Producing a song or album used to be a process that was only possible with the help of a professional studio.
As technology became more compact, artists could more easily record their own demos. Now we live in an age where artists can produce songs, EPs and entire albums from their bedroom.
The best part about setting up a home studio is just how versatile it can be. You can create a set-up for recording your band while they play. Then, you can use a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) to edit the recording and make it more professional.
With the help of MIDI controllers and drum machines, you don’t need a band to create a complex tracks.
Drum Machines have been around since 1980 when Roger Linn created the Linn LM-1 Drum Computer. This machine was the first device to use pre-recorded samples to create artificial drum beats.
There are many incredible drum machines with exceptional samples for creating a whole soundscape from the same device.
Today, we will look at some of the best drum machines for adding to your home studio setup.
Best Drum Machines
- PRODUCES 16 DIFFERENT DRUM SOUNDS – The teenage engineering PO-12 Rhythm uses real synthesized drum sounds to recreate drum and percussion sounds like cymbals, hi-hat, cowbell, and more.
- LETS YOU CREATE A WHOLE SONG – The 16-step sequencer and step-multiplier allow you to chain up to 16 patterns together. You can also insert a re-trig in a single step.
- FINE-TUNE THE EFFECTS IN REAL-TIME – Effortlessly edit the 16 effects with the dual real-time parameters. You can fine-tune the tempo from 60 to 240bpm.
- JAM ON THE GO! – PO-12 Rhythm has a jam-sync function, which lets you connect the unit with other Pocket Operators. You can also integrate PO-12 with 3rd-party gears thanks to its integrated audio-pulse-based sync.
- INCLUDES – teenage engineering Pocket Operator PO-12 Rhythm Drum Machine and Sequencer. 3-Pack of Blucoil 7-Inch Audio AUX Cables. 4-Pack of Blucoil AAA Alkaline Batteries.
The Pocket Operator PO-12 is smaller than most pocket calculators. It was also thin with no visible speaker, so it didn’t look like it would be very impressive. However, looks can be deceiving.
The PO-12 is an incredibly compact drum machine. It is perfect for anyone who wants to try one of these devices for the first time.
The device has 16 different samples and 16 special effects you can access by holding down the FX button.
You might think this drum machine looks very complicated. However, once you know what the various buttons do, you will create your own beats in seconds.
Obviously, this isn’t the best product for recording. However, it is great for younger musicians and amateurs who want to learn the basics of using a drum machine.
There is a headphone port at the top of the unit and an aux output for attaching it to speakers. You can create up to 16 different beats, and even string multiple beats together to form basic tracks.
- Incredibly compact design that fits snugly in your pocket.
- Create up to 16 different beats and chain them together to form complete songs.
- Comes with 16 exceptional effects that you can apply to your beats.
- More of a learning tool, not very suitable for home recording.
- Includes Drumbrute Impact, 2 x Pighog MIDI Cables, Power Supply & Liquid Audio Polishing cloth
- Analog Drum Machine with 10 Drum Sounds
- Two Flavors of Snare Drums
- 64 Patterns, Each up to 64 Steps
- Song Mode with Pattern Chaining
Arturia is a French company known for making high-quality studio equipment, including MIDI controllers and drum machines.
The DrumBrute Impact is one of their latest products. It comes packed with awesome features and 10 different analog drum samples.
Still, it doesn’t have the versatility of the Spark 2 or other machines from this company. Regardless, it is a superb choice if you want a vintage style drum machine.
There are 16 buttons for inserting drums into your sequence, and you can assign a unique pattern to each one. This allows you to string together patterns to make a complete song, or a more complex beat.
The buttons will light up as the sequence plays. This allows you to insert drums during playback to create beats on the fly.
Above each of the ten drum pads, there are knobs for adjusting the tone, decay and pitch of each drum. This helps you to customize the generic samples to make your beats feel more personalized.
The DrumBrute comes with two MIDI cables. With this, you can hook it up to your audio interface, so you can easily record the beats you make in your DAW.
- Relatively simple and easy to learn.
- Comes with ten classic analog drum samples.
- Decay, tone and pitch knobs allow you to adjust the samples to your liking.
- Doesn’t have the greatest variety of samples.
- Ultra-compact recreation of the legendary TR-808 drum machine
- Retains the sound, character, and user interface of the original TR-808
- Hands-on control including tone, level, tuning, and decay
- Added Compressor, Gain, Tune, and Pan for selected instruments
- Programmable via classic Step and Tap write modes
The original Roland TR-808 comes from the 1980s. It is a legend among drum machines. You can hear its crisp samples in the songs of countless artists, from the Sisters of Mercy to Beyoncé.
