Drum machines were originally designed simply to make instrumental sounds like a drum. Today, they still do that and more. In 2020, with highly advanced capabilities, drum machines can produce unique sample sounds that would have been unheard of even a few years ago.
Drum machines have had an enormous impact on the music scene. In this article, we will examine just a few of today’s most outstanding devices. And, we’ll help you decide which ones might be best for you to invest in to further your own special creative purposes..
We will recommend the best drum machine you can buy for the money in 2020. And, we will also be suggesting the best budget machine if you’re just starting out and don’t want to spend a lot of money.
Of course, some of today’s better quality drum machines are expensive. But, some of the mid-priced models are excellent alternatives. And, for beginners or those on a tight budget, one of our least expensive machines might be your best choice. Let’s take a look:
Quick Comparison Table: The 10 Best Drum Machines
Top 10 Drum Machines Detail Reviews
1. Elektron Digitakt Drum Machine (Our Editor’s Choice for The Best Overall Drum Machine)
Our top pick for the best overall drum machine is the excellent Elektron Digitakt Drum Computer and Sampler. It is a highly dynamic drum machine and sequencer that excels in live beats and sampling. This compact and very rugged machine and sampler contains an astounding feature set and yet has the feel of many old-school electronic devices.
The unit makes beat-making a highly tactile and rewarding experience. It also doubles as a sound card so it’s perfect for your studio. You can move samples easily from your computer to your Digitakt and vice versa. A huge assortment of great electronic and acoustic sounds is included, from drums, percussion, synths, and FX.
The sample collection lets you start creating, experimenting and producing right away. Along with the collection is a wide assortment of excellent acoustic drum kit samples.
There’s every tool you’ll need to make people move along to the beat with a highly flexible digital sound engine and wide-sampling capability. A live-friendly sequencer and specially dedicated tracks allow you to take control of any external MIDI gear.
The Digitakt is designed for extra-heavy use. It features all-new hi-res encoders and durable back-lighted buttons that are rated for 50 million presses. An ultra-crisp OLED screen perfectly renders the clear and streamlined user interface.
The Digitakt stores eight banks of eight patterns with each one having its own sounds, settings, and sequences. There’s a working pool of up to 128 samples. The sample playback engine is fast and smooth so you can loop short sections of a sample and create new tones effortlessly.
Internal storage is pre-loaded with numerous electronic and acoustic drum sample sets. There are a few synth sounds and a ‘toolbox’ with effects, plus short waveform cycles that you can use as raw material.
2. Korg Volca Beats Analog Rhythm Machine
The Korg Volca Beats Analogue Rhythm Machine is our Editor’s Choice for the Best Budget Drum Machine because it’s simple but effective and allows you to explore your musical creativity without punching holes in your pocket. And you can take it with you anywhere since it’s battery-powered with internal speakers.
The machine is perfect for producers that are tight on space but want quality analog drums without breaking the bank. This is actually a hybrid unit with an analog sound engine with digital controls. The sequencer is limited to 16 steps, although you can make longer sequences by using it as a sound module, or sequencing from your DAW.
You can record in real-time and it has fully-editable step record capability. The unit can also store eight sequences, and even though there’s no sequence chaining, sequence loading from memory is fast and easy.
The unit is housed in a translucent plastic case with a metal front panel. It’s so small and portable that it’s perfect for going anywhere to work on your production.
When it plays, the tempo dials flash in time with the internal/MIDI-clocked tempo, while each key or sequence step has its own LED to let you know what’s happening at a quick glance.
Connectivity on the Volca is somewhat limited by the shared stereo mini-jack for headphones, although the audio signal itself is mono. You will need to pick up some adaptors to interface with any quarter-inch jack-based studio gear.
The Beats has six analog and four PCM sounds. The kick can be either deep or clicky while the hats cut nicely. The snare has a nice woody tone that can be further bolstered by increasing the ‘snap’ feature. Stutter can make fills and rolls, gated FX, delays and reverb, and there are many other additional options.
The Korg Volca Beats Analog Rhythm Machine has a great sound for an extremely reasonable price. While the tiny speaker does kick out a surprising punch, the unit will sound more serious once it’s plugged into your studio monitors or a large system. The raw tones are surprisingly equal to machines that cost a lot more.
3. Roland AIRA Rhythm Performer (TR-8S)
Roland’s TR-8S flagship drum machine has received a major update to create this fine product that builds on the success of its predecessors. It’s one of the best Roland releases in some time and builds upon the original Roland machines and addresses nearly all of their flaws.
The biggest change is the addition of sample playback. The original TR-8 emulated circuitry built around Roland’s original hardware units on a component-by-component basis. That same technology is still present in this model but the emulated instruments have been joined by sample tracks.
