There’s one instrument that appears in most songs.
No, it’s not guitar. Not piano either. Although these instruments are incredibly popular.
It’s the drums.
Drums and/or percussion – real, artificial, or some combination thereof – are often considered vital to a song, because they form the rhythmic foundation. They provide the backbone.
Whether you’re a music producer, sound engineer, composer, or beatmaker, drums will prove essential to your ongoing music creation efforts.
In this guide, we’ll look at the best free drum VST plugins with super realistic sounds.
MT Power Drum Kit 2
It’s hard to find realistic sounding drum VSTs for free. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some good options available, it just means if you’re expecting to get something that sounds as good as BFD for free, you’re probably going to be disappointed.
That said, MT Power Drum Kit 2 is awesome, and it’s my go-to drum VST when capturing a live drummer is impractical or just not possible.
In fact, it's one of THE best free VSTs around.
This VST sounds good and is probably the closest thing you can find to free realistic sounding drums. I even find they respond well to effects.
Have a listen to a few demos or mixes on the MT Power Drum Kit 2 website or YouTube and see for yourself.
Within MT Power Drum Kit 2, you can mix every drum and cymbal to your liking – be it kick, snare, toms, ride, china, or otherwise.
If you don’t feel like making a MIDI track and drawing in your drum parts in the piano roll, then you can also choose from a multitude of pre-made grooves.
MT Power Drum Kit 2 is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
It has been tested on Cubase, Nuendo, Reaper, Ableton Live, Studio One, FL Studio, Logic, GarageBand, Mixcraft, Samplitude Music Studio, Cakewalk, Sonar, Digital Performer, Traction, Waveform, Reason, Arodur, Mixbus, Akai MPC, Podium, and Jeskola BUZZ.
So, it should work on your DAW.
Download: MT Power Drum Kit 2
MiniSpillage Compact Drum Synthesizer By AudioSpillage
MiniSpillage is a drum synth plugin with high resolution 64-bit DSP processing. It comes with three drum synthesis algorithms as well as distortion effects and resonant filters.
This VST features a single oscillator bass drum synth with pitch sweep, internal FM, and harmonic controls, a wooden drum model synth, and a six-oscillator closed and open hi-hat generator with noise source and dual resonant filters.
Its graphical user interface is professional quality, and most users found it easy to use. They also loved the large range of sounds they were able to create with this VST. The sheer number of parameters you can tweak are clearly what make this possible.
Now, you can’t make MiniSpillage sound like a real drum kit, but if you’re looking to make beats for pop, EDM, or even hip-hop, you’ll probably enjoy it.
MiniSpillage does come with some presets, but creating your own sounds is where this VST shines.
Overall, this is a powerful, free plugin.
Drum Pro By Studio Linked
Studio Linked’s Drum Pro is a drum kit rompler complete with sampled vintage kits.
You get 20 drum kits, global ADSR, reverb, 12 pads, as well as volume and pan control for each pad.
Some of the included samples are relatively realistic, though I still don’t think this is the type of VST you would use for a rock song. That is, of course, unless you upgrade to get more drum kit sounds.
That said, Drum Pro is perfect for making beats, be it pop, EDM, hip-hop, or otherwise. It could work fine for certain rock genres as well, given that drum machines were quite popular in the 80s and have made a bit of a resurgence in the last 10 to 15 years or so.
Drum Pro has a nicely designed interface, and the best part about it is that it’s incredibly easy to use. If you want to create beats fast, chances are you will enjoy this VST.
Download: Studio Linked
Beat DRMR offers 178 drum kits for a variety of genres, including electro, techno, Detroit, minimal, acid, and other styles. It comes with over 2,000 sounds total.
The kits include Airbase, Analog Rytm, Defeated, Hybrid, Lectro, Modular, Synthetic, TR-909 kits, as well as eight real drums, 26 bonus percussion kits, and selected synth kits.
