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What are the best drum machines 2020
11th March, 2020

What is the Best Drum Machine? (DJ City Buyers Guide)

After several years languishing in the shadows, thanks to the rise of digital audio workstations (DAW’s) and software-based production methods, classic hardware drum machines, samplers and grooveboxes have seen a massive comeback recently. However, with significant variation when it comes to features and price points, there are a number of different options to choose from for those in the market for a new machine.

From budget-friendly and highly portable options such as the PO-12 and PO-32 to all-round great performers such as the Korg Volca Beats, it can be hard to know which drum machine or groovebox is best for you.

Of course, it all depends on your individual needs; That’s why we’ve broken down everything you need to know below and included our 10 best drum machines.

Quick Link Guide to Exploring Our List of the Best Drum Machines

TR-808 808 Drum Machine

What is a Drum Machine?

Just as its name suggests, drum machines or grooveboxes are electronic devices that focus on generating drum and percussion sounds. They allow you to create beats and grooves, along with a built-in sequencer for playing your compositions back.

When we refer to drum machines, we’re talking about digital drum machines in most instances. Unlike traditional acoustic drum kits, digital drums produce sounds electronically through synthesised or sampled sounds. They typically feature built-in sequencers for programming rhythms and often include various effects and editing capabilities to manipulate the sounds. These machines are widely used in music production, live performances, and studio recordings due to their versatility and ease of use.

A hybrid drum machine combines elements of both analog and digital technology to create sounds. Typically, they feature analog sound generation circuits for producing classic, warm, and authentic sounds, while also incorporating digital components such as sequencers, effects processors, and sample playback capabilities for versatility and flexibility. This combination allows users to achieve both the character of analog sound they want and the precision and manipulation options offered by digital technology. Hybrid drum machines are popular among musicians and producers seeking a balance between vintage sound and modern features.

When it comes to drum machines, most include built-in drum sounds. In combination with the onboard parameters, you can modulate and shape your sounds exactly the way you like them.

As mentioned, many digital drum machines produce sounds using synthesis, though some also work by allowing you to play pre-recorded samples.

Some of the best drum machines also let you use SD cards to load your own favourite drum samples and tweak from there. Similarly, some drum machines replicate a traditional drum set. While others produce synthetic-sounding percussion.

You can also tap out your own drum patterns directly from the machine. Or you can use its built-in sequencer to program even more complex beats. Suffice it to say that drum machines, a staple of music production in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, are really making a comeback!

What are drum machines used for?

  • Practicing and jamming
  • Creating a backing track for recordings
  • During live performances
  • In music production

Drum Machine VS Sampler

One common misconception is that there is no difference between drum machines and samplers. So, what is the difference?

To put it simply, drum machines typically include preinstalled drum and percussion sounds, along with a built-in sequencer. While samplers are more focused on you recording and modifying your own sounds, or those from a sample bank. (Those of which may or may not include an onboard sequencer like the aforementioned drum machine.)

If you’re looking to create simple or complex drum patterns with renowned drum sounds, a drum machine is for you. However, a sampler is going to give you more control over your own sounds and ability to create multi-instrument loops.

If that’s the case, one of the latest models from the Akai MPC range is sure to cover all bases in terms of drums and music production.

If you’re still not sure, feel free to contact our friendly DJ City staff and we’ll be able to help you choose the right type of machine for you.

How to Explore Drum Machines


Buying a typical drum machine doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg, although some certainly can. But if you’re going to have it set up in the studio at all times and intend on giving it some serious use, maybe spending some extra money wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Likewise, if you only want to spend around the 100 dollar mark, you’ll be limited with some of the functionality, but you’ll still enjoy some serious sounds and range of options of drum machines.

At the end of the day, when it comes to drum machines, it all comes down to sounds. So it’s important to put some serious time and research into what it is you like!


Perhaps one of the most important factors in choosing a drum machine are the sounds themselves! Given that drum machines come pre-loaded with specific sounds produced via synthesis, it’s important that you’re aware of the sounds you’ll be armed with.

We recommend using the below list as a guide and then spending some time individually researching the sounds that each one has to offer. There’s no use emptying your savings account on a drum machine that doesn’t suit your style or taste.

