So you want to make techno beats without a computer and DAW and you want the same kind of drum sounds as some of your music producer idols? What you’re looking for then is a standalone drum machine of which I have selected five of the very best.
In this article I cover five drum machines that can help take your techno tracks to the next level. None of these drum machines are cheap but each has made it onto my list because they offer exciting and inspiring possibilities.
List of drum machines covered in this article:
- Elektron Analog Rytm MK 11
- Erica Synths Techno System
- Elektron Digitakt
- Vermona DRM1 MKIV
I’m kicking off my list of top techno drum machines with the Pulsar-23. A truly impressive 4 voice drum machine that’s been making waves in the electronic music scene since its launch in 2019- and sure to be a future cult classic – the Soma Laboratory Pulsar-23 is an inspirational and potent mix of drum machine and synthesizer with a mindblowing 23 (hence the name) different modules to play with.
Designed by Vlad Kreimer, the Pulsar-23 really is one of those machines that can claim to be “techno in a box”. Dive in and you can create all the percussive tones, noises, bleeps, zaps, deep basses, rhythms and melodic lines you’ll need to fill entire albums.
It’s already been hailed by some well known producers as the best drum machine ever which is quite a claim to live up to so what exactly makes the Pulsar-23 the current King (or Queen – I’m not sure drum machines have a gender!) of the techno drum machines?
First up there are those 23 modules which I’ll collectively lump together here as the ‘main’ or most important modules: four sound generators each boasting a completely individual structure, four envelope generator modules, four looper-recorder modules, a clock generator with dividers, a controlled chaos generator, an LFO, a two-channel CV-controlled effects processor, distortion, two controlled amplifiers, an inverte and a controlled inverter plus two controlled analog switches.
In addition to those 23 main modules, the Pulsar-23 also boasts 13 auxiliary units including a four-channel MIDI to CV converter, noise generator, four attenuators, two dynamic CV generators with sensory control, two impulse converters and single passive electronic components for live circuit bending.
The Pulsar-23 is a real ‘hands-on’ beast of a machine thanks to its 55 knobs, 11 switches plus over 100 inputs and outputs to cover all your patching needs.
Watch the Pulsar-23 walkthrough video below in which Andrew Huang explains the main features.
Key to the Pulsar-23’s sound capabilities are the 4 drum channels covering Bass drum, Bass\Percussion, Snare drum, and Cymbals\Hi-Hats. These 4 percussive sound generators are combined with 4 envelope generators with the unique ability to generate a sustain for the drum channels, turning them into noise\drone synthesizers. It all adds up to a varied sonic palette that’s perfect for techno and electronica.
The Pulsar-23 is about as deep as it gets in terms of drum machines -fire it up (assuming you can get your hands on one) and you’ll quickly find yourself lost in a highly satisfying world of sound exploration and experminetation – it’s a machine that you could buy at the start of your music production career and still be enjoying when it’s time to retire!
If you’re into Eurorack and patching then the Pulsar-23 is a dream thanks to its modular system. What starts off as a drum machine with sequencer can be morphed into a full on analog synthesizer by connecting the inputs and outputs of the Pulsar 23 in any combination you see fit, without worrying that something will be damaged. All the inputs and outputs of the Pulsar are ready for integration into a Eurorack system (and are protected from overloads).
Note that given the price and sheer scope of this beast, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the Pulsar-23 to total beginners – there are lots of cheaper and way less complex drum machines to start making beats with out there – but if you’re an experienced electronic music producer/composer/musician and you’re looking to move up a gear from your current drum machine/groovebox setup then the Soma Laboratory Pulsar-23 should certainly be very high on your list of potential gear purchases in 2022.
I would especialy recommend the Pulsar-32 to anyone looking to make any kind of dark, dystopian techno/electronica and it’s also perfect for those brooding, menacing, terrfying or downright post-apocalyptic film scores.
How much is a Pulsar-23 drum machine?
You can expect to pay around 1650 Euros/1750 British pounds or US dollar equivelants. For your money you get the Pulsar-23, 30 cables with crocodile clips, power supply and handmade bag for transporting.
Is the Pulsar-23 worth it?
There’s no doubt that the Pulsar 23 really lives up to the hype and if you’re looking for a killer techno drum machine that can form the backbone of your music makin setup for years to come then the Pulsar-23 represents excellent bang(s) for your bucks!
The Pulsar-23 is one of the most innovative drum machines I have ever come across. The interface is like an interactive playground inviting the user to experiment and explore live circuit bending and patching as no machine has done before. The results are absolutely astounding and completely wild! The feature set on the Pulsar is so unique, and the way you can create new rhythms on the fly is out of this world. This is the ultimate live performance machine, best gear of 2019 for me!Richard Devine
Is there a waiting list for the Pulsar 23?
The Pulsar 23 drum machine is manufactured in small quantities by boutique manufactuer Soma Laboratory – check their website for availability. A number of online music gear stores do sometimes carry limited stock.
- Sounds incredible
- Deep customization possibilities
- Plenty of hands on controls
- Innovative features
- Highly desirable piece of gear
- Intimidating for beginners
- Not cheap!
- Supply can be limited
2. Elektron Analog Rytm MK11
While Roland’s classic TR drum machines played a pivotal role in the birth of techno, Swedish manufacturer Elektron’s early drum machines, most notably the Machinedrum, can also boast to have injected their DNA into countless techno, house and electronic music tracks over the years.
The Machinedrum is no longer in production but Elektron are still major players in the techno and dance drum machine game thanks to their popular Analog Rytm MKII drum machine.
