The best drum machine is the Roland Rhythm Composer. A recreation of a classic in a modern form.
The sound of drums can’t be beaten in music. But most of the time, they come with added baggage: a drummer. That’s not ideal for a solo musician or a band who can’t afford a drummer right now.
A drum machine comes with no baggage and is the perfect solution to a crowded tour bus or studio. They let you make music on the go, and record easily even without a fancy setup.
The best drum machines currently on the market are:
- Roland Rhythm Composer
- Elektron Analog Rytm MKII
- Novation Circuit
- Korg Volca Beats
- Teenage Engineering PO-12 Pocket Operator
- Native Instruments Maschine Mk3
- Akai Professional Drum Pad
- Arturia DrumBrute
- Alesis SR-16
Reviews of the Best Drum Machines
If you want an ultra-compact drum machine with tons of character, this is the one to go for. It’s a recreation of one of Roland’s vintage drum machines, one of the most influential drum machines ever used. But in a smaller, modernized package.
It comes with tons of features in its clear interface—control over the tone, levels, tuning, and decay. With added compressor, gain, pan, and tune for various instruments.
The machine has got 10 USB outputs for plenty of control, although it could do with some MIDI too. Still, it’s downsides don’t take away from the upsides. The rugged build for durability while remaining portable, and the modern attention to detail paired with the respect for the original’s legacy, are two big pros.
Overall, this is a fantastic machine, especially if you want one that mimics the old reliable devices utilized in the past.
The Elektron Analog Rytm is a fantastic piece of equipment. It’s got an eight-voice sound engine and a 13-track sequencer for plenty of variety.
It’s an easy interface with pressure-sensitive pads. True to the instrument, they’ll play louder the harder you hit—finger drumming at its finest. The kick drums have depth; the snare drums have bite, the sounds you can produce are incredible.
You can use pre-recorded and brand new materials with this machine. Load them, layer them, make them smooth, rough, realistic, or entirely other-worldly.
On top of it, there’s tons of connectivity for external control. It remains portable throughout and highly durable so that you can play it anywhere, with anything, with no fear of breakage.
The well-presented interface makes this the best drum machine for live performance. You can
truly put on an amazing show with a device like this, showing off finger flourishes with the sensitive pads.
Here’s a drum machine perfect for laptop or desktop connectivity. It’s advertised as compatible with all the leading operating systems, with regular software updates. These updates should keep everything running smoothly for years to come.
As it’s one you can plug in and play with easily, it’s portable too. It’s also battery powered for easy use on stage or in the studio.
It’s the MIDI and USB being the main outputs that lead us to believe this is the best for home recording. You don’t need a studio to make it sound great, just a laptop and some knowledge of what you’re doing. Fantastic for a novice musician.
The Novation Circuit comes loaded with velocity-sensitive pads, function buttons, knobs, and effects. These effects include sidechain, filters, reverbs, and delays.
One standout aspect of this machine and sequencer is the ability to save your session to the cloud; this is an impressive modern feature.
Korg’s Volca Beats drum synthesizer is highly customizable from the start. That’s how it usually is with synths; they’re more customizable than their analog predecessors.
This drum machine doesn’t let you load samples in, but it allows you to create and sequence sounds freely. It doesn’t come with any presets, so all the work is yours from the start.
Some effects the machine lets you play with are glitch-like sounds or delays; this is great in hip hop or electronic dance music and gives you a ton of fun sounds to play with.
The Volca Beats synth is a great portable option, as it’s got a built-in speaker and optional battery power. It also has MIDI connectivity, useful for efficiently hooking up to a computer. Plus, you have external syncing and control from your digital audio workstation (DAW) if you have one.
This simple, clean interface should work well for beginners and pros alike—on stage or in the studio.
The Teenage Engineering drum machine fits right in your pocket. It looks more like a calculator than a drum machine.
However, it doesn’t work like one. This small tool lets you create entire songs and fine-tune effects in real-time. It has 16 different drum sounds, as well as 16 sound effects: distortion, delay, stutter, and vibrato, to name a few.
