Updated December 2021
Many people have asked me what I think is the best drum machine. I’ve waited a long time to give an answer, as this is not a simple question. Especially since some might say that drum machines stand in direct competition to a human drummer.
But I don’t think so. Drum machines are great tools for DJs, producers, and drummers alike and they aren’t there to replace a talented drummer. Rather, they invite you to create gripping beats and grooves, to be used when you can’t have a pair of magical hands on the skins.
The good news is that drum machines have come a long way since their questionable early use in the 1980s.
Today, there is a wide range of feature-packed modern drum machines available to suit every ability and budget. In this article, I’ll give you my personal top picks.
Best Drum Machines Top 5 – Quick Links
- Best of the Best: Korg Volca Beats
- Best Portable for Live Performance: Alesis SR16
- Best Analog Drum Machine: Dave Smith Instruments Tempest
- Best on a Budget: Teenage Engineering PO-12
- Best for Bass Players: Arturia DrumBrute
- Best for Beginners: Novation Circuit
- Best Small Drum Machine: Roland Aira TR-8
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- Can be played anywhere with built-in speaker
- Includes optional battery power for mobility
- Not a full-featured sampler
- Only good for certain types of music
Size: The Korg Volca is known for its portability, weighing around 2 pounds and measuring 10.3” x 6” x 2.8”. It’s a medium-sized drum machine that provides all the features and tricks of a larger one. Although small, the Korg Volca has a large range of functionality with minimal parameters and makes use of true analog sounds, inspired by an old-school rhythm machine. It is even equipped with a built-in speaker.
Performance: Korg is a trusted name in drum machines. They make high-quality and high-performing machines that have been used by both professionals and amateurs for decades. This particular analog rhythm machine delivers unforgettable classic sounds with six analog and four PCM-based drum parts. PCM means Pulse Code Modulation, which is a form of digitalized and uncompressed sound that provides better quality audio. It allows for instant editing via an intuitive user interface so you can easily cut, mix, and slice loops to create awesome beats. To make things even easier, each of the six analog parts has its own knob for easy editing, and the four PCM parts provide speed control for changes in the pitch.
Features: If you’re looking for a wide variety of pro features, the Korg is the drum machine for you. This Korg Volca has a 16-step sequencer, which means that it can store sequences of sounds up to a maximum of 16 beats and is inspired by an Electribe, a vintage collection of synthesizers, rhythm machines, and drum machines created by Korg. This drum machine also features eight memory patches to store your settable parameters and a stutter for a glitch or delay-like effects. If you’re interested in production, it even comes with a MIDI In for note entry and external sync and control from your DAW. The best part about the Korg Volca is that you can play it anywhere thanks to its high-performance, built-in speaker, and optional battery power features.
- Realistic drum sounds
- Perfect for both composing songs and live performances
- Can’t be run on battery
- No 3/4 time preset
Size: This Alesis Stereo Electronic Drum Machine is another small machine that is more powerful than its simple design lets on. It comes equipped with four audio outputs, 12 pads, and requires AC voltage for power. In terms of dimensions, the Alesis is sized 9.25” x 1.5” x 6.5” and weighs around 2.5 pounds. It’s not great for portable use since you can’t run it on batteries.
Performance: Whether you’re looking for a machine to help you write songs or accompany you on live performances, this drum machine can do it all. The Alesis likes to call itself the best drum machine ever made and with good reason. It has often been used by songwriters, live performers, and remix engineers as their preferred drum machine. With its 233 realistic and natural beat sounds and an awesome digital reverb, this is an incredibly versatile drum machine that allows you to customize your patterns and songs.
Features: The Alesis features an exclusive Dynamic Articulation feature that allows a drum sound to change its tonal when you play it harder, for the ultimate in realistic performances. It also features 50 preset patterns that were recorded by top studio drummers, not just programmed in a computer. With its 12 velocity-sensitive pads, eight loudness levels, soundtracking, step editing, stereo samples with reverb and ambiance, you will be making professional-sounding songs in no time.
