There are lots of fantastic VST drum machine plugins out there that can cost anything up to a couple of hundred bucks but everyone loves a freebie and here’s a selection of free drum machine plugins that are actually worth the time to download and install in your plugins folder.
Listed below are my picks of the best VST drum plugins, covering both drum synthesis and samples, plus I tell you how to get 6 more drum machine plugins – and much more – for the price of one magazine further below!
Top 6 FREE VST drum Machine VST Plugins 2021:
- E-phonic Drumatic 3 (Windows only)
- Native Instruments Urban Beats (Mac/Windows)
- AudioSpillage MiniSpillage (Mac only)
- Tactile Sound TS-808 (Windows only)
- BPB Cassette Drums (Mac/Windows)
- Sample Science 606 Koncept (Mac/Windows)
Drumatic 3 Drum Synth
Format: Windows PC 32 bit VST2 only.
So I am starting my selection of free drum plugins with a somewhat leftfield choice. Not only is Drumatic 3 no longer developed but many of my younger readers and newbie beat makers will likely never have heard of it! But just because Drumatic 3 may not have caught your attention before that is no reason to ignore this fantastic little drum synthesizer plugin!
Forget ‘Rompler’ style plugins that play back a selection of static samples and eat up a load of disk space, Drumatic 3 is a complete, lightweight, virtual-analogue drum synthesizer. All of its sounds are 100% synthetic which means you have a great deal of scope when it comes to sound design and crafting your own unique kits.
Install Drumatic 3 and you get 7 individual drum synth parts to play with: Kick, Snare, Tom 1, Tom 2, Rim/Bell, Clap and Hi Hats and all the parts have their own tab on which you get access to clear and easy to use sound shaping tools including envelopes, filters, modulation, noise, bitcrusher and distortion.
What I have always enjoyed about Drumatic 3 is its versatility and ease of use – even complete beginners can quickly grasp the basics of this drum synth in minutes and there is no unnecessary fluff or bloat getting in the way of the core task of making and tweaking drum sounds.
This is no Roland TR box clone but you can make 808 and 909 type sounds with a little effort (sadly there are no presets to get you started so you will need to get stuck in) and whatever genre of music you are working in Drumatic 3 has enough power to shape suitable electronic sounding beats. Run it through a couple of your own plugin effects to add warmth and saturation and Drumatic 3 really shines.
Experienced sound designers and synthesists could create similar sounds to Drumatic 3 using their DAW’s stock synth plugins, probably (a subject I intend to explore in future articles), but if you want a ready to go plugin with one easy to grasp user interface then Drumatic 3 is a useful tool to have in your plugins folder.
There is no built in sequencer with Drumatic 3 so you will need to use your DAW piano roll and MIDI notes to trigger your sounds.
Drumatic 3 is no longer developed but I am running it with no problems on my latest Windows 10 64bit PC.
Drumatic 4 is more powerful than Drumatic 3. It features 10 drum parts instead of 7 and more synthesis options but it also sacrifices a little of the ease of use of Drumatic 3 and it is not free. Drumatic 4 is available for Mac as well as PC.
You can download Drumatic 3 for free from the E-phonic archives page.
Native Instruments Urban Beats (Komplete Start Bundle)
Format: macOS 10.12 or up (latest update). Windows 7 – 10 (64-bit, latest Service Pack)
The first thing to note is that Urban Beats is one of the included free products in Native Instruments Komplete Start production bundle. On the plus side, Komplete Start gives you a world class selection of Native Instruments software and sounds to play with for free including synths, effects and more but on the down side you will need to create a Native Instruments account and download and install the Native Access app management software before you can begin to download individual products (including the Urban Beats plugin and the Kontakt 6 player required to run it in your DAW).
Be prepared to spend time – and a chunk of hard drive space – to get started with your Komplete Start bundle then!
O.K. so assuming you are still interested in getting your hands on a free drum machine plugin from one of the biggest names in the business let’s check out what Urban Beats has to offer once you have it installed and running.
Urban Beats is a Kontakt (Native Instruments sample based instrument format) instrument that features 5 individual instruments, 8 tracks and a sweet selection of ready to use drum production kits (drum loops, single loop tracks, and individual slices).
The included sounds and tasty presets are up to Native Instrument’s typical high standards and are geared towards hip-hop, R&B and ‘urban’ music (as the name would suggest).
You can trigger individual sounds or play complete loops via your DAW piano roll or hit the ‘Groovebox’ tab and you can program in your own patterns, up to 64 steps, so you are not stuck with the preset loops.
