The Best MIDI Drum Pad for Percussionists and Producers

Last Updated on October 30, 2020 by Ryan Harrell

From top-tier Roland to tiny portable Korg pads, we’ll take a closer look at the best MIDI drum pad in this guide.

Our Top Picks

Best overall: Akai Professional MPD226
“Boasting some of Akai’s best ever pads, the MPD226 is one of the best MIDI controllers you can buy currently”

Best for use with drumsticks: Roland SPD-30
“The SPD-30’s large and responsive pads are perfect if you prefer playing with drumsticks instead of fingers”

Best mini MIDI pads: Korg nanoPAD2
“The tiny Korg might not have the best pads but its size and affordability makes it a good studio addition”

Best for DJs: NI Maschine Mk3
“As a standalone unit, the Maschine is ideal in performance settings – including for DJs”

I remember when I started my first band way back in the 90s when I was still in middle school. We had not two, not three, but five guitarists, two guys on the keyboard, one vocalist (who also played guitar), and…zero drummers.

If you ever tried to start a band “back in the day” before modern electronic music, you know what I’m talking about. Drummers were worth their weight in gold. And equally rare.

You can partly blame this on the logistical nightmare of learning drums. I grew up in a big city where basements were not a thing. If you were living in an apartment, you best ensure that your neighbors love you if you want to practice drums.

That’s changed so much today.

Modern DAWs, MIDI controllers and sound libraries make it dead easy to create surprisingly complex rhythm patterns. While you still can’t get the same natural sound and rhythms as a real drummer, you can get awfully close.

One way to make the process of creating realistic drums easier is to use a good MIDI drum pad. Drawing in drum patterns with your mouse in the MIDI browser gets very old very quickly. You’ll get much more natural rhythms (including that crucial marginally off-timing that’s necessary for natural sounding drums) if you actually tap out the patterns.

The one ingredient to make this possible, of course, is your MIDI drum pad controller.

Below, I’ll do a deep dive into the world of MIDI drum pads. I’ll look at six of the top options on the market currently and tell you which is the best MIDI drum pad for different budgets and needs.

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The 6 Best MIDI Drum Pads in 2020

Let’s take a closer look at our favorite drum pads for different needs:

Akai Professional MPD226

Akai has an envious pedigree when it comes to drum pads and machines. The MPD226, the more “pro” version of the popular MPD218 (which I reviewed earlier), has large, responsive pads and deep integration with most DAWs. If you want to tap out a drum pattern, the MPD226 is the best MIDI drum pad for most people currently.

There are many drum pads on the market, but not all of them are made equal. Some are simply better than others. The Akai Professional MPD226 is the best overall MIDI drum pad that I have used. If you are a beatmaker looking for the absolute best option, then the blend of controls and technology features on the Akai Professional MPD226 will serve you admirably.

First, it comes with a large number of controls and knobs. The pads number 64 and each one is assignable. You can access these via the intuitive interface. The banks on the Akai Professional MPD226 are easy to use and make for excellent tools for switching during live performances or studio sessions. Other controls include 36 assignable areas, four vertical faders, 16 MPC pads, and four Q-link knobs. All of these combine to give one of the best pads and buttons I have ever used.

Due to the ports included, you can connect the Akai Professional MPD226 to other gear and even use it as a MIDI controller. This makes it very versatile. As if that wasn’t cool enough, the Akai Professional MPD226 is compatible with your iPad.

One notable feature of this unit is the included software bundle. These include Akai Pro, Big bang, Ableton Live Lite, and so on. This is certainly not found in just any type of controller.

The MPC pads deserve special mention. While all the parts of the Akai Professional MPD226 are excellent, the pad area is one of the best across categories. I observed that the pads are made of rubber and thick enough for comfortable use despite long hours of operation. Aside from feeling great under the fingers, the pads are pressure sensitive as well. Due to the design, Akai Professional MPD226 allows you to configure the pads to your touch. Therefore, you can get the best performance.

The controller has knobs and buttons that are well spaced to ensure that you hit the right buttons all the time. Although the controls are somewhat smaller than what is found in the older models, it still feels well-spaced and contributes to the compact form factor.

Compared with other products, the Akai Professional MPD226 is simply just better. It is easy to adjust and use, comes with plenty of useful software, and comfortable to handle.

What I don’t like

There isn’t much to complain about the Akai Professional MPD226. To nitpick, I’d say the controls are relatively smaller than those of other models which can make them hard to master if you have large hands.

Recommended for: Anyone who has the budget for it and needs a competent, well-built MIDI controller/drum pad. It integrates fantastically well with most DAWs (though like most Akais, it’s partial to Ableton) and boasts some of the best MIDI drum pads outside of the $500+ full-fledged drum machines.

