Best Drum Machine (2020)

The drum machine market has never looked healthier than it is right now, and regardless of what you’re looking for you’ll be able to find something that suits you. Whether you’re looking for something to be the centre of your studio setup, or something small and portable to spark off ideas from there’s something for every taste. As with any large purchase you want to be certain that the one you choose is the best option, which is where this guide comes in.

You might be finding it hard to find a drummer you can work with, or maybe you’re more of a solo artist anyway, but a drum machine can help you start writing the songs you want and lets you create your own beats on your terms.

The best drum machines create drum beats quickly and lets you enjoy different sounds across different genres. Different drum machines are better for live performance, some are compatible with IOS and others you just need to plugin. So you see there’s all sort of options to consider.

With a buying guide, an FAQ section to answer your most pressing questions and reviews of the top 5 drum machines currently on the market, this guide will make sure that you’ll find the best drum machine for you. With so many options it can seem stressful narrowing down what you want, but once you know what you’re looking for you’ll find that searching for the perfect model is half the fun!

The Best Drum Machine - The Top 5 Reviewed

Now let’s get down to business and review some of the best drum machine. Please know we only considered the highest rated drum machines for this list:

  1. Arturia DrumBrute Analogue Drum Machine 
  2. Roland TR-08 Boutique Drum Machine 
  3. Alesis SR16 Drum Machine 
  4. Akai MPC Touch Controller 
  5. Digitech SDRUM Strummable Drums Pedal 

We used consumer reviews and our own research to compile this list. These are unbiased reviews designed to help you pick the best possible drum machines.

1. Arturia DrumBrute Analogue Drum Machine

Arturia DrumBrute Analog Drum Machine, Black

Our rating:

The Arturia DrumBrute Analogue Drum Machine is one of the best drum machines on the market today. While it may look complicated you’d be surprised by how easily you can get to grips with this little beauty, which is one of the reasons why it’s the best for live performance

The Arturia comes with 17 analog drum sound, plus percussion including two kick drums, a selection of snare, hi-hat cymbals and loads more. With Arturia there’s no limitations to the amount of drums you can use because its polyphonic. That means that the 64-step drum sequencer will let you make all kinds of complicated drum fills and with the Steiner-Parker filter you can create new sounds in real-time which really does make this one of the best options for live performance. For example, if you wanted to you could remove the bass for a section, then put it back in manually for a big chorus drop.

This model also has a ‘polyrhythm mode’, that means that every sound can have a different sequence length. This helps you make your sound unique and it's super easy to use. It also has a lot of different connectivity options and sounds fantastic. If you’re looking for a drum machine to perform live with than this is a fantastic option.

Pros 

  • Step sequencing lets you store 64 patterns in 4 banks of 16, so there’s loads to work with

  • Includes a new distortion unit to help you build a unique sound

  • Excellent connectivity options

  • Comes with 17 analog drum sounds plus percussion

  • Is surprisingly easy to use

Cons

  • Could have a little more sonic variety 

Arturia DrumBrute Analog Drum Machine, Black
  • Wide-range of controls allowing for many new and unique sounds Two flavors of kick drum Unique analog Reverse Cymbal 64 patterns with up to 64 steps each Separate accent per drum Step Repeat for creating looping glitch effects Song mode for chaining patterns Swing and randomizer can be global or per instrument Pattern looper for beat repeat functions Steiner Parker output filter with bypass (high pass & low pass) Multiple sync options (Internal, USB, MIDI, Clo
  • With the vast majority of the past few decades' drum machine designs largely being emulations of the great machines that have gone before, Arturia’s introduction of a fully analog hardware drum machine with organic, integral sound creation is a major event
  • The DrumBrute is firmly rooted in the classic drum machines, but it builds upon these traditions in terms of superior audio specifications and lower noise floor than the rhythm composers that paved the way
  • It also features far greater versatility in sound generation and programming options than the classic machines ever had
  • The DrumBrute offers seventeen true analog sounds, unique performance effects, a modern step sequencer, tremendous ease of use and state-of-the-art connectivity

2. Roland TR-08 Boutique Drum Machine

Roland Rhythm Composer, 10 Outputs (TR-08)

Our rating:

This little beauty is a loving replication of the classic Roland TR-808, whose sounds you’d recognize on classics like Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’. It’s so good that it's still used today in genre’s like Hip Hop and Grime so you’ve almost definitely heard these drums before. This is a wonderfully simple model.