All sounds can be tweaked and manipulated to your heart’s content via filters, envelopes, EQ, and effects including reverb, delay and saturation. With just a little tweaking you can easily abuse these sounds to take them out of the ‘urban’ territory and into a more ‘sweaty underground basement’ zone for those floor shaking techno and house vibes.
The other plugins on this page are less hassle to get started with for sure – and take up far less disk space – but overall the Komplete Start’s Urban Beats plugin is a great way to get some high quality Native Instruments sounds into your projects for the price of absolutely nothing!
Obviously Native Instruments hope that once you have sampled their lovely free wares you will be tempted to dive deeper into the rabbit hole that is the Komplete universe – a vast world of incredible synth and effect plugins, multi-sampled instruments, sound sets and hardware – but you are not obligated to buy anything.
Format: Apple Mac OS X 10.4 or higher including 10.5 (Leopard) and 10.6 (Snow Leopard).
The MiniSpillage drum synth has been popular with Mac based producers and beat makers for several years now. This is a cut down version of their premium DrumSpillage VST so you get just 3 tweakable drum parts (BassDrum, WoodDrum and ElectroHiHat) but wether individually or working together they are capable of creating a wide variety of sounds and beats thanks to the large number of parameters you can adjust for each drum part.
Each drum part is equipped with a set of basic controls for quick editing of regularly used parameters such as tuning, muting and volume and further sound sculpting can be carried out via the Amp, Filter and Pitch envelopes plus two LFOs and a distortion effect for adding punch and grit.
Free, on point and incredibly easy to use, MiniSpillage deserves a place in every Mac based producers toolset.
BPB Cassette Drums Plugin
Format: PC/MA 32Bit/64Bit. AU/VST.
A nice gift from the lovely folk at Bedroom Producer Blog, Cassette Drums VST is a freeware plugin bundle consisting of not one but three individual sample based plugins giving you a quality selection of TR-606, TR-808 and TR-909 sounds to play with.
Each plugin features a set of three different drum kits: Clean, Warm, and Hot. Clean kits give you the original, unprocessed recordings while the Warm and Hot kits give you the same sounds saturated and re-sampled from an audio cassette deck (hence the name).
As is common with these type of sample playback plugins there are not many options for adjusting the sounds but you do get volume and release parameters for each drum part and each drum part has its own individual output to allow for further processing in your DAW of choice so you can easily take these sounds and make them your own.
Overall the BPB Cassette Drums plugin is a fast way of getting a useful selection of Roland drum machine sounds into your DAW.
Format: Windows 8.1/10 or macOS El Capitan to Mojave. VST 64Bit.
Developer Sample Science has been beavering away for several years creating a very nice selection of free and premium sample based instruments and the 606 Koncept is a highly regarded sample based plugin based on the Roland TR-606 drum machine.
As well as sounds taken from the TR-606 (10 parts in total) a collection of vinyl, tape, and sub sound layers can be triggered to spice up your drum lops and each drum sound can be pitched up/down to taste.
You also get couple of effects in the form of a room reverb and high-pass/low-pass filter plus 3 voice modes: (polyphonic, monophonic, and legato).
The 606 Koncept is a great – and free – way to get a set of Roland TR-606 sounds in your DAW with a minimum of fuss. There are lots of other drum machine goodies to explore over at the Sample Science website too so check them out!
TS-808 Drum Synth
Developer: Tactile Sounds
Format: Windows 32Bit only
With the TR-606 sound well covered above it’s time to turn away from the sample based sound sets and look at a drum synth in the form of the TS-808. Unlike the sample based Koncept 606 and BPB Cassette Tape plugins, the TS-808 is a pure drum synth.
This is a 15 part drum machine plugin with 8 individual outputs and more parameters to tweak per part than a real TR-808. The plugin has been carefully modelled on the TR-808’s original schematics and it does a fantastic job of emulating the TR-808 sound.
Can a free plugin really sound like a genuine, vintage TR-808 drum machine? Well maybe not quite just yet but the TS-808 certainly makes a valiant effort!
A more interesting question, perhaps, is could the average music listener tell the difference between a track made with this free plugin and a track made with a real TR-808 after effects have been slapped over a track, mastering applied and then conversion by streaming websites such as Youtube? I think the answer to that is a resolute “No!”
Roland have their own TR-808 emulation software based on their Analog Circuit Behaviour (ACB) technology which is about as good as it currently gets in terms of emulating the TR-808 but that’s not free and neither is the impressive Nepheton plugin from German developer D16. While the TS-808 plugin is not quite in the same league as those it is still worthy of praise and deserving of a place in your plugins folder.
