8 Best Drum Plugins 2020 Review Roundup featured image

8 Best Drum Plugins 2020

After nearly a month of planning and weeks of playing with more drum plugins than I ever wanted to, I’m ready to crown the winners of my roundup review series on the best drum plugins available today. I’ll weigh the results from each of the seven in-depth reviews I’ve done over the previous weeks decide a winner in each category. Plus, we’ll take a brief look at an honorable mention: my favorite free drum plugin.  Let’s get this show on the road!

CategoryProduct NameInstrument TypeDownload SizePrice
Best OverallMeldaProduction MDrummerSampled21 GB$275
Best ValueSteven Slate Drums 5.5Sampled15 GB$149
Most CustomizableFXpansion BFD3Sampled55 GB$349
Best StandaloneAIR Strike 2Sampled20 GB$129
Most Kits for the MoneySONiVOX Tony Coleman DrumsSampled20GB$39
Most Sonic VarietyIK Multimedia MODO DRUMModeled20GB$149-$299
Best Songwriting ToolsToontrack EZDrummer 2Sampled11 GB$149
Best FreeMT Power Drum Kit 2Sampled58 MBFREE

Best Drum Plugin Overall – MeldaProduction MDrummer

MELDAPRODUCTION MDRUMMER
MeldaProduction MDrummer Review quick setup

Name: MeldaProduction MDrummer

Description: Three enormous libraries of acoustic and electronic drum samples with tons of built-in MIDI loops and effects, including a Rhythm Generator for making unique drum loops.

Offer price: $275

Operating System: Windows/macOS

5

Summary

The cleanliness and variety of the included samples paired with the dozens of effects and numerous signal path options make this plugin incredibly useful just as a virtual instrument. When you add in all the MIDI options for building out entire songs and generating brand-new loops algorithmically, MDrummer is hard to beat.

  • LOOKS
  • FEATURES
  • USABILITY
  • VALUE

Pros

  • Incredibly realistic and uncolored drum samples
  • Enormous library of built-in MIDI
  • Huge complement of effects with the customizability you’d expect from a Melda plugin 
  • Tons of electronic kit options

Cons

  • Drum Pad mode vs. Rhythms mode is a bit confusing unless you consult the manual

MDrummer was my surprise come-from-behind winner. When I first sat down to plan this review series, I had only heard of MDrummer from reviewing its sister plugin MSoundFactory, which can load MDrummer samples. I had downloaded the whole sample pack but never tried it. (Turns out I should have.)

I chose MDrummer as the Best Drum Plugin Overall for two major reasons:

  1. I couldn’t find a single flaw in this plugin, and
  2. Of the two plugins that got a perfect 5-star score, this one has the most routing, effects, and MIDI options.

It was a close call, however. The other 5-star plugin, Steven Slate Drums 5.5, was an early favorite and set to be my winner. After playing with MDrummer, however, it was clear which one of the two would be my desert island drum plugin and win Best Drum Plugin Overall.

Below is the sample from my full review of MeldaProduction’s MDrummer:

CLEAN, CUSTOMIZABLE DRUMS
MeldaProduction MDrummer Drumset Editor

Three enormous libraries of clean acoustic and electronic drum samples with tons of built-in MIDI loops and effects, including a Rhythm Generator for making unique drum loops.


Best Drum Plugin Value – Steven Slate Drums 5.5

STEVEN SLATE DRUMS 5.5
Steven Slate Drums 5.5 Main Image

Name: Steven Slate Drums 5.5

Description: Drum virtual instrument plugin with hundreds of drum and cymbal samples, thousands of MIDI grooves, and granular customization options.

Offer price: $149

Operating System: Windows/macOS

5

Summary

Steven Slate Drums 5.5 is attractive, has tons of control, a huge library of samples, one-shots, and MIDI loops and fills, solid MIDI mapping tool, plus a built-in sampler to boot. It’s clear after spending some time with SSD 5.5 that it has become a popular plugin for a reason.

  • LOOKS
  • FEATURES
  • USABILITY
  • VALUE

Pros

  • Huge sample and MIDI library
  • Detailed drum-level controls with articulations, dynamics, ADSR and mic levels
  • Great MIDI mapping capability
  • Multiple room mics and SLR for added realism

Cons

  • Some users may dislike the lack of built-in effects

At its retail price, Steven Slate Drums 5.5 is an incredible value. Hundreds of kicks, snares, and other kit pieces provide plenty of variety, with a good amount of drum- and mic-level control for dialing in the perfect drum tones. You won’t find any effects in SSD 5.5, but it’s easy on the CPU so you shouldn’t have any issues running it in an effects chain. Also, it regularly goes on sale for under $100, making it even more tempting than some of the other options. The huge amount of samples and customization options and the fantastic price make Steven Slate Drums 5.5 my pick for Best Drum Plugin Value.

Here is the sample from the in-depth review of Steven Slate Drums 5.5:

HUGE DRUM PLUGIN VALUE
Steven Slate Drums 5.5 Main Image

Drum virtual instrument plugin with hundreds of drum and cymbal samples, thousands of MIDI grooves, and granular customization options.