All the controls are placed with live performance in mind, so you can easily use the 16-steps and sub-steps to make complicated patterns. It includes a wide variety of different drum sounds, including the snare and conga which made the 808’s name in the first place. Put simply this is one of the best drum machines’ out there especially if you like to feel in control at all times. It’s very easy to add effects and to control the sequencing, plus it has all the heart of the original combined with the ease of modern technology.

Pros

  • User friendly and very easy to get the hang of, making it an excellent option for beginners

  • An incredible amount of customization so it’s easy to tweak for the sound you want

  • Smaller than the 808, so far easier to store if you’re low on space

  • A wide variety of drum sounds including all the classics

  • Can be used for writing music but you could easily take it out for live performance confident of great sounds

Cons

  • It’s quite light, so if you’re taking it out and about getting a hard case for protection might be an idea

Roland Rhythm Composer, 10 Outputs (TR-08)
  • 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

3. Alesis SR16 Drum Machine

Alesis SR-16 | Studio-Grade Standalone Drum Machine With On-Board Sound Li-brary, Performance Driven I/O and In-Built Effects

Our rating:

Another classic, the Alesis SR16 Drum Machine full of useful presets, a variety of connectivity options and loads of drum sounds. This is a studio-grade drum machine, though it could easily also be used live. This is a really popular machine, partly because of the 233 expertly sampled drum sounds which give you a great selection of sounds to make whatever you’re playing really come to life.

It has 50 preset patterns recorded by some of the best studio drummers around the world, so not programmed. The drum sounds have been sampled in both dry form and with reverbs, and there’s more than enough fills to build songs, but it’s so easy to use you might want to make your patterns instead.

If you’re looking to use this machine live, then the DAT (dynamic articulation technology) can change the tonal content of your drums the harder you play the sample on any of the pads. If you hit hard the drum will boom, softer and it’ll be like you’re hardly touching it. The SR16 has full MIDI I/0 connections and footswitch outputs so you can easily trigger samples. On this machine, you’ll find it incredibly easy to record or play full live sets.

Pros

  • Versatile, you can use this machine for pretty much any genre you like

  • Great for beginners, this machine will cover pretty much all your needs

  • 50 empty slots to record your own beats as you master the controls

  • Great for guitarists who practice alone. You can plugin and get some nice drums and bass going at the same time

  • Easy to connect to a PA or Amp

Cons

  • No backlight, so you may need extra light in a dark venue

Alesis SR-16 | Studio-Grade Standalone Drum Machine With On-Board Sound Li-brary, Performance Driven I/O and In-Built Effects
  • A Studio Icon - Legendary classic drum machine for songwriters, live perform-ers and remix engineers
  • In Demand Sound - 233 professional sounds included, built-in digital effects for added realism and powered by Alesis exclusive Dynamic Articulation
  • Seamless MIDI Connectivity - Complete MIDI support for use with keyboards, computers, DAWs and electronic drum kits
  • Connectivity Covered - 4 (stereo pairs) outputs; 2-function footswitch jacks for start/stop and count/A/B/fill
  • Production-Ready Features - Sound stacking, step editing, stereo samples with reverb and ambience

4. Akai MPC Touch Controller

Akai Professional MPC Touch | Music Production Station with 7' Multi-Color Touchscreen

Our rating:

If you’re a songwriter looking for something to help you build your music up quickly then this is one for you. While this is a drum machine, it’s also a sampler and a very user friendly one at that. The Akai MPC lets you edit and fine-tune any and all of the samples you record, and it comes with 20,000 drum and percussion samples. It’s a handheld machine meaning it’s pretty intuitive when it comes to editing tracks.

With this machine you can change the RPM, the velocity incredibly easily, so any songs you’re working on build up very quickly and sound amazing. It’s also easy to manually configure the drum sequences making this one of the most user friendly models in this guide. It also includes RGB backlit, velocity-sensitive MPC pads which help to create realistic drum sequences which assign them to the sequencer and loop your track, or even create your song directly in the unit and play it later.

