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MIDI drum pads are an essential piece of gear for anyone running a music production setup. They are used to create and track rhythms and beats and can also be used as a percussion instrument for both live and studio settings.
While MIDI keyboard controllers are used to record and track melodies and chords, MIDI drum pads are used to create exciting rhythm parts.
There are dozens of high-quality MIDI drum pad controllers available. They all offer unique features, such as looping functions, sequencers, randomizers, and swing functions.
In this guide, we’re going to have a look at a few of the best MIDI drum pads for beat-making on the market right now. I’ve compared them according to quality, sounds, features, and cost to give you my top recommendations.
In a Rush’ Round-Up
MIDI Drum Pads Reviews
Native Instruments Maschine MK3 Production and Performance System
Native Instruments Maschine MK3 Production and Performance System Review
The Native Instruments Maschine MK3 is a comprehensive production and performance system and one of the best MIDI drum pads around.
Serving as both a software instrument and a hardware controller, it benefits from 16 large multi-colored, velocity-sensitive pads, as well as almost 50 buttons, giving you a huge amount of control.
Two high-resolution color displays make note editing and sound slicing easy, while the size of the MIDI drum pads makes it an ideal option for those looking to use two-handed techniques.
More than 8GB worth of drum sounds, synth samples, and instrument loops come pre-installed and the MK3 offers full integration with a digital audio workstation.
Once your hardware is registered, you will have access to the Komplete Select instruments and effects package. Browsing through the available options is also quick and easy, thanks to the built-in tag system.
- 16 pads and 50 control buttons
- High-resolution displays
- Comes with Komplete Select effects package
Akai Professional MPC One Standalone Sampler and Sequencer
Akai Professional MPC One Standalone Sampler and Sequencer Review
The Akai Professional MPC One Standalone Sequencer and Sampler is one of the best pad controller options for beat-making. A 7″ touch screen allows you to easily edit samples, while your melodies, bass lines, and programming of beats is aided by 16 velocity and pressure-sensitive pads.
The music pad comes with 4GB of internal storage, as well as a range of pre-installed samples and loops, which have been created by top sound designers.
On top of this, you are also able to add your own custom samples to the collection by connecting an external device via a USB cable, or by inserting an SD card.
One of the big plus points of the Akai Professional MPC One is its size, squeezing many features into a relatively small package. It also offers a huge number of connectivity options for those using it as part of a wider setup.
- 16 velocity and pressure-sensitive pads
- Touch screen for easy editing
- 4GB internal storage for sounds
PreSonus ATOM 16-Pad Performance Controller
PreSonus ATOM 16-Pad Performance Controller Review
For those who are seeking the best pad controller available for a more limited budget, the PreSonus ATOM 16-Pad Performance Controller is able to offer excellent value.
It features 16 velocity and pressure sensitive finger drum pads, along with eight pad banks, giving you a total of 128 different sounds.
The beat pad comes with Studio One Artist and Ableton Live Lite digital audio workstation software packages, making it easier to mix or arrange your beats. Studio One detection is automatic, with no need to complete a setup process.
The various options on the pad controller allow you to change instruments, adjust the tempo of your beats, repeat notes or create loops, all using the hardware itself.
Aside from the software provided, the PreSonus ATOM 16-Pad Performance Controller is also fully compatible with other digital audio workstations through USB-MIDI link-up.
- 16 velocity and pressure sensitive pads
- Sold with Studio One and Ableton Live
- Eight pad banks for 128 different sounds
Arturia BeatStep Pro Controller & Sequencer
Arturia BeatStep Pro Controller & Sequencer Review
The Arturia BeatStep Pro Controller & Sequencer is a good mid-range MIDI drums option, combining solid build quality with a good range of features. It also offers impressive compatibility with MIDI, USB, CV/Gate, and DIN Sync.
A total of 16 pads provide you with the freedom to compose melodies or create drum sequences, while the other options on the hardware include a randomizer, a looper and swing settings.
