If you’re browsing my website chances are you share my love of drum machines which means you’re probably already pretty familiar with some of the biggest names in drum machine history such as Roland’S TR-909 and TR-808 but there are plenty of rare, unique, quirky or off the wall drum machines and beat making gadgets out there that are perhaps less well known so below I’ve compiled a list of drum machines for you to check out.
1. The Supreme Akai MPC Live II
Trendy U.S. lifestyle brand Supreme are well known for their efforts to get their (in)famous Supreme logo onto as many different types of products as possible and so it was probably only a matter of time until we saw a Supreme branded drum machine of one kind or another.
Launched in February 18th 2021 as part of their Spring/Summer collection the Supreme Akai MPC Live II is a fully functional MPC Live II tricked out in Supreme’s red and white colorway. As with the standard MPC Live II you get 16 velocity-sensitive RGB pads, a 7″ multi-touch display, built-in speakers and a complete DAW like package with everything you need for creating beats and complete tracks.
If I was in the market for a new Akai MPC Live II then I’d possibly be tempted to go for this Supreme branded one – not because I have any particular love for the brand but because this model could increase in value in the future.
2. Akai Rhythm Wolf
Akai are famous for their MPC range of drum machines which have enjoyed something of a renaissance with beat makers in recent years but their Rhythm Wolf drum machine was a rare misfire from the Japanese manufacturer.
On paper the Rhythm Wolf certainly has a lot going it. For less than $150 you get a well built, easy to use 100% analog signal path drum machine, bass synthesizer and step sequencer.
The Wolf is a very easy to use drum machine but the core problem is that the Wolf just doesn’t sound particularly good and the built-in ‘Howl’ overdrive effect is pretty much unusable. Fair enough, you can get half-decent kicks out this drum machine but if kicks are all you need you’re better off with the cheaper – and smaller – Korg Volca Kick.
Some drum machines overcome their limitations and initial negative press reviews to become much sought after cult classics but the Wolf is simply too limited to be of any use to most producers.
3. Teenage Engineering PO-32 tonic
Teenage Engineering have made a name for themselves thanks to their determination to forge their own path in terms of product design. Their Pocket Operators consist of a varied range of affordable and portable drum machines, samplers and synths of which the PO-32 is the one to make my list of unusual drum machines due to its unique “Micro Tonic” VST feature that really makes the PO-32 stand out from the pack.
The PO-32 is a battery powered drum machine which features 16 real synthesizer voices (no samples), Built-in speaker, microphone, 16 effects including a bitcrusher and a delay and filter effects, sequencer and parameter locks.
As mentioned previously, in addition to the 16 preset sounds, the PO-32 can be used in conjunction with Sonic Charge’s Microtonic VST drum machine software (sold separately) to create a near infinite range of unique drum and percussion type sounds which you can transfer wirelessly to the PO-32 with the built-in microphone (or by using a cable.)
Adding to the quirky appeal and char, the PO-32 features an animated LCD display and when you’re not making beats with the PO-32 it doubles as a clock/alarm clock too.
4. LEGO Drum Machine
Taking inspiration from Leonardo da Vinci’s TAMBURO MECCANICO (mechanical drum), Giuseppe Acito created the Tamburo Meccanico XXI using nothing more than a bunch of LEGO TECHNIC bricks. The Tamburo Meccanico XXI consists of a four track rhythm machine which mechanically generates the electric impulses needed to trigger the drum synth and the bass-line sync. Check the video below to hear it in action.
5. MASCHINE MK3 Dinamo
Native Instument’s limited-edition Maschine MK3 Dinamo was created in collaboration with the iconic Basel design practice Dinamo. There’s nothing particularly “special” about the Maschine Dinamo in comparison to the standard Maschine MK 3 feature set, beyond the fact only 750 have been produced and it looks pretty cool. If you can bag one of these then hold on to it, keep it in good condition and hope a not-yet-born art school hipster is willing to pay you silly money for it in 30 years time (in crypto, no doubt!)
6. Korg Gadget 3.0 for Nintendo Switch
Got a Nintendo Switch? Like making beats? Put away Zelda and check out Korg’s Gadget for the Nintendo Switch. Gadget is a joy to play with on the Nintendo Switch and the 3.0 update introduced both a SEGA inspired drum machine, called Otorii, as well as a Taito ‘arcade synthesizer’ gadget called Ebina.
The Otorii SEGA Gadget is styled to look like a Genesis/Mega Drive console and it enables you to load up seven classic Sega carts including Out Run, Space Harrier and After Burner to access sampled drums and sounds recorded from the original arcade machines.
