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5 Best Drum Machines For Techno (& Underground House)

By Matthew Vultaggio

November 24, 2020

A great drum machine is a must for techno music to truly achieve a classic or modern sound. From dark and pounding to clean and minimal, the best drum machine for techno and underground house will take you there.

Love it or hate it, you can’t deny that the rise of business techno and mainstream EDM has really made underground dance music of all genres become more popular (as they should be). Because of that, there are more options for drum machines, samplers, and electronic drums than ever before.

Today, I’m going to walk you through the 5 best drum machines for techno and underground music, without breaking the bank.

ProductTypePrice
Roland TR8Best OverallCheck on Amazon
Pocket Operator PO-12Best Under $100Check on Amazon
Techno Percussion BibleBest BudgetCheck Price
Korg Volca BeatBest CompactCheck on Amazon
Behringer RD-8Best Vintage Re-MakeCheck on Amazon

So.. what should you look for in a drum machine for studio or live performance?

These are the 3 main things you should look for in a drum machine:

  1. A decent cost or value. Music gear costs can really add up, so look for value.
  2. Flexibility in terms of both the range of sounds that it can produce and the quality of its sequencer.
  3. How suitable the drum machine is to make techno or underground music.

I will be breaking down and rating the 5 best drum machines based on the above 3 categories. These devices are perfect if you are trying to build a DAWless setup or if you are trying to learn how to make beats without a computer.

Best Overall Drum Machine For Techno

Without question, the best overall drum machine for underground styles of electronic and dance music is the Roland TR-8. Hands down. Full stop. Period.

This beast has faithful reproductions of the classic TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines that have been on countless classic and modern techno and house tracks. Unlike other options, these sounds are based on original design spec sheets and detailed analog circuit analysis.

Pristine sound quality aside, the sequencer is highly playable and performative, making this a fantastic drum machine for the studio or the stage.

It really is no wonder you will catch the TR-8 in a massive amount of producer’s studio setups or artist’s live setups. You can even upgrade to the TR-8S so that you can upload and sequence your own samples.

Cost

Being the best overall drum machine does mean that the cost is a bit high but paying between $600 – $700 for one of these means you will have a drum machine that will last you a lifetime and allow you to easily re-create classic and modern sounds for really any kind of electronic music.

Look hard enough and you should be able to pick one up on the used market for under $500. If you can grab one for this price (whether it is on sale or used), don’t even hesitate. Check out used prices on Reverb.com.

Flexibility

The wide range of sounds in hand with the powerful sequencer makes the Roland TR-8 one of the most flexible drum machines on the market today.

Sprinkle on the additional FX, flexible output and routing options, and intuitive performance controls and you have yourself a drum machine so flexible it can downward dog harder than your friend’s annoying yoga “influencer” girlfriend.

Why It’s A Great Drum Machine For Techno

Pros:

  • 16 kits (including classic TR-808 & TR-909 sounds)
  • Powerful sequencer
  • Intuitve performance controls

Cons

  • Can be a bit pricey for beginners

Best Drum Machine For Techno Under $100

If you are looking for a more budget-friendly option that is still a hardware drum machine for techno, then look no further than the Pocket Operator PO-12.

Every device in the Pocket Operator line is small but mighty and packs some serious value for both its price and miniature size. There are 16 different drum sounds, 16 built-in effects, and a 16-step sequencer that you can actually create an entire song with.

That is quite a lot of features packed into a tiny device that you can get for under $100.

Although the Pocket Operator PO-12 may not easily produce cleaner sounds, it is a true beast at pumping out the darker, grittier, and more lofi style sounds that is undeniably techno.

Cost

The cost of this drum machine is where it really shines. Not only can you pick one of these up for under $100, but you can actually buy one of these for around $50 – $60.

With a price like that, it’s a no-brainer to pick one up even if you already have a larger, more robust drum machine. This bad boy can produce some unique sounds and can be used to make beats absolutely anywhere.

