Alesis SR16 Review – The Classic Drum Machine

Alesis SR16


Value for money




Ease of Use


Sound quality





  • Very popular
  • Simple to use, very intuitive
  • Great bank of sounds and patterns
  • Decent sound quality
  • Compact and lightweight


  • Relatively basic functions
  • Limited MIDI Options
  • No backlight (for dark conditions)
  • Not great for serious studio work

Despite all the benefits we are getting from today’s rapid technological progress, sometimes, we just want to keep things simple. This could refer to any aspect of life but, in this case, we will stick to music. Drum machines are inevitable tools of every producer and musician, and the Alesis SR16 is definitely one of their favorite toys. 

This drum machine has been around for a pretty long time. It was introduced in 1990 and, believe it or not, it is still in production. For these, almost three decades, it became one of the best-selling drum machines ever, and that is for a number of good reasons.


The thing that people like most about this drum machine is its simplicity. The SR16 is compact, lightweight and extremely easy to use. Unlike modern products, this one doesn’t take a learning curve at all. The menu is simple and extremely easy to use. Practically, that great combination of intuitive software and quality sounds is the main reason for SR16’s success. Other manufacturers tried similar formula, but most of them failed.


As I’ve already mentioned, this drum machine is still in production and one of the best things about it is that the design hasn’t changed at all. Visually, this unit looks exactly the same as the one that was initially launched 29 years ago. This is a great thing if you like vintage-looking electronics products. This one features aesthetics that are so typical for its era. So, we may presume that Alesis didn’t want to make any kind of modification through all these years, in order to send a message that this is still a genuine 90s product, with all the flavors that were typical for the time.

The first thing you’ll notice about this drum machine is its size. The SR16 features pretty compact dimensions, which make it super-portable, suitable for those who are in a constant move or simply don’t want something that would occupy half of their table.

Touch-Sensitive Buttons

Generally, the board looks pretty common for that era. It features a fine number of buttons and, despite it measures only 9.25×6.5 inches, everything still fits in nicely. Of course, there are numerous buttons for menu navigation and other settings, but most of the surface is reserved for velocity sensitive pads. Velocity response includes eight levels, which is highly beneficial in many ways, starting from the fact that you can assign a different sound to every level of velocity. Additionally, this allows you to perfectly control dynamics, and that definitely isn’t so easy to get with old-school electronic devices.

All Connectivity Essentials Are Here

 If you look at the rear side of the drum machine, you will notice that there aren’t too many Ins and Outs on this unit. Still, all the important things are there. There are four outs in total – Left, Right, Headphones and Aux. Seems more than enough. Of course, there are MIDI Ins and Outs, as well as two footswitch inputs. All in all seems more than enough for an average user. 

24-bit Still Sounds Good!

We came to the most important point – sound quality. The first thing you should consider is that this is pretty old drum machine and years aren’t the best friend of digital instruments. Still, the Alesis SR16 is doing pretty good, no matter the age. The secret lays in the fact that samples are recorded in the studio, with real drums and percussions, so you can definitely count on a quite realistic sound.

Still, don’t expect miracles. For live performances and inspirational moments when you’re composing, this unit will do the job very good. On the other side, it would be too much to expect some spectacular quality for studio recordings. It’s not just about 24-bit sound samples, but also in the fact that they are quite hard to mix. Simply said, it requires a lot of work in the studio, just to set up, so we can’t say this is the area where Alesis SR16 shines. Same goes for MIDI conversion. Of course, it is great that you can use all those MIDI sounds and connect the drum machine with various MIDI controllers but, once again, the main problem is that it requires a lot of tweaking to set up the sound in a proper way.

Hundreds of Quality Sounds

 Keep in mind that we are talking about a device that was designed three decades ago. Therefore, its bank of sounds and presets looks amazing. The first thing to mention is that there are 233 hi-quality drums, percussion, non-real-world sounds. Also, there are  50 built-in pattern examples, played by professional drummers, with great sound quality. In terms of variety, this bank of sounds stands pretty good, so you won’t find any trouble to cover various music styles, including both styles that heavily rely on electronic instruments and those with a more conventional approach when it comes to musical instruments. Of course, Alesis has left enough space for you to make your own patterns, as there are 50 empty slots as well.  

 All in all, this seems like a nice bunch of sounds. Keep in mind that all of them can be played dry or with digital reverb, which has been added afterward. Also, if you look at the board, you will notice A and B buttons for rhythm variations, as well as two Fill groups.  

These are the things that make Alesis SR16 so great. Once again, we are getting back to its simplicity and intuitive controls, which allow you to quickly get to the point and don’t lose your inspirational momentum.


Without any doubt, the Alesis SR16 is one of the most legendary drum machines of all time. The fact that it is still in production means that it is a serious player on the market, even after three decades. Of course, it does have some limitations, starting from the sound quality and studio functionality, but the overall impression is that this drum machine still has a lot to offer. After all, it is a part of the standard equipment of many producers, musicians, and DJs even today. 

All in all, if you want a drum machine with classic flavor, which features good sound quality, lots of sounds, simple controls and compact dimensions, you should definitely consider this one.

The Best Drum Machines

Looking to check out some more drum machines? Check out our article on the best drum machine, which takes you through some great options to suit every budget.

Don’t Forget to Check SR18!

You definitely won’t go wrong with the SR16 but if you feel you could use a bit of more options and features, this could be a good choice for you. The Alesis SR18 is a spiritual successor of the legendary drum machine, which sticks to the same concept and design principles. You can easily notice that the overall design looks very similar. Of course, the hardware looks more up to date, but things are generally the same. Probably the most notable hardware upgrade is a new LCD screen, which is very useful in dark conditions.  

On the other side, the software has been updated for a bit. This would mean more sound examples, more memory, faster processor and similar things. The company claims that the sound quality has been improved significantly, though I have to say that many users I know returned to the original SR16. Did the do these because of the sound quality, or they got used to previous sound characteristics? It is hard to say. 

Does it worth the extra money? It is also very hard to say. It would be great if you can try both units before purchasing.

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