Music is a universal language but composing music may not be a task that can be done in minutes, it consumes a lot of time as it involves a variety of tasks that needs to be done for successful results. Making music needs writing, practice, recording, mixing, sound, vocals and a lot more. A musical piece may involve use of a number of instruments and you would need musicians. But when it comes to this time consuming task, it is not viable to hire someone to play while you are trying to compose something. In comparison to live performers, thus drum machines are a much suitable option and should be preferred if you want this process to go smother and easier for you. A best drum machine is a good resource if you want to do experimentation with compositions and wish to involve varied sounds and musical tones in your track.
What is a Drum Machine?
Drum machine is an electronic musical instrument. What it actually does is that it is programmed to replicate sound of electronic drums. Not only it imitates drums but it is programmed to give sound of various other musical instruments. It appears like a keyboard in the form of a square box and this interesting machine allows user to mix and compose sound in absence of live performering drummers. They are impressive companions to composers looking for a supporting background music for their lyrics. Not only you can create sound but you can also record and store sounds. Different devices would give you different sound characters. With these machines, you can create sound internally, samples-based or a combination of both. Many models include a sequencer and with the aid of such machines you can program a musical pattern that could be played back. User gets the flexibility to create their own unique sound by mixing different sounds together.
Types of Drum Machines:
Drum machines are usually based on samples or synthesis and may be a hybrid of both. Whatever their interface may be, they are commonly found in the following formats including dedicated hardware, software based or software supported drum machines. These machines are driven by software and the main difference between types of drum machines is how software of it is interfaced with its hardware.
- Dedicated Hardware Drum Machines: They are standalone single box machines that are self-contained. They run with their own software and are thus known for simplicity of use. The main drawback with them is that they do not have a path to upgrade. This may not be essential as many of the old models are still in use without any upgrade.
- Software Based Drum Machines: They need their software to be run on a different machine and it could be a computer system. Many such machines do not have hardware but are usually operated with the use of input of that computer system. Such software based drum machines can be upgraded and their use is completely flexible. Their main drawback is that they completely depend upon another system for use.
- Software Supported Drum Machines: They offer a central ground between hardware based and software based drum machines. Software of these machines are run locally on their own hardware. Although additional features, customization and upgrades can be done by connecting this machine to a computer system. It is a combination of both worlds and the only disadvantage is that they are more expensive systems.
Why Buy a Drum Machine?
If you as an individual wants to create a sound without having a set of drums and a band of live performers, then you need a best model that does a similar job giving you a completely soulful rhythm. Drum machine is something that you can keep in your backpack and thus don’t need to carry all the hardware that is involved in a real drum set. This compact machine gives you complete versatility and flexibility of use with a variety of drums and other instrument sounds in a single unit. With this single hardware piece, you can create complete songs. Drum machines are also used for sampling whereas people also use it for live performances.
Top 3 Drum Machines Today:
1. Alesis SR18 Drum Machine with Effects Engine:
This is one of the best-sellers when we have a look at drum machine reviews. It fits professional environment and work caliber of a proficient musician. Acoustic drum sounds and impressive background tracks can be created with the aid of this device that is completely customizable. Highly portable weighing slightly over 1 pound and thus gives you ease of carrying along with other features. The sound created from this machine closely replicates live performance sounds and it offers you a versatile range with more than 500 drum and percussion sounds along with 50 bass sounds. Its 32 MB sound set gives you enough space for recordings.
Backlit LCD display and intuitive features such as Stereo Main and Aux outputs, headphone output, 1/4″ input jack, 2 footswitch jacks and MIDI I/O are features that you should look for. Drum pads are designed to be velocity sensitive with dynamic articulation. It features built-in reverb effects along with EQ and Compression that user can edit and set for each pad according to requirement. This drum machine comes with AC power adapter but you can also use it with 6 AA batteries. It comes with an affordable price tag.
2. Zoom RT223 Rhythm Trak:
Weighing around 1.5 pounds, it is another portable choice for basic drumming needs whether it is about composing, recording or practicing. This model is a basic set with simple controls and an affordable price.You can use it with batteries or AC power adaptor (not included) to begin composition and recording and thus is a perfect choice for beginners in the field. With the Zoom RT223, user can create his own drum kits and this machine can store up to 127 individually programmed kits. 12 built-in bass sound sources gives you a versatile line to play on your pads.
Onboard COMP EQ and REVERB effects gives you ease of improving and controlling quality of tones. You can cover any style of music with its 440 preset rhythm patterns and can create your own customized patterns by mixing styles. Drum pads are touch sensitive and thus works around dynamics of your fingers. Up to 511 patterns can be created and stored over this drum machine. Simple user-friendly design, metronome function and MIDI I/O makes it a superb choice for musicians.
3. Akai Professional XR20 Beat Production Station:
A professional industrial strength drum machine that is loaded with all kind of effects, sounds, vocals, bass and synth that enables musicians to create anything anywhere. Hit sound effects and a lot of control gives you a completely packed device for sound production. With less efforts and in no time, you can mix different sound shots and effects to create a fascinating mix. This drum machine ensures precision of beats with visual cues added in the form of its backlit pads. A backlit LCD screen enhances clarity. Weighing 3.9 pounds and with wall or battery operated power, it can be carried anywhere and used with ease.
Footswitch and inputs for start/stop gives you complete control on your beats including start and end of a beat along with filling of drums. You can thus use your hands for other controls of this device. This drum machine is the most suitable option for hip-hop and R&B along with bass sounds, synth, REVERB, EQ and COMPRESSION. The machine is loaded with more than 700 sounds from drums and varied instruments. Apart from that is offers microphone support with plug-in system and headphone output.
