Electronic drum machines are an extremely popular tool in the arsenal of producers, DJs, and live performers.
These are actively used in musical styles that require solid drum rhythms. They are also favored by minimal music outfits and solo artists that do not have a drummer. These devices are also a lot more practical to transport around than a physical drum kit.
Despite the explosion in use of digital audio workstations and software-based instruments for live performance (such as Ableton Live or MASCHINE), standalone electronic drum machines still holds a very strong position in music scenes.
In addition to this, some drum machines nowadays (such as the Native Instruments and AKAI models below) are actually controllers for software-based instruments.
We’ve reviewed the top electronic drum machines on the market.
In this article, you’ll have an opportunity to learn more about the basic technical specs of each of these machines. You will also find out more about their benefits and drawbacks.
Alesis SR 16
The Alesis SR 16 is one of the most popular rhythm machines ever produced. It is a standalone drum machine and has been actively used for twenty-seven years. Since its introduction in 1990 to the present time, this electronic drum machine has been developing simultaneously with the electronic music scene.
The Alesis SR 16 exhibits a trademark sound feature named Dynamic Articulation. This option enables musicians to change the built-in drum tones by playing it with different intensity.
You can use these sounds as dry tones or pair them with en-suite digital reverbs.
Speaking of the drum sounds contained in the Alesis SR 16, it’s important to mention that you can choose from the hand-picked selection of 233 natural drum sounds. This drum machine also brings 50 drum patterns that enable you to get started immediately.
This 24-bit electronic drumming kit is a great choice for smooth MIDI integration, with 120 sounds available through MIDI. You can create music in a completely personalized way by connecting a footswitch to the Alesis SR 16 and use its extra sensitive touchpads.
All these features in the hands (and feet) of creative sound artists can create original music with a strong personal touch.
Akai Professional MPD218
The next stop on our tour of best rhythm machines is the Akai Professional MPD218. Akai is a very well respected brand in music production.
If you opt for this electronic drum machine, you can count on 16 thick, conveniently organized MPC pads. Moreover, the Akai Professional MPD218 comes with 6 knobs and 48 pads altogether, which can be accessed through 3 banks.
Also, the pad controllers are arranged in a player-friendly way, so that the arranger can smoothly finger drum while making their own music.
As for the power supply, this drum machine can be directly connected to a computer via a USB-cable. There is no need for a separate AC-adapter.
The guys from Akai have bundled a plethora of free software packages along with this, including the Akai Pro MPC Essentials, Big Bank Universal Drums, Ableton Live Lite and SONiVOX Big Bank Cinematic Percussion from the Akai website.
Further, the Akai Professional MPD218 is compatible with all the major operating systems, so that you don’t have to install any additional drivers while connecting this electronic drum machine to your computer.
Note: this device is a MIDI controller and must be used in conjunction with a DAW. However, software is bundled with the device.
Korg Volca Beats Analog Rhythm Machine
The Korg Volca Beats Analog Rhythm Machine will satisfy the needs of electronic artists. It is a standalone electronic drum machine with a long tradition.
For starters, this electronic drum machine comes with a first-class step sequencer that will turn the editing experience into a seamless music joy.
Also, you can produce the notes you need to make music on this device with 16 different step keys. At the same time, you can follow the timing of every note, so as to stick with the rhythm and tempo of the track.
Regarding the PCM sound engine, its greatest benefit is the option to generate sounds like Claves, Agogo, Clap, and Crash, which don’t fit with the analog synth sound. Also, the ability to produce the appreciated lo-fi sound that was popular in the 1980s makes the Korg Volca Beats a true blast from the past.
The Korg Volca Beats can be loaded with your own rhythm samples, since it allows recording up to 10 instruments, creating distinctive polyphony.
A specific characteristic of this rhythm machine is its unique sound. It can be explained as a bit brassy, bassy and blaring. Therefore this may be more suitable to lovers of techno.
This device’s portability makes it a great choice. It can be powered by batteries as well as AC power. Also, it’s integrated speakers are a great benefit.
Native Instruments MASCHINE Mikro MK2
If you need an all-round electronic drum machine controller, the MASCHINE Mikro MK2 might be the perfect thing for you.
This controller can be used both as a top-notch sampler and a template-based sequencer. It’s more of a wide-range sound system than a classic rhythm machine. Also, it boasts a vast array of sounds effects and music samples made by professionals in real studios.
The MASCHINE Mikro MK 2 comes with a huge amount of sound data, i.e. 8 GB of sounds and samples made by sound engineers, artists, and musicians. That way, you can use the sounds of 388 instruments in multiple samples, 1,200 patterns, and more than 8,600 samples. The latter consist of 445 drum kits. As you can see, the number of possibilities provided by this electronic drum machine is immense.
Note: this device is a MIDI controller and is designed to be used in conjunction with MASCHINE software.
The Best Electronic Drum Machine
All of the drum machines above are great options. If you’re unsure which one to get, the Alesis SR16 won’t let you down. If you still haven’t used this gem of sound production, give it a try and produce some cool electronic music production.
Before picking a drum machine, make sure to ask yourself are you getting a standalone item or if the device must be used in conjunction with laptop software!