You will be surprised by the variety and quality of new and budget-friendly drum machines that are available to buy. Our picks for the top 6 best drum machines for under $500 will serve music producers, live bands, drummers, and home recording studio owners.
We most likely live at the best time for music producers and live performers. When I first started with music production, I couldn’t imagine the variety of instruments there will be out there, and how easily you can own one. There are so many choices that this list took as a while to complete and finalize it.
Whether you want to build your drum rhythm, beats, and percussions for your electronic music track, or Pop Synth, or Italo Disco, drum machines are the best way to do it.
Hardware synthesizers, samplers, and drum machines are having a renaissance!
When it comes to selecting gear, it mostly comes down to personal needs and how you make your music.
Some of you might get discouraged about buying a new drum machine. And that’s because computers keep getting faster, and you can have a digital music studio entirely on your desktop or laptop. In 2019, tablets and smartphones had high-quality music production and recording applications at a very affordable price.
So, why spend a fortune on a drum machine?
At first, the drum machine prices have dropped dramatically since their early days in the ‘80s. As you will see below, there are plenty of options starting at a hundred dollars and can go up to $500. That’s, of course, only on our list, as some drum machines will cost as much as a new powerful iMac. Manufacturers like Roland, Korg, Arturia, and many more brands are making all sorts of new tools that are more powerful, impressive-sounding, and easier to use than ever before.
Like all our buying guides, we spent hours doing significant research, explore forums, read reviews, ask other musicians about their experiences and suggestions. So here are our choices for the best drum machines in 2020 without spending a penny over $500.
Top 6 Best Drum Machine For Music Production – Reviews
1. Roland Aira TR-8 Rhythm Performer
Nearly 50 years since the release of the first Roland drum machine, the Rhythm Ace R-1, we are extremely happy to get in our hands the new TR-8 Rhythm Performer.
For those who want the classic sound of Roland drum machines and don’t want to spend a lot, then this is the option for you. Roland Aira TR-8 delivers an authentic recreation of the iconic TR-808 and TR-909 sounds and is very easy to use in studios, as well as, for live performances.
If you are an analog sound lover, you might have second thoughts about purchasing this digital drum machine. However, it does provide a very nice, rich, and thick sound.
Roland’s sound reproduction of the TR-808 and TR-909 is based on the original blueprints and datasheets.
The 16 stunning kits and full-color LEDs on each pad make it fun to play and experiment with the 11 instrument types. It offers Real-Time Pattern creation with up to 32 steps, including custom drum kits and effects area to control the reverb and delay. TR-8 is very easy to set up and play. The USB connection to the computer enables you to record each sound individually to its own track in your DAW. Find here the best music production software.
Without a doubt, it has a fantastic design and looks better than any other in its category. It has a sturdy build that will last for years, and even if it’s a bit large for transportation, this light tool is very portable. Aira TR-8’s large size also helps to offer extreme usability, as you will find everything you need on the front panel. There are no hidden menu layers that will make you feel like you need a cheat-sheet to use it.
Furthermore, this professional drum machine offers a variety of connectivity except for the USB and MIDI in/out ports. An external Input jack to connect an external device, as well as the ability of an external signal to trigger a sidechain compression, are very useful for every musician.
Roland Aira TR-8 Rhythm performer is probably the most famous best drum machine for House music, Techno Dubstep, and EDM producers.
Conclusion: This could be your main drum machine and use it to jam with friends or record tracks in any music genre. You are going to love this drum synth, as it sounds great, is easy to use, and with a sweet price tag. You have heard plenty of records with the drums of Roland’s machines, and it will be a pleasure for you to have the ability to produce similar quality sounds in your studio and live performances.
Musicians who use it: Martin Solveig, Richie Hawtin, Disclosure, Boys Noize, Flume, Noisia
2. KORG VOLCA BEATS
One of the most popular drum machines in the market and highly rated by producers around the globe is the Volca Beats by KORG. If you see any studio tool with this price tag and the name Korg on it, you buy it.
Everyone has heard of Korg, but what to expect from this small drum machine? Everything it could fit on this mini tool is there. It offers a classic sounding with six analog voices, which also offers, one knob per function for easy editing. Along with the four PCM parts (clap, claves, agogo, and crash), provide speed control for drastic changes in pitch. The kick, snare, toms, and hats have three adjustable parameters like Pitch and Decay, which will give you plenty of room for manipulation and experiment.
Korg Volca Beats weighs as much as a book and is so tiny that you can carry it everywhere you go. The 16 step sequencer is designed to let you add or remove parts in the easiest possible way.
Conclusion: The Volca Beats is one of the eight mini analog instruments by Korg (among others are the Volca Bass, Volca Keys, and Volca Sample). It is not a perfect drum machine, especially for live performances, but it is a great tool to have in your home studio and synth collection.
