Drum machines are popular with musicians and artists who like to play with sound, create new sounds with old songs, and sample music. They offer state-of-the-art technology, along with the sound of classic drums. They mimic and replace the need for drums, although, to be clear, nothing can replace the sound of real drums. Still, though, many people invest in drum machines as a way to create new music and add depth to their recordings. There are several types of drum machines, and people use them for different reasons. In particular, if you need the sound of drums, but you don’t actually play the drums, drum machines can bridge the gap between you and your music. We’ll go over everything you need to know about buying a drum machine, and we’ll review the best drum machines in a number of popular categories so you are prepared to get the best drum machine you can afford.
Choosing the right drum machine is made easier when you know what to look for in a product like this. In the next section of this review, we’ll reveal the best drum machines in several categories including the overall winner, the best analog drum machine, the best digital drum machine, the best entry-level drum machine and the best economy drum machine. There’s something for everyone on this list, so let’s get started.
Best Drum Machine
Best Analog Drum Machine
Best Digital Drum Machine
Best Entry-level Drum Machine
Best Economy Drum Machine
We have chosen the Elektron Digitakt drum machine as the best drum machine on the market because it has all the bells and whistles you could ask for, and it’s a sampler drum machine to boot. It offers a fully integrated DAW system and has a dedicated interface sound card that offers multiple options for use. You can stream tracks and record your own with ease. This superior drum machine is compact and light, great for moving your recording equipment around town when you need to, and it is next in life from an award-winning analog manufacturer. This drum machine has encoders that are super durable, and the buttons are performance tested for up to 50 million uses. The LED display offers easy to read information and an intuitive interface to get the job done. It weighs less than 5 pounds and has a thin profile for storage and transportation. It features a great onboard sequencer and parameter locks for more control. The only downside to this amazing sampler and drum machine is that it can take a few days to get a feel for how it works. Most technology is easy to use, and this will be too, once you get the hang of it. It’s the perfect blend of options and style, and there’s no doubt about why it's our top choice for the best drum machine on the market today.
For the old school drummers in the crowd and those who like to use things that remind them of days gone by, the Dave Smith Tempest analog drum machine offers you new technology in an old suit. It is a hybrid of analog and new digital technology, and it features a synthesizer. There are 16 pressure-sensitive pads that allow you to adjust the sounds of the drums and beats you choose. It has 6 analog voices and 2 analog oscillators, as well as an audio-rate modulator. There are a number of other high tech features that come standard on the retro-feeling drum machine an edge over the competition. There is an LED display that offers easy viewing capabilities and generous sound controls so you can optimize, synthesize and change music the way you see fit. This hybrid synthesizer and drum machine feature 2 x 8 configuration of buttons, which offers more ergonomic support when programming songs. Overall, this is a great option for anyone interested in blending old style with new technology. Great for everyone who likes to play with music and add interesting sounds to their beats.
If you are all about the digital world and you’ve decided that analog technology is not for you, then you’ll want to check out our top pick for the best digital drum machine, the Boss DR-880. This features easy programming, and an EZ compose feature so you can prepare songs and beats quickly and easily. It has a USB port, digital output, individual outputs, guitar inputs and more. It features 20 sensitive pads for changing sounds and options, and there are over 400 drum and percussion sounds featured and saved on this drum machine. That’s what you get when you go digital. There are 40 bass sounds, along with bass-amp models for more recording options. There is total sound control and an equalizer with 3 bands. This is a great drum machine for a variety of music types including really bass-heavy music like hip hop, rap, rock and more. There are 500 preset programs, and you can upload up to 500 of your own. At about 6 pounds and measuring about 15 inches in length, this drum machine is super light and super portable. It’s great for studio and at-home use. You can hook it up to your computer and make music to your heart's content. We like it for the best digital drum machine on the list because of the seemingly endless programming options and memory. When it comes to finding a great digital drum machine, this is the machine for you.
Just because you have never used a drum machine before doesn’t mean you can’t learn. The Korg Volca Beats Drum Machine is a great machine to learn the tricks of the trade on. It offers analog technology that is easy to learn and is a great introduction for entry-level music mixers and musicians. This drum machine offers 16-step sequencer with 8 memory patterns. You can alter sequences with ease using the stutter feature. There are 6 functions that you can easily edit using the analog knobs, so you don’t have to fuss with digital buttons. There is also a built-in speaker that comes on this drum machine so you can play with your music on the go or while you travel. It also has a battery option, so you don’t need to plug into a power source when you want to mix music on the train, or at the cottage on the weekend. The Korg is one of the smaller drum machines on this list, and it weighs less than 3 pounds. You can even hook up your headphones for more privacy when you are mixing tracks on the go. The Korg Volca comes with a polishing cloth to keep the machine dust-free and working properly. We love this drum machine as our top pick for the entry-level drum machine because it has all of the features you need to get started, and none that you don’t. It’s portable, easy to use, and runs on battery power when you are on the go.