- Wonderful battery life that allows a long standby time
- Price is great for even the beginners
- Integrated folding stand
- Without the headsets, it doesn’t have a good volume
Size: If you’re looking for big performance in a small package, I would recommend the Teenage Engineering PO-12 Rhythm Drum Machine. This mini machine packs more punch than it would appear, and the size makes it easy to store, transport, and even keep with you so you have it in a pinch without ever compromising on sound quality.
Performance: Teenage is a small machine power-packed with solid sounds, killer effects, and intuitive sequencing. This machine has 16 tweakable beat sounds with a 16-step sequencer that is perfect for creating beats and melodies. There are also 16 effects that can be used to alter the sound of the audio source. It produces high-quality sound emitted from a Knowles speaker, uses real synthesized drum sounds, and has created such a buzz among music enthusiasts, who can use it whenever the need for premium sound arises. AAA batteries power this device, and it is so power-efficient that a single pair can last for years. The machine also switches off automatically when not used for 5 minutes.
Features: If you are here to find the best affordable drum machine, Teenage is a perfect device. It works great with the tabletop synth rigs because it’s loaded with 16 sampled and synthesized drum sounds. Each of the sounds is further equipped with two real-time parameters that match the physical attributes in naturally occurring sound, allowing Teenage to create realistic sound. The effects library features 16 different effects to alter your sounds and allows you to create more varied music. Paired with the 16-step sequencer and 16 patterns, this machine will make it simple for you to create entire songs.
- Two Nova synthesizers with six-note polyphonic per synth and 4-part drum machine
- 32 RGB backlit velocity sensitive button grid with 28 RGB backlit function buttons
- Battery-powered or through a mains supply
- Three-year limited warranty
- The sequencer has several demo sessions available
- Real-time drum record
- Speaker is not loud enough
Size: This is a compact, portable, and battery-powered instrument you can use to create tracks from beginning to end without needing a computer or a speaker. It has two digital synth engines and is relatively portable measuring 24cm in width x 20cm in depth x 3.5cm in height, and weighing around two pounds.
Performance: The Novation Circuit is an easy way to learn and use drum machines. More than a drum machine, Circuit grants users a way to both create and play samples. Without a menu, you do not even need to be an expert to operate it. You get to experiment your way into becoming an expert. It has a fun-to-use interface that makes it suitable for a beginner. The four-part sampler creates up to eight patterns per part, making 32 patterns that can be played with and mixed to form unending tracks. Circuit offers a broad range of sounds and drum patterns varying from deep basslines to warm pads. After programming, the Circuit can be connected to your computer or other synths so you can transfer your inventions. But you can also save up to 32 sessions without moving them.
Features: As a standalone autonomous drum machine, Novation Circuit features an integrated speaker, a four-part sampler, and two six-voice polyphonic synths. There is a jack socket and a USB to connect to your MAC or Microsoft. Also, there is a built-in synthesizer, and a front-mounted jack socket connects to headphones. In the event of no power, Circuit has a battery compartment, and the six AA batteries are included with purchase. The instrument can also work as a USB-MIDI controller. It is equipped with 32 backlit drum pads, 64 synth patches, 64 drum patches, and several controls.
- Attractive and logical design
- Great variety of sounds and good quality audio
- Sounds are right but they don’t have the separate outputs for processing
Size: Roland Aira is a great performance drum machine that weighs 6.8 pounds with the dimensions 4.3” x 13.3” x 21.7”.
Performance: The kick drum on this machine plays nicely, and it offers a sound that rivals even more costly drum machines. This machine delivers big on sound quality and is a great tool for live performances. Besides the small size, the build is solid and durable, which makes it easy for you to carry this drum machine along anywhere, though it isn’t light. This drum machine is also easy to program and update, and its design is logical, with color-coded knobs and buttons, and seamless programming. Everything intuitively feels like it is in the right place.
Features: The Roland Aira is one of-l a kind and features 16 kits that are made up of 11 instrument types. It also includes custom dream kits that make use of vintage TR 808 and 909 sounds, which are two vintage Roland rhythm machines, for more versatility. For incredible sound, use the continuous fine and shuffle adjustment knobs that exist to produce custom audio. Dedicated knobs also control the intensity and volume of this machine. This Roland device will also help you remember your youth as it produces great sound for electronic music and techno beats.
