The Best Drum Machines in 2019 under $500
If you are on the look for the best drum machines under $500 to buy, you will be surprised by the variety of options. 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 for the best drum machines under $500, that this list took as a while to complete and finalize it.
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.
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 2018, tablets and smartphones have high-quality music production and recording applications with a very affordable price.
So, why spend a fortune for 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 there are some drum machines that 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 more easy to use than ever before.
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 are into synthesizers check The Best Synthesizer Keyboards for Music Production under $500.
What to consider when buying a drum machine.
- Drum Sounds
The quality and amount of included drum preset and sounds are probably the most important thing to consider. As each musician has different taste and preference. 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 as 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 popular DJ and music equipment in order 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 on 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 to also look for USB connectivity and MIDI ports.
Like all our buying guides we spent hours doing big research, explore forums, read reviews, ask other musicians about their experiences and suggestions. So here are our choices for the best drum machines in 2019 without spending a penny over $500.
The 6 Best Drum Machines in 2019 under $500
1. Roland Aira 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 drum machine but it does provide a very nice, rich and deep sound. Roland’s sound reproduction of the TR-808 and TR-909 is based on the original blueprints and data sheets.
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.
Without a doubt, it has a fantastic design and looks better than any other on 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, it 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 an external signal to trigger a sidechain compression, are very useful for every musician.
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 absolutely 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. With 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, 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 definitely not perfect, but it is a great machine to have in your home studio and synth collection.
Musicians who use it: Trentemoller, Sharooz, Celldweller, Sub Focus
3. Alesis SR18
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. 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 nice, 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 from the other hand are bit mediocre and can only give a rhythm vibe rather a full deep bass sound.
Conclusion: Alesis SR18 is available at a sweet price and it cannot go unnoticed. This is a drum machine where can be seen in too many recording studios around the globe. Keep in mind it also offers 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 sounds). There are 64 patterns in 4 banks of 16 patterns each and each pattern can be up to 64 steps, In addition, 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 nice 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.
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 is a great drum machine to make beats and rhythms like a pro while spending a few.
5. Roland TR 08
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 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 a number of menu-based parameters.
Conclusion: The TR-808 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 use the original TR808: Daft Punk, Jeff Miles, Paul Van Dyk, Moby, Dr.Dre, Whitney Houston, Phil Collins, Richie Hawtin, Joris Voorn.Check price on Amazon.com
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 properly understand the sound. 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 knob 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, 2 standard AAA batteries will probably last you for a year.
Conclusion: All three Pocket Operators are capable of creating some interesting, and usable, musical elements, in your recording studio. And if we add the ridicoulously low price, the PO-12 Rhythm box is a must have drum production tool. The LCD display will also add a bit of playfulness.Check price on Amazon.com
If I would have start music production in 2019 I would be extremely happy with the music tools in the market and how affordable they are. Quality brand names such as Roland, Arturia, KORG, and Alesis are a treat for your ears, eyes and home recording studio.
You won’t find a drum machine that will totally cover all your needs in drum sounds. You just have to find the one that will satisfy your wants at 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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