There’s nothing like a good drum machine plugin to add some spice to your tracks. Some of these emulate the design of hardware-based drum machines, while others have interfaces and workflows that simply wouldn’t have been possible with these original devices.
In this guide, I’ve pinpointed the 12 best drum machine VST plugins for you to pick from, including free and paid options.
- 1. Native Instruments Battery 4
- 2. XLN Audio XO
- 3. StudioLinked Drum Pro VST (Free)
- 4. Xfer Records Nerve
- 5. Native Instruments Urban Beats (Free as Part of Komplete Start Bundle)
- 6. Algonaut Atlas 2
- 7. Sampleson Analog Drums (Free)
- 8. D16 Group Nepheton
- 9. Synsonic-Instruments BD-808 (Free)
- 10. AudioRealism Drum Machine
- 11. Arturia Spark 2
- 12. DSK SynthDrums (Free)
- Notable Mentions
1. Native Instruments Battery 4
Native Instruments Battery 4 is one of the most popular drum machine VSTs. With a sleek GUI and a smooth kit-making process, the Battery 4 is a percussion powerhouse.
One feature that makes this VST plugin stand out is the massive add-on library. No matter what genre your beats are, you’ll definitely find a handy add-on kit in the Battery 4’s extensive expansions library.
What’s more, the NI Battery 4 boasts 128 layered cells, providing you with as much space as you could ever need. This allows you to get creative by adding complex kits, performing sophisticated sound editing, and integrating insert/send effects.
2. XLN Audio XO
XLN Audio’s XO flaunts an intuitive “constellation” space interface that’ll completely revamp how you audition your samples. I absolutely love the interface of XO.
Along with the 8000+ drum and percussion samples, this plugin allows you to add your own sample libraries. XO automatically categorizes these and the samples are represented as grouped color-coded dots, allowing you to play around with them using your mouse.
You can keep auditioning the samples until you get to that perfect sound you want. Then, you can easily turn them into beats through the 8-channel sequencer, with further mixing and processing. Additionally, XO enables you to experiment with extrapolation and randomization without messing up the beat.
Once you get the hang of XO’s amazing interface, you’ll never look back!
3. StudioLinked Drum Pro VST (Free)
Drum Pro is StudioLinked’s attempt at offering a free drum VST plugin that covers the basics. It boasts a minimalistic interface with an ADSR envelope and mixer section, in addition to an onboard reverb.
Once you install the package, you get 20 free kits, with the option to add more by buying expansions. The free kits are great; simply because they mimic the 808, Boss DR-55, 909, and Novation DrumStation sounds.
If you’re just starting out, the StudioLinked Drum Pro VST plugin would be a good place to test the waters.
4. Xfer Records Nerve
Xfer Records’ Nerve plugin isn’t made for eye candy. Instead, its primary focus is offering features and boy, are there a ton of them. For starters, it sports a polyrhythmic sequencer that allows you to either program it rhythmically or manually. On top of that, every single pad can host up to 16 slices of a loop.
Nerve also has an innovative repeater control that lets you re-trigger one or more pads with your mouse or by using MIDI notes. This allows you to come up with variations and fills on the fly.
The plugin’s library has 2GBs worth of patterns, presets, drumkits, loops, and one-shots, giving you a ton of possibilities to create the perfect beat.
5. Native Instruments Urban Beats (Free as Part of Komplete Start Bundle)
The Native Instruments Urban Beats plugin is yet another free VST plugin that goes beyond the basics.
How is that? Well, for starters, this plugin allows you to create grooves in more than one way. You can either trigger preset loops, use the groovebox mode to step-sequence patterns, or fire up individual sounds using MIDI.
What’s more, the NI Urban Beats plugin has a Master FX section that includes convolution, reverb, delay, saturation, and more.
The plugin is particularly useful for hip-hop and R&B beats. Nevertheless, that shouldn’t stop you from using it to create beats from other genres, like techno or house.
6. Algonaut Atlas 2
Alognaut Atlas 2 is an AI-powered VST plugin that has many tricks up its sleeve. Just like XLN Audio’s XO, this plugin integrates a color-coded map that automatically groups your library’s samples.
The plugin doesn’t solely rely on you to provide your own sample library. It features an extensive library of samples that you can play around with, along with your own sounds. You can even build customized drum kits from scratch.
On top of that, you get a polished drum sequencer that works with drum pads. This allows you to get creative with sounds by adjusting the pattern, step size, velocity, and length.
Atlas 2 offers more sequencing and export capabilities than XO, but its interface is not quite as streamlined.
7. Sampleson Analog Drums (Free)
The Sampleson Analog Drums plugin packs an impressive library of 18 analog drum sounds that set the groundwork for your creativity to shine. There’s also a mixer with Vol and Pan controls that lets you combine samples in many different ways.
The interface is pretty sleek and organized. You should have no problem navigating your way around the workspace, even the first time. The only downside is that this plugin doesn’t come with a sequencer.
8. D16 Group Nepheton
Building on the success of the original Roland TR-808, the D16 Group Nepheton mimics the iconic sound in an unprecedented way. The user interface is retro-themed to give you a feel of the real Roland drum machine.
With hybrid sequencing, simultaneous toms and congas, and sound-shaping controls, the whole TR-808 experience gets even better. Plus, there’s a shuffle knob that you can use to add more life to your Roland beats.
All in all, the D16 Group Nepheton has nailed the 808 sound better than any other virtual drum machine out there.
9. Synsonic-Instruments BD-808 (Free)
The Synsonic-Instruments BD-808 is based on the sound of the legendary Roland TR-808 drum machine, and that’s about it. It’s not a fully-fledged drum machine, but it’s still very useful.
Yes, you only get one drum sound from each instance of this plugin, but if you really want to dial in the right sound for your kick, then it’s worth checking out.
The power of the TR-808’s sound is more than enough to convince you to give the plugin a shot. After all, this is the exact same kick that pros use to alter the way beat-making works. It’s a bass drum that includes full-blown genres within it!
So, while the Synsonic-Instruments BD-808 isn’t a full-featured drum machine, it’s still very useful.
10. AudioRealism Drum Machine
The AudioRealism Drum Machine offers 34 emulations that include iconic sounds like TR-808, TR-909, and TR-606. That’s more than enough reason to get me excited about this plugin.
The icing on top is that you get a 32-step sequencer that takes charge of playback. The plugin also has a Pattern Controlled FX system that makes rhythmic automation of the desired parameters a breeze.
This is a great plugin for anyone who truly appreciates Roland’s classic drum machines! It’s pretty affordable, too.
11. Arturia Spark 2
From sampling to synthesis, the Arturia Spark 2 leaves nothing to be desired. This plugin features an intuitive Modular page that enables you to create custom drum synths. And it doesn’t end there; you also get dozens of filters, oscillators, and envelopes to make your drum synths stand out.
Along with other perks like song chaining and step sequencing, the Spark 2 has over 180 preset kits. The library includes 30 vintage drum machine sounds, with 14 standalone packs that you can buy to expand it. You also get a wide range of effects to play with.
12. DSK SynthDrums (Free)
The last VST plugin on our list is the DSK SynthDrums. Again, this is a free one.
However, for a free drum machine, the DSK SynthDrums packs a nice set of features to support your beat creation. It has a 12-patch drum synth, along with MIDI automation and selectable output.
In addition, the DSK SynthDrums plugin lets you assign sounds to your keyboard for seamless emulation. And just like any other drum machine plugin, you get a decent number of filters and distortion and EQ effects to up your beat-making game.
StiX by Xils
StiX is a paid virtual analog and multisynthesis drum machine plugin with a very comprehensive interface. Each drum sound is a drum module that features a synthesizer to sculpt each sound as you please. It comes with an exceptional XoX Sequencer, 2500 presets in total, and other very useful features such as effects (reverb, delay, phaser, etc.), creative boosters (AI Assisted automatic Drumkit creation), and more!
Beatfactory Drums by BeatSkillz (Free)
Beatfactory Drums is a free drum rompler virtual instrument that comes in VST/AU formats. Resampled from the MPC 2500, this drum machine plugin comes with different built-in drum kits to play around with. The interface and design are straightforward and very easy to use with tweakable ADSR parameters. Simply submit your email address and download the free plugin.
Punch 2 by Rob Papen
Punch 2 is a paid drum machine plugin that combines drum synthesis/samples and a built-in pattern sequencer. You can use it to create your own drum kits or choose from the vast selection of sounds. Greatly improving upon the interface and playability from the previous version, Punch 2 features a ton of parameters and FX to shape, slice, and create sounds.
Now that you’ve developed a good idea of the best drum machine VST plugins, it’s time for you to make a choice. If you’re looking for a free drum VST plugin, the DSK SynthDrums would be an excellent starting point. Alternatively, you can opt for the Native Instruments Battery 4 for a full-blown drum machine experience. Finally, the XLN Audio XO would be a no-brainer for anyone who likes combining samples with color-coded maps.