How to Program your Drum Machine?
Different types of drum machines can be programmed differently. Drum programming is basically how you compose with drums. With a drum machine in your hands, you are not playing live with varied components of a drum kit yet you are creating sound and it is done in real-time. User can create sound with this machine by creating drum patterns by pressing trigger pads similar to playing a drum kit. A user can also use step sequencing to build a pattern by addition of individual sounds and by individual placements of these sounds. These patterns placed are then sequenced according to sequence of a song.
Creating a pattern may not be difficult but creating a pattern that includes all the multitudes in the form of fills, break-downs and other essential aspects of programming is important and may be a tough one. You need to be good at listening so that you can self-asses the pattern that you are creating. Most of the drum machines also include MIDI connectivity that makes programming even easier. You can program these machines through your computer or any other MIDI device.
For example if you are creating a dance pattern in general four-to-the-floor, it means that you want to create a rhythmic electronic dance pattern with beat in 4/4 time where bass drum is hit on each beat in a timely manner. So you can place a closed high hat on 3rd, 7th, 11th and 15th step followed by a kick drum on 1st, 5th, 9th and 13th step. Next you snare on 5th and 13th. These steps are not fixed and you may create variation in pattern to fit your sequence. Drum machine would adjust timing and beat if it is slightly off beat to make it sound even better.
Drum Machines vs. Samplers:
|Drum machines include some fixed preloaded drum sounds that can be sampled or synthesized.||Samplers on the other hand are capable of recording and manipulating sound.They do not have any preloaded sounds.|
|Both include interfaces where user can program, sequence and edit sound notes.||Both include interfaces where user can program, sequence and edit sound notes.|
|Scope of sound is limited to sounds that your drum machine contains.||Scope is wider with samplers as user can load their own sounds too.|
What to look for while choosing the Best Drum Machine?
When it comes to buying a drum machine, you will get a variety to choose from. Some devices available in market are really basic ones and are most suitable for live performers or beginners with composition. While other machines include a variety of sound and effects that contributes to composition of a full song with versatility in music. A number of factors needs to be considered when choosing the best one so that it can serve the purpose you are buying it for. We have highlighted some of the important features that one can consider depending upon requirements:
- Portability: Drum machines weigh differently. You may find models that would weight well under 3 pounds and these would be highly compact and portable that you can carry easily in a backpack. Whereas any machine that is under 6 pounds would be easy to carry. All these portable machines are preferred so that they don’t occupy much space in your studio too and you can easily carry them along.
- Dual Power Supply: Some machines need AC wall power whereas some also have the ability to work on power from batteries. If your device can run on battery power, it will further enhance your portability but make sure that the machine you are considering has good battery life so that you don’t end up losing power in the middle of a performance.
- Pressure Sensitivity: Many drum machines have pressure-sensitive keypads. Pads on the drum offer varied sounds in the form of bass, tom, snare and other effects. As in real drum kits, you can add versatility with finger drumming similar could be implemented on drum machines if they have pressure-sensitive pads. With this feature, you can further program tracks with more sounds added to the recorded ones in drum machine.
- Editing Features: Modern models offer editing features for sound programmers to create more impressive sound. They can recreate something on their own and would be able to record them in combination to other sound effects and preset music. These editing features makes machines more flexible and you can thus add many different patterns to make it more interesting.
- Effects: Drum machines include built-in effects in the form of varied tones, instrument’s sounds, bass, reverb and other effects and these can be added to preset sound to make music more exotic. Thus in the absence of a good guitar player, a musician may deliver guitar tracks too with the aid of his advance multiple sound reproducing drum machine.
- I/O Jacks: Drum machines may include multiple I/O jacks and this feature gives you flexibility and ease of programming. These jacks can be used to connect footswitch, stereos and headphones so that you can create, mix and record without getting distracted from noise outside and you would not need to worry about disturbing others with your sound. You can even add other instruments to these devices in order to record your own sounds and music. These sounds recorded from other instruments or devices can later be edited, recorded and saved on your drum machine.
- Footswitch Outputs: Footswitch outputs are important especially for live performances. With the aid of these outputs, you can easily control some functions of your machine with your feet and your hands can focus on controlling other actions. Some pedals such as expression pedals enable you to control volume and sound intensity with your feet. These features are important for live performances.
- Clear Backlit Display: When you are performing live with a drum machine and you are finding it difficult to see what is on the screen for you; you will get a hard time. Thus if you can get a backlit clear LCD display with your machine, it would make using the device simpler and comfortable.
- Ease of Programming & Enhanced Memory: These are two most important aspects when you are finding the right model. This involves ease of using this device. Many drum machines include pre-programmed patterns that are already saved on your device. This gives you ease of using drum machine and you can mix and make variations in order to get desired results. Moreover the patterns you create are saved in device memory. The more memory your device has, the more patterns you will be able to record and save for use at a later time.
- Support: You may have a lot of questions regarding use of your drum machine and if your device manufacturer doesn’t offer support in this regard; the device may not be appropriate choice for you. Choose a model that comes with help and support so that your queries can be answered. Moreover look for online manuals and online support for the device you are choosing.
- Warranty: Your machine should come with at least a year of warranty so that you can be sure of durability, performance and quality of this device.
Music making on a professional level in absence of right equipment can be frustrating, so before you choose a drum machine you should research and make sure that you are buying something that is best for your needs. Not only for professional music makers but also those who are practicing and learning music, choice should be made depending upon the features that you find essential for your need. Better opt for a durable, portable machine loaded with a variety of features and options so that you can do everything with your device. Know the style of music that you want to play and it would be easier for you to choose the best drum machine.