Buyer's Guides

Best Drum Machine Plugins: Make Huge VST Beats Without Breaking the Bank!

If you’re a budding music producer who likes to work digitally, or to keep things on a budget, the words ‘drum’ and ‘machine’ put together may put you into a nervous sweat – thinking about expensive, physical drum machines that cost an arm and a leg, and a chunk of your living space.

But there is another way — there is now a stunning selection of drum machine VSTs that you can stick straight into your DAW, most of which cost less than £/$100. And while there are smaller, cheaper physical drum machines like the fantastic Korg Volca Beats, these drum machine plugins are absolutely fantastic if you want to keep it digital and ‘in the box.’

With the demand for drum machine VSTs on the rise, you have quite a few to choose from. But don’t be daunted, Headliner is springing to your rescue to talk you through 10 of the very best drum machine plugins for you to sink your teeth into, and you’ll be dropping beats in no time. We’ve listed them from lowest to highest price. So, drum roll please; let’s get into it.

Audiomodern Playbeat 3

  • Ultra-smart tools and features

  • Easy to get going with

Our first drum machine VST entry is also the most affordable, which you can grab for around £/$70. Audiomodern’s Playbeat 3 comes in a stunning-looking display and lovely user-interface, which is quick and easy to get up and running with.

Using an advanced algorithm, it helps you create drum patterns with automatic assistance. It has randomisation which is customisable at different levels, depending on how hands-on you wish to be with your beat-making. This will alter things like the position, panning and pitch, and introduce repeats and flams, with varying levels of automacy that you choose.


MeldaProduction DreamMachines

  • Lots of great vintage sounds

  • Blend samples with ease

MeldaProduction's DreamMachines is a fantastic and contemporary drum machine with separate channels for kick, snare, clap, hat, tom and percussion. Each channel has handy A and B parts for loading samples from analogue, digital and acoustic sources, depending on what your vibe is on each given day.

This drum machine plugin gives you the power to independently control pitch and envelopes and filters for versatile sound layering. And then there’s crossfading, modulation and velocity control for groove variation. The effects section features classic hardware-inspired treatments like saturation, compression, reverb and delay. With 500 samples and 100 preset kits, it's incredible value, being right under £/$100.


Modalics Beat Scholar

  • User-friendly

  • Excels at creating interesting and unique rhythms

You too can be a Beat Scholar, thanks to this brilliant drum machine VST from Modalics. It presents a unique drum step sequencing concept based on 'beat pizzas' (don’t worry if you’re vegan, this plugin is dairy-free). This means a step sequencer filled with circular beats that can be individually subdivided for rhythmic creativity. Drum sounds aren't confined to specific lanes; you can place them on any beat or slice within a beat, allowing for extensive experimentation.

With easy bar and measure adjustments, it offers big creative possibilities. So make sure your beat-making wizard hat is firmly on your head. This innovative sequencer includes a built-in sampler with 250+ diverse sounds, and you can also customise it by dragging and dropping your samples while applying various controls and effects.


Algonaut Atlas 2

  • Interface is packed with power

  • Adapts well to MIDI controllers

Artificial Intelligence has entered the chat. Algonaut Atlas 2 is a drum machine VST that is ably assisted by its powerful algorithms and AI-informed tools. It’s fairly ingenious: the way in which this plugin’s samples are placed into little clusters on your screen of similar-sounding snares, kicks etc makes the process of finding the right sounds for your beat quick and enjoyable.

There are 1,500 drum samples here, so you certainly won’t be starved of choice. This makes it a fantastic option for those who don’t have a personal library of samples to fall back on. The sequencer, which is proudly placed front and centre, is excellent also. If you worry that you often find yourself going to the same old snares and toms, Atlas 2 could be the answer you’re reaching for.


Native Instruments Battery 4

  • Excellent effects included

  • One of the original and best drum machine VSTs

Native Instruments released version one of this legendary drum machine VST over 20 years ago now, so when discussing the best drum machine plugins, you’d have to be bonkers to leave out this absolute veteran of the game. There are up to 128 cells that give you ample space for creating even the most bonkers Grimes-esque beats.

And even if you were to feel you’d completed NI’s huge library included here, there are lots of expansion packs from the company to help you continue the fun. There are lots of effects included, with LFO modulation, envelope, and a huge scope for sound editing. And being right around the £/$100, you will not feel hard done by.


Wave Alchemy Triaz

  • Very, very generous number of samples included

  • Based on iconic drum machines

Wave Alchemy, not to be confused with Waves plugins, has earned a cracking reputation for its Kontakt instruments. Following the roaring success of two drum machines, Revolution and Evolution (renamed Drumvolution), featuring samples from iconic drum machines like TR-808, DMX, and LinnDrum, as well as the creation of BassSynth, a top synth bass sampler for Kontakt (alongside Output's Substance), they shifted their attention to crafting unique electronic drum sounds.

