5 New Drum Machines to Get Excited About in 2017

The drum machine earned its enduring spot in electronic music making the hard way. Synthesizers were originally touted in the 1960s for the limitless ways they could expand music. Programmable drum machines, on the other hand, were originally touted in the late 1970s as more complex metronomes.

Fast–forward to about five years ago when programmable drum machines — and drum sampler counterparts like the MPC — had all but disappeared from the market. With computer DAWs offering intricate rhythm composition and access to libraries of drum sounds, it seemed like there was no place in a musician’s studio for another box with buttons that could get fried in an electrical surge.

But the drum machine has made a comeback in recent years, thanks to a revived interest in tactilely satisfying electronic instruments. It makes sense that as grid controllers are going through a refinement as musicians crave a physical interaction with software production, drum machines and analog synths are winning new favor.

2017 finds us living in a moment when the recently released and soon–to–come drum machines are among the most exciting versions of the instrument ever made. About three decades after the original period of drum machine innovation, we’re being presented with innovative analog grooveboxes and cutting–edge samplers built for rhythm.

Here are the drum machines Reverb is most excited about right now.

Elektron Digitakt

Elektron’s breakout product was the Machinedrum, an incredible sounding digital drum synthesizer with a killer sequencer and a steep learning curve. Elektron discontinued the Machinedrum last year, following the success of its next–gen products, the Octatrak sampler and the Analog Rytm drum synthesizer.

Those machines are fantastically versatile and sound great, but they also run at a pretty high price tag.

Enter the Digitakt, Elektron’s newest drum machine/sampler which sells for about $650 new (and by the end of the year, likely a fair amount less used). With the first demos of the Digitakt emerging from last week’s Superbooth trade show in Berlin, it’s clear that the Digitakt isn’t a stripped down version of other Elektron products. Instead it’s designed to get all of the signature Elektron essentials into budget–minded user’s hands.

Its most surprising features have to be the inclusion of involved sample manipulation, polyrhythmic sequencing, and deep control over notes that lets you nudge them out of quantization or control their likelihood of playing. All of this adds up to either brutally mechanistic or soothingly organic programming, depending on the user’s own desires.

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Teenage Engineering PO–32 Tonic

Teenage Engineering has been dazzling us lately with its ultra–cheap, ultra–compact Pocket Operator synths. Alongside Korg, Teenage Engineering is redefining the barrier for entry of electronic music equipment, showing that a drum machine or synth can be as fun as any other toy but as useful as any of its larger rivals.

The PO–32 is one of Teenage Engineering’s most exciting Pocket Operators yet, putting the microtonic drum synth VST into a pocket–calculator sized controller.

To be totally honest, it’s somewhat baffling that a gadget the size of a pocket calculator could be such an enviable rhythm instrument. The PO–32 offers a stunning array of timbral possibilities thanks to USB integration with its mother VST as well as 64 sequences that can be arranged together however you like.

Arturia Drumbrute

Hitting shelves just towards the end of last year, the Drumbrute is the latest entry in Arturia’s all–analog Brute series. Like its cousins the Minibrute and the Microbrute, the Drumbrute is an affordable, hands–on instrument marketed at people who lust for analog sounds and never had the budget for the pricey vintage stuff.

But the Drumbrute’s competition isn’t necessarily even vintage TR–808s, but the pricier current–production analog drum synths like MFB’s Tanzbar and Tanzbar Lite. By using digital control over analog sounds, Arturia has created a great–sounding, all–analog drum machine with the kind of flexible, hands–on control really only seen in vintage or boutique drum machines.

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JoMox Alpha Base

Half of JoMox’s products are results of the company's founder and main designer Jürgen Michaelis's mad science. See the hyper–limited, hyper–expensive Neuronium, a digital synth that generates sound via algorithmic node architecture and is played with six metal contacts.

JoMox Alpha Base

The other half of JoMox’s products are drum machines — exquisite, analog drum machines.

The Alpha Base was just announced last week at the Superbooth expo in Berlin, and it’s both a truly glorious analog drum synthesizer and an FM synth. This is a quality digital/analog groovebox whose only real competition is the recently discontinued Dave Smith Instruments Tempest.

Now that JoMox has moved away from 808 and 909 emulations, it has created a palette of analog sounds that seems to make this the best drum machine JoMox has ever produced.

Akai MPC Live

Akai is making its return to the standalone sampler game this year with its massive MPC X workstation and the more performance–friendly MPC Live. The MPC Live made it onto this list because of its ability to put all of the power of a DAW into a standalone device that can easily fit in a backpack.

Akai MPC Live

Sure, the MPC is actually a sampler, not a drum machine (just like the Digitakt). But since day one, the MPC line has been built for rhythm and the Live’s traditional 16–pad grid combined with piano roll editing on a full–color screen means that users will have very intimate control over rhythm programming.

It has yet to be seen if Akai is going the distance to make this product shine and even steal back some users it lost to Ableton Push and the Maschine with its ho–hum MPC MIDI controllers. But if Akai does the MPC Live right, it will finally deliver on the promise of the flopped MPC 500: a powerful, portable rhythm machine that’s a pleasure to play with.

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