The pads themselves are durable and both velocity and pressure sensitive, while you have the ability to record from them in real time.
The control mode allows you to play sounds from an external device, while support for a huge range of digital audio workstations is also available.
Ultimately, it is the compatibility with other instruments that is the real plus point, making the Arturia BeatStep Pro one of the best MIDI drum pad options for those with a wider setup in mind.
- 16 velocity and pressure-sensitive pads
- Excellent compatibility options
- Randomizer, looper, and swing settings
Akai Professional MDP218 16-Pad MIDI Pad Controller
Akai Professional MDP218 16-Pad MIDI Pad Controller Review
Sometimes simplicity is key and the Akai Professional MPD218 16-Pad MIDI Pad Controller is likely to be the best MIDI drum pad for anyone seeking a straightforward controller and beat pad.
It includes 16 MPC pads, which are LED backlit, along with three control levels, providing the equivalent of 48 pads in total.
The pads can be used to trigger MIDI drums, melodies, or effects. Six control knobs are also provided which, when combined with the three control levels, takes this to the equivalent of 18 and gives you a huge amount of scope to adjust your sound.
Thanks to its small size, this MIDI trigger pad is extremely portable and ideal for anyone who wants to take their setup on the road with them.
It also comes with free Ableton, Sonivox, and Akai Professional software packages, allowing you to get to work with your new instrument right away, even if you have no prior experience.
- 16 MPC pads with three control levels
- Six control knobs
- Small, simple and portable
Ableton Push 2 MIDI Trigger Pad and Controller
Ableton Push 2 MIDI Trigger Pad and Controller Review
Finally, for those looking for a top-of-the-rage option, with as many features as possible, capable of professional use, a great choice when searching for the best MIDI drum pad is the Ableton Push 2.
The controller gives you a total of 64 velocity and pressure-sensitive finger drum pads, with the option to switch to a 16 pad setup if preferred.
You can load your own drum samples or access the huge range of sounds included in the Live 10 Intro software package. Those with the most advanced needs will also have the option to upgrade this to either Live 10 Standard or Live 10 Suite.
Aside from the drumming aspect of the Ableton Push 2, each MIDI trigger pad can also be used to sequence notes and chords, in order to create melodies.
A touch slider is included, allowing for pitch bend, while you can also adjust the note length and velocity of each pad, enabling you to create extremely precise beats and loops.
- 64 velocity and pressure sensitive pads
- Touch slider for pitch bends
- Comes packaged with Live 10 Intro
Things to Consider When Buying a MIDI Drum Pad
Midi drum pads come in all shapes and sizes, so choose one that best suits the settings you’ll play it in. Larger pads have more features, but they’re heavier. Smaller pads don’t offer as much, but they’re better for traveling.
Most drum MIDI controllers come with some sort of free DAW software. Cheaper ones come with basic software like Ableton Live Lite, and more expensive ones often come with full and extensive DAWs. If a MIDI pad controller doesn’t come with software, make sure that it has onboard sounds to use without needing to be plugged into a DAW.
Affordable MIDI drum controllers have fewer editing features and less refined sounds. A budget drum pad might be a better choice if you’re simply looking for something to play beats with. If you want an extensive range of features, you’ll need to invest in a higher-quality MIDI drum pad with better sonic capabilities.
MIDI drum controller brands share many designs and features across their products. If you like the look and sounds of a particular pad but want more features, look at the next step up in that brand’s product range.
Benefits of a MIDI Drum Pad
Here are a few unique benefits of using a MIDI drum pad:
- They give you access to an unlimited number of electronic sounds. While some MIDI controllers come with preset sounds to use, the floodgates open when you use sounds from DAWs and VSTs.
- MIDI drum pads are a lot more fun to use to record beats when making music. Without a MIDI drum controller, you’d need to use your mouse and keyboard to create beats.
- You can use a MIDI pad controller for a live percussion setup. A drum pad is a lot smaller and easier to transport. It’s also easier to get amazing sounds as the electronic sounds are already EQ’d when they go through the mix.
- Most MIDI drum pads have amazing expandability, allowing you to use them to run a large electronic instrument setup.
- You can use a MIDI drum pad to run backing tracks when performing live. This makes them versatile additions for drummers and performers, particularly for live use with a band.
- You can create beat loops on a MIDI controller pad to provide rhythms while playing other instruments.
Features to Look for in a MIDI Drum Pad
All MIDI pads work with every DAW available. When companies design them, they make sure that you can use them with your workstation of preference.
However, some MIDI drum pad controllers are more optimized for certain DAWs than others. For example, the Ableton Push 2 was designed with Ableton Live in mind. All its features and settings work best when integrated within Ableton.
It has a few functions on it that can are only available in Ableton, so those functions won’t work when you plug it into a different DAW.
So, make sure that the MIDI drum pad you get works fully with the DAW that you use.
The physical interface is the most important aspect of a MIDI drum pad. Typically, a MIDI drum pad will have a group of pads, a screen, and a group of control knobs.
The most affordable MIDI pad controllers don’t have control screens. Their layouts are a lot simpler, making them good options for people who aren’t looking to utilize all the sound editing and sequencing tools.
The more money you spend on a MIDI drum pad, the more in-depth the interface will be. Higher-priced pads have dozens of pads to use, whereas mid-range drum pads typically have up to 16 pads on their interface.
Controls go hand-hand with the interface, and higher-quality MIDI drum pads have more control knobs to utilize.
These give you extensive control over the sounds and beats that you can make. You can use the effects that come with the drum pad, or you can assign functions to those control knobs from the DAW you’re using.
Some premium drum MIDI pads even have touch sliders that allow you to pitch bend. Those are common on MIDI keyboard controllers, but you’ll only find them on higher-priced MIDI drum pad controllers.
When buying a drum pad, check to see which inputs and outputs it has. Some MIDI drum pads have more compatibility and expandability features than others, making them better options for use in a large music production rig.
Very affordable MIDI drum pads typically only have a USB port, but more pristine ones may have MIDI, USB, CV/Gate, and DIN Sync compatibility. The Arturia BeatStep Pro is a fantastic example.
Velocity Sensitive Pads
Velocity-sensitive pads are essential to have if you want to create the most musical and diverse beats possible.
Thankfully, most modern MIDI drum pads have velocity-sensitive pads on their interface.
Also, higher-quality MIDI pad controllers are more sensitive and responsive than lower-quality ones. Their pads feel better to play, allowing you to make more diverse and musical beats when needed.
They also offer more accurate triggering and have less latency or lag.
If a MIDI drum pad doesn’t have velocity-sensitive pads, the beats you create on it have the potential to sound fairly monotone.
MIDI Pad FAQs
How Do You Use a MIDI Drum Pad?
A MIDI drum pad controller features buttons or pads that correspond to different acoustic percussion instruments, such as a snare drum or hi-hat. To play a sound using a MIDI controller, you press one of the sensitive drum pads. They are aligned in a grid pattern and usually, you don’t play each instrument one at a time – instead, you play them all together.
Using a MIDI drum pad is fairly simple: you simply connect the drum pad to your computer via a USB port and start playing! Depending on the particular model of the MIDI controller, there may be additional functions that you can use, such as the ability to adjust different parameters like the sound of a sample, or the volume of an instrument.
Is a MIDI Drum Pad Worth It?
The answer depends on a variety of factors such as what type of music you plan to create and how you plan on using it. A MIDI drum pad controller is a great tool for creating beats and rhythms for music production work, as well as for live use.
They’re also a lot of fun to use, but using a MIDI drum pad is essentially finger drumming. Instead of the full-body activity of playing a drum set. If you really want to take your drumming skills to the next level, you may want to consider getting a real drum set instead.
Overall, if you’re an electronic music producer or musician and you want to expand your arsenal of instruments beyond those that come standard with your DAW software, then a MIDI pad controller is definitely something worth looking into!