Whether it’s a flawless natural kit or a meticulously programmed TR-808, drums are vital in music production. Let’s discover the best drum and percussion plugins for you in this article.
Drum plugins are possibly some of the most overlooked instrument plugins. In our journey to find the best synth plugins, we often forget a primary counterpart in music: Rhythm. Hence, we have brought together a list of various kinds of drums and percussions plugins to help you strengthen your rhythm game.
The best drum plugins often have scrupulously recorded, modeled, and processed sound alongside midi grooves crafted by industry-professional drummers. Usually, they cover almost every genre of music, including some niches like Samba, Latin, and Beguine, which can inspire new ideas.
Unless, of course, we are talking about drum synths, which are entirely different beasts. They can range from full drum sets emulating analog drum machines like TR-909 or Rhythm 55 to single drum emulation like the snare or kick. The latter is a particular favorite among EDM producers.
What Is the Difference Between Drums and Percussions?
In the real world, we consider drums the standard rhythm kit containing a bass drum, snare, toms, hi-hats, and cymbals (ride and crash cymbals). In contrast, percussions are special instruments like guiro, triangles, chimes, gongs, etc., that add flairs and embellishments to a piece of music.
However, if we go technical, there is more to it than the information above. Percussions are any instrument played by the hand (conga), mallet (taiko), or by striking each other (Piatti). So, drums are actually a set of percussion instruments. And not only that, percussions can be both tonal and atonal.
When we talk about percussions, we often visualize shakers, snares, bongos, and tambourines. These are atonal; they have no fixed pitch or tone. In contrast, tonal percussions like timpani, celesta, xylophones, vibraphones, etc., have tuned pitches. In fact, a piano is also a percussion instrument!
Now that we have some information regarding drums and percussions, let’s dive into our list:
Top 11 Drum & Percussion Plugins 2021
1. ujam Symphonic Elements DRUMS
Find percussion samples and phrases from the collection of Hans Zimmer himself.
As with many of ujam’s products, DRUMS is designed to be as convenient and easy as possible. In this plugin, you will find some one-shot hits of various cinematic instruments alongside pre-sequenced midi grooves. It uses the concept of low and high drums to specify the two varieties of percussions.
The pitch wheel allows you to switch between the two varieties in real-time while a groove is playing. Similarly, use the modulation wheel to control the dynamics of the drums. Further, it provides single-knob controls with various effects accessible from the drop-down menu below each.
- Interactive Keys
The keyboard is divided into two sections: Common Phrases and Style Phrases. The Common Phrases are permanently available in the plugin regardless of the preset midi bank you are using. In contrast, the plugin has 53 collections of Style Phrases consisting of fills, flairs, and loops.
The Finisher is a proprietary multi-effect concept by ujam. It comes with 66 modes created for percussions. Every mode sets up 20 effects under the hood uniquely, while the Finisher knob macro-controls them. Further, you can automate the knob to get exciting morphing effects.
The plugin contains several single-knob effects that you can customize somewhat. For example, the Character knob provides over 30 effect types, made using compression, EQ, Lo-Fi, and saturation. Similarly, there are focus EQ, transient shaping Shape slider, Motion FX, Ambience, and more.
The plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.11 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2, AU, and AAX formats.
DRUMS is a general cinematic percussion library with pre-sequenced midi grooves and simplified effects. It’s more geared towards people who are either beginners or working tight deadlines like composers for video games or TV. The lack of flexibility in programming and mixing can be a deal-breaker for many. You can also find DRUMS in our selection of top 7 film scoring plugins.
2. Oblivion Sound Lab Hex Drum
Hex Drum is an emulation of a series of drum synths with a powerful sound from the 80s.
If you’ve been following the music technologies over the past, you likely aren’t a stranger to the Simmons SDS series electronic drumkits. The SDS 7 found significant use in legendary drummer and artist Phil Collin’s works. Hex Drum is an emulation of the classic SDS sound with added flexibility.