Musicians who use it: Trentemoller, Sharooz, Celldweller, Sub Focus
3. Alesis SR18 Drum Machine
For over 20 years the Alesis SR16 drum machine has been all over recording studios around the world. It has a signature sound and such an easy-to-use sequencer that will be easy to use even if you are a total beginner.
Alesis SR18 is a best-selling professional drum machine and the additional LCD screen, it will make you fall in love with it. The 12 dynamic velocity-sensitive pads, a decent core drum-sound ROM, and built-in effects (22 Reverb presets and 14 EQ/Compression presets) on each pad and preset are the main features on this machine.
Regardless now the sounds, are in general friendly, full and clean. With the 32MB sound set with percussion bank and bass synth, you will be able to produce sounds in a variety of music genres. Over 500 cutting-edge drumsets, electronic drums, one-shot hits, and modern percussion sounds will give you plenty of room to practice and experiment. The 50 bass sounds, on the other hand, are bit mediocre and can only provide a rhythm vibe instead of a full deep bass sound.
The Alesis SR18 is probably one of the best drum machines for Hip-Hop DJs and music producers.
Alesis has also been producing amazing electronic drum sets if you want to get the feeling of playing the drums.
Conclusion: The R18 is available at a sweet price, and it cannot go unnoticed. That is a drum machine where can be seen in too many recording studios around the globe. Keep in mind that it also offers a MIDI connection and a 1/4″ input to plug in an instrument, such as a guitar, and play along to your programmed beats.
4. Arturia DrumBrute
The analog Arturia DrumBrute is the ideal drum machine for those who are looking “the whole package” at an affordable price. And by that I mean, quality analog sound, durability, easy to learn and use interface and additional features.
Starting with the sound, the DrumBrute offers 17 true analog fully polyphonic sounds. The instruments are two kicks, a snare, clap, rim/claves, closed and open hat, high and low tom, cymbal/reverse cymbal, maracas/tambourine, and a Zap. The 17 drum and percussion sounds are spread over 12 channels committed to velocity-sensitive pads (five of which host two tones). There are 64 patterns in 4 banks of 16 patterns each, and each mode can be up to 64 steps. Also, the unique performance effects and a modern step sequencer will get you to make your pattern groovy, natural, and funky.
In case you are wondering how to transfer this big machine, the DrumBrute has a solid metal casing with sturdy wood panels that give a beautiful vintage look as well as a well trustworthy build. DrumBrute also has MIDI in and out ports, and a USB connection which can be used to customize and edit settings and patterns using Arturia’s free MIDI Control Center software.
If you prefer the video analysis of the Drumbrute, take a look at this comprehensive review by Consordini:
Conclusion: If you like classic drum machine sounds, then the DrumBrute by Arturia is a choice to purchase. It is way under our budget of 500 dollars, and with a manufacturer such as Arturia, it leaves no doubt that there are still great drum machines to make beats and rhythms like a professional without breaking the budget.
5. Roland TR 08 Rhythm Composer
You probably already know the Roland TR 808, the TR 08 is a detailed and faithful replica of this legendary drum machine used by musicians such as Marvin Gaye, Daft Punk and Jeff Miles.
The first thing to come in mind when you see a replica of an old school is whether or not the sound quality has been transported nobly without losses or misfires. Booming deep bass kicks, crispy snares, and clap, and a distinctive cowbell sound is what made this machine famous and thankfully is well preserved on the new TR 08. More to kick, snare, clap, and bell sound, there are also toms, Hi-hat, rim shots, toms, and congas.
There are 16 banks of 16 patterns, of which the first 12 are ‘regular’ patterns, and the last four are fills/intros to create detailed patterns and rhythms. However, it’s not easy to learn how to get beyond a basic pattern. You might have to go into the manual a couple of times.
The original drum machine by Roland would be impossible to transfer, but the new TR 08 is compact, light, and highly portable with a durable, sturdy metal front panel. Despite the small size, they still manage to add a four-character LED screen that can also display the selection and editing of some menu-based parameters.
We have seen Roland’s DJ controllers, and other audio equipment, in most best-of product lists on the web. The production of reliable recording tools and musical instruments for many years is a guarantee for a quality purchase. Check out the 50-year drum machine history of Roland.
Conclusion: The TR-08 has become the signature beatbox used in most R&B and hip-hop, as well as a lot of house and techno music. This drum machine brings the look, sound, and feel of the original 808 with excellent accuracy. We all know the music tools Roland produces; if not, purchase the new TR 08, and you will “see” by yourself.
Musicians who have used the original TR808: Daft Punk, Jeff Miles, Paul Van Dyk, Moby, Dr.Dre, Whitney Houston, Phil Collins, Richie Hawtin, Joris Voorn.
