- 1. Korg Volca Beats Analogue Drum Machine Bundle
- 2. Korg 16-Key Synthesizer VOLCABEATS
- 3. Akai Professional MPX16
- 4. Alesis SR16 | Classic 24-bit Stereo Electronic Machine
- 5. Akai Professional MPD218
- 6. PylePro Portable Drums
- 7. Singular Sound BeatBuddy
- 8. Alesis SR18 18 Bit Portable Machine
- 9. Teenage Engineering TE010AS012 PO-12
- 10. Native Instruments Maschine Mikro MK2
- Drum Machine Selection Tips
- Types of Drum Machines
- Buying a Drum Machine: Question and Answer (Q&A)
Drum machines are used by musicians in many types of genres to produce electronic rhythm. Instead of having to rely on a live drummer, a drum machine makes life easier.
With so many people turning to drum machine options out there, it can be a bit overwhelming to find the best option available. Fortunately, a lot of quality drum machines are very affordable, so it really comes down to if a person needs certain patterns, samples and mkore.
1. Korg Volca Beats Analogue Drum Machine Bundle
This drum machine can do so much, yet it is one of the most travel-friendly options on the market today. With a focus on classic sounds in particular, there is enough editing and customization for any person to really enjoy as well.
The 16-step sequencer can be used fully, and eight memory banks is more than enough. The touch panel is very user-friendly as well for people to really get the most out of. It works very well, and is very sensitive to touch as well.
Size is the main selling point with this. It is designed to be taken anywhere. Working on battery does in fact work, but people do need to understand that depending on battery power all the time is probably not that smart. It can eat through battery somewhat quickly.
Finally, this machine has some of the best speakers out of all the other options detailed below. It makes it really easy to hear during a performance. While some are meant to be used with headphones, people can go without if they wish.
• 16-step sequencer
• 8 memory banks
• Outstanding speakers
• Eats through battery
• Snare sounds could be improved
2. Korg 16-Key Synthesizer VOLCABEATS
This is a really great, user-friendly option for people who are used to the Korg brand. The faders are very nice, quiet and just look professional. In fact, from using this the very first time, this just seems like a very professional setup all around.
The MIDI in for note entry is a great additional to this model. Just having so many options in general on the device makes it a great option at home or on the road.
Battery power works well, and the battery lasts just a little bit longer on this model compared to the one above. Keep that in mind if considering one or the other.
Overall, this is still more of a beginner's unit, but there is enough for pros to really get a lot out of it as well. The functionality and overall features make it a pretty full featured sampler for the price.
• 16-step sequencer
• 8 memory banks
• Stutter capabilities for delay-like effects
• Can't pan individual channels
• Design puts connectors on top, not the back
3. Akai Professional MPX16
This is a pretty advanced sampler, designed for varying levels of experts. Beginners will really enjoy the big pads for easy drumming, and the features are enough to really provide professionals with enough to justify the price.
What really sticks out with this sampler is that people can record and play back stereo .WAV samples just by using a SD card. There are some people who have struggled with compatibility issues at times, but for the most part everything should work as expected.
The sampling and playback on this device is great for the price range. With up to 16-bit/48 kHz, it will be hard to find anything better in the $200 price range.
Simplicity has always been a big thing for Akai, and people will see that in others reviewed below as well.
• 16 velocity-sensitive MPC-style pads for finger drumming
• High-quality sampling, up to 16-bit/48 kHz resolution
• Excellent for sound drops
• Interface could use some work
• Sound files struggle to work at times
4. Alesis SR16 | Classic 24-bit Stereo Electronic Machine
The Alesis SR16 comes in 100 patterns or 200 patterns. The 200 patterns options jumps up to $259.00, but for most people, the 100 patterns models is going to be their best option.
This drum machine has a very simplistic design, but it packs a powerful punch. It has amazing sound all-around, which is perfect for those who are considering the use of it during a live performance.
Programming is easy to do, which is helpful since a lot of people complain that it can be hard to use without programming. The interface could use bit of work as far as finding the right type of beat, based on genre, tempo, etc.
It pairs extremely well with any solo guitarist who is working on things, or as an additional piece for a drummer to play around with in a band.
