Drummin’ In Your House: The Best House Drum Machine Reviews
What we must acknowledge first is that drum machines are quite versatile when it comes to genres and styles. Techno and house are not so different when it comes to drums (though, while house music is rather about creative installing new patterns into the groove, today’s techno is rather about sound engineering that works wonders over a limited set of notes and patterns). Machines have always been key instruments for the genre.
So, let’s consider (paradox as it is) that techno-making is rather for producers in their studios, while house music goes clubbing and is welcomed to appear right at the set. Given this, drum machines for house music need to be more intuitive and easier to control in real time. So, the question in fact is – what is the best drum machine for live house music performance? Here are some.
1. Behringer RHYTHM DESIGNER RD-8
Behringer used to make everything cheaper (and less durable) than others, not falling into simple copying. It still does, but the thing is now Behringer does it just the way we want it. The very naming of RD-8 is very 1980s, combining TR-808 and R2D2. So is its look: a fully analog drum machine with 12 channels, 5 of them switchable between toms and various types of ethnic percussion. A built-in 64-step sequencer, an analog filter, a wave designer, and staff make you feel like it’s the drum machine that somehow made it from the golden age of the house.
What makes it great is full live control. You can adjust attack and decay for any particular drum, change pattern length, check it with a little display, and even tune the pitch. All these operations done with analog knobs are easier to do during the live set.
- Analog Filter Wave Designer Effects
- 11 Individual Outputs
- Dimensions (L+W+H): 26.49 x 49.81 x 7.7 cm
- Weight: 454 g
- Type: Analog Drum Machine with Sequencer
- Pads: 16 x Step Buttons
- Sounds: Reproduction 662 OTA Chip: 16 x Drum Sounds
- Polyphony: 11-voice (12 including global accent)
- Patterns: 256 (16 songs, 16 patterns each)
- Sequencer: 64 steps
- Effects: Dual-mode Analog Filter, Wave Designer
- Analog Inputs: 1 x 1/4″ (return)
- Analog Outputs: 1 x 1/4″ TRS (main/mono), 11 x 1/4″ TS (voice out)
- Headphones: 1 x 1/4″ TRS (stereo)
- MIDI I/O: In/Out/Thru/USB
- Other I/O: 3 x 1/4″ (trigger out), 1 x 1/8″ (sync in), 1 x 1/8″ (sync out)
- USB: 1 x Type B 2.0
- Power Source: 18V DC power supply (included)
- Behringer RHYTHM DESIGNER RD-8
And yes, it has 12 separate outputs, along with MIDI and USB, which makes it great for live performances where sound matters. In some aspects, it’s even superior to Roland’s own reinvention of the classics.
- Fully analog controls great for live action;
- Wave control in real-time;
- Separate outputs for each channel;
- Big enough for live performance;
- Affordable price.
- Behringer’s reputation trails;
- Early firmware is glitchy and needs updating.
2. Korg Electrcibe 2BL: Runner Up
There’s no need to introduce KORG when it comes to electronic instruments. This particular drum machine is probably the analog drum machine best for house music. Great as a live tool, it truly unfolds its potential in the studio.
It’s been designed with digital integration in mind. That’s why it has a special function for exporting patterns and sounds to Ableton, an SD Card slot, an Undo feature inspired by PC software, and so on. This approach also allowed the engineers to ditch separate channel outputs: why if you can export your session as a file? Especially if you use pattern strings to program the drums for an entire song – like you do now in pattern-oriented sequencers like FL Studio. In addition, you can use its recorder to use the machine as a sampler.
Partly that’s why this machine is way better for studio work than for live shows. Still, it allows for creating patterns right at it: listen to it, adjust your groove, and export it when you feel it done with your own fingers.
- Pattern chaining: String patterns together to create full songs. Users can chain with nearly no limitation, which means that you can also create entire SETS of music!
- One-level undo: Don’t like what you just recorded? You now have an undo available with the press of a couple of buttons.
