In this article we’re going to look at some of the best cheap drum machines out there. The drum machines discussed below are perfect for both beginners and pretty much anybody who needs a rhythmic accompaniment on a budget.
We’ve taken into account the things that a first time buyer will be looking for when they shop for a good value drum machine. This is the result of lots of extensive research and product testing.
By the way, if you’re unsure of what exactly a drum machine is, then take a read of our comprehensive guide to drum machines which is after our list of top picks. So let’s get on to our selection of some very good cheap drum machines under $200.
Here are the best cheap (under $200) drum machines for beginners:
1. Arturia SparkLE
If you’re a computer-based musician and searching for a suitable drum machine for under $200, then you may want to look at the Arturia SparkLE.
This is a virtual drum machine, so that means that there are no actual sounds on board the SparkLE unit. The sounds are contained within the supplied software which works on any Mac or PC.
The SparkLE unit plugs into your desktop or laptop using USB. This USB serves to power the unit too which means no frustrating tangling of unruly power cables.
Once the software has been installed, you can plug the SparkLE unit into your computer and drivers will be installed. The SparkLE unit can now be used within most modern DAW’s as a typical MIDI controller.
You can also easily access the bundled Arturia software which has lots and lots of different drum and percussion soundbanks to choose from.
|Image credit: Arturia Check Price on Amazon||
The Arturia SparkLE is a sleek piece of equipment and looks amazing once plugged in and up and running. There are pad buttons for real time playing as well as the typical 16-step sequencer buttons that you would associate with the classic Roland TR-808’s.
This machine looks awesome as the pads light up when played and during playback. It’s so easy to modify patterns just by looking at which steps are already active.
The SparkLE is very user-friendly and includes 8 controller knobs which can be used for anything from quickly selecting a pattern or sound to controlling the level of sweep on a high pass filter.
Also, this is one extremely versatile drum machine. It’s actually more than a drum machine, as you can simply load in any type of sample you like and use it as a real time sequencer.
If you can forego the limitations of only being able to use the SparkLE this alongside your computer setup, this is one highly-rated piece of kit, and great value for money.
2. Korg Volca Beats
The Korg Volca Beats is a stylish drum machine which resembles the TR-808 design. This drum machine is perfect for musicians who like to make and manipulate their own beat creations. It has buttons for step input and knobs which allow you control effects and levels.
This is quite a small drum machine but Korg have packed a lot into it. There are lots of classic drum sounds which are typical of 1980’s drum machines, but also some nice little features such as delays and reverbs. You can simply set off a tempo on the Volca Beats and get playing around.
It’s easy to get to grips with. You can see the tempo indicator on the step sequencer and set about triggering sounds anywhere you like. It’s great fun to just get stuck in and learn on the fly what this little gem can do.
|Image credit: Korg Check Price on Amazon||
In summary, this drum machine is for fans of classic drum machine sounds. This is not your typical backing track drum machine, like the Dr. Rhythm. This drum machine is more about being creative and creating long beat mixes. If that’s your thing, then you’ll love the Korg Volca Beats.
Check out the Volca Beats in action in our review:
3. Alesis SR-16
The Alesis SR-16 is a classic-looking drum machine. It’s all black with a small display, a control dial and a total of 37 buttons on the front of the unit. This machine is compact yet is chock-full of lots of rhythms and percussion backing tracks.
This is a very user-friendly drum machine which is ideal for use in a band situation or for composition. There are pre-programmed beats which range in style from rock to pop to funk and Latin.
In total there are 100 patterns although Alesis offer the SR-16 in a more expensive version – the SR-18 which has 200 patterns. Bear in mind that the upgraded SR-18 version does cost around 70% more than this unit, which is currently around $150.
Choosing a pattern is as easy as looking at the base of the unit. There is a full chart which details all the different rhythmic patterns and their corresponding numbers for selecting.
This drum machine can be played in real time by using the buttons on the front panel. There are 12 buttons in total which are used to control real time drumming. These buttons are quite small but can be assigned to the on board sample collection. They are velocity sensitive so you’ll get a range of dynamics out of the samples depending on how hard you strike these pads.
There are 233 sounds on the SR-16 which includes snares, toms, bass drums, cymbals, percussion and miscellaneous sounds such as hand claps and finger clicks. There are 50 preset drum kit configurations along with space for 50 of your own preset configurations.
If you’re looking to use this drum machine as a backing tool you’ll be glad to know there are song options which allow you to program a series of rhythms back-to-back. By using this feature you can map an entire song out for playing along with.
There are also quick on-the-fly features such as the ‘fill’ option. This allows you to sequence into a seamless drum fill at any time during a rhythmic pattern.
There are various different pre-programmed drum fills which are tailor-made to suit each individual pattern. Once you have selected your pattern you can choose to customize it by adding effects such as reverb to the mix.
|Image credit: Alesis Check Price on Amazon||
The Alesis SR-16 is one of the best drum machines for beginners and experienced musicians alike. You can easily get a beat going with the push of a few buttons and there are options to customize rhythms further once you get to grips with the interface.
This drum machine is compatible with any standard footswitch controller so you can activate and stop the patterns with the tap of a foot. Also there are two inputs for footswitches which leads to even more control options.
If you plan on hooking the SR-16 up to your computer or other devices, then do bear in mind that you will need the older General MIDI connections as USB MIDI is not available on this particular unit.
4. Korg KR mini
And now we come to the cheapest drum machine on our list. The Korg KR mini is one of the best drum machines under $100. This is a basic no-frills machine which can provide the user with 54 different preset rhythms of varying styles. These styles are rock, metal, pop, R&B, jazz, Latin, and dance.