Most Customizable Drum Plugin – FXPansion BFD3

FXPANSION BFD3

Name: FXpansion BFD3

Description: Virtual instrument drum plugin with seven kits, tons of MIDI loops and fills in multiple styles, and immense signal routing options.

Offer price: $349

Operating System: Windows/macOS

4.5

Summary

I was impressed by BFD3’s realistic drum kit sounds and the hefty signal routing and effects options, but was off-put by its overall usability and lower relative value compared to the competition. A user with the time and patience to learn every single nook and cranny of this plugin would be well-served by its massive feature set.

  • LOOKS
  • FEATURES
  • USABILITY
  • VALUE

Pros

  • Insane amount of routing options
  • Granular control over individual kitpieces
  • Built-in MIDI editor for on-the-fly groove editing

Cons

  • High price for only 7 kits
  • Non-standard MIDI mapping requires re-mapping in order to use external MIDI drum loops
  • Dated and clunky interface

FXpansion’s BFD3 has a mind-boggling depth of control over its included samples, which can be used to create incredibly realistic-sounding drum tracks. Having used BFD2 many years ago, I knew that BFD3 would put up a fight against the others, and it definitely held its own. I did find a few small drawbacks due to the plugin’s age, like some MIDI issues and just an overall clunkiness to the interface, but nothing that takes away from its sound quality and overall largesse. That’s why I feel that FXpansion’s BFD3 is by far our winner for Most Customizable Drum Plugin.

Here is the demo from the complete review of FXpansion BFD3:

HIGHLY CUSTOMIZABLE DRUM PLUGIN
FXpansion BFD3 Review main plugin image

Virtual instrument drum plugin with seven kits, tons of MIDI loops and fills in multiple styles, and immense signal routing options.


Best Standalone Features – AIR Strike 2

AIR STRIKE 2
AIR Strike 2 Review main window

Name: AIR Strike 2

Offer price: $129

Operating System: Windows/macOS

3.5

Summary

There is some value in this plugin for live performance, as well as for quickly laying down acoustic and electronic drum backing tracks using the included patterns, but if I could only buy one drum plugin this wouldn’t be it.

  • LOOKS
  • FEATURES
  • USABILITY
  • VALUE

Pros

  • Good live performance features
  • Large complement of built-in MIDI loops
  • Lots of humanization options for pattern playback

Cons

  • Acoustic kit sounds leave something to be desired
  • Non-standard MIDI mapping with no mapping presets makes your existing MIDI library difficult and time-consuming to use

AIR Strike 2 was a disappointment for me from the perspective of someone who is almost always going to want to make acoustic drum tracks from scratch or use MIDI loops from my library. The MIDI mapping is non-standard and not remappable in the plugin, rendering my existing MIDI useless without tedious remapping, and the most of the acoustic samples leave something to be desired. That said, when using a handful of the acoustic kits, most of the electronic kits, or your own library of samples, Strike 2 is a formidable plugin for live performance due to its enormous built-in MIDI library and great sample playback features. Set up in the DJ booth with a laptop and a MIDI keyboard, Strike 2 could be an interesting addition to an EDM arsenal. For that reason, I decided AIR Strike 2 should be the winner of Best Standalone Features.

Below is a sample of AIR Strike 2 from my full review:

LIVE PERFORMANCE DRUMMER
AIR Strike 2 Main Image

19 acoustic kits plus dozens of electronic kits, with a huge library of pre-programmed MIDI loops. Perfect for live performance and quick backing track creation.


Most Kits for the Money – SONiVOX Tony Coleman Drums

SONIVOX TONY COLEMAN DRUMS
SONiVOX Tony Coleman Drums Main Image

Name: SONiVOX Tony Coleman Drums

Description: Nine drum kits sampled by the famous Tony Coleman to create an affordable drum virtual instrument plugin.

Offer price: $39

Operating System: Windows/macOS

3.5

Summary

Tony Coleman Drums is a perfect example of the old adage, “you get what you pay for.”  It’s attractive, and does have nice quality audio and some premium features compared to the free options on the market, however the usability really tanks my overall rating.

  • LOOKS
  • FEATURES
  • USABILITY
  • VALUE

Pros

  • High-quality audio samples
  • Lots of kits to choose from
  • Very low price

Cons

  • Samples take 10-20 seconds to load from SSD
  • Limited mixer and effects routing options
  • Non-Standard MIDI mapping

SONiVOX’s Tony Coleman Drums has a bargain-basement price, yet has some incredibly realistic samples. With 9 kits and 44 presets with options like brushes and snare-off samples, this plugin comes in at under 5 bucks a kit at retail. The lack of control and some usability issues kept it from claiming the title of Best Value, but it can’t be overlooked for raw number of usable kits for your dollar. That’s why SONiVOX Tony Coleman Drums was named Most Kits for the Money in our roundup.

Below is a taste of SONiVOX Tony Coleman Drums from my complete review:

AFFORDABLE DRUM VIRTUAL INSTRUMENT
SONiVOX Tony Coleman Drums Main Image

Nine drum kits sampled by the famous Tony Coleman to create an affordable drum virtual instrument plugin.