Roland’s TR-08 aims to replicate the sound and intuitive design of their classic machine. It also brings success of the old design up to date with modern technology.
As with the Arturia, there are 16 buttons at the bottom of this unit. These represent the sequence for adding your drums to.
The buttons let you set up a sequence from scratch. You can also tap one in on the fly, so you can listen to your beat as you create it.
There is a toggle to the side of the sequencing buttons. This can select different time signatures, such as 4/4, 3/4, and 6/8. You can even pick which drum you want to add to your track using the selection wheel at the top.
Each drum has a set of control knobs for altering its parameters. This allows you can personalize the samples to suit your own music.
If you just want some vintage sounding drums that will work well with most genres, from rock to pop, then you can’t go wrong with the TR-08.
- Step and tap write mode for creating beats on the fly.
- 12 drum samples from classic sounds from the original TR-808.
- Pre-scale toggle allows you to select from four different time signatures.
- Vintage drum samples may not be suitable for genres such as techno or Dubstep.
- GREAT SOUNDING: This drum machine will make your music shine with six great-sounding analog voices and up to 12 PCM voices.
- EASY TO USE: Ultra-compact, this beat maker is designed for anyone who wants to make great music anywhere. With 100 included pattern presets, 8 parameters per step and easy-to-use controls, all you need is a creative mind.
- BUILT-IN FUNCTIONALITY: With 12 multi-touch double velocity pads and 64 step sequencer, this drum machine is the ideal solution for creating exciting new beats on the go.
- 2.5 MM I/O JACK: This USB keyboard supports 2.5 mm MIDI input & output (MIDI adapter included) that lets you connect to keyboards, synths and more.
- COMPATIBLE WITH: This versatile portable drum machine is powered by your device/USB and works with iPhone, iPad, Mac, and PC so that you can create your beats and grooves wherever you are.
Many of the machines we have looked at so far are great, but focus mainly on vintage drum samples. If you want something a bit more dynamic, the UNO Drum machine made by IK Multimedia is what you need.
There are over 100 drum kits preloaded into this machine. You also get 12 drum part buttons for selecting the sounds that you want for the 16-step sequence.
The kits include classic drum sets, such as those found on the Roland TR-808. You also get more exotic kits with a range of exciting modern sounds.
Just like the Arturia DrumBrute, you can string together multiple 16-step sequences to create more complex beats or songs. Using the ’Seq’ functions, you can adjust the tempo of your track to create different time signatures and rhythms.
You can connect this device to your computer with a USB. This allows you to record your tracks in the DAW of your choice.
Alternatively, you can use a 3.5 MIDI cable to link this drum machine to an audio interface. The UNO Drum comes with built-in effects, including roll and stutter functions for creating fills and more intricate beats.
- Comes with over 100 different preloaded drum kits.
- It can be battery powered or connected to a computer via a USB cable.
- Comes with roll and stutter effects, as well as various swing settings for adjusting the tempo.
- The flat buttons are not as satisfying to use as the pads found on other machines.
- Digital percussion synth with a 6-part x 2-layer structure
- Distinctive sound from a newly developed DSP engine
- Waveguide resonator adds rich resonances
- 16-step sequencer with a wide range of parameter automation
- Slice function finely divides a step to allow drum-rolls
The Korg Volca Drum Machine is relatively affordable compared to some of the other models on this list. It offers great value for money.
The Volca may only have 6 different drum parts to choose from. However, it comes with 10 different preloaded kits, and the space to store an extra 16.
You can customize each drum part with various knobs. These allow you to make boring samples into something unique pieces. You can also create up to two layers of drum tracks over the top of each other. This feature helps with creating more complex patterns.
Each pattern can support 5 types of oscillator waveforms. There are three different pitch modulation controls for personalizing the kit of your choice.
Similar to other machines on this list, you can loop and chain the sequences you create to go far beyond the usual 16-step limit.
One of the great things about this device is that it is very compact and easy to carry with you in a backpack or gig bag.
You can plug this device into a wall outlet with the 9V adaptor. Then, you can use headphones to create beats while away from your studio set-up.
- Comes with 10 preloaded drum kits and the ability to add your own.
- 6 different drum parts that can be customized with the control knobs.