You will be hard-pressed to find better-sounding emulations of these drum machines anywhere else. Roland can mix these up with sample tracks to add dramatically to the drum machine’s flexibility.
There are over 300 preset samples onboard. Even though the TR-8S cannot act as a sampler itself, users can import their own sounds with an SD card. But even without adding any additional samples, this machine contains an impressive range of sounds.
Roland’s Aira gear’s preset sounds are joined by a wide range of tones that cover analog beats, vinyl stabs, retro FX, melodic one-shots, and much more. The depth of shaping has also been upgraded.
Each track has its own fader. Front panel controls take care of the tuning and decay of the sounds. There’s also an assignable CTRL rotary which can control several parameters for each track.
A significant upgrade for the TR-8S is the addition of six assignable outputs next to the main stereo outputs. This totals eight output jacks. It’s not quite one output per track, but is a big step up from the original four. Assigning outputs is much easier since it can now be done from the screen. Many other upgrades make this a very versatile and hard-working machine.
The build quality and sounds are top-notch. The machine builds on the potential of the original in all the right ways. There’s added depth to create a machine that’s far more flexible but still quite intuitive and a lot of fun to use.
4. Arturia DrumBrute Analog Drum Machine
Arturia is a French brand that has now added an all-analog drum machine to its highly-regarded Brute range. The result is an extremely flexible machine with some uniquely creative sequencing tricks at an affordable price.
Housed in a chassis that is nearly the same size and design of the company’s MiniBrute synthesizer, the DrumBrute features 12 synth tracks with a total of 17 drum and percussion sounds. Each of these 12 tracks is accompanied by a velocity-sensitive rubber pad to allow you to play the associated sound.
Rotary knobs allow complete shaping of the machine’s sonic character. A row of 16 rubber buttons allow patterns to be step-sequenced and edited either ‘offline’ or on the fly while the sequencer is running.
There’s a quarter-inch main output jack along with 12 individual mini-jack outputs, one for each of the drum tracks. Added to this are metronome and headphone outputs with both mini and quarter-inch ports. There’s also a dedicated level control, MIDI synchronization in and out ports, and a USB connection to send and receive MIDI/sync information.
There are two kick engines, along with a snare, clap, rim/clave, closed and open hats, high and low tom/conga, maracas/tambourine, cymbal/reverse cymbal, and a synth perc sound.
The DrumBrute can save and recall up to 64 patterns across its four memory banks. The instrument also features a song bank to allow assortments of patterns to be chained together for longer arrangements.
The onboard memory has space for 16 songs, each of which can contain a chain of up to 16 patterns selected from anywhere in the DrumBrute’s four memory banks.
The sounds from the DrumBrute are full-bodied and lean, perhaps a little toward the grittier ends of the electronic music spectrum. The hats and cymbals have a raspy and metallic quality, while the reverse cymbal is especially good for adding a bit of groove and build to your drum loops.
Overall, at this price point, the DrumBrute is a veritable triumph of engineering. It packs a solid assortment of top-quality sounds with a sonic character that is distinct from its main rivals. It has deep and creative sequencing capabilities and, coupled with its fluid workflow, they make it a great source of creative inspiration.
5. Alesis SR18 Drum Machine
The Alesis SR18 MKII is your one-stop solution drum beat dream machine It fuses distinctive analog percussion with samples while bringing in the power of sequencing and performance controls.
The unit offers you everything you need in a drum machine. From a state-of-the-art aluminium enclosure, large pads, and new quick performance controls, it’s a direct result of the company’s quest for rhythmical excellence.
The new SR18 features several upgrades compared to the earlier version including sampling capability and a crisp large OLED screen for optimal feedback in dimly lit environments. There are ultra-durable back-lit buttons rated for 50 million presses, precise, hi-res encoders, quick performance controls, and large pads for maximum playability.
The machine is designed for the next generation sound enthusiast. There are extensive drum and percussion sounds, including extended composing, editing and performance capabilities.
You get true analog punch to set you apart from the others. The depth of the kick drums, the bite of the snare drums, large and cavernous toms, and an airy shimmer coming from the hi-hats are all amazing. Also, you can fine-tune the sounds to your exact liking.
The Alesis SR18 comes packed with around 500 drum sounds including modern percussion and electronic drum sounds. It also offers you 50 bass sounds to really get the beat pumping.
Up to 200 user patterns are available. These include 100 preset patterns, so you aren’t limited to create whatever you like. Other options include the capability to hook the machine up to your MIDI keyboard and control the drum machine’s bass sounds directly from your keyboard.
