very base of your setup, you should have a drum machine with lots of percussion sounds and a sequencer. You’ll probably also want to create effects using some type of distortion pedal to start.

How can I load in samples to a drum machines?

If you have your own samples and custom beats, then you want to pick a drum machine that will let you record and mix in your samples on the fly. Typically, you’ll have software that accompanies the drum machine and allows you to download or add music files to your drum kit.

What are the most important sounds on a drum machine?

From budget-friendly 16-beat drum machines to digital drum machines with endless capabilities, the most important sounds are going to be the ones that influence your music. However, there are a few sounds that every drum machine will have:

  • Cymbals
  • Kicks
  • Bass
  • Snares

You should always look up a drum machine by model first on YouTube and check out the sounds before purchasing. You can also read customer reviews to see how well the sound quality is and what types of percussion beats you can expect.

You’ll also want certain sounds for the musical application. Electronic music is more experimental and involves diverse drum styles. Whereas, you may want to create drum sounds for hip hop or dance that don’t need so many effects.

Conclusion

Working with drum machines can be a fun way to produce high-quality, new music. You can easily get started making new music and writing songs using these synthesizers as instruments with multiple percussion instruments and samples. Top-quality drum machines have distinguished modern features that allow you to record and sample beats on the fly, making it easy to put together a track. No matter what machine you decide to buy, it should be something that inspires you to create unique and interesting tracks.

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