I personally favor the Elektron Analog Rytm MKII for my techno beat making nowadays but not everyone can or wants to spend $1200+ on a complex drum machine and, besides, techno has always been a democratic and accessible form of music with a decidedly punk attitude: techno is open to pretty much anyone regardless of budget, music skills or background.
For the beginner musician or skint producer, techno offers a way to get involved in making music on a tight budget and with only a limited range of gear.
If you’re using drum machine software/plugins and DAWs then you can certainly make techno for next to nothing given the plethora of free and super-cheap software on the market today but techno is a genre that has its origins in real drum machines (most notably the Roland TR-909) and the use and abuse of hardware technology such as samplers and synthesizers. The ability to tweak such hardware on the fly and discover new sounds and grooves by accident is a big part of what makes making techno so enjoyable for many producers.
In my roundup below I list four drum machines which you can pick up for under $350. Each of the drum machines on my list has a proven track record of being capable of providing beats for techno.
I’m not going to argue these are the 4 best drum machines for techno as I believe that if you have a bigger budget you can certainly buy drum machines that go beyond those featured here in terms of both sound and features but if you’re looking for a drum machine for techno that costs under $350 bucks then these 4 machines should be high on your list.
The four budget drum machines for techno I’ll be looking at here are:
- Roland TR6-S Rhythm Performer
- Korg Volca Drum
- Arturia Drumbrute Impact
- Behringer RD-9
Roland TR6-S Rhythm Performer ($299*)
- 6 voice drum machine based on Roland’s Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB)
- Cut down version of the TR-S8 with most of the core features of its bigger sibling
- Can import samples via SD Card
- Wide range of preset kits
- Excellent sequencer and performance features
- All the classic Roland machine sounds in one affordable box
Roland have launched a number of products in recent years in both the hardware and software realm (with their Roland Cloud offering) so it can be hard to determine which Roland product is best for your needs and there’s plenty of overlap between many of the products too – there’s certainly no shortage of options when it comes to authentic Roland drum sounds these days!
The fact the TR-6S is so small and relatively cheap, and lacks some of the features of its more expensive sibling, means it could be an easy machine to overlook but make no mistake – the TR-6S is a perfectly capable, well designed little drum machine and not a mere disposable toy.
Based on the Roland TR-8S, the TR-6S has the same sound of its bigger sibling but just six tracks (compared to the 8 of the TR-8S). They see limitations lead to creativity but is six tracks enough to make techno and techno to a “high” standard? Sure it is! Six tracks is a limitation too far, for some, perhaps but for many a creative producer or musician six tracks is enough to create something great.
The TR-6S can be powered by 4 AA batteries or USB and features the familiar Roland ‘TR-REC’ style step-sequencing, dedicated faders and knobs and it’s both easy and fun to use.
In terms of the sounds you’ll probably know exactly what to expect even before you switch it on – basically this machine gives you access to pretty much every popular and sought after Roland drum machine you’ve heard a million times before. That’s not a bad thing if these classic drum machines, as heard on a million records, are what you’re looking for. Whether it’s the 808, 909, 707 or the 606 this little box has you covered.
Going beyond the classic Roland drum sounds the TR-6S comes with a large preset sample library and there’s support for custom user samples too (imported form SD Card) plus an FM sound engine “for futuristic tones” (perfect for techno duties).
It’s great to see a drum machine of this size and price delivering on the effects side of things as well with compressors and EQs, reverb, delay,phaser, distortion effects plus filters, LFOs and more.
Overall there’s a lot to like about the TR-6S and there’s a lot you can do with in terms of techno music. In recent weeks I’ve seen the Roland TR-6S dropping to as little as $299 retail and you can pick up used ones for around $250 making this a great value machine for techno producers on a tight budget.
The TR-8S might be the better specced of the two machines but the TR-6S is smaller and cheaper.
For more details and full specs check the Roland website here.
Korg Volca Drum ($169.99*)
- Very affordable
- 6 voices
- Interesting tones and sounds make this a good choice for left field techno
- Can be connected to other gear
- Engaging and fun to use
Part of Korg’s popular Volca range the Volca Drum is a digital percussion synth with a 6-part x2-layer structure. The Volca Drum sounds are created by DSP-powered analog modeling. As with a software synth, oscillator waveforms such as sine wave, sawtooth wave, and noise are manipulated to create a wide variety of percussive sounds, not limited only to drums. You get 5 oscillator types to choose from in total.
It’s the wide range of percussive sounds that the Volca Drum is capable of which give the Volca Drum a fighting chance in any low budget techno drum machine shoot out!
Each of the six sound parts consists of layers and all parts have the same specifications so you could create a drum kit consisting on nothing but six bass drum sounds, for example.