Shift your gaze towards the used market and you can easily grab one of these for under $50. Check out used prices on Reverb.com.

Flexibility

Although the Pocket Operator PO-12 doesn’t have a wide variety of sounds like the Roland TR-8, it can still create a decent variety of unique sounds due to the fact that it uses synthesis to recreate drum and percussion sounds.

The sequencer is quite usable and flexible, and the effects can actually be used in a way that is great for live performance. Also – due to its size it is quite flexible in where you can use it (like while traveling or commuting to work).

Why It’s A Great Drum Machine For Techno

Pros:

  • Super portable
  • Crazy value for the price
  • 16 drum sounds, 16 effects, 16-step sequencer

Cons

  • Not ideal for typical or classic techno sounds of the past

If you are just starting out and looking to make music for the lowest possible cost, knowing how much it costs to make electronic music is extremely important to start you off on the right foot.

Best Budget “Drum Machine” For Techno

Image: Artisan Audio

Alright, this one is a bit of a trick…

But, if you want to have the highest quality drum machine sounds for techno on a budget, then you have to make a compromise and look at sample packs (Need more convincing? Find out if sample packs are worth it before continuing down this path)

The Techno Percussion Bible is described as “the holy grail of all things Techno and all things drum”. And they aren’t lying…

There are over 544 MB of sounds, including 33 kicks, 23 hi-hats, 24 snare/claps, and over 100 different loops. All intended to be a true library of essential sounds that are fine-tuned for techno, house, and underground music.

This is a fantastic option if you are on a budget or want to import a high-quality set of techno samples into a hardware sampler, drum machine, or sequencer. If the “importing sample” route sounds interesting, check out the best sample packs for deep house for more underground-style samples.

Cost

You can grab this sample pack for around $25, making it easily the most affordable way to obtain high-quality and production-ready classic or modern techno sounds.

Check out the current price here.

Unfortunately, sample packs can’t be picked up for less on the used market. But, with that said, you can’t really go much lower than $25 for quality drum sounds.

Flexibility

In terms of flexibility, a sample pack like this is pretty much unmatched in terms of the wide range of sounds and options. Not only are there high-quality one-shots of drums, but there are also a variety of loops that can be used to help you create high-quality tracks faster.

On top of that, you can import them into any DAW or hardware sampler, or drum machine that supports sample import. This means you can use these sounds with a massive range of different sequencers.

Why It’s A Great Drum Machine For Techno

Pros:

  • High-quality, production-ready sounds (and lots of them)
  • Absolutely nails classic and modern techno
  • Can be used to import into some hardware drum machines and samplers

Cons

  • Is not an actual hardware drum machine

Best Compact Drum Machine For Techno (Under $200)

If you find yourself looking for a drum machine that is more flexible than the budget options but still doesn’t quite break the bank, the Korg Volca Beat might just be the perfect drum machine for you.

Not to mention that this thing is mostly analog and 100% ultra-compact.

It is even battery-powered and has a built-in speaker.

The majority of the device is one-knob-per-function, meaning all the parameters you need to tweak sounds or perform are right at your fingertips with no need for annoying menu diving.

This is a major benefit considering the Korg Volca Beat actually uses the same sequencer as the Korg Electribe. The “touch panel keyboard” is actually playable and allows you to record your beats in real-time if note-by-note sequencing is not your thing.

Cost

The price for these can fluctuate, so depending on if you grab it while it is on sale or discounted, you can expect to pick one up between $150 and $200.

If you are okay with buying used, a reasonable price would be under $150 on the used market. Check out used prices on Reverb.com.

Flexibility

Although the Korg Volca Beats is not extremely flexible in sound design (it is better for grittier, raw, lo-fi sounds), it has quite a flexible sequencer and its compact design means you can play this thing virtually anywhere.

The combination of its small size, optional battery power, and built-in speaker means you can easily play this while traveling or commuting, let alone take this bad boy to any gig or studio session.

Lastly, the Korg Volca Beat is flexible in the way that it plays well with others (particularly other devices in the Volca line of hardware devices).