• Sound quality is amazing
• Makes guitar playing much easier
• Comes in 100 patterns or 200 patterns
• Sound stacking, reverb, stereo samples and more work as expected
• Organization of patterns is not great
• Instructions are hard to understand
5. Akai Professional MPD218
At under $100, this is the cheapest option for people to consider in this review. It might be cheap in price, but it doesn't really sacrifice much of anything. In fact, some might prefer the simplicity of the design and the focus on usability.
The machine is pretty simple out of the box. The pads are big, backlit and very responsive. There are a total of six control knobs, which might not be as many as others out there, but still some decent customization.
The machine is completely powered through the computer, which means one less AC adapter or set of batteries to carry around. Do note though that if it is used with a laptop, it can drain the battery somewhat quickly.
For beginners, the machine does come with a lot of free software that might be useful. From SONiVOX Big Bang Cinematic Percussion to Ableton Live Lite, these can help a person become more comfortable with using something like this.
Overall, those on the fence about a drum machine might be best to go with a cheaper option like this. It isn't perfect, but it can certainly fit in a lot of different budgets out there.
• Affordably priced
• Easy to use
• Free software for beginners to mess around with
• Lacks slightly in features
• Durability isn't the greatest
6. PylePro Portable Drums
This machine is a bit different than all of the others reviewed so far in this article. For those not familiar with drum machines, this actually looks the most like an actual drum setup. For some, that might be exactly what they are looking for.
The seven pad drum kit can connect to Mac or PC, and it is truly plug and play in a lot of different scenarios. It is also very versatile if a person wants to take it on the road with them. The kit requires six C batteries though, so keep that in mind when traveling.
Volume on this drum kit is solid, although some people might go with another sound source if they are using it during some type of performance. The drum performs as expected otherwise, wish responsive controls, easy setup and configuration and enough tools to alter the sound.
• Full drums small enough to travel with
• Registers touch well
• Very durable
• Pedals don't work particularly well
• Rim strikes are not penalized
7. Singular Sound BeatBuddy
The BeatBuddy looks different. For people not familiar with it, the device might even be a bit intimidating. However, it is unique in that it is a drum machine in a pedal format. This allows for a hands-free controlling of the drums when playing an instrument.
Some people have been clamoring for something like this for a long time. The device can be loaded up with songs and drum sets before using it for the very first time. The LCD screen is just big enough to be read while in use as well, making it easier to use without having to slow down.
Singular Sound has the word sound in their name, so of course they aren't going to skimp on that part. This is another great sounding device. No one should ever skimp on sound when it comes to a drum machine.
• Pro level sound
• Allows for truly hands-free operation after setup
• LCD screen is perfectly sized
• Loading times can be long
• Beat variety is subpar
8. Alesis SR18 18 Bit Portable Machine
The Alesis SR18 is built off of the SR16 in a lot of ways. With the SR18, buyers can expect more drum and precision sounds for their money, as well as more comfortable editing and performance.
A total of 500+ drum sounds and 50 bass sounds really make this one of the more versatile drum machines on the market today. The opportunities for patterns, both preset and user created, are great as well.
This is one of the absolute best options for the solo performer who just wants things to be simplified. The connecting capabilities alone make it a simple plug-and-play drum machine setup. For those who might feel they are a bit above just the beginner level, this is an excellent starting point to consider.
• 500 drum sounds
• 200 patterns, with 100 being user
• 50 bass sounds
• Easy to learn/use
• Lacks a USB port
• A little pricey
9. Teenage Engineering TE010AS012 PO-12
For the absolute cheapest option, this comes in at under $60. It is a fully loaded drum machine, designed specifically for tabletop synth rigs. It's small design is perfect for those people who are playing in different areas all the time.
There are 16 drum sounds already loaded, with 16 effects to use as well. This device won't blow anyone away with huge features, but this is a smaller device to really experiment with quite a bit.
Customization is allowed, with entire songs capable of being created. The memory isn't as good as the other devices in this review, but it still provides some storage.