The plugin uses analog synthesis to generate its drum sounds, and there are seven “voices” in total. Each voice is a specialized synthesizer engine dedicated to the pieces in a drum kit, including kick, snare, handclap, toms, hi-hats, and SFX. It’s also a lot of fun to play live on an e-kit.
- Analog Engine
The plugin uses an analog synth engine per voice to generate its fundamental tone. It has three oscillator waveforms you can select: triangle, sine, and hybrid tri/sine. It also uses a specialized noise and “click” generator to add to the fundamental sound.
There aren’t any relevant mixing effects built into the plugin other than a saturator to introduce some grit to your sound. However, it has 16 audio output channels that you can route to your DAW. So, mixing the drums into a song becomes a breeze.
- Choke Groups
The most common application of choking is on the hi-hats. When playing a closed hi-hat over an open hi-hat, the plugin “chokes” the open hi-hat and cuts off the sound. Interestingly, you can apply it to any voice in Hex Drum using choke groups — two voices in the same group cut each other off.
Hex Drum is available for Windows 8 or higher and macOS 10.11 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 3 and AU formats.
There are many fans of the Simmons SDS drum series, and if you are one of them, Hex Drum is a perfect choice. It emulates the original sound near-flawlessly and provides enough controls to shape your sound. We also laud the multi-out feature instead of squeezed-in bloaty effects.
3. Addictive Drums 2
Consider it the most intuitive drums package that sounds great out of the box at an unbeatable price.
We doubt there’s any music producer out there who hasn’t seen Addictive Drums 2 on a magazine or a website at least once. It’s particularly famous for being easy to use and having genre-specific compressed sound out of the box. That might make or break the deal for you.
If you don’t want to waste time, Addictive Drums 2 is the way to go. You can purchase many additional banks to add kits, midi grooves, and even single drum pieces. The grooves include everything from basic loops to entire songs performed by professional drummers.
- Grooves And More Grooves
Addictive Drums 2 comes with over 5,000 midi grooves that you can utilize in your project or for inspiration. They include an extensive range of genres and styles with multiple variations in each. Easy drag-and-drop to your DAW and a filter-based groove browser makes your workflow even swifter.
- Onboard Mixing
This plugin comes loaded with mixing features. There are six effects, including an EQ, compressor, transient shaper, distortion or saturation, reverb, and delay. The distortion includes multiple types covering digital to analog saturation. Further, it has a built-in bus for parallel processing.
- Mics and Outboard Mixing
Next, Addictive Drums 2 includes multiple mic placements. So, you can control the overhead and the room mic level, pan, and width from the built-in mixer. Furthermore, it also employs multiple outputs by default when you need to do further processing in your DAW.
Transform is a tab in the plugin that gives you control over your midi groove’s velocity, accents, and randomization. It includes the kit piece mixer and re-assign features. The re-assign feature lets you swap out articulations. For example, you could replace a snare hit with a side stick.
The plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 32-bit and 64-bit. It comes in VST 2, AU, and AAX formats.
A plugin of this size will have many features we haven’t even begun exploring. However, the general idea is that Addictive Drums 2 strives to provide everything you need, including an intuitive groove browser and real-time kit piece switching. It also performs flawlessly with major e-kits out of the box.
4. Native Instruments Battery 4
Battery 4 is a highly versatile drum plugin that features an outstanding library geared towards electronic musicians.
The plugin features 143 kits and plenty of one-shot samples. So, while you could just use the provided presets, the real fun begins when you start crafting your own kits. And it couldn’t be easier — drag and drop the sounds you like from the browser into the drum pads or “cells,” and that’s it.
The next step is to use the modulators and effects to add complexity to your sound. Using subtle saturation and reverb, you can wrangle your samples into something completely unrecognizable or add life to them. Furthermore, chop your samples non-destructively in the Editor to use segments of loops.
- Sound Design
You can get more tonal variety with seven sample modes, including vintage sampler/groove-box emulations. The Time Machine Pro algorithm allows you to stretch the samples with pristine quality. And alter the start and endpoints, volume curves, and more using the waveform display.
