Buyer's Guides

The Best Drum Machines For Every Beat-Making Budget

The physical experience of making beats in real-time with your hands just can’t be replaced with software, but their lofty place in popular music history might have you fretting that you’ll never be able to afford one.

Hardware drum machines, which changed the face of the music industry forever in the ‘80s onwards, are one of the most joyful little pieces of gear you can invest in.

Such worries are misplaced, however. As so much of music production has become more affordable and shifted away from glitzy studios to people’s bedrooms, physical drum machines have followed suit, and several drum machines are now as affordable as buying a VST drum sounds pack for your DAW.

Hardware drum machines have played a pivotal role in the history of popular music. Many argue that the launch of the Roland TR-808 played an essential role in the birth of both electronic dance music and hip hop, both of which changed the face of music. Roland continued making waves with its younger sibling and follow-up, the TR-909, a vital component in early techno and house music. Then there was the LM-1, which sampled real drum kits, becoming a big staple of ‘80s pop music as it appeared on Prince, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and The Human League records.

Now, those who know their gear history may be bleating “but those drum machines were ridiculously expensive!” Indeed, the LM-1 first retailed at $5,500 and only said megastars could afford it. The TR-808’s original release price was roughly the equivalent of four grand today. But here’s the beautiful thing about buying a drum machine in 2023 — there are both emulations of these classic rhythm machines and brand new drum machines in their own right which you can make yours for around £/$100. Of course, you can spend a lot more if you wish to, but there is a drum machine for almost every budget today. That’s why this Headliner guide is here to help you find your match made in heaven. Drum roll, please, and let’s go!

Teenage Engineering PO-32

  • Very small, very portable

  • Drum machines don’t get more affordable than this

More resembling a Gameboy than a drum machine, Teenage Engineering’s Pocket Operator series doesn’t just sit amongst the best drum machines but also easily wins the award for cuteness. But it also sounds cute — not in a patronising way, but in a very pleasing lo-fi way. Besides the PO-32 Tonic are its siblings: the PO-12 Rhythm, the PO-24 Office, the PO-33 K.O! And the PO-133 Street Fighter.

They’re all fantastic, however the Tonic lands into this list as it gives you the full power of Sonic Charge’s MicroTonic drum plugin. You can create a whole song just with this little device, boasting 64 patterns and chaining, and you can sync it with the other Pocket Operators. They do take a fair bit of fiddling to get used to, but once you’re in the flow they are so much fun.


Korg Volca Drum

  • Powerful for such a little machine

  • Potential to create very unique sounds

Korg’s Volca series has built its own following, with plenty of viral YouTube videos in which people jam with lots of the Volca family (besides drum computers, these little boxes also come as synths, samplers and more). Several of them are semi-analogue, however the Korg Volca Drum can be listed among the best drum machines that are fully digital. In fact, it’s the digital synthesis that allows it to generate weird and wonderful sounds, relying on its virtual oscillators, resonators and modulators. You can also design sounds with its multi-layer engine. Volcanic potential.


Korg Volca Beats

  • Great analogue sounds

  • Small and portable

And that leads us nicely to the Volca Drum’s hybrid analogue/digital sibling, the Volca Beats. It’s very well-established as one of the best rhythm machines you can buy, especially at this price range, just above £/$100. The six analogue sounds are the kick, snare, hi-hats and toms, and then four fantastic PCM sounds: claves, clap, agogo and crash cymbal. The hybrid sounds all compliment each other wonderfully. The sweet little editing knobs allow you to manipulate each of the sounds to your heart’s desire. You won’t get fantastic analogue sounds at a better price than this, and, like all the Volcas, the Beats is so easy to take around with you.


IK Multimedia Uno Drum

  • Fully analogue despite small frame

  • 100 presets and 100 memory slots

It’s very impressive that the Uno Drum is IK Multimedia’s first analogue instrument, as it more than earns its place among the best drum machines currently available. The snare, clap, hi-hat and kick all have a delightful analogue warmth, and they partner with 54 PCM sample sounds from the IK library. It’s not the most durable build listed here, so be careful not to leave it in danger of being knocked off a table or stand. Choose from 100 preset kits, and it provides a 100-pattern memory to save to. Also enjoy its excellent sequencer, and features like stutter and roll.


Alesis SR18

  • One of the most worthy of the ‘vintage’ title

  • A great choice for indie/rock musicians who need backing

Vintage emulation has come up numerous times already on this list of the best drum machines, and you’ll struggle to find more vintage vibes than on the Alesis SR18. While you can create modern-sounding electronic beats of almost any genre, be it house or techno, with this fella, you can create beats from any genre. Need a bossa-nova beat to play sax along to? Sure! Are you an indie singer/songwriter that can’t afford a session drummer yet? No worries — Alesis’ drum machines can create beats that emulate a real drum kit very nicely. The Alesis SR16 is a storied drum machine with 20 years in the game, and the SR18 is a worthy update on the original, with lots of on-board effects and processing.