You can also sync the machine with your system so other devices and samplers can be timed to it. This gives you total control over numerous different aspects of its operations. Effects included are reverb, EQ, and compression.
Solo performers will love this machine. It has amazing sample creation and editing capabilities and offers several different connection options. You can plug in your guitar or any other instrument and play along with the beat.
6. Novation Circuit Groove Box
The Novation Circuit is a multi-purpose performance device with sequencing, synth, and sampling capabilities. It gives you instant electronic inspiration in a standalone groove box that makes creativity second nature. You’ll make music in seconds using Nova-heritage synths, expertly sculpted drums or your own samples.
Hit the pads and tweak the knobs and you’ll be in the groove. Then layer the parts and adjust the effects for perfect results every time. With its compact design, battery power and built-in speakers, the Circuit can be used to make music entirely on its own – anywhere and anytime.
Sync to your computer and session hardware, and then use your own samples for full DAW connectivity. The velocity-sensitive grid sequencer combines 2-part synthesizer and 4-part drum machine to let you create electronic grooves in no time.
The compact design is battery powered and contains built-in speakers to get whenever and wherever you like when inspiration strikes. You can build entire tunes from scratch without a laptop, then save them and play them back live. The Circuit will also plug into your sound system and work with your computer and other synth gear.
Create deep bass lines, and epic leads with warm pads to explore a new world of electronic sound at your fingertips. The Circuit builds on their Nova heritage to deliver cutting-edge sound with both production-ready monophonic and polyphonic patches that are full of character.
Build up your parts quickly and easily Program each step or by capturing each of your performances in real-time. Circuit’s split grid shows your steps and notes at the same time so you can sequence and play at the same time. Create entire tunes by combining up to 128 steps of synth and drum patterns. Then you can save your tune to one of up to 32 slots.
Use the factory samples or load up to 64 of your own drum sounds, one-shots, or samples. Use Sample Flip to play as many as 16 different samples per sequence across 8 patterns. With Circuit connected to your computer using the USB connection, Circuit Components allows you to easily drag-and-drop samples so you can save everything to the cloud or your computer.
7. Native Instruments Maschine Mikro
The Maschine Mikro Mk3 is the perfect first step for music producers who already use a DAW to get hands-on with their creative process. Tap out beats and melodies while you quickly build up loops and different track ideas.
The compact machine is great as a music production instrument that integrates powerful software with tactile, responsive hardware. There are four ways to input sound using the 16 different pads: Drum in pad mode; Keyboard mode for playing melodies; Chord mode for chord progressions; and program in a classic step-sequencer style using the Step mode
Use the built-in software or as a VST, audio unit, or AAX plug-in with all major DAWs (including Ableton Live, Pro Tools, Logic Pro, and FL Studio. The large 1.6 gb memory includes samples, one-shots, loops, sample instruments, presets, patterns, drum kits, and numerous songs.
The Maschine Mikro is a flexible, compact companion for making music using your laptop. Have fun tapping out beats, playing melodies, and building up tracks fast and hands-on. Create everything you need immediately including instruments, sounds, effects, and powerful tools like sampling and drum synths.
Quickly change instruments, presets and sounds without stopping the music using the simple, straight-forward browser. It’s a fast, flexible hardware/software instrument that you can use on its own or with any DAW Play. You’ll create inspiring sounds and effects for any style including full versions of Massive, Monark, and Reaktor Prism.
The focused visual feedback lets you see exactly what you need. A compact screen guides the multi-function encoder so you know exactly what you’re controlling.
A dual-touch Smart Strip gives you different ways to play with sounds. Slide your fingers to strum or bend sounds and get creative with Perform FX. Sample, swing, change the tune/pitch of sounds, and adjust the volume with quick access to all the dedicated buttons.
Automate any parameter and use Lock to try out your own ideas. Then, hit Note Repeat to create rapid-fire drum rolls and arpeggios. Switch playing modes without stopping by easily switching between modes with the dedicated buttons. Drum, play like a keyboard, or step-sequence without interrupting your flow.
Maschine Mikro gives you everything you need and a powerful addition to your setup for creating the best of your music.
8. Elektron Analog Rytm MKII Drum Computer & Sampler
The new design of the Elektron Analog Rytm MKII Drum Computer & Sampler makes it now better than ever. It has all new hardware, user sampling, individual outs, and QPER as indispensable additions.
The beautiful new state-of-the-art case is made from light grey aluminum and tilted slightly for easier use. A new white-on-black OLED display is much easier to read than previous models. The clickable rubberized encoders have been improved in feel and resolution, while the hard plastic buttons have been changed to the same ultra-durable design as seen in the recent Digitakt.