For instance, you wouldn’t use the same sounds on an EDM track as you would a country or blues record and your choice of model should reflect this preference.


If you’re going to be using your drum machine solely as an addition to your studio arsenal, then things like menu diving and small drum pads might not be an issue for you.

However, if you plan on taking your groovebox to the stage, then it’s important you choose a machine with a streamlined and user-friendly interface.

So, keep your intended usage in mind and make sure you choose a product that’s going to fit the bill for your desired applications.

On the topic of features, size is also something to consider with drum machines. If you want something that you can carry around with you wherever you go, then something like a pocket operator will be worth looking at. Alternatively, if your drum machine will be spending most of its time in your studio, then size might not be a concern.

So, determine the space available to you and choose something that will fit in nicely.

You’ll also want to make sure it has enough I/O to be able to hook up to the rest of your equipment and record straight into your DAW of choice if you need to.

The Top 10 Best Drum Machines

In no particular order, here goes our 10 best drum machine picks:

Korg Volca Beats

Korg Volca Beats gives you a mobile, analog drum machine with an electribe-style sequencer. At such a small size, the Volca Beats is completely portable, while delivering a sound comparable to a unit twice its size.

Giving you thick drum sounds with the power to stand up to guitar and acoustic drums, the Korg Volca drum all the while maintains the ability to record tracks and perform live with ease.

On top of that, producers will love the fact it boasts MIDI I/O as well as a built-in speaker so you can make use of its portable size by playing whenever and wherever you are.

Not only does the Volca Beats give you those sought-after analog drum sounds, it’s extremely easy to use thanks to the 16-step Electribe Sequencer that allows you to store up to 16 beats. This gives you everything you need to turn your inspiration into reality!

Above all, the Korg Volca drum is a fantastic and affordable machine and definitely takes our pick in terms of analog drum machines.

Key Features

  • Real analog sounds created with reference to classic rhythm machines.
  • Six editable analogue parts with one knob per function for easy editing.
  • Maximum effect from minimal parameters – a unique advantage of analog.
  • PCM sound engine expands possibilities when used with analog sounds.
  • Electribe-style 16-step sequencer with eight memory patches.
  • Stutter function generates repeated triggers that dramatically change the sequence.
  • Active Step function generates new bass lines by removing or inserting steps.
  • Step Jump function instantly plays only the step you’re pressing.
  • Sync In and Out allows clock sync of multiple instruments from the Volca Series as well as Korg’s Monotribe.
  • MIDI In for note entry, plus external sync and control from your DAW.

SHOP: Korg Volca Beats

Arturia DrumBrute

The Arturia DrumBrute gives you an all-in-one analog drum machine with 17 distinct drum and percussion instruments. Perfect for virtually any type of use, the DrumBrute is user-friendly and packed with features.

Including an intuitive sequencer, massive connectivity, two-mode Steiner-Parker filter, and dynamic performance controls, you’ve got everything you need to take your production to the next level.

Based on the best of the best in terms of analog sounds; DrumBrute allows you to create exciting drum beats. It boasts two kick drums, a wide range of snare settings, two hi-hats, reverse cymbals, zap, and more.

Key Features

  • True analog drum machine with 17 sounds.
  • Steiner-Parker output filter delivers ultra-smooth HPF and LPF sweeps.
  • Stores up to 64 patterns, up to 64 steps each.
  • Song Mode allows you to chain patterns for expanded compositions.
  • Apply swing and randomness globally, or on a per-drum basis.
  • Separate accent for each drum.
  • Manipulate your patterns in real-time with Step Repeat and Pattern Looper.
  • Each track can have a different length, allowing you to create polyrhythms.
  • 12 individual audio outputs make it easy to record your patterns as multitrack audio.
  • Sync options include USB, MIDI, Clock, and Internal.
  • Headphone output with 1/4″ and 1/8″ connectivity.

SHOP: Arturia DrumBrute

Roland TR-8S


The Roland TR-8S gives you the best of the best in terms of sought-after Roland drum machine sounds. Renowned for some of the most popular and widely used drum machines of all time, the brand behind the TR-8S knows how to deliver on everything you’ve ever wanted. It offers accurate, detailed circuit models of the 808, 606, 909, 707, 727 and more.