As you can see, this rompler/drum machine comes with 12 pads, as well as attack, decay, pan, and volume controls for each channel.
There are also master controls for cutoff, reverb, LFO rate, LFO depth, and master volume.
This is a nicely designed plugin to be sure, and if you’re looking to build out your sample library, this VST will help you expand your sounds in a hurry. Some are cheesy, and you might find yourself wading through a lot of options before arriving at one that you like, but there’s no question you won’t run out of sounds any time soon.
For beat making, Beat DRMR can be a ton of fun.
You can get Beat DRMR for Windows or Mac on KVR Audio Software.
Download: KVR Audio Software
BD-808 By Synsonic Instruments
Who doesn’t like classic 808 style beats, right?
Well, the Synsonic Instruments BD-808 can help you create bass drum sounds based on the original 808 Bass Drum circuit. You can even use this as a bass synthesizer with MIDI control.
I love the orange-accented graphical interface, which comes complete with controls for tune, accent, decay, fine, level, tone, MIDI sync, long decay, trigger, and MIDI control.
BD-808 does give you the ability to tweak your 808-style bass to your heart’s content. That said, that’s all it does, and I’m not sure in this day and age whether you need a VST that just handles bass drum.
This VST does sound good, and there are a lot of unexpected sounds you can draw out of it with some tweaking. My suggestion would be to have a listen to the demos and decide for yourself whether it’s worth it.
Download: Synsonic Instruments
BD-909 By Synsonic Instruments
Synsonic’s BD-909 models the TR-909 bass drum. So, yet again, we have a bass drum dedicated VST via Synsonic.
Impeccably designed? Yes. And the developers even went to the trouble of analyzing the original circuit to develop this VST.
The controls include pitch, tune decay, tune depth, accent, attack, noise decay, decay, hold, distort, trigger, and MIDI control.
The VST includes factory presets, and of course, you can create your own too.
Again, what this plugin does, it does well. Whether you need a plugin that emulates 909-style bass drum (and nothing else), is a matter of contention.
Download: Synsonic Insturments
Jamstix 4 Free – Virtual 3D Drummer By RAYZOON
RAYZOON’s Jamstix 4 Free is the most limited version of Jamstix 4. There are six other versions that come with additional features in case you want to upgrade.
Either way, Jamstix 4 Free comes with eight drummer models, 21 style models, 200 acoustic drum samples, mapped MIDI output, limited full velocity layers, limited 3D kit customization, and limited save functionality.
So, the free version is basically just enough for you to figure out whether this is something you want to pay for.
Jamstix 4 Free is a unique VST, in the sense that you can tell the AI what the arrangement of the song is and what style you want it to play in.
Human behavior has been preserved, to create a more authentic drum performance. For those who are tired of drawn-in drum patterns that are just a little too perfect, this is quite refreshing.
In all, this might be one of the more realistic sounding free options available. It’s quite different than the other VSTs out there, but experimentally, it’s worth a try.
DrumTROOP By DUBturbo
DrumTROOP is a free drum kit rompler. It comes with 20 free drum kits, 128 triggers on every kit, 16 outputs, universal drum placement on the first eight pads, as well as controls for vol, pan, attack, and release on each pad.
What immediately stands out about DrumTROOP is probably its design. For a free plugin, it looks incredibly attractive (if just a tad old school). The developers obviously went above the board in this regard.
And although we weren’t overly impressed by other drum romplers, DrumTROOP’s samples are quite high quality and are nice sounding.
You can get DrumTROOP as a 32-bit and 64-bit Windows VST, as well as a Mac VST and AU plugin on PLUGINS 4 FREE.
Download: PLUGINS 4 FREE
LABS – Drums By Spitfire Audio
We like to keep a close eye on Spitfire Audio. Because what they offer for free is often unique, and above and beyond what you might expect for the price.
For this plugin, Stanley Gabriel recorded, mixed, edited, and programmed Ollie Waton on the drums.