- Onboard Effects
Battery 4 includes six effect processors, including an EQ, transient processor, tape saturation, reverb, etc. They can be applied to individual cells, groups of cells, or the master outs. Drag and drop to create chains, reorder effects, and even sidechains on four busses. And last, it also features multi-out.
The plugin supports multitudes of famous and relevant file-formats, including SoundFont 2, Apple EXS24, Halion 1/2, REX, and more. Not to mention it supporting hardware formats too. So, you could convert your old drum libraries into usable instruments inside Battery 4 with ease.
- The Editor
The Editor tab provides audio editing tools, a loop editor, and a layer and mapping editor, all of which offer comprehensive cell editing capabilities, including individual sample layers per cell. There are two buttons dedicated for Wave Editor and Loop Editor mode.
The first provides features such as splicing, fading in/out, DC correction, etc., whereas the Loop Editor allows you to create up to 4 loop regions per sample. You can even cross-blend the edges of loops to create seamless looping.
On the left of the interface, you will find a sidebar containing two browsers. The first is the library browser, which is what you’ll use to find grooves and sounds that come with Battery 4. And the second is a file explorer to add third-party samples and other supported files from your collection.
The plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.12 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
Battery 4 is a high-quality and easy-to-use plugin with hundreds of sounds. And while it isn’t the best option for creating organic drum sounds out of the box, you can add to the sound using the many expansions available. As for hip-hop and dance grooves, it’s assuredly one of the best. Also, we included Battery 4 in this article about the best drum machines.
5. IK Multimedia MODO DRUM
Modo Drum is arguably one of the best-sounding drum plugins ever released, and it’s not what you think.
Whenever someone calls a drum plugin sounding fabulous, we visualize a room full of mics and a tired drummer recording that 37th round-robin for a specific velocity on the snare. None of that in Modo Drum — this one uses physical modeling technology to generate drum sounds synthetically.
To be fair, Modo Drum does utilize samples too. However, combining it with synthesis gives you so much more control than most other plugins could only dream of. You can adjust practically every sound element on the fly, and yes, the flexibility can turn rapidly into a rabbit hole.
Modo Drum is jam-packed with features for editing your sound. You can adjust the height and diameter of each drum, change shell and mallet types, and customize the strike position. Further, you can control the snare’s tension, the kick’s heel position and beater type, and the dampener.
- Plenty of Sound
The plugin comes with 10 fully customizable drum kits ranging from jazz and country to hard-hitting rock kits. You can mix and match the drum pieces to get your favorite sound. In addition, since Modo Drum uses modeling technology, loading the kits and sounds couldn’t be faster.
- Integrated Groove Manager
As if the variety of sounds wasn’t already enough, IK Multimedia has added a shockingly large number of midi grooves to the plugin. It includes over 1,400 midi loops consisting of variations, rolls, and more. The integrated groove manager lets you find and utilize them with ease.
Modo Drums includes 19 studio-standard effects and processors derived from T-Racks and AmpliTube. The built-in mixer provides overhead, and room mic controls, multiple FX per drum piece, and two send tracks for parallel processing. Not to mention the multi-out feature if you wish for external processing.
The plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 32-bit and 64-bit. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
In terms of flexibility, Modo Drum is a winner. And its kicks, toms, and cymbals are fabulous. Although we don’t share the complaint, a few people find the snare sound not up to par. Also, you will need a decent computer to handle this plugin. We suggest installing the free trial to decide for yourself.
6. Toontrack EZdrummer 2
As the name suggests, EZdrummer 2 attempts to remove the technical barrier from rhythm production for all music producers.
EZdrummer 2 consists of 5 drumkits and plenty of midi grooves. However, where it shines is in assisting you in creating your drum track. Several of its features revolve around making the drum programming part quicker and easier. It also includes an inbuilt arsenal of plugins that sound excellent.
Of course, if you require even more sounds than what’s included, you can purchase additional sound expansions ranging from rock and jazz to electronic and hip-hop.
After you have selected your midi groove in EZdrummer 2, a Play Style window lets you add or remove various pieces from your kit while playing the groove. You can add ghost notes and flairs by merely dialing a knob. Or copy-paste midi data from one piece to another.