Ebina gives you a set of samples of FM sounds from six classic Taito arcade games, including Darius, Ninja Warriors and Night Striker and you get filters, LFOs and effects plus Detune and Delay parameters to tweak the sounds.
In total you get 16 different gadgets covering synthesizers, samplers, keyboards, drum machines and acoustic sounds in one inspiring and fun music making package.
Check out my Korg Gadget guide.
7. Modal CRAFTrhythm DIY Drum Sampler
The Modal CRAFTrhythm has a loyal fan base but sadly it has been discontinued so you’ll need to keep an eye out on the auction sites if you want to get hold of one.
Developed by UK boutique synth company Modal Electronics, the Modal CRAFTrhythm is a DIY, 8 track drum sampler kit featuring an integrated 16 step sequencer.
DIY? Yes this is a drum machine that you need to build yourself. Luckily the CRAFTrhythm Drum Sampler is that it can be easily assembled within 10 minutes, simply by connecting the kit pieces together (no soldering required).
Once you’ve got your machine set up and running you get an 8-track drum sampler with the ability to store up to 64 16-bit samples for playback and sequencing.
Each of the 8 tracks on the sampler kit boasts its own mixer, tube control, filter, sample select controls and more. You can also store up to 16 preset patterns, as well as 16-part pattern chaining.
You get class-compliant MIDI provided over USB connection to a host computer, tablet, or smartphone
Headphone and line output and the whole unit is powered by USB Mini-B or optional AAA battery pack.
Check out the Modal CRAFTrtythm overview video below:
8. Twisted Electrons deton8 8bit drum machine
The deton8 is a hybrid 8 voice sampler/drum synthesizer from French manufacturer Twisted Electrons. The deton8 uses a mix of crunchy 8BIT samples and wavetable synthesis for sound generation plus you get and a selection of tasty real time fx and tricks.
The deton8’s eight voices cover Kick, Snare, Metal (hats), Clap, Can (‘tinny’ type sounds), Tom, Nut (‘woody’ type sounds) plus a SYNTH voice (Nintendo 8 bit NES inspired triangle wavetable synthesizer, with an arp that can be shaped to a square).
You can use the preset sounds that come with the deton8 or add your own sounds via included software that allows you to upload your own samples quickly and easily.
The deton8 offers plenty of bang for your buck and makes an excellent alternative to the cheaper Korg Volca Sample.
9. Elektron Machinedrum UW:
Launched in 2005, Elektron’s Machinedrum UW combines extremely deep and flexible drum synthesis methods with a rather limited (even at the time of launch) sampling engine (32 user sample locations, 12-bit sample playback and 2MB total sample memory).
Key to the Machinedrum’s enduring appeal are the powerful synthesis engines, based on five original drum synthesis methods. These synth engines power a total of 16 drum voices with a vast amount of dedicated control per voice. Each voice has its own effect block for further sound mangling and sculpting before routing to the master effects (Rhythm echo delay, Gate box reverb, Dynamix dynamic processor and the Master EQ).
The Machinedrum sequencer, with LFOs and parameter locks, turns your step sequenced beats into unique compositions and ever evolving and flowing rhythms.
Nowadays Elektron is pushing their flagship Analog Rytm MK II drum machine which offers much more in terms of features, sample storage and capabilities than the Machinedrum UW but the Machinedrum UW still has a cult-like following.
The Machinedrums remain powerful, inspiring and great sounding machines and I would recommend the Machinedrum UW without hesitation if you can bag one cheap but in all honesty you are unlikely to stumble across one for less than $900 at which price point you might as well start considering purchasing a second hand Analog Rytm MK II instead.
A cheaper alternative to the Machinedrum UW is the Model:Samples, also from Elektron.
10. DFAM (Drummer from another Mother)
Get a Moog’s DFAM in your studio and prepare to lose days to “messing about” with this insanely powerful percussion module. You’ll need to get your head around the idea that this is a percussion-orientated synth rather than a “mere” drum machine.
Part of Moog’s Mother-32 family of Synthesizers, their marketing blurb state that “…It requires no patching, and absolutely no experience is needed for human-beings of any age to quickly begin synthesizing new and unique rhythmic compositions.”
The DFAM is controlled by an analog sequencer which lets you manipulate a white noise generator and two wide-range analog oscillators.
The DFAM excels at noise, bass, metallic and industrial type sounds making it a great machine for techno or electronica.
Each DFAM ships with Moog patch cables for use in the 24-point modular patchbay. Use them to create new sounds or unexpected behaviors and you can synchronize an unlimited number of DFAM and Mother-32 units together.
Watch the Anderton’s Music team explore the DFAM below: