We’ve scoured the App Store to find some of the best and most innovative drum machines and sequencing tools around in 2021.
Whether you’re looking to jam with classic drum machine sounds on the bus, drive your hardware synths using polyrhythmic patterns, or craft full tracks without leaving your handheld device, we’ve got you.
Ruismaker – Hammerhead Rhythm Station
- Price iOS – $7.99/£7.99
- Contact Ruismaker
The original Hammerhead Rhythm Station was an enormous hit when it appeared almost 25 years ago. Developer Bram Bos has now released an enhanced iOS incarnation of this groovebox sensation via his Ruismaker plug-in brand.
Hammerhead levels up on its desktop predecessor with a per-voice drum synth and sample import, and carries over somethe design elements and samples from the original. Hammerhead also allows you to import your own samples and use a built-in drum synth to expand the app’s percussive palette.
Other sequencer additions include per-step flam and retrig options, plus global glitch and “Mutation” controls for keeping your patterns interesting. Add in a variety of compressors, distortions and a mixer, and this makes a surprisingly powerful little drum machine that will work standalone or in an iOS DAW as an AUv3 plug-in.
We said: “The 90s groovebox was a major step in dance music production, and Hammerhead effortlessly brings this to the iOS platform in a thoughtfully modern way without losing its classic roots.”
Olympia Noise Co. – Patterning 2
- Price iOS – $19.99 (iPad), Free (iPhone version, in-app purchases)
- Contact Olympia Noise Co.
Patterning 2 is arguably the poster child for what a forward-thinking, modern drum machine app should look like. The slick interface with its unique circular sequencer wouldn’t look out of place on a spaceship HUD, but its intuitive UI makes it a joy to use. You can use independent loop settings and ratcheting, automating and randomising parameters to create intricate and complex beats. There’s also a song mode, built-in effects, plenty of drum kits, Ableton Live export and the ability to control external hardware via MIDI. There’s a free version for iPhone, but you have to pay extra to save and export.
We said: “For a very affordable price, Patterning 2 provides a highly engaging, fun approach to rhythm building that will have you creating in no time.”
Endlesss Ltd – Endlesss
- Price iOS – Free (£4.49 pm for “Infinite” subscription), Mac – £159 £79
- Contact Endlesss Ltd
Endlesss brings instant jamming with friends and strangers into the palm of your hand with a finely tuned set of tools for lightning-fast writing and audio manipulation. It comes with a library of built-in synth and drum instruments alongside powerful performance effects, live input recording, and one of the most intuitive live loopers we’ve ever seen. If you opt for the “Infinite” subscription, you also get regular new sound updates and a built-in live sampler so you can easily manipulate audio on the fly. There’s also a bustling global community of jammers where you can invite friends to a live jam, or drop into a public jam and get creative. With the release of Endlesss Studio, you can also get this seamless workflow in your DAW.
We said: “Whether you’re remixing your own work or collaborating using your hardware, samples and plug-ins, live improvisation has never been so easy or fun.”
Elliot Garage – EGDR808
- Price iOS – $5.99, Android £4.19
- Contact Elliot Garage
If you’re looking for something a bit more retro, then this recreation of the most famous drum machine of all time should fit the bill. Elliot Garage has faithfully recreated the look and sound of Roland’s vintage TR-808 in an app for iOS and Android. You get the classic 16 step sequencer with 12 programmable rhythm patterns and four fill patterns, plus autofill feature, song mode page, swing, tap tempo and more. It comes as an AUv3 AudioUnit and is Audiobus and Inter-App Audio ready, plus it has Ableton Link so you can jam along with Ableton Live. If the 808 isn’t your favourite drum flavour, then there are also 909 and 606 versions available.
Zaplin Music – TriqTraq – Jam Sequencer
- Price iOS – $7.99 (includes Ableton Live 11 Lite), Free (LE Edition)
- Contact Zaplin Music
With complex studios full of gear and long lists of plug-ins, it can be easy to forget how to have fun writing music. TriqTraq puts instant jamming at your fingertips, with real-time sound shaping and recordable effects sliders, per channel track lengths and automation, and over 400 built-in sounds. You can also instantly record and insert your own samples using iTunes, AudioCopy or the built-in microphone, so you can build new inspiring kits in seconds. There are four channels, each with a 16 step sequencer, and you can record up to 16 patterns, then use the Queue page to build up arrangements. There’s also a Mixer page and various audio export options, including saving as an Ableton Live set. The latest version even comes with Ableton Live 11 Lite. You can check out the LE Edition for free to see what all the fuss is about.
We said: “The interface is a joy to use. Superb selection of sounds included. We’re finding it hard to put down.”
Alexandernaut – Fugue Machine: MIDI Sequencer
- Price iOS – £12.99
- Contact Alexandernaut
Add some classical composition techniques to your patterns with this unique sequencing app inspired by Bach’s canons and fugues, and Schoenberg’s twelve-tone serialism technique. Fugue Machine is the world’s first multi-playhead piano roll, allowing you to create a sequence and play it back using up to four playheads at once. These can play at different speeds, directions, pitches and more, so you can easily create complex polyrhythms and dancing countermelodies that can be sent to other apps or out to hardware MIDI devices. Fugue Machine is compatible with iPad, iPhone, MIDI, AUv3 MIDI, Ableton Link, AudioBus, and Inter-App Audio.
