Best drum machines to buy in 2021: 10 best drum machines under $400

Our picks for the best drum machines and samplers designed for beat-making.

Making intricate beats in 2021 is easily achievable in the DAW with the right samples and plug-ins. But there’s something about getting hands-on with a drum machine that instantly hits us with inspiration and creativity. Plus, these beatmaking machines aren’t nearly as expensive as they used to be, and a market desire for vintage drum machine sounds has encouraged manufacturers to bring back the good ol’ classics. Newer, original drum machines come with their lovable quirks too.

Whether you’re looking for a vintage revival or something totally new to spice up your workflow, we’ve compiled 10 of our favourites for under $400 that will have you whipping up rhythms in no time.

Roland TR-06

Roland TR-06

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Roland’s drum machines can be heard across countless genres spanning the last three to four decades. The TR-808 and TR-909 are true icons in music, but the TR-606 Drumatix doesn’t always get the love it deserves. Designed to complement the TB-303, the TR-606 became synonymous with acid house, and Roland has brought it back for a new generation of producers, this time as the TR-06 Boutique.

The compact TR-06 uses Roland’s Analog Circuit Behaviour for authentic 606 sounds, with the ability to program 32 steps per pattern. 128 patterns can be stored in the memory, in up to eight different songs. It’s built with an effects engine comprising delay, distortion, bitcrusher and more, along with the ability to flam and ratchet sounds for quick creation of trap beats.

In our review, we said: “It’s unfair to think of the TR-06 as merely a clone of the original 606. It boasts all the charm of Roland’s classic box but extends its capabilities, as appealing as a vintage throwback as it is a future-facing Eurorack-friendly production unit. There’s little not to like.”

Price £350/$399
Sound engine Analog Circuit Behaviour
Sequencer 32 steps
Inputs 1/8″ TRS input, MIDI In, 1/8″ trigger in
Outputs 1/8″ TRS output, MIDI out, USB, five 1/8″ trigger out

Read our full review here.

Korg Volca Drum

Korg Volca Drum

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The Volca range from Korg lends itself to all sorts of experimentation, being small, portable, cheap and very connectable. Volca Drum has DSP-modelled sound architecture comprising six parts, each with two layers. Although the sample waveforms are simple sines, saws and high-passed noise, there’s loads of versatility thanks to a waveguide resonator, which models the resonances of drum shells and tubes.

Volca Drum has a 16-step sequencer with a motion sequence function that memorises up to 69 knob operations during real-time recording. The Slice feature will let you easily perform drum rolls, while the Accent and swing functions let you pronounce specific steps and create a sense of groove.

As with all the Volca models, the Drum can be powered by nine-volt DC or by six AA batteries for on-the-go beatmaking. You’ll also get a bundle of music software to record and expand upon your musical ideas.

Price £135/$149
Sound engine DSP analogue modelling
Sequencer 16 steps
Inputs MIDI in, 1/8″ sync in
Outputs 1/8″ output, 1/8″ sync out,

Learn more at korg.com.

Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator PO-32

Pocket Operators are among the most portable electronic instruments on the market – the clue’s in the name. Teenage Engineering’s noise-makers are small but mighty and the PO-32 Tonic is definitely a drum machine to consider. You’ll need the Microtonic software to unlock the full potential of PO-32 and load in new sounds, but plenty of fun can be had with the stock samples.

We said: “PO-32 tonic features 16 main buttons, with 16 sounds or patterns to select. The pitch, drive and tone of these sounds can be adjusted with the two rotaries. Pre-programmed patterns can be chosen via the 16 keys and you can easily add to them by choosing one of the 16 sounds, twisting its character and then recording over the patterns in a 16-step, switch on, switch off way. It’s very easy and great fun”.

“You can also add one of 16 very good effects to the mix, simply by holding the FX button and selecting as patterns play. As a drum machine in its own right, PO-32 tonic is fabulous and offers amazing flexibility”.

Price $169/£159 with Microtonic, $89/£85 standalone
Sound engine Microtonic
Sequencer 16 steps
Inputs 1/8″ input
Outputs 1/8″ out

Read our review here.