When mixed in with other tracks the individual sounds of the TS-808 plugin will probably cease to be the most important part of your music so differences between this plugin and a real TR-808 or other emulations are likely to prove unimportant. Remember – if a listener is focusing only on the hi hats or the snare of your drum track it could be a sign your latest masterpiece is lacking a certain something!
Tactile Sounds have always been very generous in giving away the TS-808 plugin for free – not only does it sound great but it also offers more features than the original TR-808!
There is no step sequencer so you will need to program your patterns in your DAW’s piano roll.
The Tactile Sounds blog is no longer active so I am not sure what the developer is up to these days but the TS-808 can still be downloaded from various websites. Don’t miss this plugin if you need 808 style sounds and you have the option of running 32bit plugins on a Windows machine.
Get a selection of free drum plugins with Computer Music magazine!
Purchase a current copy of Computer Music magazine – or a back issue – and you will get access to the highly regarded CM Plugin Suite on DVD and via the Computer Music “FileSilo” online vault. The CM Plugin Suite is a collection of plugins, tutorials, videos and other assorted files that Computer Music magazine has built up over many years, month by month, and it increases in size every month still!
This fantastic collection of software includes everything you need to create tracks including complete plugins plus cut down versions of professional products from some of the best plugin developers in the business. Free drum machines, samplers, synths, effects and more – everything you need is in there ready to use!
The Computer Music Plugin Suite features several free drum machines as detailed below:
The CM-505. One of the first drum machines plugins I ever played with and possibly one of the first free drum machine plugins ever developed! I think I had this plugin before I got internet access at home – that’s how old it is!
The CM-505 features 12 individual drum synth parts, one stereo out/6 mono outs and a built in distortion and bit crusher. OK so it is showing its age but it is still a capable little drum synth and comes with plenty of presets to get you up and running quickly.
This is a useful synth for creating percussion noses and excels at vintage 8bit and 16bit video game style beats. On the downside the CM-505 has no step sequencer so you will need to sequence your beats in your DAW piano roll.
DopeVST Beat Machine CM. (Originally given away in Computer Magazine 214.) A cut down version of the full product, DopeVST BeatMachine CM is a cool Breakbeat/Hip- Hop focused plugin that gives you 50 ready mixed kits and 50 MIDI beats.
Each kit is made up of Kick, Snare, Hi-Hat and a ‘Misc’ sound effect part. You can tweak each part of the kit via Level and Pan controls and adjust pitch and reverb to taste.
What I most like about DopeVST Beat Machine CM is the sheer variety of drum kits on offer. If you ever need ready to go Hip-Hop, Breakbeat and Trap type sounds then the DopeVST Beat Machine CM is a treasure trove of ready to use sounds.
XILS-Lab StiX CM. (Originally given away in Computer Magazine 244.) A cut down version of the full XILS-Lab StiX software, this is still a capable drum synth and sequencer in its own right, with lots to explore. You can load preset kits and grooves, apply effects, modulate effects from the sequencer and much more.
Thenatan Trax CM. (Originally given away in Computer Magazine 269.) A cut down version of the Thenatan Trax plugin, this sample based instrument gives you 20 complete kits taken from the full version’s 50 kits. You can adjust and dirty up your kits to taste by adjusting noise layers and distortion as well as adjust pitch, filter and reverb.
Brunsandspork Grooove CM. (Originally given away in Computer Magazine 223.) This innovative plugin from German developers Brunsandspork is designed to wring the most from just a handful of samples. A cool little plugin for the adventurous sound designer and beat maker, samples can be made to dance and groove in various unique ways.
If your beats are in danger of sounding like everyone else’s then maybe you need a little Grooove in your life! The CM version is a cut down version of the full plugin but still comes with 50 ready to use kits to play with and you can import your own sounds.
Audiorealism ADM CM. (Originally given away in Computer Magazine 178.) ADM CM is a cut down version of AudioRealism’s highly regarded ADM virtual drum machine. This plugin gives you access to a complete Roland TR-606, sample based drum machine emulation (the full version also gives you TR-808 and TR-909 sounds) with built in TR style step sequencer plus an additional library of 250 exclusive samples.
For the price of a magazine (or even less if you bag yourself a second hand copy off Ebay!) the CM Plugin suite is an absolute bargain and I highly recommend it! Computer Music magazine currently retails at £6.99 (UK) per issue but you can get it for less when you take out a subscription or you can bag second hand copies on Ebay.