You’ll find a lot of different drum models out there, offering a whole host of different sounds and features. If you’re looking for a drum machine that’s worthwhile and has high-quality sounds but is also affordable, check out our selection below to see which one speaks to your needs.
These are, in our humble opinion, the 4 best cheap drum machines on the market:
Teenage Engineering TE010AS012 PO-12 Rhythm Drum Machine
If a low price is the most important consideration for you, Teenage Engineering makes a line of very inexpensive drum machines that might be just what you’re looking for. While they are fairly stripped-down in terms on on-board features, they do give you everything you need out of a typical drum machine, and at a fraction of the price of even the other options on this list.
The PO-12 comes with 16 different drum sounds. You can combine these with the 16 on-board effects to give you a surprising range of different options. The patterns can be chained together using the 16-step sequencer. While the interface is utilitarian, nothing was sacrificed when it comes to the interior components. The sound quality out of this little unit will probably surprise you the first time you hear it.
There’s another advantage to the cost-saving simplicity of the PO-12. Since there’s no outer case, it’s super lightweight—“PO” stands for “pocket operator,” and that’s not a misnomer. It’s also highly efficient, giving you hours of seamless operation using nothing more than a pair of AAA batteries. This is an especially great option if you have a mixing set-up already, letting you add a drum machine with no noticeable change in the load you have to carry. Hands down, it’s one of the best cheap drum machines out there.
Korg VOLCASAMPLE Playback Rhythm Drum Machine
You can count on Korg for precision rhythm and quality sound reproduction. The Volca Sample Rhythm Machine is the most affordable drum machine in their Volca line of equipment. It lets you sequence up to 100 sounds live and in real time, all in an incredibly compact, two-pound unit.
The petite size of the Volca Sample does mean the interface is a bit more crowded than with some of the other options on the list. Some players find the keyboard portion, especially, to be a bit frustrating to use. If this is the case for you, it also offers a MIDI in/out that lets you control the rhythm machine with an external keyboard.
While the Volca Sample is impressive on its own, it really shines when used in conjunction with the other options in the Volca line. The Volca Beats and Volca Kick options may prove especially useful companions for DJs, or may be fine options on their own, depending on what you need from your drum machine. By separating the typical functions of a more expensive drum machine into self-contained units, Korg gives you an affordable way to get just the options you need.
Alesis SR16 Electronic Drum Machine
The SR16 from Alexis is one of the most popular drum machines ever produced—probably at least in part because it’s an incredible value at under $150. It’s even a value compared to other options in the Alesis line, offering similar features to the SR18 but at right around half the price.
The SR16 gives you a library of 233 realistic drum sounds. You can use any of them dry or with one of the on-board reverb effects. It also includes 50 pre-set drum patterns, played by studio drummers rather than programmed for a more natural sound. You can also save your own custom patterns with ease using the intuitive interface.
The array of features on the SR16 is enough to satisfy even professional DJs and recording engineers. The editing and programming features are flexible and easy to learn. It also offers complete MIDI implementation and has an input for a footswitch or velocity-sensitive pads, for those who like to get more hands-on with their rhythm. If you’re looking for the best cheap drum machine that’s all-purpose, the SR16 is a solid bet.
Akai Professional XR20 Drum Machine
This one’s a bit on the high side of the price range if you’re on a tight budget, but it still comes in at under $250 and will give you a wider range of professional-level features. If the number of sounds and features is your main priority, this model is your clear winner.
The 700 sounds included on the XR20 (see full specs) are completely unique to this drum machine model. They were developed by the recording engineers over at the Chronic Music production company with a mind toward realism and versatility. You also get full on-board reverb, compression, and EQ options to further customize your sound.
The XR20 is designed for a working DJ. It’s very portable, giving you five hours of battery operation, with the option of using wired power for longer gigs. It also gives you the full range of inputs and outputs. The MIDI in/out lets you work in tandem on a keyboard or turntable, while the aux outs are perfect for connecting to an amp or mixer. The backlit display makes it easy to use the drum machine even in a dark club and features like the Pattern Play Mode give you live control over your patterns.
Things to Consider When Buying the Best Cheap Drum Machine
The first question you need to ask yourself is how important you consider the realism of the sound samples to be. Synthesizer technology has advanced tremendously in the last few decades, but it still can’t quite capture the feel of an actual drummer. If you want that realism, you’ll need to look in the higher end of the price range, like the Alesis SR16 or the Akai XR20.
You’ll also have to strike a balance between the number of features that you want and the amount that you’re willing to spend. The lower the price tag, the simpler the unit will be. The Korg Volca series (see full specs) can be a convenient option since it lets you add sounds and features down the line as your budget allows. Decide how much you want your drum machine to do, and give a listen to the four models above. One of them is likely to fill your needs. Good luck!