Prepare for a few controversial decisions as we run down our list of the best drum machines of all time. From the fattest analogue machines to the iconic sample-based units and seminal early rhythm boxes, we’ve whittled the options down to our ten favourites.

10 – Alesis HR-16/HR-16B

Launched: 1987
Original RRP: $600 (around £375)
Current price: £50-200 for a unit in good, usable condition

For a long time in the 70s and 80s, drum machines remained the preserve of the relatively moneyed music-making elite (LinnDrum for $2,995 anyone?). It all changed in 1987 when Alesis unveiled the HR-16, one of its first forays into the drum machine market and the first truly low-cost digital drum machine. Overnight the playing field was levelled.

Offering an impressive 49 16-bit sampled drum and percussion sounds – including a full ‘ethnic’ set – the HR-16 was both powerful and affordable, and with sequencing duties taken care of across 100 user-programmable patterns (and 100 songs), its studio credentials couldn’t be argued with either. It was also incredibly easy to use.

Sound-wise the HR-16 is both clean, full-bodied and clear, if a bit, well… cheesy (its closely related younger sibling, the HR-16B, has a better sample set). Not that that stopped it from being embraced (and loved) by many thousands of fans and circuit benders worldwide, including Orbital, Leftfield and Autechre.

If there was a flaw with the HR (and at that price, there really wasn’t), then it was the construction, which was notably flimsy, with unreliable gummy buttons and irritating pads. But when it managed to blow open the floodgates to beat builders worldwide these minor failings seem, at best, churlish, and even today the box remains a solid investment.

Author David Felton
1st August, 2012

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