Ten Of The Best: Hardware Drum Machines

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We recommend ten of the best hardware drum machines available today, from brand new bargains through to money-no object vintage classics.

Pic: retrosynthads.blogspot.com

Ten Of The Best is a regular series in which we recommend our favourite products at a series of price points. The aim is to shine the light on the options which we believe offer the best value for money no matter your budget.

Whether you’re a full-time music maker or a bedroom hobbyist, chances are your studio is limited to some extent by your budget. Every day we’re asked for advice on choosing gear and, regardless of the price point, it’s usually the budget which defines the question: “What’s the best for under £800?” or “I only have £100 to spend – what should I buy?”

Hardware drum machines have always been difficult to buy. There are so many questions to answer before you even consider specific models. Analogue or digital? New or vintage? Flexible or focused? Hub of the entire studio or a humble sound module which keeps itself to itself?

Drum machines are also an area where spending more money doesn’t necessarily get you a ‘better’ unit, but there’s generally still a strong correlation between price and overall desirability, whether that’s defined in terms of sound, workflow, versatility, classic status or even potential returns on the investment.

“Spending more money doesn't necessarily get you a 'better' drum machine, but there's a strong correlation.”

Our recent monitor round-up only covered new models, but this time around we’ve also included second-hand gear, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, you can often get a lot more for your money by looking at vintage models which have depreciated significantly since they were new, or just by hunting for a good used example of a model still in production. Secondly, some of the best drum machines money can buy haven’t been produced for the best part of two decades. We’d be crazy to rule them out.

No matter your budget, these are the places we’d recommend starting your search: our picks of some of the best options around, from the most affordable all the way through to the holy grails of dance music production. Join us as we run through our favourites all the way from £50 through to £3,000.

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  • Roc Wrote:

    Wow no Tempest !
    Great Great Post ! Thanks

  • Attack Wrote:

    Roc – the Tempest’s in there!

  • KV Wrote:

    SP1200 > SP12


  • j85 Wrote:

    thanks for this. i was looking at the tanzbar but i didnt know how cool the machinedrum was. another one to check out.

    do a feature like this on analog synths! 😉

  • Syn-Fi Wrote:

    no oberheim dmx? no dynacord ADD-one?

  • sam Wrote:

    Jomox xbase 888 is killer once you change the sounds in it

  • n64 Wrote:

    @KV the 1200 has no ROM sounds so it’s definitely a sampler and not a drum machine. I agree it’s better than the Sp12. Both incredible though.

    Attack, please do a Ten Of The Best on samplers. MPCs, SP1200 etc. Keep up the great work!

  • Cam Wrote:

    id replace the 606 with the 808, but then again I haven’t owned either of them :p

  • brln Wrote:

    IMHO, the video featuring the Machinedrum does not make it justice.
    Some thing like the link below or any demo video from Mr Dataline can provide a deeper idea if its capabilities, just my 2cents…

  • nme Wrote:

    707 is boys noize go to drum machine. He’s got a super modified one and an orignal

  • AO Wrote:

    707 clap isn’t so bad imo!

  • Chucky Wrote:

    Casio RZ-1 is truly horrible. Worst $25 I ever spent.
    Volca Beats?
    Any MPC should of been on there.

  • Phil A Wrote:

    Repeat until fade: an MPC is a sampler, not a drum machine; an MPC is a sampler, not a drum machine; an MPC is a sampler, not a drum machine…

  • Gertie Wrote:

    korg volca toy

    no oberheim dx/dmx
    no sequential drumtrak
    no sequential tom
    no simmons :-O
    no dynacord add one
    no pearl syncussion
    no LINNDRUM?

    really poor list made by roland fanboy

  • kaison Wrote:

    Too true on the Volca, didnt think as first look but when you get on one its fun as hell!

  • Niccolò Wrote:

    @Gertie i love lots of the drum machines you mention but i suppose this feature is meant to represent the ideal proportion between money, fun and sound you can get nowadays, and, let’s face it, the best part of roland tr series can match this.

  • soulray Wrote:

    I’d add jomox 999 here as well as linndrum

  • won Wrote:

    you are a douche for missing mpc

  • Sizzle MacDonald Wrote:

    @won… MPC is a sampler, not a drum machine. Doubled-douched.

  • Chucky Wrote:

    “MPC is a sampler”
    What do think a SP12 is? It plays samples……

  • Orlando Wrote:

    Bull. If the SP is mentioned here, then the MPC series should have been represented…

  • guy Wrote:

    Tr 808 is the best

  • Alex L Wrote:

    What the hell??? Why isn’t the Linn LM-1 on here? And if you’re gonna add the DRM1, you guys might’ve well put the SDS-V on this list.

  • Js Wrote:

    Guys complaining about drum machines not being mentioned…..
    MAKE Your own LIST.

  • Bob Wrote:

    Hi guys! Which make of drum machines do you recommend me?

  • xtz Wrote:

    where is the Analog Rytm?????

  • Anna Sui Wrote:

    Why an SP12 and not a SP1200?? Why a Tempest and not a LM1??? Best hardware drum machines in what sense? Poor columnists here…

  • Hannah Covey Wrote:

    Wow I like these reviews. I’ve been using drum machines for about 7 years now, and I’m thinking of switching over to a simpler version of one, well at least simpler to use (not simple in functionality). Anyone ever used the BeatBuddy (their site is http://www.mybeatbuddy.com )? It looks pretty cool, but I am not sure if I should get it. I’m really thinking of getting it, can anyone tell me if it’s worth making the switch??

  • varmint Wrote:

    Best drum machine ever: The one that has the sound you want.

  • Johnbeat Wrote:

    RZ-1 is *horrible*. It is so bad, I actually bought one new in like ’83 and played with it for like 2 weeks… it’s timing was sloppy, sounds were dull and I ended up taking it back and getting a TR-505… which was no great DM either, but at least had a snappy kick.

  • dangan Wrote:

    Zoom RT-234? It’s cheap and incredibly flexible.

  • james Wrote:

    I agree with dagan,
    I have the orginal Zoom RT-123.
    The button layout is very intuitive – unlike anything else in this review.

  • cosmetology career Wrote:

    The RZ-1 is actually really useful, just not as a main instrument. I find it is best used being run by another box to cut sounds in as accents and fill. As a main or only piece, it’s really going to let a lot of folks down, it’s all about the faders and the outputs, one per instrument, give you all manner of processing options to takes it’s admittedly cheesy sound to a level far beyond it’s capabilities.
    Now for the “why not this…” part, Electribes, personally I would replace the Volca with them, but that’s me.

  • Aa Wrote:

    Where is the Sonic Potions LXR???

    Amazing drum machine for the price.

  • Larry Holmes Wrote:

    lol how the hell you put aSP12 and no MPC. this is bullshit preference based article

  • listenForward Wrote:

    nice to see the Tanzbar and MDS-1 in there…
    but I NEVER see a list like this include any of the Zoom RT-series, which had a kind of sequencing that has yet to be re-created in any other machine.
    Their “Groove Play” mode allowed you to play multiple patterns (of arbitrary length/meter) simultaneously… with velocity and time-alignment control by pads… somewhat a hardware pre-cursor to Ableton clip launching…

  • Map Wrote:

    Don,t forget the sounds u hear r fatten up with a analogue filter (white box on top) a Niio Iotine 👍. Only whant to say the sounds r more thin without the filter.

  • Map Wrote:

    I mean the dsi 👆