6. Teenage Engineering PO-12 Rhythm
The last drum machine in our list is the very affordable Teenage Engineering PO-12 Rhythm. The Pocket Operators include Rhythm (drum synthesizer), Sub (bassline synthesizer), and Factory (melody synthesizer), which all of them are available at a similarly low price range and are capable of creating some interesting, and usable, musical patterns and sounds. What’s more, all Pocket Operator line can sync to one another (and many other modular synths) over 1/8″ cables, so you can integrate them and create a large music production platform.
The PO-12 Rhythm offers 16 sounds that are triggered by one of the 16 patterns (16 Step pattern sequencer). The sounds come close to the ones from the past, resulting in a drum machine with a character. However, do not expect to hear much from the built-in speakers. You will have to plug it into your studio monitor speakers or use headphones to understand the sound properly. Not to forget the 16 different (non-editable) effects that can be switched and used to sweeten things up.
As you can see, this tiny machine offers a monochrome screen, 23 small buttons, and two pots on the interface. Besides the fact that there is no ON/OFF button, all the other knobs are small and not very comfortable to play. Also, do not expect any kind of connectivity, such as MIDI or USB ports. On the plus side, two standard AAA batteries will probably last you for a year.
Conclusion: All three Pocket Operators are capable of creating some attractive, and usable, musical elements, in your recording studio. And if we add the ridiculously low price, the PO-12 Rhythm box is the best affordable drum machine tool. The LCD will also add a bit of playfulness.
What is a Drum Machine?
A drum machine is practically a synthesizer whose purpose is to create drum beats and percussive sounds. This machine gives you the opportunity to music production and live performance without the need for live drums and a drummer. A feature included in most drum machines is a sequencer, which allows you to program a series of drum hits to form a musical pattern which you can then playback and record. If you have the extra time or feel the need to learn more check out the history of drum machines.
If you are into synthesizers, check The Best Synthesizer Keyboards for Music Production under $500.
What is the best drum machine for music production?
- Roland Aira TR-8 Rhythm Performer
- Korg Volca Beats
- Alesis SR 18 Drum machine
- Arturia DrumBrute Drum machine
- Roland TR-08 Rhythm Composer
- Teenage Engineering PO-12 Rhythm
What to consider when buying a drum machine?
If you decide to go in the market for your first drum machine, remember to check the below:
- Drum Sounds
The quality and amount of included drum preset and sounds are probably the most essential thing to consider. As each musician has different tastes and preferences. My best advice for this will better be to try and test each drum machine at a local store. If this is not possible for you, then go and listen to video demos and tutorials on Youtube.
Effects and the possibility to edit drum hits, as well, save your own preset sounds, are some features that are commonly seen on drum machines today. You will find below what features and characteristics offer each drum machine we suggest.
Whether your drum machine is going to have a permanent place in your studio or travel with you on live performances, you want a durable product.
We commonly see mini versions of favorite DJ and music equipment to offer extreme portability. Drum machines are a great way to add a character to your DJ sets and use them as a live instrument. If this is in your plan, you cannot afford a heavy and large tool. Plastic chassis are usually lighter that tough metallic ones and are not lacking in durability, as many people might believe.
Except for the standard main output and headphone jack, and an input for an external instrument, I would also recommend looking for USB connectivity and MIDI ports. All new drum machines offer extreme connectivity to easily plug-in your PC or laptop. A powerful computer or laptop is necessary, mainly if you also use a DAW at the moment. Check the best computers for music production. Ableton Live, Logic Pro, FL Studio, Cubase, Reason, Pro Tools are the most popular DAW’s out there.
If you would also like to have some virtual drum machines, check the best free VST instrument plugins.
All drum machine we suggest above are ideal for every home recording studio and music genre. Electronic music, Hip Hop, Dance, Italo Disco, and Synth Pop songs often include sounds from electronic drum machines. There are plenty of YouTube video tutorials to teach you how to use a drum machine, record, and edit the sounds and patterns.
All major DAW’s in the market, such as Ableton Live, Logic Pro, FL studio, offer virtual drum machines or beatmakers. They will get the job done properly, especially if you know how to edit them and add the proper effects such as compressor, eq, reverb, etc.
When you are referring to analog drum machine synthesizers, the first tools that come to mind are probably the TR-808 and TR-909 by Roland. Funny story that when they first got introduced to the world in the early 80s, these drum machines were not actually considered good at all. In the following decades, they became more popular, and we now hear the 808’s and 909’s powerful kick drum, clap, snare, tom, and cymbals in many recordings all over the world.
If I were getting into the music industry today, I would be thrilled with the tools, equipment, and how affordable they are. Quality brand names such as Roland, Arturia, KORG, and Alesis are a treat for your ears, eyes, and music studios.
You won’t find a drum machine that will entirely cover your needs in drum sounds. You have to find the one that will satisfy your wants in the current period. Thankfully, you can’t go wrong with any of the above, but if you are in research for your first drum machine, go for the Roland Aira TR-8, Roland TR 808, or Arturia DrumBrute.
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