Whether you're writing pop bangers, splicing samples for hip-hop beats or laying down nasty techno rhythms, everyone loves a solid drumbeat.
Though there's much to be said for DAW-based drum programming, few will disagree that it's hard to beat the feeling of tapping in an IRL groove on some pads or tweaking sequences on the fly using one of the many powerful hardware drum machines available to producers today.
This year was a big one for drum machine devotees, with the long-awaited return of Roland's classic SP-404 dominating the headlines, and innovative new products from brands like Erica Synths bringing a fresh perspective to the format.
After putting together a shortlist of the best new drum machines of 2021, we asked you to let us know which deserved the top spot - and the results are in.
1. Winner 2021: Roland SP-404 MKII
Roland's SP-404 is something of an icon in the drum machine world: released over a decade ago, it packed expansive sampling capabilities, solid FX and a killer workflow into an affordable and extremely portable package.
It's no surprise, then, that beatmakers the world over were overjoyed by the unexpected announcement of a fully-fledged sequel earlier this year, the SP-404 MKII. The new version didn't disappoint, either, bringing a bucketload of new features that modernised the SP-404 and radically expanded its creative potential.
The MKII can now offer 32-voice polyphony, with 160 samples per project and 16 projects in total. This means the sampler's now capable of working on complex, multi-layered tracks, and would fit comfortably at the centre of any DAW-less set-up.
There's also 37(!) onboard effects, genius new features like Skip Back Mode and DJ Mode, and a sparkly new OLED screen for slicing and dicing samples.
2. Novation Circuit Rhythm
Novation's Circuit Rhythm is an impressively full-featured sampler that can reinvigorate your workflow without breaking the piggy bank. This standalone drum machine can work with up to eight tracks of 32-step patterns, with a bevy of performance-focused Grid FX available for real-time sonic manipulation.
The Circuit Rhythm allows you to record samples straight from your phone, synth or turntable directly to the hardware, so you can slice, process and resample your sounds all without going near a keyboard and mouse.
You can program or record patterns across eight individual sample tracks, using quantisation to fix up your grooves or going off-grid for a looser feel, before using next-level probability and pattern mutation controls to bring some originality and variation to your beats.
There's also sophisticated FX capabilities on board, taking your sound in new directions with vinyl simulation, beat repeat and more.
3. Erica Synths and Sonic Potions LXR-02
The second iteration of Erica Synths and Sonic Potions LXR series impressed beatmakers this year by squeezing in some pretty advanced functionality into a solidly built, compact form factor.
This 6-voice digital drum synth uses virtual analogue sound generation to produce its drum sounds, which can be individually modulated with controllable LFOs, sculpted with a transient generator, processed with onboard FX, or morphed with other sounds using the LXR-02'S innovative drum kit morphing feature.
4. Erica Synths Perkons
After making its debut at Superbooth 2021, Erica Synths' Perkons set the internet abuzz, promising to "strikes your ears like the skies breaking apart" with its thunderous sound.
It was a bit of an anticlimax, then, when Erica Synths announced that the drum machine won't be available until 2022, due to unforeseen delays in the manufacturing process.
We're excited nonetheless, as the Perkons looks like an absolute beast: running four digital oscillators through analogue filters and effects, it's equipped with an analogue bucket brigade delay and optical compressor. The sequencer looks especially promising, bringing probability controls, multipliers and dividers, play direction, shuffle, and last step parameters for maximum rhythmic complexity.
5. Roland VerseLab MV-1
It might be also be a drum machine, but at its core, Roland's VerseLab is all about vocals. This unique sampler is aimed at producers looking to process, sample and manipulate their voice, delivering impressive capabilities for the vocally inclined bedroom producer.
With over 1000 onboard sounds and 80 kits, the Verselab's great for building beats and melodies to accompany your vocal takes, making it a useful partner for hip-hop production or pop songcraft. You can edit, process, sequence and arrange your tracks on the machine, even mixing and mastering on the Verselab before bouncing to an SD card.
A 21st century update of the 8-track recorder, the Verselab has everything you need to build a track without using a computer.