Furthermore, you can also switch your Power Hand (usually playing the hi-hat) to another instrument intuitively. And, switch your Opening Hit from a crash cymbal to maybe a ride or even a tom. A single midi loop possesses nearly limitless creativity in EZdrummer 2.
The plugin employs a built-in mixer with several effect plugins: compressor, EQ, reverb, transient processor, exciter, etc. There are also overhead and ambient mic controls. And there are many mixing presets available covering multiple genres. Finally, a multi-out feature is also available.
- Powerful Browser
EZdrummer 2 includes a groove browser that has a unique trick called Tap2Find. Using this feature, you can use your mouse to play a short piece of drum beat using the on-screen drum set, and the browser will find the matching grooves for you. It eliminates the tedious searching process we’re all aware of.
- Song Creator
The plugin features a Song Creator tab that helps you lay your rhythm down quickly. Once you select a groove you want, the tab will display matching fills and variations for you to populate your song. Or, you can let it build the entire drum track using pre-installed song structures.
The plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher 32-bit and 64-bit and macOS 10.9 or higher 64-bit. It comes in VST 2, AU, and AAX formats.
If you feel like you’d enjoy having a virtual drummer with interactive features, EZdrummer 2 is a considerable choice. Its features are unlike any other drum plugins that we have seen yet. However, if you are a drummer who would prefer to record rhythms from scratch, consider plugins with more sounds.
7. 2getheraudio SN4RE Drum
SN4RE is a virtual instrument built for designing the perfect electronic snare drum sound.
Like most drum machines, SN4RE uses synthesis to generate its snare sound. And it also includes some effect processors to add uniqueness to your sound. The plugin has two modes: Simple and Expert. In the Simple Mode, you are provided with fewer knobs, as shown in the screenshot.
In contrast, the Expert mode provides a few more knobs for you to tweak. Frankly, both are just as easy to understand, so you will be able to use the Expert mode with no issue. Note: Keep the Tuning and Damping knobs in the Simple mode at their default position (ctrl + click) if you are entering Expert mode.
- Snare Modeling
Two major variables control the snare sound: Snare Shell and Wire. They are found in the second section of the plugin. The Shell produces the fundamental tone of the snare, whereas the Wire is a noise generator to create a “tail.” Both include controls for changing their tone, decay, etc.
- Onboard Processing
The plugin also features seven effect processors. They include a compressor, saturator, bit-crusher, decimator, high-pass filter, low-pass filter, and a reverb. All of them are relatively self-explanatory and have a single knob for you to adjust. However, we recommend an external reverb over the included one.
- More Controls
SN4RE has other controls, including a Character section where you can modify the snare’s snappiness, brightness, and weight. Or enable the Random button to reduce the machine-gun effect. And finally, if you are after inspiration, have a look at the many built-in presets.
The plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.12 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2, AU, and AAX formats.
Overall, SN4RE is quite versatile and suitable for EDM. The presets are fun to check out and include many usable sounds. Interestingly, when you purchase this plugin, you can select any amount you like to as low as $10, and 10% of your payment will be donated to a cause of your choice.
8. Superior Drummer 3
From the makers of EZdrummer 2 comes this magnificent virtual drummer with a massive sample library, making it the new benchmark in drum production.
Superior Drummer 3 comes with a comprehensive 230 GB sample library along with 350 electronic drum samples. On top of that, the core sample library in this plugin was recorded in a 12-channel system with 6 main mics and 6 height mics making it one of the few drum plugins compatible with surround production.
In terms of workflow, Superior Drummer 3 features a fully resizable UI with detailed functionalities. There are 7 kits in total, and you can mix and match individual sounds in them with ease. Furthermore, it includes mallet selections (drumstick, brush, rods, felt mallets) in some instruments.
- Sound Design
The plugin has a fully functional, integrated mixing console with bus and sends tracks for parallel mixing. Each internal channel can house multiple effects from the included 35 effect processors. Not to mention the mic bleed and mic level controls to customize the overall drum tone.
