Blown-out snares, glitchy hi-hats and percussion, almost any beat can be achieved with a drum machine, especially those with dedicated FM synthesis. Roger Linn’s Linn LM-1, released originally in 1980, became one of the first widely used drum machines, with its punchy sound reverberating all over the decades biggest pop tracks. Many followed, notably the Roland TR-808, Akai’s MPC 3000, with each iteration adding more features, functionality and versatile noise.
In the same vein as many synthesisers, drum machines are becoming more compact and affordable — meaning there's never been a better time to get experimenting and creating your own sound. The tactility of a physical drum machine, packed with knobs, switches, pads and faders can open up possibilities that programming drums digitally/online simply don't.
We've selected five of the best drum machines we’ve found under £500 to get you started.
Behringer, known for their versatile emulations of popular synthesisers, have modelled the RD8 off Roland’s TR-808, with a modern lick of paint. The snappy snares, booming kicks and twinkling hi-hats of the ’80s can all be achieved with this new unit — which sounds surprisingly close to its bigger, older, more expensive sibling. Given that an original TR-808 can be found for almost £3000, the RD8 really makes that classic sound available to almost everyone.RRP: £269.99
The Roland TR-6S is the smaller sibling of the 12-track TR-8S. With a smaller footprint, the ability to be powered by batteries, a host of sampled sounds, an FM synthesis engine to create and modify your own sounds, the TR-6S takes on a lot of features that it’s more expensive counterpart is known for. Despite having less buttons, faders, and readily accessible settings, the huge amount of features that the unit retains makes it a worthwhile purchase for anyone looking for a small but mighty drum machine.RRP: £299
TEENAGE ENGINEERING PO-12
Part of Teenage Engineering’s Pocket Operator series, this incredibly affordable, tiny drum machine packs a punch, and is perfect for distorted, grainy drum patterns. With an intuitive and fun interface, and a portable size and battery power, the PO-12 is great for on the go loop-making with it’s built-in 16-step sequencer. The connectivity of the unit is limited due to its size, but workarounds for this have been found. If you’re looking for a fun introduction to drum sequencing and editing, this is a great place to start.
ARTURIA DRUMBRUTE IMPACT
Affordable, compact, and analog, the Arturia Drumbrute impact has much to offer in terms sequencing capabilities and analog crunch. The smaller version of the Drumbrute, the impact is a drum machine that offers a flexible, classic sound. The array of onboard controls, including a ‘color’ option that modifies and distorts sounds. The Drumbrute Impact is the perfect machine to sequence
KORG VOLCA BEATS
The most bang for your buck on the list, the Korg Volca Beats is a powerful, portable drum machine at an incredibly affordable price. Sounding just as good as more expensive drum machines, the Volca Beats can inspire a lot of creativity. The machine can also be modded, if you don’t mind voiding your warranty, making the book-sized machine even more capable than before.