- Works without being plugged into a laptop or audio interface.
- Only 6 different drum parts to choose from.
Every song needs some kind of rhythm behind it. Therefore, drum machines are a great thing to add to your home studio.
With so much variety between drum brands, you can find a machine for making any style or genre of music that you want.
This section will cover a few of the most important things to consider when shopping for a drum machine.
What are the different drum parts in the best drum machine?
The drum parts on a machine refer to all the different drums it has available for adding to a sequence. Often these will include the basics such as a bass drum, snare, open/closed hi-hat, and toms.
Some machines, such as the Korg Volca, only have 6 different drum parts. However, they offer a lot more options for adjusting the way each one sounds.
This could be through having multiple different kits you can load onto the machine. Also, the extra options come through the use of ‘pitch’, ‘decay’ and ‘tone’ knobs to adjust the drum sound.
Other machines may have less versatility in customizing each drum part. However, they have far more parts covering cymbals and various types of drum. You should look for a kit that matches your individual needs.
If you want a machine for rock or pop music, you will want a machine that uses analog drum samples.
Analog drum machines are better at recreating the sounds of an actual drum kit. Alternatively digital samples will be better for genres like techno and dubstep.
What is the sequencer in a drum machine?
All drum machines will work by using a simple 16-step sequencer. It gives you 16 individual beats for inserting drums into.
These steps make up a full bar of music, and a complete sequence is often referred to as a pattern. You can place more than one drum onto the same step in the sequence. This allows you to create more layered beats.
Even the most basic drum machine, such as the pocket sized PO-12, offers the ability to chain together multiple sequences. This allows you to build more complex 32 and 64 step sequences. The extra sequences provide you with unique patterns to make your beats more complex.
Useful things to look out for are sequences that allow you to choose from multiple time signatures, such as the Roland Rhythm TR-08. Choosing between multiple time signatures will help your beats to sound less robotic and more like they are being played by an actual player.
What are different effects of the best drum machines?
Effects are a fun way to spice up your beats and make them sound more unique. For example, each of the buttons on the PO-12 has its own effect. You can activate these effects by holding down the FX button.
Other machines may have fewer options, but this won’t matter if you just want a simple analog drum machine.
Useful effects to look out for are rollers and stutter. These allow you to repeat the same step of a sequence to create fills, trills and other advanced techniques. Again, this helps with making your playing sound more natural and less robotic.
Another great feature is a slicer, which can be used to create low or high cut filters. This allows you to create a lot of cool sounds and mix up your beats in lots of funky ways.
Outputs you need in the best drum machines
Some drum machines need to be plugged into a computer or audio interface to be used. These are great tools for music production. However, they are not so good if you want a stand-alone unit for performances or messing around.
If you want a device that you can use outside your studio, look for drum machines with headphone ports. Also, look for machines that you can plug into a wall socket and run off batteries. Having both helps you save the battery life.
That said, you still need your machine to connect to your computer if you want to record your beats for a song. MIDI and USB ports both provide a way to connect your machine to a laptop, or audio interface. This way, you can record its output in a DAW.
Some devices will even come with software to help the drum machine be more compatible with your DAW.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is The Difference Between A Drum Machine And A Sampler?
You can use many models of drum machine as a sampler. However, you cannot use not all samplers as drum machines.
The major difference between these two products is that samplers allow you to add any sound, or noise you want, to their various pads.
Drum machines naturally come with preloaded drum samples to make up a complete kit, and offer slightly less versatility.
All drum machines will include a basic 16-step sequencer, for arranging the drum parts into a musical rhythm. Sampler can include a sequencer, but it is not guaranteed. You usually use them to create sounds and tracks on the fly, reducing the need for a sequencer..
Any drum machine that allows you to assign your own samples or drum kits to the various pads can also be used as a sampler.
Can I Use A Drum Machine For Live Performances?
Lots of artists will use drum machines to create beats on the fly during live performances to great effect. There are lots of ways to do this, and naturally some machines will be better than others.
The most common method is to tap drums into the sequence live by tapping the pads in the rhythm you desire. Other artists may prefer to build up a beat gradually by playing the sequence and slowly adding drums to the beats.
Lots of machines like the Arturia DrumBrute have internal memory banks where you can store your sequences, patterns and even complete songs.
This means you just need to carry the drum machine to your gig, select the right song, and press play. The advantage of this method is that you can play other instruments, such as guitar or bass, while your drum machine handles the rhythm section all by itself.