- Dimensions (L+W+H): 17.78 x 7.62 x 15.24 cm
- Weight: 370 g
- Maximum Polyphony: 24 voices *1 (Pseudo-polyphonic*2)
- Number of Batches: 16
- Sampling Frequency: 48.0 kHz
- Number of Oscillator Types: 409 Number of
- Filter Types: 16 Number of
- Modulation Types: 72
- Memory Capacity: 250 Pattern
- Insert Effects: 38 types of
- Master Effects: 32 types
- Trigger Pads: 16 (Supports Velocity)
- MIDI: In, Out (Use the cable that came in the box)
- USB: Type micro B
- Sync: Input, Output(Stereo mini jack)
- External data storage: SD Card (1GB and above), SDHC Card (Approx. 32GB)
- Power Source: AC Adapter or AA battery x 6(Alkaline or Nickel Metal Hydrate battery)
- Battery Life: Approx. 5 hours(Power Saving: Open, with Nickel Metal Hydrate battery)
- Consumption: Less than 500 mA
- Korg Electrcibe 2BL
More than that: you can download patterns and samples for it for free from the KORG website.
- Lots of patterns and waveforms;
- Easy to make pattern-based songs;
- Ableton support;
- Built-in sound synth;
- Portable and battery-operated.
- No separate outputs;
- Quite expensive.
3. AKAI Professional MPD218: The Best Budget Option
While AKAI has been known for its synths and drum machines for decades, it’s been especially great at making ultraportable devices for musicians – like its laptop-sized MIDI keyboard LPK-25. MPD218 is a drum machine just as portable but much easier to play at live shows due to its padded structure. You can just play it with your fingers easier than any other type as if these pads are real drums with instant response. Of course, it also allows for creating patterns and grooves and changing them in real time with knobs forming a dedicated section on a small device.
It’s also Ableton-compatible and even comes with Ableton Lite software plus some more. In addition, you can legally download drum samples and banks from the AKAI website. It is necessary, as the device only functions as a MIDI controller, not as a sound generator.
What’s even greater for mobile usage, it is only powered via USB and compatible with iOS devices, being the best drum sampler for mobiles. So if you want to play some beats at an improvised house party, all you need is an iPad and an MPD218.
- Beat Production, Anywhere - Ultra-portable, feature-packed and USB powered pad controller with 16 thick fat MPC pads for triggering drums, melodic samples, effects and more
- Expandable Banks - Easily accessible dedicated controls for three pad banks provides a total of 48 assignable pads
- Dimensions (L+W+H): 25.4 x 20.32 x 5.08 cm
- Weight: 907 g
- Type: Pad Controller
- Pads: 16 x Backlit MPC pads
- MIDI I/O: USB
- USB: 1 x Type B
- Hardware Requirements – Mac: Intel Multicore processor, 2GB RAM minimum
- Hardware Requirements – PC: Multicore processor, 2GB RAM minimum, ASIO compatible
- OS Requirements – Mac: OS X 10.7 or later
- OS Requirements – PC: Windows 7 SP1 or later
- Power Supply: USB bus powered
- AKAI Professional MPD218
The bit when it comes to live concerts with more instruments, though, this minimalism will not do good.
- Playable padded structure;
- Lots of effects;
- Extremely portable;
- Comes with a rich software pack;
- Affordable price.
- No separate audio or MIDI outputs;
- It’s a purely MIDI controller, with no synth.
4. Novation Circuit: An Advanced Pad
That’s another pad-based drum machine that feels like a hybrid of a tabletop electronic drum and a poly-voice synth. With it, you can play drums in live mode, record patterns, form grooves, and adjust each particular sound. Fully integrated with PC and Mac software, Circuit can be filled with sounds, adjusted via PC, and used as a controller for music-creating software.
It’s an even greater device for house parties in both meanings. Due to a built-in speaker and a joint output, it’s a standalone device. You can load it with drum patterns and play them live, coloring it up with one-shot sounds you enter at the right time. The pads are backlit, so you can play them in the dark of a club. So if you want a truly portable drum machine – here it is.
- 2-part Nova, analog-modeled synthesizer, 4-part drum machine, 6 voice polyphony per synth; Compatibility - macOS 10.12 Sierra , Mac OSX 10.11, Mac OSX 10.10, Windows 10 , Windows 8
- 4-part drum machine: store up to 64 drums, samples, and one-shots – combine up to 128 steps of synth and drum patterns; save up to 32 sessions, each comprised of up to 8 patterns per track
- Dimensions (L+W+H): 42.49 x 28.5 x 9.5 cm
- Weight: 950 g
- Pads: 32 x Backlit Velocity-sensitive Pads
- Sounds: 128 x Digital synth, 64 Percussion sample
- Polyphony: 6-voice (synth)
- Sequencer: 8 Pattern, 32-step
- Effects: 8 x reverb, 16 x delay, Filter, Sidechain, Compressor
- Analog Inputs: 2 x 1/4″ TS
- Analog Outputs: 2 x 1/4″ TS (L/mono, R)
- Headphones: 1 x 1/8″
- MIDI I/O: In/Out/Thru/USB
- Other I/O: 1 x 1/8″ TRS (sync)
- USB: 1 x USB-C
- Storage: MicroSD Card Slot
- Software: Novation Components, Sound Collective
- Power Source: Built-in rechargeable Lithium-ion battery, USB bus powered, USB power supply (included)
- Novation Circuit
It’s the best drum pad machine if you have nothing else connected to your party engine.
