5 Affordable Drum Machines Worth Owning
Post date:Tue, 10/08/2019 - 10:45
These days there is very little that drum machines can do that a decent DAW workstation with the right plug-ins can't replicate. However, the importance of hardware drum machines cannot be understated. Gear like the Roland TR-808 and TR-909 had lukewarm receptions initially but went on to become some of the most influential inventions in popular music. For most musicians, using a drum machine is more than just the sounds, but about the tangible interface that it offers. If you are a purist, then incorporating a drum machine in your workflow feels more like an instrument than just staring at your DAW screen. If this sounds like you, then check out some of the following affordable drum machines that are worth owning.
Teenage Engineering PO-32 Tonic
It's impossible to mention affordable and portable drum machines without including the Teenage Engineering PO-32 Tonic. For less than $100, you get a compact drum synthesizer and sequencer that has parameter locks and punch-in effects. It can also provide you with unlimited sounds through data transfer if matched up with the microtonic vst that is sold separately. The PO-32 Tonic has a built-in speaker, step multiplier, microphone for data transfer, and an animated LCD display. Its compact size means it looks more like a toy than a serious piece of equipment, but you can't argue with the battery life it has to offer on just two AAA batteries. Although it has a slight learning curve, the PO-32 Tonic is unbeatable in price and compactness.
Korg Volca Beats
The Korg Volca Beats is the rhythm machine of the Volca series, which also features the Volca Keys lead synthesizer and Volca Bass Synthesizer. Despite its budget price, the Volca Beats is able to offer real analog sounds that were created with reference to the classic rhythm machines. This means that you get Kick, Snare, Hi Tom, Lo Tom, Closed, Hi-Hat, and Open Hi Hat along with a carefully selected minimal set of parameters. Of course, the Volca Beats can also cover sounds for which an analog synth is unsuited, by making use of its PCM sound engine. Even better, for these sounds, which include Clap, Claves, Crash, and Agogo, Korg has also reproduced the rough lo-fi sounds of the '80s to match the analog drums. The Volca Beats boasts a 16 step sequencer that draws inspiration from the classic Korg Electribe sequencer and is battery powered, but can also make use of a 9V AC adaptor.
Akai Professional XR20
Akai describes their XR20 as a portable beat production center, and it comes with more than 700 sounds right out of the box. These cover everything from standard and electronic drums to one-shot hits and more. In addition, it supports 99 preset patterns along with 99 user patterns. If you create all your beats in dim environments, then you'll appreciate the backlit LCD of the XR20 as well as the bright, glowing, backlit pads that follow the beat. It has all the essential effects, such as compression, reverb, and EQ, while being portable enough to run on batteries or wall power. Overall, the XR20 has a definite hip-hop flavor to its drum beats, but it is still a great drum machine.
Roland TR-09 Rhythm Composer
Despite the name and design, the Roland TR-09 is not an exact copy of the legendary TR-909. It does share a lot of similarities, such as the same front-panel layout along with the same user interface of the original. However, the TR-09 makes use of Roland's ACB technology for a drum machine that is extremely portable as well as a lot more affordable than most of the competition. The TR-09 gives you hands-on control over a lot of parameters, and it is programmable via classic Step and Tap write modes. It is even able to continue playing beats while switching modes and is compatible with the optional K-25 Keyboard Unit. This drum machine can be powered by either 4 AA batteries or USB and has a built-in powered mini-speaker. Also, it has four separate outputs via USB audio. The only drawback is that tracking down a TR-09 is becoming harder as Roland is no longer selling them.
For analog fans, the Arturia Drumbrute is definitely a must. It is an all-in-one analog drum machine with 17 distinct, fully analog drums and percussion instruments. These include two flavors of kick drums, a ton of snare and clap settings, as well as two hi-hats with separate controls for tone and decay. You can chain up to sixteen patterns to create your own song and the Drumbrute also features 64 patterns with up to 64 steps. With the Drumbrute you can even apply randomness to all instruments globally or individual tracks. Then there's the Steiner-Parker filter on the output, the ability to sync the Drumbrute to external MIDI devices, vintage sequencers and more. It does use 12V DC input for power, so it's not quite as portable as the battery-operated drum machines, but when it comes to analog performance the Drumbrute is in a class of its own.
There are far more drum machines available on the market, but the ones listed above are just some of the highlights. What are your favorite drum machines and which ones would you add to your workflow if money was not an issue? Let us know on the forums or in the comments below.