Behringer RD-8

  • Astonishing emulation of a classic drum machine

  • Much more affordable than the unit it is based on

Whisper it quietly, but many hold the belief that Behringer has done a better job of emulating the Roland TR-808 (the drum computer that started it all) with the RD-8 than any of the emulation machines Roland have put out themselves. Controversial as it may sound, if you don’t fancy remortgaging your home to get a second hand TR-808, the RD-8 may be the next best thing, costing way below £/$300.

As well as recreating the warmth of the original kicks, hi-hats and bass drums, this rhythm machine has a 64-step sequencer, and some deft modern touches like real-time triggering, overdubs, and a general ease of editing beats mid-performance.


Arturia Drumbrute Impact

  • Analogue powerhouse

  • More portable than the Drumbrute

Arturia is known as a French delicacy when it comes to analogue gear that is both affordable and on point. And one of the most brutal among the best drum machines is the Drumbrute Impact. A smaller version of the older brute, the Arturia Drumbrute, the Impact is a fantastic-sounding all-analogue rhythm machine with 10 instruments, a pleasingly brutish distortion effect which you can tweak, plus velocity and pressure-sensitive pads. The 64 pattern slots make life nice and easy, and overall the Impact is a brilliant instrument to get you going on your drum machine journey.

Like its bigger DrumBrute sibling, the Impact couples its sequencer with an all-analogue drum synthesis engine and very flexible pattern saving/song mode capabilities. Visually, the Impact looks pretty similar to its predecessor, housed in a solid, navy blue chassis familiar from the rest of Arturia’s Brute range.


Novation Circuit Tracks

  • Fantastic groovebox

  • Perfect for those who love performing on pads

The pedants among us may be wondering why Novation’s Circuit Tracks is appearing amongst the best drum machines when it more identifies as a groovebox. But its four-track sampled drum machine, two polysynths, send effects and step-sequencing mean it’s undoubtedly worthy of being in any best drum computer list worth its salt. The Circuit Tracks is the second generation version of the original Circuit. It sounds similar, however the hardware is boosted with a rechargeable battery and USB input. Note that the built-in speaker of the original is gone on Tracks. It's a great drum machine to consider for those who love the pad-style workflow, and the improved sequencer and expanded presets mean this sequel is awards-worthy.


Elektron Model:Cycles

  • Stunning creative drum machine

  • Affordable but packed with features

This best drum machines compendium is about to get electric. Elektron’s Model range is substantial and covers many price brackets and requirements. And the Cycles, just shy of £/$300, is a polyphonic FM drum computer that also deservedly calls itself a synth, as you truly can create sprawling tracks with this thing going way beyond just kicks and hi-hats. The 64-step sequencer is one of the very best on offer here, and the huge array of features make it one of the most creatively-pleasing rhythm machines out there. Don’t be intimidated by it, as there are plenty of full YouTube tutorials that will get you up to speed.


Roland TR-08

  • Roland’s emulation of the TR-808

  • Classic look with several modern features

As the original Roland TR-808 got such a glowing mention as the drum machine that started it all, it would be remiss to not include Roland’s digital recreation of said classic drum computer in the best drum machines conversation. And while the TR-08 is a great emulation from the legends themselves, it stands on its own feet with modern features such as adding swing to beasts, sub-step beats, and adding randomness to your patterns. In terms of sound editing, you can play about with decay and tuning, as well as adding compression to the snare and kick. If you want a drum machine that both sounds and looks like the one where it all began, look no further.


Korg Drumlogue

  • Combines analogue warmth with digital samples

  • Big range of sound editing

Quite simply a very powerful drum computer, the Drumlogue is part of music hardware legends Korg’s ‘logue line, alongside the Minilogue and Monologue synths. In a sense, it’s similar to the Volca Beats, only bigger, more feature-heavy and packs even more analogue goodness into its frame. Like the Beats, it’s an analogue-digital hybrid — again, the kick, snare and both toms are analogue, seamlessly coupled with digital samples, the claps, rim shot, and two hi-hats. These are fused with digital oscillators and rest assured, the Drumlogue is brilliant for dropping house, techno or IDM beats. It has a huge range of connectivity options, and comes at a nice price point about midway between the budget drum machines and the most expensive units.