A Tracker tab features an audio-to-midi converter to replace your drum recordings with the plugin’s samples. It works faultlessly on any close-mic drum recordings with overhead or room mics producing mixed results. Machine learning based on over 1.4 million drum recordings is behind this feat.
- Find Your Groove
As with EZdrummer 2, Superior Drummer 3 features a fabulous groove browser. The Tap2Find feature lets you use your mouse to input a short groove on the on-screen drum set and find matching grooves. Furthermore, it features Song Creator and Song Tracks to build your drum arrangement without leaving the plugin.
- Grid Editor
Superior Drummer 3 employs a full-fledged midi editor to edit existing midi grooves or create one entirely from scratch. It supports editing velocity and articulation per note. And lastly, a Dynamics knob lets you multiply the velocity levels of multiple notes at once.
The plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.6 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2, AU, and AAX formats.
One word: Comprehensive. However, the gigantic library may not appeal to everyone, especially considering how over 95 GB of the library is for surround sound alone. If you feel like you’ll find the use, though, Superior Drummer 3 is undoubtedly one of the best despite the relatively high price.
9. Steven Slate Drums 5.5
Steven Slate Drums 5 is a versatile drum plugin with built-in mixing tools.
The plugin comes with over 400 kit pieces and 2,400 midi grooves. They have been arranged into an impressive 148 kit presets, created and mixed by professionals. They include sounds suitable for just about any genre, including jazz and reggae to rock and metal. Lastly, it has a resizable UI with five pages where you can find grooves, edit, perform, and mix your sound.
- Under The Hood
The SSD5 sampler is modeled around a real drum kit. SSD5 samples interact with one another rather than stacking up as they would in general polyphonic playback. Every new hit is influenced by prior hits as well as the kit pieces in use at the time. And, of course, you can also load your audio samples.
- Tape Recorded
The samples in SSD5 were recorded in 2-inch tape instead of digitally. It makes the sound have a hint of character and saturation. Hence, if you are a fan of analog sound, this plugin could be what you have been looking for.
- Mix Routing
This plugin doesn’t include any onboard effect processors. Hence, you will have to use the multi-out feature to mix straight inside your DAW. The feature lets you use up to 48 channels, depending on the limitation of your DAW. For example, Logic Pro only supports 16 channels per track, whereas REAPER supports up to 64 channels.
The plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.10 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2, AU, and AAX formats.
The main positive feature about Steven Slate Drums 5 is the sound. While it has an extensive groove library, it doesn’t have any flashy drum arrangement or mixing features. So, we wouldn’t recommend it if you prefer intuitive and interactive features to help you lay down rhythm tracks.
10. AIR Drum Synth 500
Drum Synth 500 is a comprehensive electronic drum synthesizer capable of producing a wide variety of sounds.
This plugin consists of 8 channels, including two sampler modules. The rest of the channels are dedicated synth engines to generate kick, snare, clap, hats, toms, and percussion sounds. The interface is one of the easiest when it comes to drum synths, and most people will be familiar with the parameters.
Similarly, you will find some simple effect plugins and fixed FX sends beyond the aplenty synth parameters. Furthermore, a per-channel randomizer can inspire sound designers to come up with something unique. As a related note, AIR also has an excellent drum ROMpler called Strike 2 with 19 kits.
- Channel Effects
Each channel contains a distortion, filter, and compressor. The distortion effect has three types: distort, bit-crush, and decimate. Similarly, there are five filters shapes and two kinds of compression. These are dedicated to the timbral or tonal adjustment of your drum instrument.
- Onboard Mixer
The built-in mixer is relatively straightforward with a volume fader, pan knob, and mute/solo buttons. Other than that, there are two reverb sends and two delay sends. Both the effects have individual controls on the rightmost section of the interface. Unfortunately, the plugin doesn’t have a multi-out feature.
- Everything 500
Aptly named, Drum Synth 500 has 500 drum sounds, 500 midi grooves, 500 audio samples, and 50 kits. However, it’s worth mentioning that there isn’t an internal sequencer or midi groove library of any sort. Instead, it gives you midi files that you can load straight into your DAW for playback or editing.
The plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.10 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2, AU, and AAX formats.
Sound-wise, the Drum Synth 500 is very much usable. Similarly, the interface is easy to get used to, and there is no menu diving whatsoever. However, we would have loved to see a multi-out feature. Also, an integrated sequencer wouldn’t have hurt either. So, it’s perfect if you are only after a drum module.
11. Naughty Seal Audio Perfect Drums
If you are on the hunt for an inexpensive drum plugin with some serious features, Naughty Seal has you covered.
Perfect Drums has 12 kits with a total of 131 pieces/instruments. We love the number of varieties of cymbals available in the plugin, although a deeper sampling would’ve made the library even better. Interestingly, though, the developers of Perfect Drums have kept the software open for third-party samples.
On the same note, Perfect Drums has a highly active development that adds more features and instruments with every update. For example, a free update from version 1 to 1.5 added twice the number of kits! Overall, Perfect Drums sounds excellent and unmistakably has pre-processing to make it pop.
- Sampler Engine
Create multi-sampled drum kits using the integrated sampler with 16 instrument slots. Up to 6 articulations, 5 sample groups (microphone groups), and 3 dynamic layers are possible for each instrument. Similarly, a dynamic layer can hold up to 8 samples.
- Routing and Mixing
You can control the various mic levels using the onboard mixer, including the direct, overhead, and room. Further, you can dial in a reverb send or create a grouped AUX bus. There aren’t any other onboard effects. So, you will have to use the 16 channel multi-out feature to mix your drums inside your DAW.
- User instruments
We’ve talked about the Sampler Engine, where you can create new user libraries. However, you can also export them in free and copy-protected formats. You can sell/share them via the PD Cloud. And other users can purchase/download your libraries and open them in the free PD Player.
Perfect Drums is available for Windows XP or higher and macOS 10.6 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
Perfect Drums is an excellent-sounding drum plugin at a generous price. We love the built-in sampler and user library concept. The only issue you might have with it is that the sounds are fairly processed and aren’t the most realistic on the market. However, it sounds fantastic in a full mix.
Top 5 Free Drums & Percussion Plugins 2021
1. StudioLinked Drum Pro
Introducing a drum plugin that contains practically every style of drums you could need.
Drum Pro is a minimalistic plugin with 20 kits covering a wide range of electronic genres like trap, hip-hop, and house. The kits were made by sampling 9 classic drum machines, including BOSS Dr. 55, Roland TR-808/909, Novation Drumstation, etc. You can add to it by purchasing expansion packs.
- Global FX
The plugin has an envelope section and a reverb at the top part of the interface. Using the envelopes, you can adjust the entire kit’s sound. However, you will probably want to reserve it for percussive uses only. Similarly, you can dial in the Verb knob to add some global reverb to your drums.
- Kit Balance
Drum Pro features a minimalistic mixer to help you balance the volume of the various instruments in the kit you are using. It also features a pan knob in each channel. Unfortunately, there is no multi-out feature in this plugin. So, you are limited to using global effects when using this plugin.
Drum Pro is available for Windows XP or higher and macOS 10 or higher, both 32-bit and 64-bit. It comes in VST 2 and AU formats.
This plugin is useful as a collection of a variety of sounds. However, it doesn’t provide many useful features in terms of mixing in the box. You could use frequency-based effect plugins to apply your processing or use multiple instances of the plugins.
2. MT Power Drum Kit 2
MT Power Drum Kit 2 is possibly the most feature-rich free drum plugin available.
What makes this plugin stand out from the rest is its comprehensiveness and exemplary user interface. MT Power Drum Kit 2 contains a single excellently sampled drum kit appropriate for rock and pop music. Also, the drum recording is pre-processed so that it stands out in a mix.
- Groove Library
The plugin features a midi groove library containing thousands of professionally performed grooves. There are intros, variations, fills, and endings neatly organized in folders. Furthermore, the browser’s Composer section lets you build an entire drum arrangement, which you can drag and drop into your DAW.