Best Quality Pads: Akai Professional MPD 24

While all the options that we will consider in this review have excellent pads, the pads on the Akai Professional MPD 24 are the best available. The Akai brand makes MIDI controllers, drum pads, and plenty of other musical equipment. All of the products from the brand come with excellent quality, and we are glad that the Akai Professional MPD 24 offers a similar level of performance.

This MIDI controller form Akai comes with functions and controls that put several other models in the same price range to shame. It comes with 16 pads, which we have to repeat are simply world-class. Apart from that, you also get six faders and eight knobs.

The layout is simple and quite intuitive, as well. Therefore, whether you are an expert or a beginner, you will certainly enjoy using it. The build quality is also great. Although it is not as durable as some more expensive options, it still offers decent durability.

When removed from the box, we noticed that it feels heavier and sturdier than plenty of MIDI controllers that come at this price. It comes with smart functionality features like rubber feet to improve stability.

During use, we thoroughly enjoyed how the pads felt. They feel really good and are some of the most responsive options that you will come across. Some of the things that these pads offer include velocity sensitivity and aftertouch. These are MPC pads, so it isn’t too surprising that it offers some pretty dope pads.

The pad banks come with transport controls. Even though it comes in a small, compact form, it does not feel cramped. Aside from these, there are the slider and endless rotary encoders. We observed that these can be customized to carry out different functions.

Installation and use are straightforward. You can make things easier and smoother by using the software editor downloadable from the official website.

The overall performance is satisfactory. It does not come with the bells and whistles that you would find on some other drum pads, but it does its job without any cause for complaint.

What I don’t like

On seeing 16 level buttons, I thought that this would be a more versatile unit. However, in use, I discovered that it only works with note velocities. Additionally, it isn’t equipped to work with pitch-bend data or NRPN.

Recommended for: The Akai Pro MPD 24 is a throwback to Akai’s original drum machines, and thus, boasts some of the top-tier MPC-style pads. If you are looking for a robust USB drum pad that edges out most of the competition in key areas, then the Akai Professional MPD 24 is excellent for you.

Best Mini MIDI Pads: Korg nanoPAD2

In simple terms, the Korg nanoPAD2 is the most compact MIDI drum pad that still manages to give you plenty of quality performance. This model comes with impressive hardware construction, sensitive pads, and highly reliable functions.

The Korg brand makes some of the best compact musical equipment, and the Korg nanoPAD2 is the best compact option in this category. The nanoSeries of the Korg brand are super-compact MIDI controllers, and it is pleasantly surprising that there is now an option for a drum pad.

There are three options in this line of products from Korg, and all of them come with USB compatible ports. Therefore, they are some of the easiest units to use. The USB-power means that all you need is to plug them and start using them.

The original model in this lineup comes with high quality and sensitive drum pads. The Korg nanoPAD2 follows that as well and comes with some of the best pads. Instead of the dozen pads on the previous version, the Korg nanoPAD2 comes with 16 pads and separates these into banks of eight.

There are several functions among these pads, ranging from the Tap to Ranger, Gate Arp, and Touch Scale buttons. These buttons contribute to the excellence of this MIDI drum pad and work together with the impressive X-Y pad on the model.

In this unit, you get more functionality than what the previous models provided. For example, each of the pads here can send four notes or program changes.

One of the best things about the previous versions from Korg was the compatibility with the iPad, and that is still a feature of the Korg nanoPAD2. During testing, we observed that the Korg nanoPAD2 works seamlessly with apps that support MIDI controllers.

What I don’t like

During our testing, we discovered that some of the favorite features from the earlier models in the series have been scrapped. It would have been cool if these were expanded upon; instead, Korg has decided to do away with these features completely.

Recommended for: Two kinds of people will love this Korg: producers who want to make music/perform on the go. Or producers working in tiny home studios. It’s small enough to fit on any desk and offers decent enough pads that you’ll have fun using them.

Best for Sticks Playing: Roland SPD-30

If you prefer playing with drum sticks instead of tapping out drum patterns with your fingers, then this Roland is for you.

The build and design are excellent. From drops to water spills, the Roland SPD-30 remains solid and will give you great performance.

Through this review, you will see why it is quite highly rated and whether it would be a good fit for you. The manufacturer refers to this as a percussion pad, which is an accurate description since it comes with a wide plethora of customizable sounds. It comes with a large number of onboard kits as well. Some of the sounds that you will get from it include electronic hits, bass synths, and drum kits. This wide variety means that you can use the Roland SPD-30 across several music genres.