Behringer RD-6

Behringer RD-6

If you’re tempted by the Roland TR-06 but want to save a little more cash, Behringer’s rendition might take your fancy. Behringer’s RD-6 is fully analogue and features eight classic drum sounds inspired by the TR-606, minus the clap, which has been taken from the BOSS DR-110 drum machine. The 16-step sequencer can switch between 32 separate patterns, with the ability to link them up to 250 bars worth of sequences.

You’ll have access to essential parameters with 11 controls and 26 switches. In the top right is a distortion panel, which can be switched on and off and shaped with the three dedicated knobs. The distortion is modelled after the coveted BOSS DS-1 distortion pedal.

While the original Roland TR-606 was manufactured with just a silver finish, Behringer has given you a whole palette of colours to choose from.

Price $129-159/£139
Sound engine Analogue
Sequencer 16 steps
Inputs 1/8″ input, MIDI in, USB
Outputs 1/4″ mix out, six 1/8″ voice out, 1 x 1/8″ headphone, MIDI out/thru, USB

Roland TR-6S

Roland TR-6s

The design of Roland’s TR-6S will be familiar to those who have seen the brand’s TR-8S, a modernisation of the TR-808 and TR-909. This six-channel drum machine is compact and sports a classic TR step sequencer with volume faders for each voice. You’ll get a host of advanced functions such as sub-steps, flam, step-loop, motion recording and more.

This unassuming beatbox is more than just a modern-day 606, though, with circuit models of the 808, 909, 606 and 707. Plus, the TR-6S supports the loading of custom user samples and boasts an FM sound engine for an expanded palette of sounds.

Roland’s TR-6S features built-in effects, which you can even apply to other instruments, as the TR-6S functions as a USB audio and MIDI interface. This machine can be powered by either four AA batteries or by USB bus for on-the-go use. Roland’s TR-6S does stretch just a tad over the $400 mark for USA buyers, but it could be worth the extra few bucks for the sounds it can produce.

Price $409/£269
Sound engine Analog Circuit Behaviour
Sequencer 16 steps
Inputs 1/8″ input, MIDI in, USB
Outputs 1/4″ mix out, six 1/8″ voice out, 1 x 1/8″ headphone, MIDI out/thru, USB

IK Multimedia UNO Drum

IK Multimedia UNO Drum

UNO Drum is the sibling to IK Multimedia’s UNO Synth. It’s the same size, weighs the same, and has the same four/three rotary combination on the front panel. Those first four dials control a matrix of options at the top left of the device. The UNO Drum is built with 12 drum touch-sensitive pads, with a 16 step-sequencer just below. A whopping 100 kits are available on UNO Drum across 12 drum parts, which you can make up to 100 patterns with.

We said: “UNO Drum’s greatest strengths are its analogue sounds and what you can do with them; you can simply bend, stretch, meld and sweep all the onboard supplied analogue sounds to whatever degree you wish for (and most of the PCM ones) and could spend hours doing just this to come up with your own extreme kits. Perhaps we may even see additional sounds added with a software update.”

“Either way, as it stands, UNO Drum is another small and lightweight piece of IK hardware that delivers beyond its weight”.

Price $249/£149
Sound engine Analogue/PCM
Sequencer 64 steps
Inputs 1/8″ input, 1/8″ MIDI in, USB
Outputs 1/8″out, 1/8″ MIDI out, USB

Read our review here.

Elektron Model: Samples

elektron model samples

While Elektron’s offering is more of a groovebox than a drum machine, the six-track instrument is still very worthy of making our list. Model:Samples’ control surface has 16 knobs, 15 buttons, six pads, a display, and 16 sequencing keys. The minimal design and operation will have you creating beats in no time and will get you hooked on hardware if you don’t have any already.

We said: “It wouldn’t be wrong to think of the Model:Samples as a superbly cool sequencer that also happened to do some sample playback. Each project can contain up to 96 patterns and up to 64 patterns can be chained in real-time. Up to 96 projects can be contained within the M:S drive at any time, with up to 64MB of samples available for each project”.