MT Power Drum Kit 2 has a built-in mixer where you can control the level and panning of each instrument in the kit. Furthermore, you can activate a compressor at the bottom of each channel and adjust it with an Amount knob. For further processing, the plugin supports multi-out to your DAW.
The plugin has even more surprisingly thought-out features that are often limited to paid plugins. First, you can assign midi mappings to make recording easier. Second, it supports e-kit features like hi-hat pedal CC# and a choke note for each cymbal. Not to mention the UI is resizable.
The plugin is available for Windows XP or higher and macOS 10.5 or higher, both 32-bit and 64-bit. It comes in VST 2 and AU formats.
If you are after an acoustic drum plugin available for free, MT Power Drum Kit 2 is your best bet. It’s well-recorded, looks fabulous, and is fun to perform. And even if you don’t like the pre-processed sound of the plugin, it’s still highly useful for the massive midi grooves library.
3. Spitfire Audio LABS DRUMS
From the ingenious developers, Spitfire comes the world’s simplest drum kit.
Recorded in October 2012 with Ollie Waton and mixed/programmed by Stanley Gabriel, LABS Drums is a part of the free instrument collection by Spitfire. And if you are already familiar with Spitfire LABS instruments, you are well aware of the simplicity of the plugin, and this library is no different.
- Cozy Sound
It isn’t easy to describe it, but the sound of this instrument is vivacious and warm. Spitfire describes it as the sound of “microphones from Christian Henson’s cupboard,” and we are inclined to believe it. We would suggest its use on genres like punk or something obscure that goes with this vibe.
This one goes without saying. There are literally two faders and a knob in the LABS plugin. The first fader controls the expression (or volume), and it’s linked to the midi CC11. Similarly, the second fader controls dynamics. Finally, the big knob is a reverb.
LABS is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.10 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
Despite not being very flexible, the warm and personal sound quality makes it worthwhile, especially since it’s free. It sounds like a relaxed recording you might do on a Sunday afternoon. It brings an awesome change from the flashy, processed drum sounds that we hear on the radio.
4. Third Harmonic Studios EXD-80
EXD-80 is an easy-to-use virtual analog drum and percussion synthesizer.
This plugin is a versatile drum synth that can generate a broad range of drum and percussion sounds, from classic drum machines to chaotic, mutilated glitch noises. It provides a dedicated engine for each variety of drum sound it can generate, making it easier to use than some others on our list.
- 8 Modules
The plugin can generate a kick, snare, hi-hat, and 5 percussion sounds, which could be anything from toms and claves to cymbals. Each module has detailed parameters for tweaking, but the snare and percussion sections stand out the most with their FM and AM features.
- Included Processors
The plugin only features a master wave-shaper and a granulator, which are preferable if you think about it. They are crucial for mangling the drum sounds, whereas you’d often bypass effects like reverb and compressors anyway. So, you can use outboard plugins using the four audio outputs.
EXD-80 is available for Windows XP or higher in 32-bit only. It comes in VST 2 format.
Understandably, the congested interface with all those knobs may put off some producers. However, once you get into it, it starts making sense and feels more organized. The plugin is versatile and most suitable for dubstep, drum & bass, and hip-hop.
5. DSK SynthDrums
SynthDrums is one of the most well-featured free drum synthesizer plugins.
The plugin works with an oscillator and a noise section. Both have individual controls to shape their tone, contour, and envelope. The oscillator has a fixed triangle waveform that you can optionally cross-modulate with the noise. Similarly, the noise section has a stutter effect and a versatile filter.
SynthDrums features a distortion and a peak EQ for each instrument channel. Furthermore, there are 3 stereo outputs that you can route into your DAW. You can use them for processing the drums in the mixer. Overall, SynthDrums feels highly comprehensive and works excellently.
- 12 Patches
There are 12 patches or channels inside this plugin. Each patch houses the same synth engine where you can generate different kinds of drum voices like kick, snare, hi-hat, and toms. Despite not having a dedicated engine for each instrument, it’s easy to produce a wide variety of sounds.