This may be the best drum machine for guitarists, keyboardists, and so on for gentle accompaniment. If just one song requires a simple beat, it’s easy to whip out and fire up.
You get studio-level sound on the go. Perfect for someone busy, or without much room to cart a drum machine around. You can also connect it to other pocket operators and import sounds from plugins. Highly flexible for its stunted size.
If you liked the PC connectivity aspect of the last machine, this one shares that aspect. Of course, any device worth the money will connect to a PC. But not all of them boast about how well they do it.
Once again, this machine is compatible with every leading OS, but it has some specific requirements for a PC connection. You need a minimum of 2GB of RAM, though more is recommended. You also need an Intel Core i5—which these days isn’t a big ask.
Of course, the machine and its 25GB of sounds and effects will work with or without a computer connection. These 25 professional-quality sounds should get your creativity going as you sample, arrange, and mix your sounds on the machine.
This machine is unique in that not only are the pads touch sensitive, but the knobs are too; this gives you ultimate control over your music. The Smart Strip is an added bonus.
The Smart Strip lets you strum notes, pitch bend, and play further with effects. You should be able to do this effortlessly as the interface is clear, labeled, and easy to understand. It’s a very well presented piece of equipment.
Here’s a drum machine that’s two in one. It also features a keyboard, which you don’t have to utilize but is often useful.
This device is a limited edition 25-key USB MIDI drum pad. It conveniently fits in any backpack or on any desk so you can compose and play everywhere. It should slot into most laptop bags, which is great as you need a USB port to power it.
With velocity-sensitive rubber pads and assignable knobs, both the sound and interface are under your control. This customization over the workspace is excellent, letting you arrange your functions any way you want.
This device comes with VIP3.0, a groundbreaking and award-winning music software platform. It includes an array of virtual instruments and effects. It’s more than just a machine for percussion, allowing sound expansion in any form.
It’s all wrapped up in a clear interface that’s also well spaced out. Useful for fast-paced stage performances where a finger might slip and stray wrong. With this, that slip won’t add an unexpected sound into the mix.
The Arturia DrumBrute has a lot packed into a small area. It can be inconvenient for quick movements, but once you’re used to it, it’s convenient that there’s so much in so little space.
You can access a hoard of unique sounds, including two flavors of kick drum. Then you can chain and loop your patterns, globally or per instrument. Being able to loop an entire sequence or just one sound within it is an incredible option to have, as most songs have some repeating segments and beats.
This drum machine is based on the classics, but with a lower noise floor. It’s also more versatile in sound generation, thanks to modern and updated technology.
It’s said to be easy to use and truly unique. The connectivity is simple and allows you to internally or externally sync via USB or MIDI. A lot of the more classic-styled drum machines don’t have USB connectivity, putting this one ahead of the game.
The USB connection lets you bypass a DAW and plug it straight into the computer; this is excellent for a beginner without gear or someone on a budget who can’t afford it.
The Alesis SR-16 looks bland, but its sound library isn’t. You get 233 sounds assignable to any pad, and they are velocity-sensitive. You’re ready to start creating with this array before you lift a finger.
It also comes with production-ready features. It’s not just a tool for performance, but for composing entire songs. Sound stacking, step editing, reverb, ambiance, and stereo samples are loaded into this small wonder.
This drum machine is aimed at songwriters, live performers, and remix engineers. It should work well for all of them, with an included power supply and seamless MIDI connectivity.
Alesis’s drum machine is probably the biggest surprise out of the group. People will think you’ve pulled out an old-fashioned answering machine. Instead, it’s an action-packed sound experience with tonally changeable drum sounds and stunning effects to put on a show.
How to Choose a Drum Machine
Drum machines come in as many shapes and sizes as drummers do. So choosing the one best for you can be a hefty decision.
Here are a few things to consider in your decision-making process:
Are you a performer, or do you make music at home? For the former, you need a portable machine—something not too heavy, not too bulky that you can place on stage with you. For the latter, it doesn’t matter, so long as you’ve got the space for it.