“Despite being noticeably simple in build quality and sampling functionality, this is actually an incredibly fun machine and a brilliant sequencer – in fact, if all it did was sequence, it’d still be a worthy purchase. This will work for beginners, but also for open-minded pros who’ll appreciate the immediacy.”

Price $299/£149
Sound engine Samples
Sequencer 64 steps
Inputs 1/8″ input, 1/8″ MIDI in, USB
Outputs 1/8″out, 1/8″ MIDI out, USB

Read our review here

Roland TR-08

6 of the Best Affordable Drum Machines - Roland TR-08

As aforementioned, the Roland TR-808 is a studio icon. Its deep kick drum, crisp hats and snappy snare can be heard in tracks by a plethora revered artists, from Marvin Gaye to Beyonce. Roland’s 21st Century revival comes in a Boutique form factor, offering authentic 808 sounds with some new features for the modern producer.

The highly portable drum machine can hook up to your DAW via USB, letting you record each channel individually to manipulate as you see fit. Other great features include the ability to control the decay of many of the instruments, along with the joyfulness of the long-decay bass drum, which will have hip-hop fans shaking the room with excitement.

We said: “The ability to sub-step instrument patterns, allowing for smaller steps in place, also brings the step programming into the modern age. Although the programming architecture is similarly tricky at first, the reward is great thanks to the thundering kicks and beautifully nuanced sounds from that era. Place this in your track, and you’ll never know that it’s not an original, which makes this a bargain”.

Price $399/£149
Sound engine Analog Circuit Behaviour
Sequencer 16 steps
Inputs 1/8″ input, 1/8″ MIDI in
Outputs 1/8″ out, 1/8″ MIDI out, USB

Read our review here.

Arturia DrumBrute Impact

Arturia DrumBrute Impact

Arturia’s Brute instruments always pack a punch, especially DrumBrute Impact. The all-analogue drum machine is the younger sibling to the DrumBrute, combining 10 big drum sounds with a powerful 64-step sequencer, which you can use to program up to 64 patterns.

You’ll find dedicated circuits for kick, two snares, toms, cymbal or cowbell, closed and open hats plus a versatile FM synthesis channel. You can apply swing to your beats for more groove, roll your hats with a dedicated roller function, use the onboard looper for glitchy beat-repeats and get experimental with a randomiser feature. A rich distortion effect can subtly saturate your beats or decimate them at full throttle.

DrumBrute Impact can be hooked up to other gear over MIDI and USB and can route out kick, snares, hi-hats and the FM engine separately for post-processing. These four sounds are affected by Impact’s Color feature, which adds overdrive for more exciting sounds.

Price $299/£249
Sound engine Analogue
Sequencer 16 steps
Inputs 1/8″ input, 1/8″ clock in, MIDI in
Outputs 1 x 1/4″ (mix out), four 1/8″ outs (kick, snare, hi-hat, FM drum), 1/8″ clock out, MIDI out, USB

Behringer RD-8

Behringer RD-8 drum machine

While Roland opted to revive its TR-808 as a miniature, digital device, Behringer has taken the liberty of recreating it with a similar look and feel. Behringer’s RD-8 is a desktop-size, all-analogue 808 reproduction with just enough modern features to bring it into a 2021 workflow.

The RD-8’s primary features are its 16 drum sounds and 64-step sequencer. The latter, in particular, has support for poly-meter, step- and note-repeat as well as real-time triggering. Additionally, the device also boasts an integrated wave designer and dual-mode 12dB filter, both of which can be assigned to individual voices.

With a 1/4″ output for each voice, you’ll need a mixing desk or audio interface to process each voice. This might make it an ideal choice for anyone after a genuine TR-808 experience. The tuning of kick and toms can be easily modified, as can kick drum decay, snare snappiness, and cymbal tone.

Price $349/£299
Sound engine Analogue
Sequencer 16 steps
Inputs 1/8″ input, 1/8″ clock in, MIDI in
Outputs 1 x 1/4″ (mix out), four 1/8″ outs (kick, snare, hi-hat, FM drum), 1/8″ clock out, MIDI out, USB

For more music technology buyer’s guides, click here.

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