Roland TR-8S Rhythm Performer

  • A joy to perform with

  • Endless sonic shaping and editing

Roland comes rolling back into the best drum machines conversation with the TR-8S. And no surprises that it sounds absolutely epic, considering the name written on the kit. Based on Roland’s original TR-8 using Analogue Circuit Behaviour technology, this emulation of said drum computer combines the ACB tech with FM samples (that’s what the ‘S’ in the name stands for). In fact, Roland proudly proclaims that this unit also offers sonic recreations of the TR-808, TR-606, TR-909, TR-707, and TR-727, so there’s serious bang for buck here. The main talking point is that it sounds like the original TR-8, but offers a vast amount more sound-shaping and editing, and is fun and intuitive for creating beats in live performances or on the fly.



  • A drum machine with modular powers

  • The drum machine for those who love them to be ‘hands-on’

Korg, Roland, and then follows Moog — you couldn’t really ask for a bigger triple threat of the most legendary names in music hardware. Moog’s DFAM stands for ‘drummer from another mother’, and if there was an award for best name as well as being on this best drum machines list, this rhythm machine would surely clinch it. Name aside, you can get some truly mighty sounds out of this Moog. You may have seen a few of Moog’s semi-modular synthesizers, and the DFAM joins that lineage, as they’ve joined the weird and wacky worlds of drum machines and modular synthesis. Harnessing modular capabilities means you’ll be entering a fairly infinite world of sound customisation while you endlessly tweak the envelopes and oscillators. As such, we are very much in the pricier end of drum computers now, but the sheer analogue heavyweight power of the DFAM justifies its price tag. Those knobs and dials are such a joy to twist and turn, coupled with the delight of hearing your beats shifting in sound.


Akai MPC One+

  • A drum machine that is also a DAW in a box

  • While away the hours with finger drumming on the pads

MPCs (Music Production Centre) are having another big moment after the practice of ‘finger drumming’ has gone viral thanks to UK producer Fred Again’s performances at Glastonbury and Boiler Room. And the fact that he owns a couple of Akai products certainly won’t harm their stock shares either. The introduction of MPCs to the market in the late ‘80s was a significant moment for sequencing and sampling. They’re very much worth considering if you want your money spent to include a standalone music creation box, rather than just beats.

The MPC One+ is so powerful, it allows you to create full tracks without a DAW. It even has its own WiFi and Bluetooth built in! If you’re in this price range and after a drum machine that also does literally everything else, this could be the drum computer you are seeking.


Elektron Digitakt

  • Outrageous sequencing power

  • Incredible creative resource

As we land firmly into the high-end pricing territory, presented in front of us is one of Elektron’s flagship bits of gear, the Digitakt. And not only is it one of the best drum machines, but one of the best sampling and sequencing devices you can place your hands on. Its 16 channels are divided across MIDI and sampling channels, eight-a-piece. It is a fully-digital product, as the name suggests, but it nonetheless sounds excellent, and the overdrive and bit reduction are a great way to emulate a bit of analogue tooth to your sounds. You can load samples in using the Digitakt’s internal memory, or sampled via the audio inputs. Like the Model:Cycles mentioned earlier, this is another enormously creative instrument from Elektron and will inject a giant whack of fun into your music-making, while being very serious competition to all the other drum machines out there.


How to select the best drum machine for your needs

Still scratching your head after reading through this list of the very best drum machines out there? Don’t worry, it’s understandable. There are a lot of very good drum machines out there. Besides price, there are a few things that set each of them apart. To help you whittle your choices down to a shortlist, here are some of the key considerations.

Analogue or digital?

You may be surprised to hear that this is an absolute deal-breaker for many music gear-heads. Many producers baulk at the idea of using digital drum machines, synths, and beyond. Also, analogue often can increase the price. It’s true that it’s difficult to beat the genuine warmth and sonic character of an analogue drum machine, and bear in mind that some of the digital drum computers above are deliberately trying to mimic analogue sounds. That said, unless you’re an absolute audiophile, you may struggle to tell the difference in quality between some of the analogue and digital drum machines above. Only let this concern you if it’s a big deal to you, personally.


Bear in mind your plans for your drum machine and what you plan on connecting it to. Do you have plans to plug it into your computer/laptop to make beats in your DAW? Or are you going old school and hooking it up to a sequencer? Double-check the outputs and connectivity options before buying — this is often a factor in how the rhythm machine is priced.

Workflow and performance style

Will you just be using your drum machine at home, or do you see yourself performing live with it? If it’s the latter, you’ll want one that was designed with this in mind, i.e with large performance pads and an intuitive workflow, as opposed to tiny buttons, menu-flicking and anything else that will see you spending too much time fiddling around. Bear in mind that some of the drum machines above can essentially perform an entire backing track for you once you master them.

Further reading:

Best drum machine plugins