Our pick for the best economy drum machine is the Teenage Engineering Rhythm Drum Machine. This ultra-portable and ultra-compact drum machine has 16 sampled drum sounds that were made using real synthesized drums, and there is bass, snare, and tom drum sounds. As well, there are multiple cymbal sounds including hi-hat, both opened and closed and other cymbals. What’s more, you get cowbell, tones, clapping hands, and more. You can use the real-time effects to change the sounds and music to suit your needs and creativity. There is a sequencer as well, and a synthesizer built into this compact drum machine. It fits a headphone jack, which comes included in the package, and you even get batteries for on-the-go mixing fun. This small drum machine is a great economical option for someone who wants to get into mixing and sampling but doesn’t want to spend a lot of money. There is a great deal of value here in the Teenage Engineering Rhythm Drum Machine for not a lot of money. It’s so small, it literally fits in the palm of your hand. It looks more like an old-fashioned cell phone than a drum machine. Obviously, this isn’t a professional drum machine, but it’s a great way to get your feet wet and see if you like mixing tunes and playing with drum sounds in your music. For all the features, the compact size, and the accessibility of it for everyone, we chose it as our favorite for the best economical drum machine on the market today.
When it comes to choosing the right drum machine for your needs, there are several things to consider including whether or not you need one for your music, size, memory, presets and more. Here’s a buying guide to help you understand your options for picking out an awesome drum machine.
Why Do You Need a Drum Machine?
First of all, if you make music, you probably want a drum machine. Do you need one? You do if you want to make music that requires drums in it. You need one if you don’t have a drummer, or don’t have a set of drums. And you need one even if you do have a drummer and a set of drums because you can upload your drumming into the machine and manipulate it to do really cool things with it. With hundreds of pre-loaded sounds and drum songs, your options for making music are endless.
How Will You Use Your Drum Machine?
If you are buying a drum machine to add to your recording studio, you will want to invest in the best drum machine you can afford. If you want a drum machine to create tracks for fun, an economy or entry-level drum machine will probably do the trick. In any case, a good rule of thumb is always to buy the best version you can afford. By knowing what you want to use your drum machine for, you can narrow down your choices and avoid paying for extra features you don’t need. For example, if you don’t plan on recording your own music, but just want to play with already included sounds, you don’t need a lot of memory in your drum machine.
While size isn’t necessarily any kind of deal breaker, if you plan to be moving your drum machine around a lot - for instance, if you are taking it from your lab at school to your studio at home, or work - you might want a smaller version. But really, any drum machine from the last few years is going to be a decent size and made from lightweight products.
Do You Want Analog or Digital?
Old school musicians might want to invest in a more traditional analog drum machine. People who have owned analog drum machines in the past swear by them, and of course, where there is more technology involved in digital drum machines, there is always more of a chance something can go wrong or break. Analog provides a certain level of control and adjustment that digital drum machines just don’t have. But, if you are all about the technology and latest innovations, you’ll want to check out the digital options in our review. Either way, today’s analog drum machines are just as good as digital options, so it’s really just a matter of personal preference. If you are a newbie drum machine owner and operator, go for the digital versions: manufacturers make it so easy to get into music sampling and manipulation that there’s no need to learn the ropes related to analog machines.
Do You Want to Expand Your Option with Samples?
Almost all drum machines come with a certain number of built-in samples, sounds, tones, and music options, but if you want to be able to add your own to the mix, you need a drum machine that offers sample uploads. There is a distinct difference between drum machines that allow uploads of samples and sampling drum machines. Drum machines that allow uploads of samples usually only allow smaller clips of music to be uploaded, whereas a sampling drum machine has more space and memory for those longer clips of music and tracks. If you are unsure of what you need, a good way to approach buying a drum machine is to get a machine that offers some sampling options, so you can play with them to see if you like it before investing in a more robust machine that can do more.
Memory Options for Your Drum Machine
If you want to use a sampling drum machine, then you need to consider how much memory you need to have in your drum machine. Pattern memory refers to how many songs or tracks your drum machine can hold. Some machines have none, and some have hundreds. Again, whether or not you need a lot of pattern memory will depend on how you plan to use your drum machine. Just a note: studio machines tend to use more memory because mixing and sampling go on more often in those settings. If you are on stage, you’ll want to look for a drum machine that is better suited for that kind of mixing and sampling.
Accessories Add Value
Many drum machines come with the cords you need to hook them up to your devices, computers, amplifiers and more. But some machines will offer you a little bit more value and include accessories such as headphones, power supply cords, batteries, carrying cases and more. Whenever packages come with accessories, take advantage of those offers. They usually come at little to no extra cost and make a great deal.
Of course, if you are a traveling musician, you will want your drum machine to be lightweight and easy to carry around. Technology today is pretty lightweight anyway, but consider how you will transport your drum machine and how you will keep it safe during transport. It will help you determine the best size for your needs.
Drum machines are a great way to add layers of interest to your music making. Whether you are a professional artist or you like to play with tunes in your free time, adding a drum machine to your recording studio can be a game changer for you. Even if you have a full band with a qualified drummer, taking what your drummer plays and adding some technology to it can really change your music making for the better. And if nothing else, you will find drum machines to be highly entertaining. You’ll find yourself pushing the boundaries of music making and look
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