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 over the last few years. Varying massively when it comes to features and price point, there are a number of different options to choose from.
From budget-friendly and ridiculously portable options such as the PO-12 and PO-32, to all-round great performers such as the Korg Volca Beats. While you can’t forget the top of the range pieces of gear like the Dave Smith Instruments Tempest!
But which drum machine or groovebox is best? That all depends on your individual needs, and we break down everything you need to know below. Rounding out our top 10 drum machines for 2021!
- What is a drum machine?
- Drum Machine vs Sampler
- Choosing a drum machine
- Top 10 Drum Machines 2021
- Korg Volca Beats – Best Analog Drum Machine
- Artruria DrumBrute
- Roland TR-8S
- Teenage Engineering – PO-12 – Best Budget Option
- Elektron Digitakt
- Novation Circuit – Beginners
- Behringer RD8 – Budget Clone of the 808
- Elektron Analog Rytm MkII
- Dave Smith Instruments Tempest – Best High-End Option
- Elektron Model:Cycles – Newest GrooveBox
- The Final Say
What is a drum machine?
Just as its name suggests, a drum machine or groovebox is an electronic device that focuses on generating drum and percussion sounds. Allowing you to create beats and grooves, along with a built-in sequencer for playing your compositions back.
When it comes to drum machines, most include built-in drum sounds. As well as onboard parameters for modulating and shaping your sounds exactly the way you like them. Most commonly, drum machines produce sounds using synthesis, though some also work by allowing you to play pre-recorded samples.
Some 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 percussions.
You can also tap out your own drum patterns directly from the machine. As well as use its built-in sequencer to program even more complex beats! A staple in music production during the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s; Drum Machines are starting to make a comeback!
What are they used for?
- Praciticing and Jamming Out
- A backing track for recordings
- Live Performances
- Music Production
Drum Machine VS Sampler
One common misconception is the difference between Drum Machines and Samplers. So what’s 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.
So if you’re looking to create simple or complex drum patterns with renowned drum sounds, a drum machine is for you. While a sampler is going to give you more control with your own sounds to create multi-instrument loops.
If that’s the case, one of the latest from the Akai MPC range is sure to cover all basis 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 machine for you!
Buying a drum machine doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg, although some certainly can. And 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.
However, at the end of the day, 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 is the sounds themselves! Given that drum machines come pre-loaded with specific sounds produced via synthesis; it’s important that you’ve committed to the sounds you’ll be armed with.
We recommend using the below list as a guide, then spending some time individually researching the sounds that each one has to offer. Because 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 drum sounds on an EDM track as you would a country or blues record.
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. 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!
The Top 10 Best Drum Machines for 2021
In no exact order, here goes our top 10 drum machine picks for 2021!
Korg Volca Beats
The 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, all while maintaining 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.
So 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. Giving you everything you need to turn your inspiration into reality! Above all, the Volca Beats is a fantastic and affordable machine and definitely takes our pick in terms of analog drum machines.
- 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
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. So 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. Boasting two kick drums, a wide range of snare settings, two hi-hats, reverse cymbals, zap, and more.
- True analog drum machine with 17 drum 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
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 TR-8S gives you everything you’ve ever desired. offering 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 revolutionized music production.
Above all, the TR-8S is an outstanding piece of gear. Building on the design of the original and including even more beloved Roland Drum sounds. So its flexible, intuitive, and most importantly, a whole lot of fun.
- Equipped with the largest, most authentic collection of TR drum machine sounds available
- Analog Circuit Behavior technology provides component-to-component modeling for unrivaled 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 your 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
Teenage Engineering PO-12
The Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator PO-12 is a 16 sample drum machine and sequencer, perfect for making beats. Sporting parameter locks and punch-in effects, 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. Affordable for everyone and compatible with all your external gear.
Additionally, the PO-12 has a built-in speaker so you can jam out whenever or wherever you are. While also sporting a convenient headphone input for detailed 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 lacks the connectivity of a larger machine, but for the price and size, you can’t really complain.
- real synthesised drum sounds
- sampled drum 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
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. Featuring a digital and highly flexible sound engine, as well as sampling capability; a live-friendly sequencer; MIDI I/O; and Overbridge support.
Bult for heavy use, the Digitakt as hi-res encoders as well as extremely back-lit buttons. Boasting 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 all available to unleash your creativity! Really, the only thing missing from this is the lack of USB or SD card input and its occasionally complex workflow.
- 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
The Behringer RD8 brings you an affordable clone of the legendary Roland 808. Offering all the tools you need to become a master beat-maker, including 16 drum sounds; a 64-step sequencer; Wave Designer and dual-mode filter – for a full-fledged drum machine that rivals the original!
So whether you’re new to drum programming or a seasoned pro looking to upgrade your setup, the RD-8 has everything you need to step up your game.
Reviving the timeless analog design of the 808, Behringer takes a fresh and modern approach on a classic drum machine. Allowing you to harness the renowned sound of the 808 as well as tapping into some new features. Above all, the RD8 is an analog beat-making monster! The design is a bit more plasticky than some of the high-end drum machines. However, you can’t really complain at such an enticing price!
Elektron Analog Rytm MkII
The Elektron Analog Rytm MKII brings you a hybrid analog/digital, beat making dream machine. 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 much 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. As well as also sitting on the higher end price-wise, but the Analog Rytm is a drum machine that’ll keep you inspired for years.
- 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 sample library, plus plenty of storage for patterns, kits, and drum sounds
A great option if you’re a beginner, the Novation Circuit 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. While the addition of the Novation Components app makes it an ideal solution for combining samples from your own library.
So 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 both drum machines and synthesizers 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.
- 2-Part – Analog Modelled Synthesizer
- 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
Dave Smith Instruments Tempest
The Dave Smith Tempest is a 6-voice, hybrid analog/digital drum machine. As well as 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. It’s only shortcoming might be the fact you might need to sell an organ or two to afford one.
Boasting 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; offering over 450 samples and waveforms. While the analog oscillators can produce sawtooth, triangle, saw/triangle, and variable pulse square waves. 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.
- 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, highpass 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
The latest drop from Elektron, Model: Cycles is a minimal version of the Digitone, and more. Giving you a feature-packed 6-track FM (Frequency Modulation) based Groovebox and drum machine driven by a powerful sequencer. Boasting six sound engines or machines that have little in common with your traditional 6-operator synthesizers. 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. So you can easily morph melodies and rhythm using immediate hands-on controls!
- 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
The Final Say
There you have it! If you’re looking for a new 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 machine you’re looking at so you can be sure the sounds are going to fit your production and performance style!