In Wave Alchemy Triaz, you'll find over 10,000 samples, 600+ drum kits, triple layering for each sample slot and a wealth of additional features. Even if the extensive 10,000 samples don't meet your needs, you can easily import your own drum samples into the Kontakt instrument through a simple drag-and-drop process.


XLN Audio XO

  • Very interesting range of sounds

  • Loads of sample content

Similarly to the Atlas 2 above, XLN are putting drum machine plugins on the map, literally. Their Audio XO drum machine VST also uses a map of sample clusters for you to choose from, a fantastic approach to the sample selection process. The sounds are grouped by type (snare, kick, etc.) and are colour-coded. As you select a sample, you can hear them in the context of a beat rather than isolated, which is really helpful.

But there’s a lot more to it than that. The Playground feature helps you dive into beat-making with different levels of randomisation. The variations you can add to your beats with this tool are virtually unlimited. It’s a VST that many Ableton users love as it syncs up so gloriously with the DAW. But it works brilliantly with most of the big-name DAWs, just double-check before buying.


Arturia Spark 2

  • Outrageous editing potential

  • 14 fantastic sound category banks

If you’re looking to give your beats a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ quality, then it’s over to France as Arturia delivers one of the most creative drum machine VSTs yet seen. While some of the above drum machine plugins suit those looking to be a bit more hands-off, the Spark 2 is for the producer who wants to look under the hood of the beats they are creating.

Offering drum styles from acoustic kits, contemporary beats to classic drum machines, there are thousands of sounds to flick through here. And if you're a true music-tech head, it’s the editing process where this drum machine VST comes into its own. There is a modular synth included(!), you can rhythmically modulate almost every parameter of the plugin and it has a built-in mixer. The 14 banks include categories such as ‘Berlin Basement’, ‘Dubstep Essentials’, and ‘Hollywood Essentials’, if you’re feeling cinematic.


FXpansion Geist 2

  • Almost a DAW in itself

  • Great sequencer

Time to get groovy; FXpansion's Geist2 is practically its own in-house DAW for creating grooves, rather than a mere drum machine VST. It can power not only your drum tracks but potentially your entire rhythm section.

On offer are eight self-contained engines, with 64 eight-layer sample pads and a polyrhythmic step sequencer. Effects are available for every layer and pad, including the master output. The TransMod modulation system allows flexible modulation source assignments to various parameters across all engines. And excitingly, Geist2 offers live sampling and automatic loop slicing, adding a dynamic live performance aspect that distinguishes it from the competition.


Roland Cloud Drum Machine Collection

  • The greatest drum machines of all time recreated

  • Pricey, but will cover all your drum needs

Put simply, if you want your beats to have the quality of some of the best and most-recognised drum beats ever made in popular recorded music history, then you can stop your search at the Roland Cloud Drum Machine Collection. This goes beyond being one of the best drum machine VSTs, but is a huge collection of the greatest drum samples ever assembled.

You’re either looking at a monthly membership (giving you access to the entire Roland Cloud membership, including Roland Juno), or the entire collection bundled at $499 for a lifetime key, making it significantly more expensive than your other options here. But bear in mind that Roland’s TR machines are arguably the drum machines, for example the truly iconic 808 – the absolute root of hip-hop music. Other drum machine plugins try to emulate these physical Roland drum machines, but nobody does it better than Roland themselves. If you’re looking for premium drums and are willing to pay a premium price for it, then these could be the beats you are looking for.


Drum machine VSTs versus hardware drum machines

This is an argument musicians, producers and the like will have until they are blue in the face. The best answer currently available is down to your preference, and what you bring in your creative approach to the tool, whether it be hardware or software. It’s certainly not a costly thing — the Korg Volca Drum, a brilliant little physical drum machine which is part-analogue – costs around £/$120, which is cheaper than a lot of the software drum machine VSTs above.

Software enthusiasts will tell you with great conviction that, used with a few of the right tricks, VST synths and drums sound no different from their analogue counterparts, but, in truth, it is difficult to truly replace that analogue character and warmth, thanks to its real-life noise, rather than an emulation. That said, you can go on YouTube where direct comparisons are made in videos, and the results often aren’t always clear-cut.

So the real answer is: you! If you don’t feel the physical experience of playing a physical drum machine is vital to you and you aren’t convinced by the whole analogue thing, then go ahead and have a wonderful time making beats with some of the drum machine VSTs above. You can always get ‘the real thing’ later down the line. Most importantly, have the best of times making those beats.