Be mindful that your portable machine is durable, though. Moving from place to place can be tough on a piece of equipment. You want it to withstand any mishaps that could occur.
The most portable drum machine is the Teenage Engineering PO-12 Pocket Operator. True to the name, it fits in your pocket.
For something bigger but still portable that’s also more durable, the Elektron Analog Rytm MKII is an excellent choice.
Do you have samples you made online or with a friend’s drum machine? If so and you want to use them, you need a device with the flexibility to do it.
Not all drum machines offer the option to load external tracks, so be mindful.
Analog vs. Synth
Analog Synth Circuitry
Analog synth circuitry electrically generates sound. It uses analog signals and circuits to do so. Because it makes sounds in this fashion, you have a greater variety of sounds you can create.
Analog machines also closely mirror real instruments. They let you play the same note in various ways—hard, soft, and so on, like hitting a real drum in different fashions; this is great if you want some incredible variety in your sound.
Digital sampling lets you take part of one sound and reuse it elsewhere; this can be useful for a signature sound, or if you’re in a creative slump.
Digital synthesizers themselves are like sampling, in a way. They’re sampling—well, mimicking—analogs. They don’t have the subtle customizability, but they still sound fantastic.
A pro for digital synths is that the interface is usually cleaner. They may also have some control assignability, which analogs don’t have. They might have presets, too, which is useful on stage.
If you want a small, simple synthesizer, check out the Korg Volca Beats.
There are drum machines made for hip hop and made for classics. There are so many genre-specific machines on the market.
Any drum machine worth its money should offer an array of genre options. Mixing and matching sounds from genres can add flavor to your performance, too.
A beginner would benefit from a versatile machine that can recreate any desired sound—this helps you experiment and find your tone. Even seasoned pros should have a device like this for the days you want to step out of your genre.
It’s important to note the number of outputs, especially in the studio. Many musicians will want to process their drum sounds; this can be done with a multi-channel audio interface or a mixing desk.
You need to have enough outputs for your goal. Separate outputs for each sound is useful; this lets you edit each sound individually for a more controllable sound.
Here are some in/outputs to look out for:
With the prevalence of home mixing on your computer or laptop, you’d think every device would have MIDI connectivity. Surprisingly, some machines still omit it.
Standalone drum machines are wonderful tools, yes. But the ability to connect up via MIDI can be incredible. It also allows you to connect to other instruments if you desire; this can significantly enhance a performance for someone who knows what they’re doing.
Be sure to double-check if your chosen machine has a MIDI connection, especially if you’re a beginner. Beginners might not have all the gear yet to work around not having one.
In the studio, you have more time to learn and master your drum machine. Mistakes are easy to fix, and Google is only a few taps away to help you. Your manual will also be trusty and by your side.
On stage, a complex interface may cause interference. Things need to be quickly and easily accessible, hopefully with no learning curve.
Fiddling with the machine and diving deep for the sounds you desire won’t work on stage. Small buttons can also be a nuisance under pressure. Look for big pads and buttons, shortcut keys, assignable knobs, something that lets you save your favorite sounds. Set it up before every performance for an easy time.
If you’re a fast performer, pressing hard on keys and pads can often slow down a performance. Look at how responsive the controls are. Highly sensitive is useful if you just have time to graze the console.
The Best Beats
The best drum machine is the Roland Rhythm Composer. They say you can’t beat a classic, and with this machine proves it. It’s reliable with variety, and it’s a modernized version of the past’s most successful drum machine.
It has wonderful effects across an efficient interface—so simple anyone could use it. It remains non-intimidating through the test of time.
The Elektron Analog Rytm MKII has to be the runner up. It’s simple, connectable, and has a ton of variety. It’s also portable so you can compose and blow away strangers on the go, at home or on stage.
It’s an analog machine paired with synth samples that can be layered, offering an incredible range. Plus, being able to pre-load externally recorded tracks is an incredible feature to have. It shows how flexible the machine is in what it lets you do.