- Drum Mapping
This feature is one of our favorites. You can use the on-screen keyboard on the plugin’s interface for playing back the patches. However, the small numbers on the virtual keys indicate which patch is being played. So, you can change the patch easily by clicking (+1) or right-clicking (-1) the numbers.
- Morphing Filter
The filter dedicated to the noise section morphs between four shapes using the small slider below the graphical display. The first shape is a low-pass, which morphs into a high-pass. Then, it changes into a notch filter and ends as a peak filter. Try automating this parameter for sound design.
SynthDrums is available for Windows XP or higher in 32-bit only. It comes in VST 2 format.
DSK has built a reputation in the free market for developing incredibly useful plugins, and SynthDrums is clear proof of it. You can use this plugin to generate the most popular drum sounds or use it as a sound design tool. It can even generate SFX and 808 basses if used correctly.
UVI BeatBox Anthology 2
UVI’s offering is a massively underrated collection of drum machines, which is incredibly comprehensive.
BeatBox Anthology 2 contains samples from over 110 drum machines, including infamous classics and unheard-of obscurities. However, it’s not exactly a plugin; it’s a sample library that functions inside UVI Falcon 2 or the free UVI Workstation. It also comes with a collection of over 160 grooves.
The library features a Sequencer tab where you can create new drum grooves or use one from the included collection. You can also change the groove for a single instrument (like snare only). The sequencer lets you adjust the step count, playback rate, and swing.
- Built-in Sounds
Beatbox Anthology 2 contains samples from a vast number of drum machines released over 50 years. The result is a collection of over 250 kits—each kit preset loads with a matching loop. So, if you want to retain your loop while switching the presets, use the “Kit Only” option next to the preset selector.
The library lets you layer up to 3 sounds on each of its 12 tracks. The bass drum and snare drum tracks have two discrete sample layers and a tone generator to alter the fundamental pitch. The rest have three sample layers with volume, pitch, distortion, filters, sample start time, and envelope controls.
- Effect Processing
Each track or channel in the drum library has a compressor and basic 3-band EQ. However, the FX page contains two reverbs, two delays, a master EQ, and a bit-crusher. Each track also has send knobs to adjust the amount of reverb and delay. There is no multi-out feature in this plugin.
UVI Workstation is available for Windows 8 or higher and macOS 10.9 to 10.15, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2, AU, and AAX formats.
As a collection of drum machine samples, BeatBox Anthology 2 is legendary. However, we would have loved to see more midi grooves. Similarly, the lack of a multi-out feature is a little disheartening, although you could manually remedy it if you own Falcon 2. Overall, it’s a must-try for electronic producers.
At last, we come to the end of our list, and hopefully, we provided some snippets of information that will serve useful to you. Selecting a drum plugin is no easy task, especially if you are looking for acoustic drums. There are so many options available, most with mixed reviews from the people.
However, slowly narrowing down your options can make the job much easier. For example, if you aren’t a drummer and want a plugin to assist you in creating grooves, go for EZdrummer 2 or Addictive Drums 2, both of which are also highly affordable.
That isn’t to say that the others are difficult to use. On the contrary, most of them provide libraries of grooves to make programming drums easier. So, if you’d prefer a more detailed workflow, try Modo Drums or Superior Drummer 3. They sound fabulous and have heaps of midi grooves.
Similarly, if you are an electronic music producer, you can choose between modern or classic drum machine sounds. If you’d like modern sounds, Battery 4 is an unparalleled choice. On the flip side, if you’d prefer classic drum machine sounds, check out Drum Synth 500 or UVI BeatBox Anthology 2.
Finally, the ones we haven’t mentioned in our conclusion have some niche sounds or features like ujam DRUMS‘ orchestral percussions or Perfect Drum‘s inspiring sampler and library-sharing platform. Try out each that you find interesting, and also check out the free options. We hope this article helps you find your plugin of choice.
K. M. Joshi is a multi-award-winning composer and sound designer, specializing in film, game, and TV audio. He enjoys making cinematic music, rock, blues, and electronica.