Best Of The Best
Our top recommendation for the best drum machine in terms of price and performance is the Korg Volca. It has six analog and four PCM-based drum parts with digitalized and uncompressed for better quality audio. Editing is done via a highly intuitive interface, and it has both online and offline working features. The built-in speaker is good enough to let you use this machine for performance.
However, we also highly recommend the Alesis Stereo Electronic Drum Machine. It has a collection of more than 200 realistic and natural drum sounds that can be used in your creations. It also has great speaker functionality and seems to sound good in any venue, no matter the size or acoustics.
Best Bang For Your Buck
In my opinion, the Teenage Engineering PO-12 is the best drum machine for beginners. It is a small machine that is user-friendly for someone who is just learning to navigate a drum machine, but still produces high-quality sound. A beginner can easily try their hand on this machine because of the budget-friendly price. It also doesn’t sacrifice performance and can fulfill a music lover’s needs with premium quality sound. In addition, the battery standby time is long-lasting, allowing a beginner to practice for hours.
With 500 professional sounds and built-in digital effects, the Alesis SR-18 drum machine offers many desirable functions for a combination of realism and power. Used by remix engineers, liver performers, and songwriters, it comes with your choice of 100 or 200 patterns. Pattern play modes can be triggered directly from the pads and are fully programmable. Use the ¼” input to plug in an instrument and play along with your chosen beats.
- Produce music anywhere; choose from battery power or use the wall adapter
- Dynamic articulation technology modifies the built-in sounds so they change while you play
- Built-in Alesis effects engine with EQ, reverb, and compression
The Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII offers affordable pricing and easy-to-operate features that are ideal for beginner and intermediate users. Backlighting makes for accurate use in dim environments, and the USB-powered compact design lets you create drum patterns anywhere.
- USB MIDI controller with 25 velocity-sensitive, synth-action keys; provides a full melodic pitch range
- Eight assignable Q Link knobs for reliable mixing and more
- Full 64-bit software production package for Mac/PC included
While the Akai Professional drum machine is a favorite for producing hip hop and dance tracks, it’s well-suited to any genre. Hundreds of fully modifiable sounds let you make the music of your choice. An integrated effects engine puts you in control, and a mic input lets you mix vocals into your tracks with ease.
- More than 700 sounds, all produced by Chronic Music
- 99 presets and 99 user patterns
- Headphone output; microphone input
The Arturia Minilab MKII offers compact, portable sizing for easy creation anywhere. With 500 V-collection 8 presets plus 21 keyboard instruments and synthesizers, it’s designed for easy operation – even for raw beginners who are looking for a solution they can use right out of the box.
- Multiple software packs included
- RGB backlit velocity and pressure sensitive pads
- 16 rotary encoders and two capacitive touch sensors for modulation / pitch bend
If you’re looking for a drum machine that sounds human while offering easy operation, then take a look at the BeatBuddy. This intuitive drum machine is pedal-operated so musicians can easily add beats hands-free during performances and recording sessions. An online library lets you download up to three million songs and create your own beats using the free software.
- Live, hands-free control
- Realistic studio-grade 24-bit sound; award-winning performance
- Ten drum sets with 24 genres and 220+ styles; add up to 300 drum sets
11. BeatBuddy MINI 2
Designed to create a live drummer effect, the BeatBuddy MINI 2 gives instrumentalists hands-free control of the beat via an ergonomic footswitch. Several pre-programmed songs and effects are included. Additionally, this drum machine is compatible with any sound system, even headphones.
- No programming needed
- Nine drum sets, 200 styles, 24 genres, and all time signatures included
- High-quality sound; beats are created using recordings of professional drummers
The Analog Rytm MKII is an improvement from a previous Analog Rytm by Elektron. It is a hybrid combination that has eight drum voices with two envelope sections and an LFO per voice. The Rytm MKII features delay, reverb counts, analog distortion, and an analog compressor. To store its audio samples, the MKII has a capacity of 1 GB. When your storage is full, you can make use of the Elektron Transfer software to exchange samples to and from a computer. All in all, the 12 backlit large pads on the MKII will enable you to play and have fun.