At the heart of the RYTM MKII is the same excellent 8-voice analog/digital sound engine that uses their familiar 13-track sequencer. Each track can be selected by pressing the track button and a corresponding pad.
Another huge improvement is that the old backlit pressure-sensitive rubber pads have been replaced. Now you’ll find larger and softer pads so finger drumming on the RYTM is greatly improved.
Entering beats with the pads and changing scenes and performances is now much more inspiring. You’ll find yourself relying much less on the step buttons to program your beats. And, like the Tempest and the latest MPC’s, the pads light up brilliantly to reflect their status. Also, the RYTM shows you different velocity levels and modes by using colored backlights. Not only do these look great but they keep you abreast of exactly what’s going on even when complex patterns are flowing.
Building patterns is fun to do, and they can be chained or formed into a song. Each pad has a dedicated track and you can tap out a beat simultaneously on kick, snare, and hats in real-time. There are two main modes of pattern-building with step or real-time modes.
There’s plenty of low-end extension, punch in the mid ranges, and a rounded, classy high-end. The analog overdrive still sounds great with versatile filters versatile and punchy envelopes. Elektron’s reverb and delay are still excellent just as they were before.
The Elektron Analog Rytm MKII Drum Computer & Sampler has been improved in all the right places. It’s now, more than ever, a very accomplished drum machine that will keep you inspired for many years.
9. Akai Professional XR20 Beat Production Station Drum Machine
The Akai XR20 is loaded with pro-grade, industrial-strength drum, percussion, bass, and synth, sound effects including vocal and instrument hit sounds. You can make your own beats with this machine and lay percussion and other sound effects in a groove wherever and whenever you’re ready because inspiration can happen anywhere.
Over 700 pre-loaded sounds, along with an integrated effects engine for Reverb, EQ and Compression put you in complete control of your beat production. A microphone input is even included for mixing vocals with your patterns. Brilliant backlit pads provide visual cues for added beat precision.
The build looks good and feels solid despite the low price. The design is good, and the unit shares the good looks of the rest of the Akai family. The pads feel properly MPC-like, but you may need to press them firmly to get maximum velocity. The pads only have eight levels of velocity, but that’s expected in this low price range.
The XR20 makes it easy to ﬁnd the exact sound to play. Each pad lights up in blue and in exactly the position you play it in a sequence. The display is clear and large with a bright blue backlight that ensures you can read in all light conditions. The screen size also means that the names of sounds and beats are always displayed fully instead of abbreviated like on some smaller displays.
The onboard sounds from Chronic music produce some great older urban libraries They are tough and punchy, broad in scope, high-quality and very useable.
You’ll have over 700 individual sounds that should keep you occupied for a long time. A synth section contains 63 instrument and synth samples that can be played polyphonically using the pads. The tones enable full song backings to be built exclusively. And, if the
preset sounds aren’t quite enough for your tastes, use the editing tools and create more.
This is a great little drum machine with only a few limitations. It’s an inspiring box that is simple and straightforward to use. It sounds great and would be equally at home on stage or in the studio.
10. Roland Rhythm Composer (TR-08)
The Roland TR-08 is an almost exact copy of Roland’s famous and influential TR-808 drum machine. The original 808 is known by professionals as being the most influential drum machine that has ever been produced. Its sounds continue to form the foundation of whole genres of music.
Roland had already largely satisfied the need for a modern, reliable and freely available hardware 808 with the TR‑8 Aira. However, the TR-08 brings something new to the table. It’s an almost completely faithful recreation of the original instrument but shrunken down into a delightfully small but quite usable format.
Like almost all of the Boutique range instruments, the TR‑08 is incredibly cute. A picture or even a video doesn’t quite convey how uniquely small the machine is. But it’s certainly not toy-like by any means. This device is solid and surprisingly heavy. The adjustable tilt stand that the unit is housed in, unfortunately, is made of plastic and rather flimsy, but it’s still useful.
The TR‑08 has the same general dimensions as most other Roland instruments. The rear panel contains a USB port, master volume control, headphone and stereo outputs, a line input, and MIDI I/O ports.
Once you begin to play a few preset patterns and use the controls, the machine feels and sounds exactly like an 808. The sounds are razor-sharp, clean and bright. As a matter of fact, a typical older 808 will have a somewhat tubby and rolled-off timbre, while the new 08 is much crisper and can cut through a mix much better. Otherwise, the character and response of the sounds are exactly the same as the original.