The Volca Drum ships with 10 ready to go kits. A kit consists of the six individual sound parts plus waveguide resonator effect (see below) settings. Up to 16 of your own kits can be stored in the Volca Drum’s memory.
When it comes to effects the Volca Drum can’t compete with the TR-6S but you do get a ‘waveguide resonator’ which adds sympathetic resonances to the sound. You can choose from two types of waveguide: “tube” which adds the resonance of a cylindrical object such as a drum body or “strings” which adds the metallic resonance of a string.
Volca Drum has a 16-step sequencer with a wide range of parameter automation and there are choke, randomize functions and the ability to synchronize with other Volca and Electribe units as well as your DAW.
When it comes to techno sounds there are no hard and fast rules about what type of sounds you should use and if you’re looking to get away from the Roland sound palette and explore a different sonic territory then the Volca Drum is worth looking at (or listening to!)
For more details and full specs check the Korg website here.
Arturia Drumbrute Impact ($299*)
- Powerful set of sound shaping tools and features given the low price
- Powerful step sequencer
- Tasty distortion and “Color” effects
- Great for “dirty” techno
- Excellent value for money
- Well built
- Genuine analog sounds (10 voices)
The follow up to the Arturia Drumbrute, the Drumbrute Impact introduces “Color” sound-shapers with which you can effect each of the ten drum sounds with unique effects for tonal variation. “Color” can be activated per instrument, or per step. Add some overdrive to the kick drum, for example, or make the snares snap and crack.
Distortion can be a core part of a techno track and as well as the Color shaper tools the Drumbrute Impact features a tasty built-in distortion with which to add crunch and impact to your drum parts.
The sequencer is inherited from the original Drumbrute and it’s a capable one. You can have 64 patterns with up to 64 steps each. If you have the skills you can record finger-drumming performances or you can take it step by step and punch in your sequences Roland TR machine style.
Given that the Drumbrute Impact retails for $250 or less it’s pretty impressive just what Arturia have equipped this well built drum machine with. The Drumbrute Impact has a touch strip for creating real-time glitched and repeat beat effects, there’s the ability to create complex polyrhythms, group outputs, per instrument drum fills and there’s even a dedicated ‘Random’ knob and a ‘Swing’ feature too.
With 10 analog sounds to work with, including an FM synth sound, the Drumbrute Impact can cover a wide range of drum sounds and the color shaping effects and distortion can help you sculpt interesting techno ready kits.
If you lean towards a “raw”, “dirty” or “rough” sound in your techno productions then check out the Drumbrute Impact.
For more details and full specs check the Arturia website here.
Behringer RD-9 ($349*)
- The best 909 clone yet
- Well built
- Classic techno drum sounds
- 3 Trigger outs
- Enhanced Mode
- USB connectivity
We’re back to the classic Roland sounds with Behringer’s RD-9 drum machine, a clone of the TR-909 with a few extra features thrown into the mix.
Launched in the Summer of 2021 it’s still early days for the RD-9 yet but this drum machine has generated plenty of positive feedback from seasoned producers and if you’re determined to capture the vibe and workflow of early 1990s then this is perhaps the best and most affordable way to do it.
The RD-9 delivers 10 drum voices; a 64-step sequencer; wave designer and dual-mode filter in a well built box which apes the original TR-909 design.
Lots of Instagram conscious producers will no doubt be putting their RD-9 front and center of their studio set ups but it’s the sounds we’re interested in rather than the looks and the RD-9 certainly delivers.
Each of the drum sounds (bass drum, snare drum, low tom, mid tom, hi tom, rimshot, clap, hi-hat, and crash/ride cymbals) comes with their own tuning, level, attack and decay controls to be able to tweak each sound and a ‘Enhanced’ mode gives you the ability to further shape the bass drum and hi hats in a way that is not possible with a real 909. (See: RD-9 Enhanced mode explained for more details).
As with Behringer’s other drum machine clones, the RD-9 takes advantage of technology advances to go beyond the original TR-909 in a number of ways so there’s a lot to get owners of the original here jealous even as argue their machines sound “better”.
The RD-9 sequencer is a 64-step affair and you get pattern chaining, autofill, variable swing, note and step repeat, flam, probability and more. Overall it’s a well designed and capable drum machine.
Before shelling out for RD-9 you’ll want to carefully compare the TR-6S with the TD-9 and decide which one best suits your needs. While the RD-9 is certainly an impressive and authentic 909 clone, the TR-6S does bring a wider sound palette, the ability to import samples and better effects to the table.
If you’re certain you need a drum machine that only does TR-909 sounds, and does them well, then you can’t go wrong with the RD-9.
For more details and full specs check the Behringer website here.
*prices correct at time of writing and based on retail price at various well known online music gear retailers. Secondhand units or promotional prices could be cheaper.