These aren’t sound-alike sample-packs: The Roland TR-8S gives you detailed, down to the circuit model replicas. As a result, the TR-8S sounds and performs exactly like the original hardware that revolutionised music production.

Above all, building on the design of the original and including even more beloved Roland Drum sounds, the TR-8S is an outstanding piece of gear.

In short, it’s flexible, intuitive, and most importantly, a whole lot of fun.

Key Features

  • Equipped with the largest, most authentic collection of TR drum machine sounds available.
  • Analog Circuit Behavior technology provides component-to-component modelling for unrivalled authenticity.
  • Supports WAV and AIFF samples via SD card slot for layering your own creations with classic TR sounds.
  • Contains 81 ACB tones and 150 factory samples.
  • Supports up to 600 seconds total time for all samples at 44.1kHz, a single sample can be up to 180 seconds.
  • Step sequencer controls 11 instrument parts and 1 exclusive part for the trigger output (1/8″ output).
  • Lock parameter values for any sequence step for subtle or extreme variations.
  • Each pattern offers 3 fill types and 8 pattern variations for big performance potential.
  • Program a new pattern while the existing one loops for smoother live improvisation.
  • Built-in audio interface allows you to multitrack directly to your DAW.
  • 8 analog audio outputs allow you to route multiple sounds separately for recording or processing.
  • Control the intensity of the Accent function in real time for dynamic grooves.
  • Enter steps manually or record your drums in real-time to create grooves on the fly.
  • Original TR-REC behavior provides an authentic TR series programming experience.
  • 16 backlit per-step pads make pattern creation easy (supports up to 32-step patterns).
  • Dedicated Tempo controls and TR-909 Shuffle control lets you create beats that pulse and groove naturally.
  • Solid MIDI clock sync provides tight timing with external gear, such as the rest of the AIRA series.

SHOP: Roland TR-8S

Teenage Engineering PO-12

The Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator PO-12 is a 16-sample drum machine and sequencer, perfect for making beats. It sports parameter locks and punch-in effects, so making electronic music has never been this much fun.

This small, ultra-portable music device has studio-quality sound and the flexibility to make music on the go. It’s an affordable option for everyone and is highly compatible with a range of external gear.

Additionally, the PO-12 has a built-in speaker so you can jam out whenever or wherever you feel like it., while also offering a convenient headphone input for private personal listening.

Above all, if you’re on a budget and want something portable, Teenage Engineering’s Pocket Operator lineup offers some great choices in the PO-12 and even the PO-32. It does lack the connectivity of a larger machine, but for the price and size you can’t really complain.

Key Features

  • Real synthesised sounds
  • Sampled sounds
  • 16 punch-in effects
  • 16 pattern chaining
  • Step multiplier
  • 16-step sequencer
  • Parameter locks
  • Built-in speaker
  • 3.5mm audio I/O
  • Animated LCD display
  • Folding stand
  • Clock + alarm clock
  • Battery powered (2XAAA)
  • 1 month battery life

SHOP: Teenage Engineering PO-12

Elektron Digitakt


A premium, 8-Voice digital drum machine with built-in step sequencer; the Elektron Digitakt brings you a beat-making powerhouse for your studio. Compact and powerful, the Digitakt offers everything you need in order to create, tweak, and perfect your groove or beat.

It features a digital and highly flexible sound engine, as well as sampling capability, a live-friendly sequencer; MIDI I/O; and Overbridge support.

Built for heavy use, the Digitakt has hi-res encoders as well as extremely back-lit buttons. It boasts a number of pre-loaded sounds; All you need to do is turn it on and get creative. Making use of the plethora of drums, percussion, synth, and FX will help you fully unleash your creativity!

The only feature missing with this model is the lack of USB or SD card input and its occasionally complex workflow.

Key Features

  • Sample-based drum machine with 64MB sample memory and over 1GB of onboard storage.
  • 8 stereo audio tracks support one-shot samples and sample chains.
  • 1 multimode-filter per audio track and 1 assignable LFO per track.
  • Delay and Reverb send effects onboard.
  • 8 MIDI tracks for sequencing external instruments.
  • Powerful Elektron sequencing with Trig Conditions and Parameter Locks.
  • MIDI sequencer features +3 note offset for every step for sequencing chords up to four notes.
  • USB 2.0 connectivity, with support for Overbridge.
  • MIDI In, Out, and Thru ports.

