There are a lot of great sounding drum VST plugins out there. But most of them cost money. Can you really find a free plugin that will “carry the load”?
Well, it’s fair to say that free drum VSTs have come a long way. They may not be as customizable or sound as good as some of their premium counterparts. Still, these days, you can do a lot with a free plugin.
So, let’s look at 15 free drum VST plugins for authentic drummer sounds.
MT Power DrumKit 2
The MT Power DrumKit 2 is one of the better sounding free drumkit VST plugins out there, and I’ve personally used it on some of my projects. It’s been designed to emulate the sound of a real drumkit.
It may sound a tiny bit synthetic, but within the context of a fuller mix, it can sound great. And, adding some effects can’t hurt either, as this will cover up some of the synthetic sound.
If you haven’t already given this one a try, then go and grab it now. It works on Windows and Mac and is available as a VST or AU plugin. It works on a variety of DAWs too. Check the website for a full list of programs the plugin is compatible with.
E-Phonic Drumatic 4
Drumatic 4 is available for Windows and OSX. It uses a mix of subtractive, FM and wavetable synthesis to achieve its tones.
It comes with over 30 noise types with two stereo noise oscillators, graphical envelopes (pitch, filter and volume).
This is more of a drum machine than a drumkit, but it’s always good to have variety in your plugin suite, and this baby comes with plenty of usable sounds.
You can “try before you buy” and get the downloadable demo, but it’s probably best to think of this as a freemium plugin.
You can go to the website to hear demos, or simply watch the video above to get a sense of how it sounds and works.
DrumMic’a! is an honest to god freeware program (all you need to do is register and use the activation code they give you) and it is feature-packed to boot.
DrumMic’a! comes with over 13,000 sound snippets played by professional drummers with high-end microphones in a recording studio.
You can customize mic positions and even choose what mic you want to use for every part of the drumkit.
The mixer allows you to alter the volume of each track and you get full channel strip functionality as well (equalizer, transient designer, compressor). You can also change velocity performance and MIDI mapping.
The provided drum grooves can be combined in any way you want to create your beats.
This plugin is available for Windows and Mac OS.
AudioSpillage MiniSpillage Compact Drum Synthesizer
The MiniSpillage Compact Drum Synthesizer comes with three fully editable drum pads. It can produce a wide variety of original drum and percussion sounds.
It features three drum models, including BassDrum, WoodDrum and ElectroHiHat.
The Bass Drum is a single oscillator drum synth. It features pitch sweep, internal FM and harmonic controls.
Wood Drum synthesizes natural and synthetic tones from log drums to toms.
Hi-Hat is a six-oscillator, closed and open hi-hat generator. It also comes with noise source and dual resonant filters.
The free plugin comes with an HD 64-bit DPS engine, which gives it an awesome sound.
I could see this plugin working well for hip hop style beats specifically.
EXD-80 Drum Synthesizer – Free VST Instrument
EXD-80 is a free 32-bit VST instrument plugin for Windows. It’s a virtual analog drum and percussion synthesizer and it’s highly configurable.
When you grab this VST, you get eight modules (kick, snare, open hi-hats, closed hi-hats, five percussion sounds), four stereo pairs, stereo effects featuring Granulator and Waveshaper, user definable MIDI note mappings, 128 user drumkit patches and 16 preset drumkits.
This plugin also supports VST host automation and MIDI continuous controllers.
This is an odd-sounding synthesizer, and you probably wouldn’t use it for everything, as its characteristics are immediately identifiable. That can be a good or bad thing, but in my opinion you wouldn’t want to overuse this module.
SM Drums is available for Kontakt, Reaper and SFX/Sforzando. I’ll just be talking about the Reaper version here, since Reaper is a popular Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).
This is a deeply sampled classic drumkit. Its sound is entirely dry, allowing you to shape it how you want within your DAW.
With SM Drums, you get un-normalized, unscaled samples. The instrument comes with an insane number of velocity layers for all pieces of the kit – kick, snare, toms, hi-hat, ride, crash and more. Each sample has four mic channels as well.
The samples sound amazing to me, so this is worth a try!