The Elektron Analog Rytm MKII features eight versatile drum voices each of which can be combined with a sampling engine for layering your samples with the drum voices analog tones.
You’re free to ignore the sampling side of things altogether of course and the drum voices alone are certainly capable of delivering a wide range of suitable techno and electronica tones.
The Analog Rytm also features analog overdrive, an analog multimode filter with envelope, amplitude envelope, effects sends, and an LFO for each of the eight drum voices.
The Analog Rytm MK II is a deep drum machine and it does have a bit of a steep learning curve but put in the time and effort and it becomes not so much more than “just” another drum machine.
You’ll pay a premium price for an Analog Rytm MK II but you do get an awful lot for your money including 12 velocity-sensitive performance pads, parameter locking and advanced sequencing, hi-res encoders, effects, individual outputs for each voice plus a main stereo output and headphone out, Expression/CV inputs for external control, balanced audio inputs for sampling, 1GB of onboard storage for your samples and an Overbridge VST/AU plug-in which provides full control over your Rytm via your DAW.
The Analog Rytm MK II has everything you need to create complete techno tracks all in the one box although be aware that if you prefer manipulating samples to sound synthesis then Elektron’s Octatrack MKII Sampler might be a more suitable tool.
Analog Rytm Mkii Pros:
- Eight versatile sound engines
- Sample import
- Excellent effects
- Deep sequencer with parameter locking and scenes
- Overbridge 2 for full integration in your computer setup
- High build quality
- Regularly updated with new features
Analog Rytm Mkii Cons:
- Complex and sometimes unintuitve workflow
- Sample loading feels clunky and outdated
For full tech specs and latest prices see the Elektron website.
3. Erica Synths Techno System
If money is no object then check out the Erica Synths Techno System. Billed as ‘the ultimate tool for rhythm based music production, live performances and sound design’. This Eurorack format, modular drum machine has everything you need to make techno including drum machine modules, sample player module, single monophonic bassline synthesizer, powerful drum sequencer and mixing and effects section.
At just under 4000 euros the Erica Synths Techno System is not going to be something you’ll find in most home studios or hobbyist setups (it’s the only piece of gear on this list I’ve never owned) but for those music producers and musicians who can make a career from their electronic music tracks it’s a powerful machine that deserves serious consideration.
Erica Synths Tech System Pros:
- It’s literally techno in a box!
- Sounds awesome
- Inspiring to use
- Deep and rewarding
- Well constructed, all in one system
Erica Synths Tech System Cons:
- Might be too much for beginners
4. Elektron Digitakt
All of the drum machines on my list are analog with the exception of the Elektron Digitakt. The Digitakt is an all digital, sample-based drum machine with 64MB sample memory and over 1GB of onboard storage. There’s no drum synthesis here so you’ll be working with samples on the 8 stereo audio tracks which support both one-shot samples and sample chains. You can sample directly into the Digitakt (in mono only).
Each of the eight audio tracks has its own decicated Multimode filter, Band-width filter, 2 assignable LFOs per overdrive effect and amp envelope.
As with Elektron’s other higher end products you get Overbridge 2 and a deep sequencer with Trig Conditions and Parameter Locks.
If you have access to other gear such as synths, keyboards and effects you can use the eight dedicated MIDI tracks to sequence them.
Maybe the Digitakt is a somewhat controversial choice for this list and I should have plumped for the Octatrack instead given its prevalence amongst techno producers but I find the Digitakt to be an incredibly inspiring and creative machine that holds its own against the more expensive Octratrack.
The Digitakt can be picked up for $799 dollars or less making it cheaper than Elektron’s Rytm drum machine and Octatrack sampler.
It might look like a humble sampler, but with great sequencing and a decent crop of connectivity, we can see this becoming the centrepiece of plenty of studio and live rigs. Not a box to underestimate!Music Radar Digitakt review
Elektron Digitakt Pros:
- Fun to use but can get deep too
- Capable of sampling
- Digital sampling rather than analog synthesis can inspire
- Overbridge 2
- Less expensive than the Rytm and Octatrack
- A markedly different approach to most other drum machines on the market
- Excellent value for money
Elektron Digitakt Cons:
- Lacks some of the features seen in the Rytm and Octatrack
- No velocity sensitive drum pads
- 64 MB sample memory could be more generous
For full tech specs and latest prices see the Elektron website.
5. Vermona DRM1 MKIV
If you’re the kind of producer who wants to crack on and make techno beats with a minimum of fuss and the likes of the Analog Rytm seem just a bit too much like hard work then the Vermona DRM1 MKIV could be the drum machine for you. It’s a pure drum machine synthesizer with no sequencing or sampling capabilities and it also lacks any onboard effects.
At first glance this lack of features might seem somewhat offputting but the Vermona DRM1 MKIV is really all about the sound of which you get eight percussion generators (Kick, Drum 1 and Drum 2, Multi – for Cowbells, Zaps, Laser sounds and Bongos – Snare, HiHat 1 and HiHat 2 and Clap). These eight analog instruments all have nine knobs for sculpting your sounds.
Power up a Vermona DRM1 MKIV and get jamming and within minutes you’ll start to “feel” like a techno producer – it’s a great way to get into “the zone” and if you sometimes find your DAW’s near infinite options leave you hankering for a more direct and “old school” way of making beats then it could be just the instrument your studio needs.
Vermona DRM1 MKIV Pros:
- Sounds great
- Fun to use and easy to get to grips with
- Plenty of hands on controls
- Create techno beats with a minimum of fuss and no distractions
Vermona DRM1 MKIV Cons:
- No effects
- No sequencer
- Minor improvements from the MKIII
See the Vermona website for full tech specs and latest prices.