Above all else, this is a very easy machine to learn and play around with. Usability is a major key for anything that is inexpensive. It might not be the most technologically advanced drum machine out there, but it has enough features to justify the price.
• Cheapest drum machine in the review
• Easy to use
• Compact size perfect for travel
• Lack of too much customization
10. Native Instruments Maschine Mikro MK2
Native Instruments makes a number of high quality, professional level drum machines. The Machine Mikro MK2 might not be their top of the line offering, but it is still an amazing machine for those just beginning.
The Mikro allows for a more compact and affordable experience. People will not be forced to give up any features though, which is great. All the software capabilities found on the full Maschine are available here.
Included with the drum machine is the company's own software synth. This gives users even more sounds to play around with if they want. Many people get a lot of use out of these extra sounds.
• 8GB of samples, instruments, patterns and drum kits
• 24 professional level effects
• Looks great
• Has the same features as full version
• Tough to learn initially
• Can't be a standalone sampler
Drum Machine Selection Tips
The choice of a drum machine depends on the style of music you want to play. There are instruments for electro, funk, techno, hip hop, pop and rock sounds. Some units are can mix these different types of sounds. In addition, you will have a choice between virtual drum machines and physical units. The current trend is towards virtual units, which are convenient to use.
The range of sounds, the ability to edit samples, the quality of effects and connectivity are all aspects to consider when selecting a drum machine. One of the most important features that a machine must have, however, remains its sound.
Drum sounds can be based on samples generated internally through various types of synthesis or a hybrid of both. Some may be better suited for house, techno music, rap or hip-hop. The choice should be made based on specific needs.
In addition, you can record changes in real time, thus adding an extra dimension to your creations. This configuration allows you to incorporate the unit into a studio configuration, either with a computer or in a live rig that uses MIDI format.
There has never been a better time to become an electronic music producer. There is an incredible amount of choices in terms of electronic instrumentation and how to use it to create music. Technologies are increasingly becoming more powerful and cheaper, and you can finally build a digital music studio.
The music industry is experiencing a real renaissance when it comes to hardware tools, such as synthesizers, samplers and machines. A feature included in many machines is the sequencer, which allows you to program a sequence of drums and form a rhythm that can be modified, possibly with effects and variations.
Types of Drum Machines
There are two main categories of drum machines: physical and virtual drum machines. Physical units are the traditional machines on which you can make compositions. With a built-in synthesizer, these music boxes allow you to create finished compilations often called patterns that you can play repeatedly to get an instrumental. Some of the best physical drum units include Akai XR20 and Yamaha Tenori-on.
Virtual machines are software that you install on your computer that plays the role of physical drum units. This music production technique is classified as a Computer Aided Music (CMA). These machines are increasingly used at the expense of physical units. Some virtual boxes are free software while others are paid.
The majority of machines create sounds digitally like audio software installed on a computer. The difference between audio software and a machine is that it can work in stand-alone mode. There are also analog drum machines (formerly they were all analog) and digital hybrid machines. Virtual Analog (VA) technology can imitate the sound of an analog machine.
To work with this drum technology, it is not really important to understand what is happening under the hood unless you are an experienced user.
Top Drum Machine Brands
Brands like Roland, Akai, Arturia, Korg and many others offer incredibly powerful, eclectic and intuitive musical instruments from which to choose. It is impossible to talk about their history without mentioning two of the most important drum machines ever created: the Roland TR808 and its successor, the Roland TR909.
Introduced to the market in the early 1980s, Roland used analog synthesis to recreate drum sounds. The Roland TR909 also used samples as well as internal synthesis. Following a period of apparent calm, other companies started to offer clones of these iconic machines in both hardware and software.
Although it is difficult to replicate the prestige and uniqueness of the original 808 and 909, today’s drum machines have much more to offer in terms of versatility, connectivity and creativity.
As the name suggests, the Roland TR8 is inspired by the first drum machines created by the Japanese company. This machine offers exceptional sound quality and is a great tool for live performances. Despite its small size, the construction is solid and durable making it suitable for transport and live performances.
It should be noted that despite all its strengths, the TR-8 is limited to the classic Roland sounds. It is not a sampler, so if you want to use external samples, you will need to look elsewhere. Even the internal memory is a bit ‘bare, as not all parameters can be automated.
PO-12 is the smallest, cheapest and most affordable drum unit you can find on the market. It is manufactured by the Swedish brand, Teenage Engineering. The unit offers 16 sounds that are controlled by one of the patterns. These patterns can be recorded live or programmed with the step sequencer. Each individual step can be activated for each sound.
The sounds present in this instrument are similar to vintage drum machines of the early 1980s. Even if this Teenage Engineering offering is not one of the most flexible, it comes with many impressive features.
The Volca Beats is a battery powered option that has an adapter and also includes async I/O to concatenate several Volca instruments at the same time.
There is also MIDI IN for use with your clocking device, and the main audio output is via a mini headphone jack port. Anyone looking to use touchscreen interfaces can be impressed because you can synchronize these units via wireless connection.
Average Drum Machine Pricing
As for prices, you will find drum machines, both analog and digital between $100 and $2,000. You could also try the Virtual Machine for your compositions. Clearly, a $100 machine will have different characteristics compared to one that costs $2,000.
Buying a Drum Machine: Question and Answer (Q&A)
What is a Drum Machine?
The world of sound is always in perpetual evolution. Different techniques have been created over time to develop various sounds. Among these techniques is the drum machine, which is electronic musical instruments. They make it possible to program and generate sounds thanks to a small device memorizing the various instructions. Given their ease of use and their great potential, these instruments are increasingly becoming popular in the world of music.
A drum unit is essentially a synthesizer whose purpose is to create percussive sounds. It was previously an essential tool for the producers because the synthesizers did not allow producers to create drum rhythms. Today, a synth or a virtual drum machine is a plug-in for software. It can mimic a physical drum unit. Note that many producers use virtual machines on Windows or Mac as they can perform very well.
So why still use a drum machine? First, in general, audiences are thrilled when artists create their music live on stage using an instrument like a drum unit. Secondly, many producers opt to work with a step sequencer and some simple parameters to create rhythms. Likewise, some musicians want to create rhythms using a physical instrument and not software installed on a computer.
Is a drum machine a sequencer?
With the arrival of digital synthesizers, a machine can still be used to produce drum sounds while a synthesizer handles other sounds. In the past, drum machines were mainly used by guitarists wishing to be accompanied by a virtual drummer to practice. These drum machines produced a fairly synthetic sound that was not realistic.
However, the poor sound quality of the latter was not really a problem for guitarists since it was used as a metronome and not as a musical instrument. Several older Roland models, such as the TR-808, the TR-909 or CR-78 have become classics in electronic dance music.
What is an analog drum machine?
An analog machine is a simplified version that simply supplies voltages to specific components, thus excite all resonant frequencies. When selecting a drum machine, you can pick the analog or digital unit based on your specific requirements.
What’s the best beat machine to buy?
The Roland TR8 is one of the best drum machines for experienced users and those starting out in the world of electronic music.
What is the best beat pad?
Drawing on both the Launchpad series of controllers and UltraNova synthesizers, Novation has combined the two technologies to create a new user-friendly and incredibly versatile groovebox.
A four-matrix for eight touch-sensitive pads allows you to perform sequences with various steps or play in real time. In addition, you can also edit creations in real-time using the eight knobs that can be mapped to additional macro effects.
With the Novation Circuit you get two synthesizers with six polyphonic voices and four drum parts consisting of a kick, a snare drum and two percussion elements that can be chosen from among the 64 presets. One of the most distinctive features of the Circuit is the fact that it works completely independently of a computer. Everything is internal, including a mini speaker, and to facilitate transport and use in stand-alone the instrument can also be powered by batteries.
For the modern and intuitive music it produces, and at a decidedly affordable price, the Novation Circuit will open the door to the creation of moving music to many producers.
How much is a drum machine?
For an entry-level drum machine, expect to pay between $100 and 300 while high-end units are available for prices of up to $2,000.
References / Resources:
George A. Smith received a Masters Degree in Music Education from the University of Berkeley. George has been teaching music professionally for the past 8 years. George regularly contributes content to several music websites including LoadRecords.com.