The evolution of hip hop runs together with the history of drum machines. Classic beat machines like the Linn LM-1 and Roland’s 808 paved the way for experimentation and live beat making. For decades, these classic machines have been improved upon in both analog and digital realms to create some absolutely amazing machines with incredible functionality and fat, fat sounds.
Whether you’re a beginner, a studio-based producer, or an MC in need of live beats, there are hundreds of great machines out there.
So, let’s narrow it down and take a look at the very best beat machines for hip hop currently on the market and find the perfect one for you…
Top 5 Best Beat Machines for Hip Hop To Consider In 2021 Reviews
1 Akai Professional XR20 Beat Production Center – Best Sounding Beat Machine for Hip Hop
Akai Professional’s XR20 is a slick-looking machine in jet black with blue lights and an LCD display. We love how the rims of the pads light up when played by hand or flash to show your sequences.
But this machine doesn’t just look good…
The people at Akai were serious about making a hip hop beat machine when they designed the XR20. They chose to collaborate with producers Chronic Beats to produce the drum and percussion, bass, and synth sounds included with this machine. That’s over 700 sounds!
And it shows…
We have everything here from classic 80s analog sounding patches to fat bass booms, claps, zaps, and pops, and everything in between. This collection covers the whole range of hip hop from the past into the future. The only downside is that the “real” drum sounds are quite limited if you’re looking for a truer sound for some tracks.
But it doesn’t stop there…
If you want even more sounds, you can easily connect to a DAW (digital audio workstation) through the midi connections. You can also use midi to link up this beat machine with other boxes, synths, and samplers.
Aside from great sounds, what does the XR20 offer?
You’ve got 100 pre-set patterns to choose from and room to save 100 more of your own. However, because each pattern offers A and B variations, you’re really getting twice as much. Chain editing is simple, but you can also cue up patterns live.
Even better, with (sold-separately) foot pedal triggers, you can turn beats off and on, and trigger A and B variations, as well as drum fills anytime you want while keeping your hands free.
- Thick, lush sounds.
- Affordable price.
- Pad responsiveness isn’t great.
- Not many “normal” drum sounds.
2 Alesis SR18 – Most Versatile Beat Machine for Hip Hop
The Alesis SR16 is another one of those classic beat machines that blew apart the scene when it came out in 1991. With the SR18, Alesis has taken what that classic machine could do and turned it up a whole lot.
From 50 patches on the SR16, the SR18 holds 580 pre-set sounds. You’ve got good percussion and drum sounds here, but to our ears, not quite as distinctly hip hop as Akai’s XR20. However, what does stand out are the bass and synth sounds.
Practical and versatile…
These sounds are really varied, ranging from dirty to oh so smooth, and are easy to play with the 12 velocity-sensitive touchpads. We like the layout of these pads better than the Akai model. They’re more spread out and easier to play. However, they don’t light up, and that loses them points for style!
In most other areas, these two machines, the SR18 and the XR20 are very similar. Both offer midi and ¼” jack connectivity. Both have easy to use chain editing functions. Both have A and B variations and fills, as well as the ability to tap to set a tempo that can be easily triggered live either on the console or by using foot pedals (sold separately) to keep your hands free for mics or instruments.
Even the price is essentially the same.
So what’s different?
The biggest difference we found was the quality of the pads on the SR18. These triggers are more sensitive than on the Akai machine and come with what Alesis calls “dynamic articulation.” This produces more of a live drummer sound. Paired with the right patches, this machine can sound like a real drum kit or hand drums.
- Great sensitivity in pads.
- Affordable price for good quality.
- Sounds are less hip hop specific.
3 Korg Volcabeats – Best Pocket Beat Machine for Hip Hop
Next up in our Best Beat Machines for Hip Hop reviews, the name Korg has been synonymous with some of the fattest synth sounds out there ever since the company’s beginnings in the 1960s. But did you know they started out making beats? Not to mention, their first machines were huge and cost thousands of dollars.
But now things have completely changed, and tube capacitors have been replaced by tiny electronic components. Instead of a drum machine the size of a small fridge, Korg is putting out smaller machines that are very nearly pocket-sized.
The Volcabeats is one of them…
This analog beat machine behaves in a much different way than the two machines we’ve seen already. Instead of hundreds of pre-set instrument sounds, the Volcabeats has only 10. But the difference is that all these sounds are editable in their own ways.
The six analog sounds (kick, snare, two toms, and open and closed hi-hats) can be manipulated for things like pitch, click, and decay. The other PCM sounds are actually digital but made to sound like analog. These can be adjusted to a wide range of tones.
The perfect sequence…
So instead of hundreds of pre-set patterns, this machine is a 16-step sequencer. This means you program tracks by dropping beats where you want them in up to 16 layers. You can mute out or drop in parts as you go along, adding steps to your tracks.
This little machine may take a while to learn as it has so much analog adjustability. But with its light-up pads and digital display, it’s relatively easy to play. It’s small, light, can run on batteries, and has an ok built-in speaker, so it’s totally portable.
- Cheap price.
- Easy to play and adjust, especially for live tracking.
- Lacks the more-realistic pre-set sounds of digital machines.
- No pre-set beats.
4 Korg KR Mini – Best Budget Beat Machine for Hip Hop
The KR or Korg Rhythm Mini is the tiniest and cheapest drum machine on our list. Let’s see if it can still hold up to the competition.
The first thing you’ll notice with this machine is how light and small it is. Though it can run off an A/C adapter, three AA batteries make it fully portable. It has a built-in speaker just like the Volcabeats, so you can take it anywhere.
