The drums are the soul of rhythm. They keep bands on time and listener’s feet tapping. A drum machine is like having a drum set in your backpack. Drum machines are a great way to create the sound of a full band with only one person. Instead of lugging around all the shells and hardware that come with a drum set, you can have the versatility of hundreds of different drums and sounds in one compact unit.
In the 1980s, drum machines were used simply to program drum sounds into recordings. If you wanted perform live, you had to have a full band or have a DJ with you. Today, drum machines can be used for a multitude of different things. Some people use them for sampling, and some people use them for live performance. You can even use a drum machine to create entire songs with one piece of hardware. Some machines have only a few of these capabilities while others can do it all. The Beat Thangz Mobile MPC, the Dave Smith Instruments Tempest and the Boss DR-880 are nothing short of a beat maker masterpieces. For additional information, make sure to check out our learning center for articles on drum machines.
Drum Machines: What to Look For
We've reviewed a diverse group of drum machines. Some of these beat machines are very basic and designed for live performance. Others offer a wide variety of sounds and the capabilities to create full songs. The music style that you want to produce or perform should also factor into your selection. It is important to know what you want out of your rhythm machine so you can pick the right one for you. Below is a list of categories on which we rated each drum machine.
The best drum machines today offer an array of sounds and the ability to be used in a studio setting as well as in live performance. Preset patterns are drum loops that are already preprogrammed into your drum machine for you to use. These should be easy to use and can demonstrate what your drum machine is capable of. User preset patterns allow you can make your own drum loops and save them. The more user presets you have, the more memory you have to save your drum loops.
Some drum machine have sounds that are specifically programmed for the hip-hop and R&B genres, while others have a multitude of live acoustic drum sounds that give you the chance to rock out with your drum machine regardless of the genre you prefer. A drum machine that includes multiple effects will give you more control over your sounds. Knowing what style of music you want to use your machine for will help you select the unit that is right for you.
MIDI inputs are common among digital sound equipment now. The drum machines that stand apart from the rest are the ones with computer connections such as USB 2.0 ports and multiple input and outputs. Inputs are important because they allow you to plug instruments into your drum machine. When you are able to do this, you can jam along with your drum machine without the use of an instrument amplifier. Drum machines that have sampling abilities can record the instrument that is plugged in, then that recording can be edited, saved and used on your machine later.
Footswitch outputs are especially important for live performance because they allow you to control your drum machine without having to use your hands when you may need them for playing another instrument. Expression pedals allow you to control the volume and intensity of without the use of your hands. The availability of both features is crucial if you plan to use your drum machine in live applications.
Being able to plug headphones into your drum machine helps you practice and lets you play without needing external speakers. When all you need is your drum machine and headphones, the whole setup is much more portable.
Some drum machines have the ability to run on battery power. This is a great way to maximize portability. You want to make sure that your drum machine has a battery life of at least three hours, since the last thing you want is for your beat maker to turn off in the middle of a live performance. You also want to make sure that your display has some sort of backlighting. If not, you may have a hard time seeing what is being displayed.
Any drum machine under 6 pounds is considered a portable machine. The units that are compact and light (under 3 pounds) are especially portable because they are easy to carry around and don’t take up much room. A lightweight, compact drum machine that can be battery powered will be amazingly portable.
Help & Support
Having multiple avenues for manufacturer support can be a great help if questions arise with your drum machine. The availability of online manuals, email addresses and telephone support can help ease your mind if you ever have any questions. Any time a manufacturer offers at least a one-year warranty on a product, you can be assured that the manufacturer is confident in the product's durability and performance.
When you find a light and portable drum machine with plenty of connection options and an array of features, you have found yourself a beat creating super machine.
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