Behringer RD8

Behringer RD8

The Behringer RD-8 MKII is a drum machine that offers a wide range of features for both beginners and experienced beat-makers.

It includes 16 classic drum-esque sounds, a 64-step sequencer for creating drum patterns, and effects like filters to shape your sound. It also boasts a faithful reproduction of the legendary 662 OTA chip, known for its authentic drum tones.

This drum machine is packed with features for live performances. It allows you to create song structures on the fly, switch between patterns and even perform entire sets using its memory capability.

The powerful sequencer can store up to 256 patterns and 16 songs, making it suitable for complex arrangements as well. Additionally, the RD-8 MKII offers extensive sound design possibilities with its Wave Designer, dual-mode filter, and parameter chaining.

You can even connect it to your computer via USB for further control and integration with your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).

Key Features

  • 16 original sounds with added parameters and global accent capability.
  • Recreates legendary 662 OTA chips for ultimate sound authenticity.
  • Robust 64-step drum sequencer supports various features including poly-meter, step-repeat, note-repeat, real-time triggering, track-mute, and track-solo.
  • 11 independent analog outputs for external processing or multi-track recording.
  • Integrated FX bus with Wave Designer and dual-mode Analog Filter with per voice assignment.
  • Live recording, editing, and playback of analog filter cutoff via automation.
  • Stores up to 16 songs and 256 patterns, import/export during playback for unlimited options.
  • Pattern Mode for arranging patterns into full songs and setting repeats per song part.
  • Song Mode for chaining songs together for live sets and expanded compositions.
  • Auto Scroll feature for improvisation in all modes.
  • Comprehensive MIDI In/Out/Thru plus USB for synchronisation and connection to external devices.
  • Sync options: USB, MIDI, Clock, Internal.
  • Encoder for editing parameters like Tempo, Swing, Probability, Flam, and Random.
  • High-visibility LED display for easy program parameter editing.
  • Powerful headphone and main outputs.

SHOP: Behringer RD8

Elektron Analog Rytm MkII

The Elektron Analog Rytm MKII brings you a hybrid analog/digital, beat-making dream machine. It is based around a phenomenal, 8-voice sound engine, with a 13-track sequencer.

It’s also worth mentioning that the older pressure-sensitive pads have been replaced by larger and softer versions. So you can now enjoy finger-drumming on the Rytm in far more comfort than ever before.

Each track can have one of nine synth engines dedicated to a particular sound. Offering plenty of low-end, punchy mids, and well-rounded highs, it’s a complex machine that can be a lot to get your head around. Admittedly, it does sit near the higher end of the pricing spectrum, but the Analog Rytm is a drum machine that’ll keep you inspired for years.

Key Features

  • 8-voice analog drum machine with powerful sequencer and sampling capabilities.
  • Each drum voice allows you to combine the analog tone generator with a digital sample.
  • Analog overdrive, analog multimode filter, effects sends, envelope, and LFO for each voice.
  • Sensitive performance pads can trigger sounds or play a sound chromatically.
  • Rich, deep-sounding reverb and delay send effects.
  • Perfect for both stage and studio, with individual outputs for each voice plus a main stereo output and headphone out.
  • 1GB of onboard storage for your own samples and library, plus plenty of storage for patterns, kits, and sounds.

SHOP: Analog Rytm MKII

Novation Circuit

Circuit Beginner Drum Machine

A great option if you’re a beginner, the Novation Circuit is a powerful drum machine. It features a four-part sampler, two polyphonic synths, as well as a sequencer.

At the heart, the circuit is a basic drum machine restricted to its pre-loaded sounds. However, the addition of the Novation Components app makes it an ideal solution for combining samples from your own library.

Not only does it have sample capabilities, 2 great-sounding synth engines, and an intuitive grid-based pad sequencer, it’s incredibly easy to use and you’ll be making music in minutes.

That’s why it’s our top pick if you’re new to either drum machines or synthesisers and want more than just a drum machine at an affordable cost!

However, if you’re a more advanced producer, you might find the editing options on the sampler a little bit limited. So we’d recommend going for something with a bit more advanced functionality.