Beep Street – Drambo
- Price iOS – $19.99 (in-app purchases)
- Contact Beep Street
If you’re looking to create more electronic sounding beats, then this innovative modular groovebox from Beep Street might be just the ticket. It uses a cable-free, drag-and-drop interface with colour coding and automatic connections to help make sound design easier. There are over 120 modules available, including oscillators, samplers, physical modelling modules, MIDI effects, various modulators, sequencers, effects and more. You can use the innovative sequencer to compose glitched-out beats, melodic patterns or whole tracks, with powerful features like parameter locking and conditional step components. It works as a standalone app and also an AUv3 instrument, effect and MIDI effect.
Paulo Ribeiro – DrumKnee 3D Drums (iOS & Android)
- Price iOS & Android – Free (in-app purchases £4.49 to unlock all kits)
- Contact Paulo Riberiro
We thought it would be good to include an acoustic drum instrument in the list, so it’s not all drum machines and electronics. DrumKnee 3D Drums is a perfect practice tool for on-the-go drumming. It includes a range of kits available to purchase, with realistic 3D skins that move when you hit them and low latency. The cymbals are choke-able by holding your finger on them when they’re played, and you can record your performances for use elsewhere. The clever bit comes with the kick drum, as you can rest the phone on your leg and use a normal kick drum motion for triggering. You can also play along with select drum-less songs, and there’s a DK Music subscription feature for getting monthly new music to play along with.
mikrosonic – RD4 Groovebox
- Price iOS & Android – Free ($3.99 full version unlocks all instruments)
- Contact mikrosonic
This is an excellent choice if you’re after an easy to use groovebox with controls designed specifically for smaller touch screens. There are four channels, and for each, you can choose from Beats for drum machine sounds, Analog for 70s mono synth tones, and Bassline for 303-esque squelch. The free version is a little limited, so it’s worth upgrading as you get the complete 10 drum kits based on legendary machines, plus all five audio effects (reverb, distortion, phaser, filter and delay), MIDI input and save/record/export features. There’s also a nice feature that lets you select and edit four effects on one screen, with four X/Y pads for real-time manipulation.
Planet-H – G-Stomper Rhythm
- Price Android – Free
- Contact Planet-H
This superb Android-only groovebox is a feature-packed drum machine, a sampler, and a Track Grid sequencer, with 24 drum pads, an Effect Rack, a Master Section and a Line Mixer. You can edit samples using the graphical sample editor and recorder, sync using Ableton Link, and export high-quality WAVs and MIDI. Other features include 47 effect types, side-chain support, per-track multi-filter, full MIDI integration and more. Ads supports the free version, but you can purchase a key to remove these. If you want more, there’s also G-Stomper Studio and G-Stomper Producer, which act as more in-depth, DAW-like apps.
Sphero Inc. – Specdrums MIX
- Price iOS & Android – Free (requires Specdrums $99 for 2 rings)
- Contact Sphero Inc.
For something a little different, this free app is for use with the Specdrums Bluetooth rings, which can be used to tap out rhythms on different coloured surfaces. These clever devices use an accelerometer to detect taps on a surface, which trigger a sensor and light that recognises different colours. They come with a coloured mat, but you can use any surface to trigger sounds. The free Specdrums MIX app comes with an expandable library of sound packs that include loops and one-shots for instant music making. You can also record and use your own sounds, and save performances from a session.
We said: “Everything around you becomes trigger-fodder. There’s something cute, absurd and fun about using a banana and an apple to launch beats.”
Okaynokay – Seaquence
- Price iOS – Free (in-app purchase £8.99)
- Contact Oknokay
Winning the award for the most unusual sequencer tool on this list, we have the beautiful and hypnotic Seaquence. You build up compositions by creating, modifying and sharing swimming “planktones” in a spatialised mixing dish. Each one functions as a synth voice pattern, and only the closest are heard as they swim around. The straightforward interface lets you edit each sound’s sonic characteristics, building up layered rhythms or ambient drones. Each composition can have up to 64 unique voices, but only eight can be heard simultaneously, with five notes per voice. An in-app purchase unlocks additional features such as per-voice state-variable and morphable filters, filter envelope, portamento, stereo delay, MIDI control and more.
Audiomodern – Riffer
- Price iOS – £6.99, Mac & PC – €49
- Contact Audiomodern
If you’re struggling with inspiration, then this smart MIDI tool can help by generating musical riffs and sequences with variations in pitch, duration, velocity and density. You can use it to drive any instrument, drum machine, soft synth or hardware, and you can choose scales, complexity, steps, start and end points, playback motion, set pitch, transpose and more. A clever Infinity mode creates changes on each repeat, alongside Ableton Link support and MIDI over wifi and cable. New to the latest version 3 is Polyphonic Mode, which adds four layers of intertwining sequences, along with a Density feature for adding fast stutters to individual notes, and a MIDI Performance Mode.