5 Great Drum Machines for Beatmakers
We live in a world where anyone can be a musician. The technology and innovations of the digital age have made music more accessible. It used to be a significant investment, as you would need to purchase an instrument and invest in lessons to learn how to play it. This simply isn’t the case anymore.
As we’ve already discussed in our article on getting into music production, you can start making music with just an iPhone. You can even sign up for online lessons to learn how to manipulate digital audio workstation software such as Ableton.
Doing all of that should give you enough to cover the basics and start making tracks of your own. However, we know you continually want to improve upon your craft. So how do you go about doing this? Well, try to recall any great song and they’ll have one thing in common: great steady drumming.
Drumbeats can often provide a song with a good base that it can then build upon. So what better place to start than there? We’ve put together a list of the best drum machines you can utilize to expand upon the types of songs you can make.
Let’s start this list off with what may just be the most iconic drum machine in the world. The Roland TR-808, or more commonly known as The 808, can be heard in a multitude of iconic tracks ranging from Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing to Kanye West’s 2008 hit Love Lockdown (Kanye also named his album 808s & Heartbreak after the drum machine).
Indeed, there’s no questioning that this is one of the more storied pieces of equipment on this list. But what makes The 808 so great?
Well, to answer that question look (or listen) no further than the machine’s iconic kick drum sound. If you’ve ever listened to hip-hop or electronic music you’ve certainly heard this deep sub-bass sound.
The 808 set itself apart by having the most “real” sounding kick drum sound during the time of its release back in the 1980s — cementing its place in modern music history.
For anyone looking for a modern take
DigiTech JamMan XT
Now, it may seem odd to add the DigiTech JamMan XT to this list but it certainly has its uses. The wide range of drum machines on Tonebox, demonstrate how these devices can make it easier to start songwriting as they allow you to use beats in ways that make the most sense to your personal process.
This is much easier and faster to do than finding a drummer you can actually gel with. In fact, according to Vulture, even musicians such as Radiohead’s Thom Yorke have utilized drum machines to aid in the songwriting process.
The JamMan is a no-frills device that can help act as the backbone for the track that you’re working on. It comes with 10 pre-loaded drum loops that’ll most likely fit into the track you’re working on.
The pedal also lets you speed up or slow down a drum track without affecting the pitch, making this pedal even more flexible.
Roli Seaboard Block
From the simplest piece of gear on the list to what may just be the most unconventional one, the Roli Seaboard Block is a keyboard that responds to how you press on the keys. It features a 24 key wave, two-octave playing surface allowing for maximum expressiveness depending on how hard you press on the keys and the direction that you glide or slide your fingers on its surface.
While the beats that come from it are rather standard, the keyboard function allows you to compose tracks intuitively. The Rolis Seaboard Block is a piece of gear that is conducive for creativity, as it allows you to quite literally feel tracks out.
Another great feature is that it’s compatible with programs such as Ableton Live and Garage Band, letting you transpose anything that comes from a particularly inspired session into the studio for further polishing.
Teenage Engineering PO-33 K.O. Pocket Operator
Made by the Swedish electronics company Teenage Engineering, the PO-33 K.O. Pocket Operator is a micro sampler than can turn any and all sounds into a sequence of beats. While the device does come with preloaded tracks, its true potential lies in its sampling abilities.
You can record up to 16 sounds and the device will automatically split them up and assign them to the buttons on the device. You can then change the pitch of these samples allowing for maximum experimentation, blurring the lines of what can and can’t be considered as percussive beats.
Another great thing about the PO-33 is that it’s the most portable among the other pieces of gear on this list. As the name suggests, the PO-33 can indeed fit in your pocket.
This is perfect if you’ve been struck by inspiration by any of the sounds that you may encounter through your day, as all you’ll have to do is take out this device and record the sample for future use.
Arturia Spark Vintage Drum Machine
We started this list with the classic 808, so it would be fitting to end it with the Arturia Spark Vintage Drum Machine (VDM). Unlike the other drum machines on this list, the Spark VDM is completely digital and will require you to map it to your MIDI keyboard of choice.
Being fully digital allows it to be one of the most comprehensive drum machines, as you’ll be load kits onto it depending on what you’ll need.
As the name suggests the Spark VDM specializes in vintage drum sounds ranging from the 808 to the equally iconic Oberheim DMX (popularized by Run DMC). The Spark VDM features a total of 30 legendary drum machines, all of which were carefully reproduced in order to sound as authentic and close to the real thing as possible.
Seeing as many of these retro drum machines are close to impossible to get (without breaking the bank), the Spark VDM is a more afforable alternative.
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