- Audio can be sent with the DAW software
- The sequencer has 64 steps
- Eight voices, each with an analog filter, overdrive, and envelopes
Featuring a 64-step sequencer with eight parameters per step, the IK Multimedia UNO Drum Portable Analog / PCM Drum Machine offers six analog voices and 12 PCM voices. Portable sizing belies the big sounds this machine makes; use up to 12 elements at a time and program as you please. This drum machine is easy to integrate into any studio, live, or mobile setup and can be connected multiple ways.
- 12 double-velocity multi-touch pads
- Save up to 100 drum kits and 100 patterns
- USB, audio in & out, and 2.5mm MIDI
With the Korg Electribe Sampler Drum Machine, it’s possible to create any genre of music, complete with a variety of patterns, sounds, and beats. Multiple pads and controls provide access to an entire library of onboard sounds content. There are 400 more bonus patterns available from Kora.
- Nearly endless stringing ability; create full sets, not just songs
- 16 velocity-sensitive multi-LED pads plus numerous analog-style knobs and buttons
- Delivers up to 24 voices of polyphony
Featuring an astounding operating system of backlit pads, a fantastic OLED screen, headphone output, USB port, six MB sample memory, and 1 GB drive storage, the Elektron Digitakt is a needed drum machine. It is a standalone digital sampler with an excellent sound engine, a sequencer, and numerous rhythm compositions. The Digitakt is compact, durable, and will make a great addition to your studio.
- Eight voice/audio tracks and 8 MIDI tracks
- Overbridge 2 beta software
- Assignable LFO per voice and an overdrive effect
Perfect for practice sessions and suitable for beginning performers, the Korg KR Mini Rhythm machine features 16 pads to tap for drumming or recording, plus a built-in speaker for fun solo jam sessions. A chain function lets you arrange rhythm patterns to complement your creativity, and fill-ins help you create entire songs. A fun press and play feature lets you accompany yourself with a selected rhythm pattern.
- Great sound, perfect for beginners and practicing
- Many built-in drum sounds for fun jamming / casual settings
- Portable, battery operated design includes foot switches for hands-free operation
Featuring 16 six-part drum kits and 10 preloaded program slots, the Korg Volca Drum Physical Modeling Drum Synthesizer features a wide array of sounds thanks to extensive programming. While there is definitely a learning curve with this drum machine, experienced players find that it helps them create unique sound profiles.
- Battery operated, works anywhere
- 16-step sequencer, pitch knob provides several octaves, controls 256 levls in all
- Save 16 programs at a time
Those who want to make music on a laptop will appreciate the Native Instruments Maschine Mikro Mk3. This portable unit is compatible with select Windows and Mac operating systems, and is simply connected via USB 2.0. Capable of tapping out beats and playing melodies, this versatile drum machine lets you build tracks anywhere.
- Many sounds and effects; multiple instruments
- Pads, controllers, and other performance features including a dual-touch smart strip that lets you slide or strum to create sounds and beats.
- Works on its own or as part of a larger DAW
This drum machine features 25 synth action keys, modulation wheels, and an onboard sound pitch bend. With eight hypersensitive backlit pads, it boasts software instruments that have been automatically paired with controls, making for intuitive performances. The Nektar Impact LX25+ drum machine is compatible with Mac, PC, and iOS.
- Full-size piano style keys
- Four velocity curves and three fixed velocity levels
- Fully programmable control center with presets
20. Behringer RD-8
The Rhythm Designer 8 is a big sturdy drum machine from Behringer that has 16 drum synth sounds and 11 analog outputs for recording tracks. Selected channels feature Decay and Tone controls. The RD-8 has several buttons, knobs, and switches that create a friendly user interface. It incorporates the essential features of a drum machine with the Wave Designer to help users control sounds and produce new tunes.