What’s different is that this machine is digital, like the Akai and Alesis machines we saw earlier. But at a quarter of their price, you shouldn’t be surprised to know that this machine is a completely stripped down version of those beat factories.
The KR Mini comes with 16 pads for programming or live play. A knob at the top allows you to run through 54 pre-set patterns in nine different styles. Plus, there are six places to lay down your own beats. It also holds 120 pre-programmed fills, which you can trigger on the console or with outboard foot pedals (sold separately).
Sounds great, but does it sound great?
It sounds, well, fine. The real downside of this machine is that it uses the same limited range of just 16 sounds for all the pre-programmed patterns. While this is way more than the average real drum kit can produce, it’s also limiting.
You can do chain edits to produce full tracks on this machine; however, there are some difficulties with laying down your own beats. First, tempo is only controlled by a knob with no display, so it’s hard to be precise. Also, the Mini doesn’t quantize your beats, so things could end up sounding sloppy.
- Really cheap.
- Light and portable.
- Tempo control is tricky.
- Limited range of sounds and beats.
5 Arturia Drumbrute – Best Analog Beat Machines for Hip Hop
Our last machine is the Drumbrute by Arturia. Here we’ve flipped the switch back to analog. We’ve also upped the price a fair bit.
The question is: is this machine worth it?
This machine takes its cues from the Roland 808 but has stretched things far beyond the capability of that machine. It’s a classic, retro-styled machine with 17 dope light-up pads. Each pad controls one of the 17 percussion sounds.
All the normal sounds are there, including two types of bass and two hi-hats. But one sound that really stands out is the reverse crash cymbal. All of these sounds are highly editable, as you would expect from analog for tone, decay, and more. The machine holds up to 64 beat patterns (each with up to 64 steps), though this is all program your own.
Once you have your patterns down, you can chain up to 16 together to create a song, and the machine can store up to 16 songs at once.
Let’s get connected…
The connectability of this machine is outstanding. We’ve got AUX, individual ¼” jacks for each sound, midi in/out/thru, and… USB! Finally – a machine that can communicate right with your DAW without having to mess around with extra connections.
But if you aren’t recording and you want to manipulate your beat live, the Drumbrute has an added bonus. There’s a Steiner-Parker low pass to high pass filter built right in. You can use this to instantly drop out your low or high end for great track texture.
Overall, we think this beat machine sounds great, and the bass really kicks.
- Easy to play and chain edit.
- Built-in filter adds depth to solid sounds.
- Sound variety is more limited than with digital machines.
How to Buy the Best Beat Machines for Hip Hop
With a huge range of machines on the market, making a purchase can be tough. With that in mind, here are a few things to consider when choosing one of the best hip hop beat machines.
Digital vs. Analog
Digital and analog machines work in very different ways.
Analog sounds are made from electronic noises produced by different types of circuits. Noises like beeps, clicks, booms, and sizzles are really well suited to analog machines. Since the earliest machines used for hip hop tracks were analog, these are the classic sounds you might know and love. Analog sounds can be tweaked by turning knobs and dials to change their character.
Digital sounds, on the other hand, are usually made by actually recording instruments. These sounds can be literally anything, from actual bass notes to, who knows, cats hissing. Whatever. What matters is that these pre-set sounds are more difficult to edit and change. They can, however, sound just like real drums or other instruments.
Digital machines can also incorporate bass and synth tones, which can be played like keyboards, so you get a few instruments in one.
Are you going to be using this machine in your studio or carting it around to clubs all over town? If it’s light and small, that can be extra convenient. Even better if you can run it off batteries so you can compose anywhere.
On the flip side, a bigger machine can be sturdier and easier to play. If you don’t need to carry it around a lot, bigger could be better.
What you do with the machine defines the connections you need. Straight up single shot through an amp? A ¼” jack might be all you need. Computer driven production? Better have that midi, or better yet, USB.
Back in the day, a machine might set you back thousands of dollars. But these days, a quality machine can be had for $100 and up. But cheaper machines generally come with fewer functions.
A digital beat machine needs a good display to be easy to use, and as a general rule, touch pads on more expensive machines are going to be more sensitive. More memory means more money, but more patterns.
It comes down to a decision of what you need the machine for. If you’re in the studio producing professional beats, you’ll probably need a machine at least in the $200-$300 range. But if you’re just using the machine to compose jams on the fly, or as a simple accompaniment to rhyme over, you can get away with something cheaper.
It’s simple. You know your style, and if the machine has the flavor you’re looking for, then don’t hesitate. If you’re not sure, check out videos to hear what each machine can really do and what it actually sounds like.
Fancy something more tactile?
If so, check out our reviews of the Best Cheap Beginner Electronic Drum Sets under 500 Dollars you can buy in 2021.
Or, if you want to go even more traditional, how about the Best Portable Drum Kits, the Best Beginner Drum Set, the Best Drum Practice Pads, the Best Jazz Drum Sets, the Best Drumsticks, the Best Snare Drums, and the Best Drum Set for Kids currently on the market.
So, what is the Very Best of the Best Beat Machines for Hip Hop?
For us, this was no easy task. All of the machines we tried out sound cool, are versatile, and match well to hip hop music.
But when you have to choose, you have to choose. For our money, the…
…takes it. We think this is the best beat machine for hip hop for its affordable price tag, superior sounds, and ease of play.
But whatever machine you choose to perfect your music, make sure it has the flavor you want to make your beats bangin.
Happy beat making.