StudioLinked DRUM PRO
DRUM PRO is a free virtual drum machine. It comes with 20 kits sampling nine vintage drum machines (BOSS DR-55, Roland TR-808, Roland TR-909, Novation Drumstation and more).
If you want to access more sounds, StudioLinked offers a variety of expansion packs you can get for a fee.
The interface comes with Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release, Volume and Verb controls. You also get 12 drum pads that light up, faders and pan knobs for all channels.
DRUM PRO is available for Windows (32- and 64-bit), Mac AU and Mac VST.
TheDrumSource is a sample-based drum machine VST with a sequencer. It has been created specifically to look and feel like a classic hardware drum machine.
It supports a variety of sample formats (including 24 bit samples) and comes with a built-in sample browser, 24 sequences, independent channel controls (pan, volume, pitch, length, swing), Mats Lindfors sample package, 12 output channels, RUN mode, SYNC mode, MIDI mode and more.
How it sounds obviously depends a lot on what samples you use but the interface is clean and simple, which is a huge benefit when it comes to making awesome beats.
Max Project T.Rex 606
The simplistic T.Rex 606 comes with seven classic sounds, volume and reverb control, and is available for Windows and Mac OS.
If you’re looking for a plugin that’s easy to use and don’t want to get lost in a mess of controls, then this one is for you.
You get access to sounds for Kick, Snare, Chat, OHat, HTom, LTom and Cymbal. The sounds are alright. They aren’t realistic by any means, but as you can probably tell from the name, it’s meant to emulate classic hardware drum machines.
With a bit of reverb and the right beat, this thing can sound decent.
Line Of Legends
Line Of Legends is a hip-hop drum VST using samples from RealDrumSamples.com, which many people rave about.
The interface is simple, and it gives you access to Kick, Snare, Clap, Snap, Toms, Hi-Hat, Ride and Crash. Each section uses its own output.
In all, you get 47 high quality samples, eight individual outputs, Punch knobs for attack sculpting, Release and Pan knobs.
The plugin is available for Windows and as a Mac OS VST or AU.
You can get all kinds of sounds with this handy VST plugin, though some components sound more realistic than others. It depends what you’re after, but since it’s highly configurable, this is a good plugin to have.
Sean Pandy Drums
Sean Pandy Drums is a VST/AU drum rompler plugin. It comes with Kick, Snare, 4 Toms and a Sub Blower. Each section has six velocity layers and up to 10 random-robin samples.
This plugin is available in stereo or multi-channel. The stereo plugin outputs drums to channels 1 and 2, while the multi-channel plugin outputs to separate channels. So, choose your version wisely.
Reverb and Master are not available in the multi-channel version but are in the stereo version.
This plugin is ideal for metal and heavier genres. While the drum sounds aren’t half bad, they sound a tad synthetic to my ears.
With the right effects, you could probably make it sound better though.
Modeled after the LinnDrum, a drum machine that defined electronic music in the 80s, the Junn JM-1 gives you that classic drum machine sound.
You get access to a variety of sounds, including Conga Up, Conga Down, Tom H, Tom M, Tom L, Rim, HiHat, Snare, Bass, Clap, Cowbell, Crash, Tamb, Ride and Cabasa.
Each channel comes with its own pan and volume controls as well.
The sounds aren’t stellar or anything, but then again, they’re not meant to sound like a real kit.
For better or for worse, this plugin is only available for Windows 32-bit.
DrumTROOP is a drum rompler plugin. It comes with 20 drumkits, 128 triggers on every kit, 16 outputs, universal drum placement on the first eight pads, Vol, Pan, Attack and Release for each pad.
This plugin would probably work best for hip-hop and R&B. It’s available for Windows and Mac OS.
The ESL-110 plugin samples and emulates the classic BOSS DR-110 drum machine.
It comes with controls for LP filter, Reverb, Pitch and Amplitude Range controls.
It has independent modules for Bass Drum, Snare Drum, O HiHat, C HiHat, Cymbal, Hand Clap with Reverb/Decay, Volume and Pan controls for each.
You can get ESL-110 for Windows (32- and 64-bit) as well as a Mac VST or AU.