Operation of the TR‑08 is also almost identical to the original 808. You access multiple modes from a rotary switch, play back patterns with Manual Play, write patterns with Pattern Write mode and clear a pattern with Pattern Clear mode. There’s not much complicated with this easy-to-use machine.
Sonically, The TR-08 captures the essence of the TR-808 magic. It has exactly the same mode of operation and workflow, and is a rewarding and enjoyable playing experience. With the addition of portability and modern integration, the new machine is quite appealing and has .
Things to Consider Before Buying a Drum Machine (Buying Guide)
The choices in drum machines today is wide and plentiful, and the prices have consistently gone lower and lower every year. Today, you can buy a machine for a few hundred dollars that’s the equivalent of a machine that cost thousands of dollars just a few years ago.
What is a Drum Machine?
A drum machine copies or follows the sound of drums, cymbals, various percussion instruments, and even bass lines. It is usually associated with electronic music but may be found to substitute when an actual drummer is not available.
Drum machines can be used when a human drummer can’t make it to your music session, or if you need to produce unique or complex sounds that your drummer is unfamiliar with. You may use a drum machine during a practice session when bringing in an actual drummer is unnecessary, or any time that all you need is a steady rhythm to get started with a project.
Key Factors to Consider
In most cases, a drum machine will never replace a live drummer. However, its reliability and versatility make it quite useful in many situations. Some key factors to consider before purchasing a drum machine:
- Voices and Flexibility
- Reliability, and
What’s Your Budget?
Today’s drum machines can cost from a minimum of $200 to more than $3000. By setting a clear budget to start with, you will have a better idea of what you can expect it to do for you. However, in general, the more you spend, the more likely the machine will sound better and be more enjoyable to use and play.
However, some of the features and specifications in the more expensive drum machines may be completely useless to you. There is no reason to spend extra money for features you do not need. On the other hand, don’t under-spend either. Buying an ultra-cheap machine that can break easily won’t serve your purposes and will be a waste of time and money.
Beginners should choose a machine that suits a variety of different styles of music. When you’re just starting out, you will probably be exploring many different styles of music, so choose a machine that works with as many as you think you’ll enjoy using.
Patterns, Voices, and Flexibility
Choosing a machine that’s versatile across many different genres can also be an important consideration. Most drum machines on today’s market cover the basic genres, but some are specifically designed to suit particular genres. So, be aware of your own tastes.
Most of today’s drum machines are equipped with an enormous number of features that you may not need. An example might be advanced sequencing and voice shaping. These costly features are usually needed by users who work with very complex sonic patterns and may be overkill for a beginner.
Responsiveness and Controls
The drum machine’s controls are usually a matter of your personal preference. You may like simpler controls for faster action or you might want some of the more advanced in-depth control options.
Responsiveness of the controls is also important. If you have a taste for dynamics and realism, a drum machine with high-sensitive velocity pads might be a good option.
Reliability and Portability
The last thing you need is for your drum machine to begin to fall apart after using it for only a few weeks. Make sure you select one that is reliable and durable. Being portable can also be an important consideration. However, it may be difficult to find a drum machine that offers both reliability and portability in a single device.
A reliable drum machine will usually have a metal chassis and can be rather heavy. Most portable machines are lighter in weight and made of less-durable plastic. Size can also play an important role. Try not to buy a drum machine that will be difficult to carry in places where you will want to use it.
What is the best MPC for a beginner?
The Akai Professional XR20 Beat Production Station Drum Machine is an excellent MPC for a beginner. It is easy to use, functional, and has an excellent low price that’s perfect for beginners.
What is a drum machine used for?
Today’s modern drum machine is an electronic musical instrument that imitates the sound of drums and other percussion instruments. It can be used when a drummer is not available or needed.
How do you use a drum machine live?
The best drum machines allow you to create drum beats quickly and easily. For a live performance, it needs to easily plugin and play and be able to cover a wide range of skill levels, setups and musical styles.
What is a 909?
A 909 refers to Roland’s model TR-909 which is still widely used today in popular music.
What is 808? What is an 808 kick?
An 808 refers to Roland’s ground-breaking model TF-808. The TR-808’s “kick” drum sound adds trigger pulses to the machine’s sounds at a given resonant state.
With this article, we’ve introduced you to some of the finest electronic drum machines on the market today in 2020. These are highly versatile electronic instruments that use advanced computer technology to provide enhanced sound capabilities.
Major record labels often use drum machines to reduce their recording costs. As the technology continues to improve, most people no longer are aware of the difference between the sounds of a drum machine and a live drummer. Many drummers will also use drum machines to add new levels of sound to their sets.
Our guide has been designed to help you find the best drum machine you can buy for 2020 and the best beginner drum machine if you are an aspiring musician.
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