Most Sonic Variety – IK Multimedia MODO DRUM

IK MULTIMEDIA MODO DRUM
IK Multimedia MODO Drum Review - model

Name: IK Multimedia MODO DRUM

Description: Drum virtual instrument plugin with ten modeled drum kits with tons of signal routing options and built-in effects.

Offer price: $149-$299

Operating System: Windows/macOS

4

Summary

There are definitely usable drum tones to be found, and if it’s on a good enough sale I’d say you should demo it and give it strong consideration.

  • LOOKS
  • FEATURES
  • USABILITY
  • VALUE

Pros

  • Robust mixer control with tons of signal path options
  • Great MIDI mapping feature
  • Top-notch Play Style controls

Cons

  • Presets need a lot of tweaking to sound good
  • Weird MIDI bug on snare at 101 velocity
  • Price is high compared to other similarly-featured plugins

As the first and only acoustic drum modeling plugin I’ve ever tried, I didn’t know what to expect from IK Multimedia’s MODO DRUM. After all, the winner of my best piano plugins roundup was Arturia Piano V 2, the only modeler in the bunch, so why couldn’t MODO DRUM do the same?

In the end, MODO DRUM was awarded four stars, and was scored down largely because many of the models had individual kit pieces that sounded a bit off and needed tweaking to provide the sounds I wanted. As a modeler, however, MODO DRUM also has a whole world of control and overall tonal options that simply aren’t available yet in sample kits. Exact placement of the stick on the snare head, or changing the material of the kick batter, for example, would require thousands of samples for just one kit piece, whereas a modeler can emulate that in real-time. So in that regard, I felt that IK Multimedia MODO DRUM deserved Most Sonic Variety in our roundup.

Here is a sample of IK Multimedia’s MODO DRUM from my review:

METICULOUSLY MODELED DRUMS
IK Multimedia MODO Drum Review - customize

Ten modeled drum kits with tons of control and effects.


Best Songwriting Tools – Toontrack EZDrummer 2 

TOONTRACK EZDRUMMER 2
Toontrack EZdrummer 2 Review main plugin image

Name: Toontrack EZDrummer 2

Description: Five sampled drum kits and a library of MIDI loops to spark your creativity and quickly create realistic backing tracks for your songs.

Offer price: $149

Operating System: Windows/macOS

4.5

Summary

The sound is rock solid and realistic, the visual feedback is great, and the ability to quickly generate whole tracks of MIDI drums with little effort is a definite plus.

  • LOOKS
  • FEATURES
  • USABILITY
  • VALUE

Pros

  • Beautifully sampled and detailed drum kits
  • Built-in humanization to reduce machine gunning
  • Excellent visual feedback for easier finger drumming
  • Song Creator and Tap2Find MIDI options for quick backing track creation

Cons

  • All effects and mic options are not available on all presets
  • Limited number of kits compared to other similarly-priced options

I used EZDrummer many years ago and have several friends and group members that swear by it, so I expected Toontrack’s EZDrummer 2 to knock my socks off. Though it wasn’t my absolute favorite due to similar usability issues I’ve found in other Toontrack plugins, EZDrummer 2 is an undeniable tour de force of songwriting tools. The Song Creator allows you to quickly generate hundreds of bars of humanized and varied MIDI drums that can be instantly auditioned and dragged into your DAW for playback. It’s also extremely expandable with Toontrack’s EZX and MIDI packs, and works well in tandem with other EZ-series plugins like EZBass. If you’re looking for quick, load-it-and-jam drums to add to your tracks, EZDrummer 2 is a solid choice. These reasons are why I’ve named Toontrack EZDrummer 2 as the drum plugin with the Best Songwriting Tools.

Check out a sample from my review of Toontrack EZDrummer 2:

EXPANDABLE MIDI DRUMS
Toontrack EZdrummer 2 Review main plugin image

Five fully customizable modern and vintage drum kits with multiple effect chains. EZX expansion packs offer dozens of additional kits and MIDI loops for unlimited options.


Best Free Drum Plugin – MT Power Drum Kit 2

If money is too tight to pick up any of the above, there is a free solution that can bridge the gap until you can save up some simoleons: Manda Audio’s MT Power Drum Kit 2. I didn’t write a complete review of MT Power Drum Kit 2 because it only comes with one kit and has far lower sample quality than any of the other contenders, however it does deserve an honorable mention. Frankly, I wish MT Power Drum Kit had been around back when I was first starting out and didn’t have the money for the big boy toys.

If you do pick up MT Power Drum Kit and use it for more than a few sessions, I highly recommend that you donate to the plugin’s developer. Even a simpler plugin like this isn’t easy to create, and there are ongoing costs associated with just keeping their website up and running. If you can, toss them a couple bucks.

Here’s a quick sample of MT Power Drum Kit with the same MIDI loop as the others:


That’s a wrap! I hope you enjoyed the series of reviews that made up this roundup, and that you find the drum sounds you’re looking for at a price you can handle. If you’re still not sure which plugin to get, feel free to join us in our Home Studio Enthusiasts Facebook group and ask more questions!

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