Best Drum Machines for Live Performances

In recent years, drum machines have made a huge comeback in live performances, especially in hip-hop and electronic music. A drum machine is a standalone device that lets you produce beats without the need for any other instrument.  It also doubles as a groove box and creates a unique sound that isn’t possible even with a set of real acoustic drums. In this article, we hope to narrow down your search with a buying guide and a list of our top 5 choices for best drum machines for live performances.

You can also read: Best Beat Machines with Keyboards

Buying Guide

Drum machines let you host live performances without even needing a live drummer. With the right drum machine, you can deliver your gig the flavor it needs, even when playing solo. It gives you more autonomy and ensures smooth performance on stage. Alternatively, you can simply use one to add more rhythm to your music. 

However, there is a broad range of drum machines catered to different needs and events. With so many brands and models available in the market, you may have trouble finding the best drum machine for your live performances.

  • Pressure Sensitive Pads 

You need a drum machine where you can tap quickly in beats, record the patterns, and even store your samples instantly

  • Step Sequencer

A step sequencer lets you create beats using notes in a step-wise fashion over 16 beats. It records your beat and plays it back as a sequence

  • Onboard Effects

Drum machines have some built-in effects, but you need a machine to add different pedals and expand the original impact and beats created by the drum machine.

  • Editing and Mixing

Choose a drum machine that allows you to save endless samples, mix, layer, and edit them to create unique tones.

  • Connectivity

Drum machines use MIDI to record and transmit beat information and notes. Some drum machines have Bluetooth and USB connectivity for faster storage and playback options.

  • Analog or Digital

Digital drum machines are ideal for live performance as you have access to more sounds, patterns, and preset storage. You can also personalize your sounds and create tracks. But analog machines feel more realistic.

  • Memory 

As a live performer, you need a drum machine with a generous onboard memory so you can store as many patterns as possible. These patterns chained together using song mode helps you put together a seamless live performance.

  • Live friendly

Your drum machine should be portable and functional.

5 Best Drum Machines for Live Performance

Product Name
Check on Amazon
Roland Aira TR-8 Rhythm Performer
·         16 analog drum sounds

·         64-step sequencer

·         128 patterns board

·         16 songs storage

Alesis SR-18
·         18-bit portable drum machine

·         500 drum and percussion sounds.

·         50 bass sounds

·         12 velocity-sensitive pads

Korg VolcaBeats
·         16-step sequencer

·         8 memory patches

·         4 PCM-based drum parts

Arturia DrumBrute
·         17 analog & percussion instruments

·         64 flexible pattern slots

Teenage engineering PO-12
·         16-step sequencer

·         16 built-in effects

·         16 drum samples

·         2 real-time parameters


1. Roland Aira TR-8 Rhythm Performer 

drum machineThe Roland Aira TR-8 is more than just a simple drum machine. It comes with hands-on controls and production tools for tuning and, making it one of the best choices for professional use. A 128 patterns board allows creating up to 32 steps of real-time patterns. You can create and store 16 songs for your live shows. Or you could choose from its huge sample selection. 


    • Real-time performance feedback 
    • Creative and intuitive Pattern creation 
    • Change between performance and programming styles
    • Mix notes from other drum machines 
  • Replicate beats 


  • Very expensive

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2. Alesis SR-18

Best Drum Machines for Live PerformanceIt is one of the best portable drum machines with a wide range of percussion and bass sounds. Effects engine combined with reverb, compression, and EQ gives the best possible results you need for live performance. The 7-position panner, tap tempo, and Mute/Solo function just adds more to it. It is compatible with keyboards, computers, and electronic drum kits, meaning you can use it anywhere.


  • Advanced features and effects
  • Customizable beats 
  • Complete control over the mood of the performance
  • Lightweight and portable


  • No digital features or modern storage
  • Limited pattern options

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3. Korg VolcaBeats 

Best Drum Machines for Live PerformanceThe drum machine includes individual pitch and decay controls for the bass, snare, and tom – making it almost as good as a real drum. As a bonus, you get stutter for glitch effects. It allows instant cut, mix, and editing to create an impressive beat for your performance. The built-in speaker and optional battery power make it perfect for live gigs. You can also sync it with multiple devices.


  • Broad functionality with minimum parameters
  • Digitalized and uncompressed sound
  • No need to rely on extra devices to create beats 
  • Control over the pitch and tone 
  • Real-time recording
  • Small and portable


  • Only suitable for certain types of music

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4. Arturia DrumBrute 

Best Drum Machines for Live PerformanceIt is a standalone machine that allows you to create polyrhythms by changing the pattern length. Its randomness feature adds a human feel to your performances. You can stitch, save and recall tunes of your choice to use them for your live show.


  • High-quality, organic sounds, and sequencer
  • Excellent analog distortion
  • Versatile sound generation and programming 
  • Useful Color parameter


  • Only 10 different instruments 
  • Lacks sonic flexibility

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5. Teenage engineering PO-12 

Teenage engineeringAlthough cheap and portable, this Pocket Operator is a powerful drum machine for all. You can stitch, edit and fine-tune patterns to compose songs and play them during your live sessions. You can also Jam-sync and connect with other devices to create a bigger and better effect.


  • Amazing functionality and high-quality sounds 
  • Great for digital/electronic music
  • Pocket-sized
  • Long battery life and standby time


  • Not as many sound effects
  • Can’t mix samples
  • Doesn’t have a good volume

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Whether you have a drummer or not, a drum machine is a great addition to live performances. When purchasing, consider a device that falls within your budget and meets your needs. 

We hope this article assists you in selecting the best drum machine for your next live gig.

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