Due to the connections, you can use the Roland SPD-30 as a mini drum kit. Therefore, you can add a kick, a controller, and even more pads. If you are looking for a drum pad to use sticks on, then the Roland SPD-30 is just for you.

In real-time use, this model offers one of the best sensitivities that we have used. The pads are super sensitive and will pick up even the minute changes as you strike it. It also means that you will be hard-pressed to find a drum pad, especially at the relatively low price of the Roland SPD-30 that will give you this type of performance.
Aside from the pad sensitivity, it is also a loud device. Thus, if you want a model with loud output, this will fit the bill.

One of the notable features of the Roland SPD-30 is the ability to enter the phrase looping mode. This mode allows you to play your sequences with up to three kits simultaneously.

It also allows you to connect a footswitch and use this to begin the phrase looping.

As a MIDI device, the Roland SPD-30 can be used as a controller.

What I don’t like

Since this is fairly expensive, it is quite disappointing that it doesn’t offer custom sampling.

Recommended for: If you are looking for the best MIDI drum pad for sticks, then you cannot go wrong with the Roland SPD-30. It is durable, versatile, and is great for any drummer who wants to expand their sound repertoire.

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Best for DJs and Performers: NI Maschine Mk3

For people that are not just learning or those looking to enjoy music production and beat making as more than a hobby, the Native Instruments Maschine Mk3 is the tool that you need.

This model boasts of one of the most visually pleasing interfaces on a drum pad. The overall design is excellent and makes it highly comfortable to use. For instance, the pads are super-sized to help you hit better; the buttons and knobs come with touch sensitivity. You also get a huge 8GB library of samples to fiddle with. Easy to set up, the Native Instruments Maschine Mk3 allows you to get down to making music as smoothly and quickly as possible.

The sound is a high-resolution sound that will help you to get the nuances from every beat that you make. Therefore, there is almost no limit to the sounds that you can produce.

With the Komplete software included, you have access to different sonic characteristics that can make your sound even better.

As mentioned earlier, there are large pads on the Native Instruments Maschine Mk3. This means that you can treat it like an actual drum, hitting with both hands, the pads come with touch sensitivity too which will add more dynamism to your music.

Power is supplied via a USB or an electric outlet. You can connect the Native Instruments Maschine Mk3 to your Windows computer or MAC and have the party continue from there.

Although it is primarily designed for experts and professionals, the interface is intuitive enough to be used by a budding enthusiast.

Overall, the Native Instruments Maschine Mk3 comes with all you need. From slicing to sequencing and recording, there seems to be no barrier to the sounds you can create via this model.

What I don’t like

Apart from being more expensive than almost all other drum pads, the Native Instruments Maschine Mk3 has a steep learning curve, especially for newbies.

Recommended for: If you want a standalone unit that can complement your performance (or even be the star of the show), you’ll love the Maschine. The MK3 has been upgraded to be even better and flexible – easily the best MIDI drum pad for performers and DJs.

Best Value for Money: Arturia BeatStep

The Arturia brand is a popular brand that has spent several years creating classic synth emulations. The company often made large musical equipment, but with products like the Arturia BeatStep, it is now veered into the compact musical equipment industry. You can use it to trigger in the software, and it doubles as a unit for hardware MIDI triggering too.

The Arturia BeatStep comes in a compact form but has some impressive features that would be ideal for the music producer on the go. First, this compact unit feels sturdier than it looks. This weight improves its stability during use. Unlike some other options, it can be used in standalone mode. Furthermore, you don’t need to install any drivers before you can enjoy using it.

The design is pleasing and makes it a joy to use. The pads and knobs are backlit, which lets you use it in low light conditions. It also boasts of a data dial to control different parameters. Asides that, you have several buttons for MIDI channels, syncing, and changing the mode. All of these can seem overwhelming, but the Arturia BeatStep manages to fit this without making it appear confusing.

While there is no display on the unit, you can control the settings through the MIDI Control Center software. Therefore, you can choose parameters and store the assigned parameters as presets. As there are also knobs on the model, it comes as one of the best MIDI controllers on the market.

Also see: Our review of the BeatStep’s sibling, the Arturia KeyStep

What I don’t like

During use, I observed that there is no accent in the sequencer. Also, some of the functions can only be used via the software.

Recommended for: This is an excellent DAW companion that will offer great performance to any music producer. The affordable price tag also makes it one of the best MIDI drum pads for budget buyers.

Over to You

The best MIDI drum pad can blend the boundaries between acoustic and electronic drums. Hopefully, this guide will help you zero-in on the right drum pad for your needs.

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References:

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  • October 30, 2020: Article first published

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