Why It’s A Great Drum Machine For Techno

Pros:

  • Incredibly compact (battery-powered + built-in speaker)
  • Mostly analog sounds
  • Very affordable

Cons

  • Not ideal for typical or classic techno sounds of the past

Best Vintage Re-Make Drum Machine For Techno

Love ’em or hate ’em, the endless stream of Behringer clones are at the very least decent and at the very most a fantastic way to get the sound, workflow, and vibe of classic drum machines and synths without breaking the bank.

The Behringer RD-8 is a great recreation of the original and classic Roland TR-808. It starts with an authentic and convincing sounding analog sound engine and takes things to the next level with an improved sequencer and additional features over the original TR-808.

This entry for best vintage re-make was a close tie with the Behringer RD-9 (the Roland TR-909 clone), but at the time of writing this, the RD-9 is struggling to actually be released. Additionally, the 808-style drum machine is critical in developing the classic Detroit Techno sound.

Cost

You can pick up a brand new Behringer RD-9 for between $300 and $400, depending on if it is on sale right now or not.

If you like to live life on the edge and buy gear used, you can find one of these drum machines for $300 or less. Check out used prices on Reverb.com.

Flexibility

The original 808 had a workflow and sequencer that was notoriously confusing. Thankfully, Behringer added some modifications and improvements to expand on what is possible with this drum machine and make things a bit less confusing.

Workflow and sequencing aside, the 808-style drum sound is known to be more flexible and adaptable to other genres when compared to 909-style drums. In addition to classic Techno sounds, a prime example of other genres you can achieve with this drum machine is hip-hop and trap.

Why It’s A Great Drum Machine For Techno

Pros:

  • An authentic and convincing sounding analog sound engine
  • Improved sequencer and features over the original TR-808
  • A million times cheaper than an vintage TR-808

Cons

  • Not a 100% faithful recreation of the original 808 sequencer (but these mods can be seen as plus as well)

The Bottom Line

When looking to add a drum machine to your arsenal, make sure to look for something that has a great balance between cost and flexibility.

Any of the options above would make great additions to any studio or live setup.

In addition to cost and flexibility, with drum machines there are only 3 features to compare:

  1. How it sounds
  2. What it’s sequencer is like
  3. How it can be tweaked

In terms of sound: you are looking for something that can either re-create the classic sounds of techno and house (namely, the 909 or 808), or can output a gritty or lo-fi sound that works so well in all underground forms of electronic music. Ideally, both.

In terms of the sequencer: you are looking for something that strikes a balance between intuitiveness and ease of use with a great potential for experimentation and creativity.

In terms of tweaking: you are looking for something that has knobs, faders, and built-in effects as opposed to deep menus and screens. This way you can focus on tweaking your sounds and performing so sick stuff.

Hopefully, this helps you find the perfect drum machine for cranking out some Techno or House bangers.

Have fun making music, my friend! 🙂

What Next?

Once you’ve got some jams under your belt, you might want to look into recording them and getting them up on streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music.

Thankfully, it is actually 100000X times easier to do this than it was 10 years ago.

Sure, when you look at how much Spotify pays per stream, it is not too much but it can definitely add up. Plus, it’s pretty cool to have your music available where everyone can hear it and it takes your musical project to the next level.

After recording and polishing up your DAWless jams, you will need what is called a “music distributor” to get your music uploaded to all the popular streaming services and stores.

My top suggestion for a music distributor is definitely DistroKid because you get unlimited song uploads for a small annual fee (it’s also what I personally use).

With that said, I’ve compared DK to other popular services if you would like to search around first to find the right digital distributor:

Or, if you would like a more detailed look into what DistroKid has to offer, you can check out my big fat DistroKid review. 🙂

P.S. If you also want to learn about music publishing and make sure that you are not leaving any money on the table with your music distribution setup, I’d recommend checking out these 2 articles:

    1. Thank you my friend! If there are any topics you would like me to cover, just let me know. 🙂

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