Maybe you’re a DAW user, maybe not. Either way, we all know there are other more affordable ways to create beats when inspiration strikes. Let’s take a look at some of the best budget beat-making equipment to get you started.
No matter which style of music you aim to make, it helps to have more than just the instruments themselves. Luckily, there are plenty of free resources available these days to assist with recording, editing, arrangement, and more.
Here are a few to add to your workflow:
- Bandlab – a free online DAW with an extensive sound library
- Klevgrand Rassel – an iOS app that turns your phone into a live percussion instrument
- Free Plug-ins – Be sure to check out our Free Plug-ins column every week for new software instruments and effects for your DAW.
Choosing the best budget beat-making gear
There’s a range of gear out there for making beats and while so much of it involves spending more than you want to, we’ve selected instruments to inspire some creativity without the setback.
Teenage Engineering PO-12
The PO-12 is a 16-channel drum machine from the popular Pocket Operator series. Like most things from Teenage Engineering, there’s more to it than meets the eye. Apart from the ability to create up to 16 patterns, you also have 16 pattern chains to develop arrangements.
The amount of tweakability per sound might be limited, but the versatile sync function allows you to use the PO-12 with other Pocket Operators and a range of other gear. In addition, the 16 global effects provide enough options to vary create a varied mix of sounds.
It’s powered by AAA batteries, has a built-in speaker, and you can add a rubber casing to protect the controls during the hours of button-bashing.
The useful Arturia Beatstep operates as a MIDI controller and a standalone sequencer. So regardless of whether you create your music using a DAW, iPad, Eurorack, or another piece of hardware, the Beatstep provides an intuitive platform for formulating new ideas.
In controller mode, all 16 rotary encoders are assignable. However, in sequencer mode, they control the pitch of each of the 16 corresponding steps. In addition, there are several scale modes that conveniently ensure you’re working within your song’s intended key.
The Beatstep can even act as a USB MIDI to CV interface, allowing you to sequence your Eurorack setup from your DAW.
AKAI MPK mini Play MK3
The MPK mini Play MK3 combines the robust and responsive controls of the MPK mini with an internal sound engine that gives you over 100 different instruments. In addition, you can easily sculpt each sound with the four bankable control knobs that have two sets of preassigned parameters.
The only thing missing from the MPK mini Play is an onboard sequencer, but you can still trigger and latch rhythms with the multimode arpeggiator. The overall build quality is exceptional for the price, and you can easily use incorporate it with a DAW in many ways.
In addition, the MPK mini Play is both USB and battery-powered for mobile flexibility, and the built-in speaker adds to the immediacy of the instrument.
Korg Volca Sample New Generation
Although the Vocal Sample 2 is technically a ROMpler, the iOS app allows you to sample and send sounds to it directly. Either way, the ability to load your own sounds and create patterns with the impressive sequencer is an attractive prospect for the price.
The control layout is tight, but this also lends itself to moving fluently between parameters. In addition, there are plenty of ways to shape each sound’s envelope and tonal character.
From a sequencing perspective, you get plenty of value and this aspect has undoubtedly led to the success of the Volca series over the years. In addition, the Vocal Sample 2 has MIDI and sync for linking up with your DAW and other gear.
From the relatively recently launched AIRA Compact series, the T-8 is a groovebox that combines sounds from the classic TR-606, TR-808, TR-909, and TB-303 rhythm instruments with a powerful 32-step sequencer.
For pattern creation, you can store up to 64 patterns with additional functions such as accent, probability, sub-step, and velocity.
However, the main attraction to the T-8 has got to be the live performance features like step loop, mute, fill, reload, and pattern shift, and effects including delay, reverb, overdrive, and sidechain compressor.
It’s slightly more expensive for an instrument with limited sound creation potential, but having a built-in lithium-ion battery that offers 3.5 hours of operation makes it more worthwhile.
More about Beat-making:
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- Teenage Engineering PO-12: Teenage Engineering
- Arturia Beatstep: Arturia
- AKAI MPK mini Play MK3: AKAI
- Korg Volca Sample New Generation: Korg
- Roland T-8: Roland