There are also selections for 8 beat and 16 beat, as well as some user presets. You can input beats into the KR mini using the pad mode. This mode makes use of the buttons which can be assigned to different drums, much like with other drum machines. You can save up to 6 of your own personal drum beats into the KR mini at any one time.
|Image credit: Korg Check Price on Amazon||
The Korg KR mini is one of the best beginner drum machines out there as it’s cheap and will fit almost all budgets. It’s small and portable so if perfect for a busker on the move who doesn’t want to carry a lot of gear.
It can work on batteries too, so a set of 3 AA batteries will get you almost 8 hours in most cases. That makes it a perfect drum machine for starters who want something affordable and simple.
5. Boss DR-3 Dr. Rhythm
The Boss DR-3 Dr. Rhythm is the most expensive on our list of the best drum machines under $200. The DR-3 is aimed at musicians looking for a band in a box, basically. You can program the DR-3 to take care of all your backing track needs, from drums to bass, so this makes it ideally suited to singers and guitarists who are playing small shows.
There’s a small display on this drum machine as the main purpose of it is not to create new and exciting custom beats. The main purpose is to create full song-length drum patterns, from the selection of presets. Simply pick from any of the 100 preset patterns and then chain them together to create a full song.
This unit is fully compatible with a footswitch so a live performer can start and stop songs with ease.
|Image credit: Boss Check Price on Amazon||
The DR-3 is billed as Boss’ most affordable drum machine. There are other, cheaper options already on this list, and some of them are less than half the price.
That said, if you’re looking for a band-in-a-box-type drum machine, then this one does the lot. It will take a bit of reading the manual to understand the way the Boss workflow operates, but once you have it, it’s quite simple.
What is a Drum Machine?
Drum machines have been around for generations now. Drum machines’ initial purpose was to do the job of a drummer with the minimum of fuss. They typically hold tens, if not hundreds, of patterns which can be triggered at the push of a button and played at a wide range of tempos.
The first drum machines came with basic drum patterns such as 4/4 rock beats. Over time additional features were added such as the ability to play in real time with buttons. This is a huge boon as it means drummers can easily input their rhythmic ideas easily which out any fiddly dials or knobs.
Eventually other aspects improved such as user control over dynamics, the ability to swap out drum sounds and the ability to control micro-timing.
Most beats are created on a grid with even spacing in time. This means that the space between consecutive steps would be even, leading to a ‘straight’ feel when it comes to timing.
More advanced drum machines acquired the option to play ‘swung’ notes which means consecutive notes are note even, rather they are staggered a little. This swing setting can be used to create a more relaxed and interesting feel to an otherwise straight and boring drum beat.
A typical drum machine will allow the user to create beats over a grid which represents the bar line. This grid could be anything from a handful of beats to 16 or 32 and is usually displayed from left to right, just like with written musical notation. If you’re working with triplets you may want to use a grid of 12, for example. This could equate to 4 beats of 3.
Once the grid is established you can begin populating it with drum samples. Visually you can see where and when the drum sample lands and this tells you when it will be triggered. Combinations of samples will create beats and grooves which you can further alter with tempo and FX.
If you’re not too technically-minded when it comes to music theory, you may just want a drum machine which plays pre-made rhythms. The likes of a Dr. Rhythm or the Alesis SR-16 is a good option here. Or if you want a comprehensive band-in-a-box option then the Boss DR-3 will suit best.
Nowadays drum machines are largely used in EDM music. The basic premise of a drum machine is not too far from a sampler and incorporates many of the features of a MIDI controller.
Modern drum machines will allow you to use your own selection of samples. This may be by way of a computer or by importing them onto the device through a USB cable or an SD card.
This effectively allows you to play the drum machine just like a pitched instrument or a sampler. For this reason, drum machines which allow this facility are extremely popular.
Some styles of music is largely taken up with drum and percussion sounds. If you listen to your average electronic dance music track, a good chunk of it will be made up of drum samples and beats.
If you like the idea of playing around with beats and grooving for hours on trance music, then the chances are what you are searching for is more like the Korg Volca Beats, which is on our list.
When it comes to cheap beat machines, this is a great little unit. It has stereo outs which allow it to be plugged into any device such as a P.A. or monitor, and has a sweet selection of classic drum sounds.
Compatibility with Other Devices
Connections such as MIDI and USB allow us to connect many drum machines up to devices such as computers and even electronic drums. USB MIDI is way more common nowadays with newer models of drum machine and this will allow you to hook the device up to your computer.
Once connected, you can use the buttons, dials and knobs to control compatible VST instruments on your digital audio workstations, such as Logic or Cubase.
MIDI also allows for connection to many instruments such as keyboards and electronic drum sets. This effectively means you can control the sounds on the drum machine from your electronic instrument which is hugely beneficial and increases the amount of sounds at your disposal. This way of connecting devices also makes for a much more convenient way of recording.
Sure, you could input the drum beat on those little pads which reside on the front of the drum machine, but it’s often much easier to just play the pattern on an instrument that you are familiar with. MIDI makes this possible.
Do make sure you have the required MIDI connections available first, though. MIDI will work over USB or through the standard 5-pin connection cable. USB tends to be more convenient nowadays but it’s not always an option, so do your research.
We hope that you’ve enjoyed reading about some of the most affordable drum machines on the market today in 2020.
Our list of inexpensive drum machines has taken into consideration many of the most important factors you should be aware of when purchasing. Some of these factors are sound quality, build quality, usability, connectivity and value for money. Whether it’s budget drum machines or cheap analogue drum machines you’re after, we have you covered.