Key Features

  • 2-Part – Analog Modelled Synthesiser
  • 32 RGB backlit, and velocity-sensitive control pads
  • 4-Part – Drum Machine
  • 4×8 Grid of RGB Sequencer Pads
  • Lock in Time and Key
  • Real-Time or 32 Step Sequencer Recording
  • 8 Macro Encoders for Tweaking Sounds
  • Programmable Reverb and Delay
  • USB Audio and MIDI
  • 6x AA Batteries Included
  • Includes Ableton Live Lite & Samples

SHOP: Novation Circuit

Dave Smith Instruments Tempest

Tempest Drum Machine

The Dave Smith Tempest is a 6-voice, hybrid analog/digital drum machine, as well as the product of a collaboration between two of the biggest names in studio gear: Dave Smith and Roger Linn. So, you’d expect the Tempest to be an outstanding piece of gear, and it definitely is.

Its only shortcoming might be its price point.

This fantastic machine offers 16 lit touch and pressure-sensitive pads, all arranged in an 8 x 2 formation, as well as 2 pressure-sensitive pads arranged in an 8×2 formation, with pressure and position-sensitive touch sliders. On top of that, each of its 6 voices has 2 analog and 2 digital oscillators, and offers over 450 samples and waveforms.

The analog oscillators can produce sawtooth, triangle, saw/triangle, and variable pulse square waves. To assist you with further sculpting your drum sounds, each voice has a sub-octave generator; 5 envelope generators; 2 LFOs; and high & low-pass filters.

Above all, not only does the Tempest go to lengths way beyond the standard drum machine, it’s also a powerful synth in its own right. So, it’s perfect whether you’re in the studio or performing live.

Key Features

  • 16 pressure- and velocity-sensitive backlit drum trigger pads in an 8 x 2 matrix.
  • 6 analog voices, each with 2 analog oscillators and 2 digital oscillators, loaded with a large bank of included samples.
  • Modulation path includes Dave Smith’s classic analog lowpass filter with audio-rate modulation, high pass filter, analog VCA with feedback, 5 envelopes, 2 LFOs, and an extraordinary variety of analog modulation routing options.
  • Doubles as a 6-voice analog synth.
  • 6 direct voice outputs plus stereo mix outputs, headphones outputs, 2 inputs for footswitches or expression pedals.
  • Stereo analog compressor and distortion circuits affect the stereo output mix.
  • Beat-synced delay is achieved by generating additional delayed note events within the sequencer.
  • A beat-synced “stutter” effect is created entirely within the sequencer by looping short portions of the drumbeat on demand.
  • Adjustable swing timing with real-time control.

SHOP: Dave Smith Tempest

Elektron Model:Cycles

The latest drop from Elektron, Model: Cycles is a minimalistic version of the Digitone, and offers more. It delivers a feature-packed 6-track FM (Frequency Modulation) based Groovebox and drum machine driven by a powerful sequencer.

Additionally, it boasts six sound engines or machines that have little in common with your traditional 6-operator synthesisers. Because, unlike vintage FM synths, the Model: Cycles is extremely easy to use. Sporting an intuitive control set that allows you to go deep in exploration and extensive sound sculpting, you can easily morph melodies and rhythm using immediate hands-on controls!

Key Features

  • 6 Audio tracks (may also be used as MIDI tracks), Velocity-sensitive pads and FM-based Machine engines.
  • 4 Machine specific controls
  • 96 Projects
  • 96 Patterns per Project
  • 1 Assignable LFO per track
  • Delay and reverb send FX
  • Elektron sequencer up to 64 steps with unique length and scale settings per track.
  • Real-time or grid recording of notes and parameters.
  • Storage space for up to 60,000 presets

SHOP: Elektron Model:Cycles

The Final Say on the Best Drum Machines

There you have it: Our guide to the best drum machines.

If you’re looking for a new hardware drum machine or Groovebox to add to your arsenal, you can’t go wrong with one of the 10 options above!

That being said, be sure to check out a few videos on whichever of the drum machines you’re looking at so you can be sure the sounds are going to fit your production and performance style.

For more information about any best drum machine listed above or to receive some custom advice to suit your needs, reach out to the DJ City team today. We have a wide range of hardware drum machines available for delivery across Australia. 

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