- Pad-based structure;
- Compatible with various software;
- Large size and good response;
- Effect knobs;
- Built-in speaker.
- No built-in synth;
- The speaker is weak.
5. Arturia DrumBrute: A Late Take on Drum Machines
Arturia missed the train of the first top drum machines, being established only in 1999. But not this French brand seems to catch up with that, recreating the drum machine magic of the 1980s (yes, quite like Behringer). It’s also an old-fashioned drum machine with a step sequencer, a separate output for each of 12 channels, a built-in drum synth, and a pattern tool that lets you create songs out of these patterns. If you want the best drum machine for acid house music that does not copy the classics, take a closer look here.
Being developed later than the classics, this instrument offers a new generation of sound production and quality. It is natively equipped with a USB output that lets you connect the machine to a PC and use it as a controller or a source of sounds and patterns. PolyPattern is a feature that lets the machine play various rhythms simultaneously.
- 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
- Dimensions (L+W+H): 41.8 x 27.6 x 0.4 cm
- Weight: 1.7 kg
- Pads: 8 x Performance Pads, 16 x Sequence Buttons
- Sounds: 10
- Patterns: 64 patterns, Polyrhythms
- Sequencer: 64 steps per pattern, Step Repeat, Pattern Looper, Song Mode
- Effects: Distortion
- Analog Outputs: 1 x 1/4″ (mix out), 4 x 1/8″ (kick, snare, hi-hat, FM drum)
- Headphones: 1 x 1/8″
- MIDI I/O: In/Out
- Other I/O: 2 x 1/8″ (clock in/out)
- USB: 1 x Type B
- Power Source: 12V DC power supply
- Arturia DrumBrute
This machine is quite a standalone tool that lets you create full songs. Given its output richness (split audios plus MIDI), it’s a great instrument for playing at large live parties and gigs. Its old-school look recreates the classical feel of house parties.
- Standalone functionality;
- Split outputs for gigs;
- Fat natural sound;
- Pattern-based songs with PolyRhythm;
- Solid build.
- Sound shaping is limited;
- It does not sound traditionally for house.
After these electronic drum machine reviews, you might still have some questions about some aspects of their usage and the results.
What are drum machines used for?
Drum machines are used for creating patterns from drum samples at the given tempo, with preloaded samples of generated sounds. They also add some human touch to otherwise mechanical beats. Though there are drum machines that learn to groove due to AI techs, they are appreciated just to deliver some human approach.
Do I need a drum machine?
It depends on what type of music you are making. If you want your drums to sound typical, you’ll be good with a software sequencer and well-selected drum samples. But to make it sound live, to invent a new drum style for any track, to alter it right as you play – yes, the drum machine can do even better than an acoustic or an electronic drum set.
While there are simpler drum machines for beginners, like the one by AKAI on this list, most of them are more advanced. But if you are even a bit into drum programming, they will seem intuitive.
What is the best drum machine for hip-hop?
The classical ones are Roland TR-808 and TR-909, but out of the ones above I’d recommend Behringer (as the closest to the classical devices) and Arturia (as a new take on the same idea). They let you shape your patterns and separate sounds by hand.
Beat No Retreat
Unexpectedly, Behringer has created something way greater than it’s been thought of. RD-8 is suddenly an impressive creative tool for both studio brooding and live gigs. Its analogs by Korg and Arturia sound a bit less classical when it comes to the house, but also provide big fat grooves. As for AKAI and Novation, they will satisfy most drum pad fans.
What would you prefer? An old-school analog drum machine or a purely digital pad from the iPad generation? Create patterns with your hands or export them to Ableton and process them there? Record any single sound, export MIDI, and use the machine as a controller – what impressed you the most? Let’s make some noise in the comments, and it’s gonna rock!