- Analog Filter/Wave Designer produces a great sound
- 11 audio outputs
- 64-step drum sequencer
- It stores about 16 songs with 256 patterns
Buying A Drum Machine Online
While navigating the path to becoming an excellent DJ, music producer, electronic music enthusiast, or drummer, you may consider buying a drum machine online to give you access to a variety of features for creating drum beats, sequences, and loops. You only need a good computer and a reliable internet connection to get started. Some provide access to MIDI files that can be downloaded and used offline for convenience.
They are usually accessible from a web browser and provide snares, kicks, and hi-hats, as well as volume and FX controls, among other vital tools. With these intuitive features and effects available, you can start creating online beats in no time. Drum machines are widely used by people who want to learn how to mix drum loops as well as other intricacies.
Things To Consider When Buying A Drum Machine
There are a few things to consider when selecting a drum machine. Generally, I recommend the following to be the minimum required features:
- It must be loaded with an effects library for a variety of sounds
- It must have custom kits to allow the user to expand or install additional kits as needed
- Must be enabled with pressure-sensitive pads to create a diversity of complex combinations of sound, as the pads produce different intensities of sound depending on how hard they are pressed
- Must be equipped with a dual power supply (For example, your machine may be able to run on battery or be plugged into an electrical socket depending on your needs)
- A good drum machine always comes with a protective case and a headphone set
A machine that encompasses all these features is probably a safe buy. To further help you narrow down your choices, consider the following factors as well:
- Consider your budget
- Focus on features rather than big brand names
- As a beginner, don’t invest in an incredibly expensive drum machine right off the bat. Rather, look for a user-friendly model with multiple sounds and a variety of effects.
You can read all of our guides on electronic drumming here.
How do drum machines work?
Drum machines allow you to reproduce the individual beats created by drum kits, using either electronically produced sounds or playback recordings of samples. You can then use the drum machine to tap out and record drum patterns for playback. There are also a variety of features that allow you to alter your rhythms, changing pace, adding effects, and much more.
Is a drum machine an instrument?
Drum machines are considered electronic musical instruments capable of creating percussion sounds. However, they are considered more the domain of DJs and mixers than drummers,though drummers are sometimes known to use drum machines to experiment.
Which drum machine is best?
The best drum machine depends on what you want to do with it, as each comes with different features. But our recommendations for the best all-round drum machines are the Korg Volca and the Alesis Stereo Electronic Drum Machine. Both provide a range of authentic sounds for sampling and have easy-to-use interfaces for mixing. Both also have features that make them ideal for both mixing and performing.
Interested in recording using your drum machine? Find our guides to recording here.
What is the most realistic-sounding drum machine?
In our opinion, the Alesis Stereo Electronic Drum Machine produces the most realistic sounding beats. It comes with over 200 samples of drums and percussion from some of the world’s best instruments. You can make patterns that sound like a live drummer, but you also have lots of features if you want to synthesize your beats for electronic music.
What is the simplest drum machine?
Our top recommendation for beginners looking for a simple-to-use machine is the Teenage Engineering PO-12 Rhythm Drum Machine. The interface is intuitive, so you can get working right away without the need to read any instructions. That doesn’t mean it skimps on features, but if you don’t know how to use a certain feature (yet), this is not a roadblock to creating.
Can drum machines swing?
Swing is the addition of tiny delays to every other beat. This can be applied to rhythms using drum machines to make the sounds produced sound more “human.”
Why are drum machines so expensive?
Drum machines can seem expensive as there is actually a lot of advanced technology under the hood to reproduce the precise sounds that you need. When you invest in cheaper drum machines, it is usually the playback for performance that suffers most.
If you are interested in a drum machine for mixing drum patterns, there are a lot of choices out there. Knowing which is right for you is challenging, since it depends on what you want to do with it and how much experience you have.
While you shouldn’t go wrong with any of the options on our list of recommendations, remember, always consider what you need first. Sure, there are machines out there that can do everything, but they won’t suit you as a beginner on a budget. In contrast, if you need something for live shows, performance features should be at the top of your list of requirements.
Do you have any experience buying and working with drum machines? We’d love to hear from you. Share your experience with the community in the comments section below.