It sounds suitably cheesy as you might expect, but with some tweaking you can get some cool sounds for sure.
SampleScience Vintage Drum Elements
Vintage Drum Elements is a virtual drum machine. It emulates the sound of a Yamaha RX-5.
This plugin could work well for synthwave, synthpop and other retro 80s genres.
Vintage Drum Elements comes with five drum kits, one FX set and four instruments:
- Yamaha RX5 Kit 1
- Yamaha RX5 Kit 2
- Synthetic Kit
- Ethnic Kit
- DX Bass
- DX Clavecin
- DX Marimba
- DX Orchestra
- Yamaha RX21
Overall, I think it sounds great. Maybe even too great/realistic for retro genres.
You can get this plugin for Windows and Mac OS. It’s not free, but still worth a mention, since you can get it for as little as $1. It’s basically pay what you want.
What’s The Best Drum VST Plugin?
That depends on what you’re looking for. On the above list, you will find plugins suited to retro, hip-hop, metal and more. The type of sound you need is going to depend a lot on the genre of music you’re making.
I’ve found the best way to know what works for you is to experiment. Since the above plugins are free, you can download them and try them all out without risking anything.
You might find that some are buggy, in which case you can eliminate them from your plugins list. You might end up liking working with others, in which case you can keep them.
It’s relatively simple.
How Do I Install VST Plugins?
The exact process can vary depending on what DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software you’re using.
But you can follow the basic steps outlined below, and if you still can’t figure out, go looking for online tutorials.
Here we go:
- Download the plugin. Download it to your computer. In some cases, it will come in a compressed folder (e.g. ZIP), so in that case, you will need to extract the files.
- Set up a folder for all your plugins. If you haven’t done this already, put all your plugins in a specific folder on your computer (a location you will remember) and move the plugin you just downloaded into the folder as well.
- Scan for new plugins. You can typically find this option within the settings of your DAW. After scanning for new plugins, they should be automatically installed.
- You’re done. You’re ready to use your plugins. Again, how you do this is going to vary based on your DAW software, but you should be able to select the plugins you installed for specific tracks in your mix.
It might seem a tad intimidating at first, but once you figure it out, you’ll find that installing new VSTs is relatively easy.
I would encourage you to keep your folders organized and clean. Remove defective and buggy VSTs and those that cause your DAW to crash. Keep those that work well and you can find utility for.
This will ensure that you keep a stable working environment, which to me is crucial to staying efficient.
Why Would I Use Drum VSTs?
We all know how great the sound of a real drumkit can be.
But if you’ve spent any time in the studio, you also know that there are a lot of things that can go wrong with the recording process.
First, you need to set up the drumkit if it isn’t set up already.
Second, you need to get the mic placement right. This is critical to getting the right sound, and it’s not unusual for professional studios to use eight to 24 channels or more, just to capture drums.
Third, you need a skilled drummer to come in and play. Otherwise, you’re going to be in the studio for a near eternity, wasting precious time and money trying to get the right take.
Four, after capturing the drums, you may still need to edit and comp the takes, add effects, mix and so forth.
And, let’s face it – not all genres require real drums. Most EDM, pop and hip-hop songs these days don’t use real drums and instead rely on drum machines and samples for their beats.
So, drum VSTs are awesome to have in your arsenal, even if you don’t end up using them for everything. For those times when you want to make a beat, or a client wants you to help them build one, drum VSTs will come in handy.
Further, you can use drum VSTs to enhance the sound of a prerecorded kit. As I already said, it can be tough nailing the sound of a real drumkit and getting exactly what you want. So, sometimes producers will beef up the drums by using drum VSTs strategically in the mix.
Finally, drum VSTs are fun to mess around with. So, there you go.
Best Free Drum VST Plugins, Final Thoughts
If you’re serious about producing, regardless of the environment, then you’ve got to build your catalog of plugins.
Drum VST plugins are an absolute essential, as you need them to make great beats. And, it’s nice to have options, as otherwise your tracks are all going to sound the same.
It’s easy to get into a rut as a producer. The thing that will help you get out of your rut is experimentation. So, don’t forget to set aside time to experiment.