If you’re a budding songwriter looking to take your music seriously than this is a really good option

Pros

  • User friendly, a great option for beginners

  • A great boost for songwriters looking to create more easily 

  • Over 20,000 samples 

  • Easily hooked up to a computer 

  • 12 responsive pads for easy music-making

Cons

  • This isn’t a standalone machine, so you need to hook it up to a computer to use it. Most people won’t see this as an issue but if you’re looking for something you don’t need extra hardware to use than look elsewhere

Akai Professional MPC Touch | Music Production Station with 7" Multi-Color Touchscreen
  • 7" color multi-touch Display
  • 16 velocity-sensitive thick, fat MPC pads with RGB backlighting
  • 2-in/2-out audio interface
  • Step Sequencer with touch interface
  • XYFX control adds effects, adjusts sound dynamics in real time

5. Digitech SDRUM Strummable Drums Pedal

DigiTech Automatic Drum Machine Pedal Multi Effect Processor (SDRUM-U)

Our rating:

If you’re a guitarist who needs a backing track but doesn’t want to have a load of extra gear to cart around then this is a great option because it fits on your pedalboard. The SDRUM is actually the world’s first strummable drum machine which is why it’s included in this guide.

To use it all you have to do is plug the pedal in your guitar and amp, then play or scratch your strings in the timing that you want. 

Once you’ve set the kick and snare timings with the bass and treble string, then engage your pedal and based on the pattern the SDRUM will create a groove with the beats you want and any other embellishments. It's intuitive in that it creates entire tracks based on what you’ve played! You can store up to 36 songs, and there are 5 different kits built-in.

You can create a live set on your own because you can even divide songs into verse/chorus/bridge, so if you’re a solo artist this might be a great option for you. There’s also backlit touchpads that you can use so it’s a good option for DJs and MCs too.

Pros

  • Once you master it, it’s brilliant for live performance

  • Will throw in different fills once its completes a few loops, so you won’t just be repeating the same thing over and over

  • Looks complicated but is very user friendly. It might take you an hour to get to grips with, but once you’ve worked out what you’re doing than it’s incredibly intuitive

  • Realistic drum sounds

  • Can store up to 36 songs, so great for putting a whole setlist together

Cons

  • Sounds best through a good amp

DigiTech Automatic Drum Machine Pedal Multi Effect Processor (SDRUM-U)
  • BeatScratch Technology creates drum patterns by strumming your guitar or bass strings
  • Guitarists can quickly generate professional and authentic sounding drum beats for live performances, songwriting, and practice
  • Drum sounds and patterns can also be created by tapping the kick/snare touch pads
  • 5 drum kits and studio quality samples for professional sounding drums
  • 36 song memories with 12 different Hats/Rides styles

Final Thoughts

Choosing a drum machine is an important choice, especially if you’re a solo player or a songwriter without access to a drummer and their drum sticks so you want to make sure you pick the best once for you. It’s important you consider the factors of what makes a machine right for you.

For example, portability. Will you need to be able to take the model with you, to gigs for example or is it going to stay in once place in your studio setup? 

How many audio outputs are you going to need? If you want to process your sounds individually or if you’re going to be using a mixing desk then you need to think about how many outputs are on your machine. If you’re looking for something for the studio then it’s probably a good idea to have an output for each sound, so you can treat each one with its own effects and embellishments.

If your model only has one stereo output then you need to make multiple passes with individual sounds into a DAW, which probably isn’t what you’re looking for in a studio.

If you’re looking for something for the stage then making sure your machine is user friendly should be a priority. Something with a complicated interface just isn't going to work in a live performance, so you want something with pads rather than fiddly buttons. Being able to chain individual patterns together is important because that’s how you’ll create full songs, especially if you’re a solo artist looking for something to add a bit more oomph to your show.

Things like connectivity might seem a bit of a boring factor but it's incredibly important to remember because this machine has to integrate with the gear you already have. At the end of the day, you have to make sure that the machine you choose is right for you, otherwise, you’re just wasting time and money on something that won’t help you or your music.

FAQs

How expensive are drum machines?

Drum machines, like anything, come in a wide price range. Obviously there are higher-end ones that cost thousands of dollars, but there’s something for every budget. It’s worth taking a look around and finding something that suits you.

Can I use a drum machine live?

Yes! Drum machines are great for using live or in the studio. Different machines are suited for different situations, so make sure you get one that suits what you want to use it for. It’s no good getting something better for the studio when you want to use it on stage.

What are drum machines?

Before you buy one it’s probably a good idea to know what a drum machine actually is. A drum machine is a piece of hardware that imitates drum sounds, like snare drums, and other percussion instruments without having a physical drum set. They normally have a keypad and are box-shaped, they let you mix, create a program all sorts of drum sounds which means you don’t need an actual drummer to add some beats to your music.