The result is an incredibly realistic sounding kit that’s perfect for rock, jazz, blues, and other genres.
Now, I couldn’t see myself using this plugin on everything because its sound is relatively recognizable. But you can do things like add reverb and change velocity levels to customize it.
Spitfire Audio doesn’t make these plugins for versatility. But what they come out with is always of interest to us because it’s high quality.
LABS – Drums didn’t disappoint, either.
Download: Spitfire Audio
SUB Free Analog Drums By Sampleson
SUB is a vintage analog drum module (drum synthesizer). It recreates many classic drum sounds and even comes with a sub-frequency oscillator.
It features 18 analog drum sounds, mixer with pan and volume, and HD scalable interface.
SUB offers 808-style sounds, which you can tweak using the onboard controls.
It’s a simple plugin, and it works on Windows and Mac. It’s also lightweight, so you can use it without much of a fuss.
606 Koncept By SampleScience
SampleScience’s 606 Koncept was based on a famous analog drum machine from the 80s. The sounds have been sampled and mapped according to MIDI convention. You can trigger vinyl, tape, and sub sound layers to add some depth and interest to your sequences.
You also get multi-pitch sum mixers for each drum sound, multi-LFO, room reverb, highpass/lowpass filter, amplitude range controls, and three voice modes – polyphonic, monophonic, and legato.
What instantly strikes me about this VST is its attractive and minimalist design. We must give it some points for design.
Sound wise? It’s nothing you haven’t heard before. If you like classic drum machines, you’ll probably like this too. It’s great for making beats, but it wouldn’t be ideally suited for styles of music requiring a real drum sound.
How Do I Use Drum VSTs?
Generally, most drum VSTs are used the same way other VSTs (like synths) are used.
You can connect your MIDI controller and record your part (and edit later), or you can draw beats in using the piano roll (popular option, since it makes it easier to build a consistent sounding beat).
If you don’t understand the basics of drumming, creating drum parts might seem intimidating at first. I know I was a bit intimidated initially.
My suggestion would be to listen and study some of your favorite songs. And listen specifically to the drums. Notice how the parts are played.
Ask yourself questions like:
- What kind of rhythm is the kick drum playing?
- When is the snare played?
- What sort of rhythm is the hi-hat keeping?
- Is the drummer using the hi-hat or the ride? Are they using both in the same song, just in different parts?
- When does the drummer hit other cymbals (crash, china, etc.)?
- How are the fills played? Which drums and cymbals are used?
You will find that most pop and rock songs are quite simple.
Kick usually comes in on beats one and three.
Snare is often played on beats two and four.
Hi-hat is either played on either beat or is holding down an eighth-note pattern.
That’s the starting point for a lot of beats.
That’s all I’m going to say here, as I want you to go through this exercise. But if you happen to have a friend who is a drummer, you could always get them to help too.
Learning how drums are played and their function in a song are only going to make your music better. So, it’s worth putting some effort into!
Can I Use “Fake” Drums To Augment Real Drums?
For most types of music, music producers will tell you that real drums offer a better feel and are more artistically satisfying. I tend to agree.
Even in pop, EDM, and hip-hop, where drum machines and samples are quite common, real drums can offer something “fake” drums are just lacking.
That said, samples and real drums tend to complement each other, and at this point, it’s no secret that they are often used in tandem.
I’ve personally heard from producers who said they did things like mix the sound of a cowbell in with the snare or used a sampled kick to augment the real kick.
Whether you’re using “real” or “fake” sounds, it takes quite a bit of work to line up your tracks, but the results are often worth it, especially when you can’t achieve the tone, you’re looking for otherwise.
When I was working on one of my 2019 EPs, we ended up having some issues with the drums – mainly that the kick drum came out sounding like a cardboard box.
So, instead of re-taking the drums, my producer painstakingly replaced the kick with a sampled kick. To achieve the best sound possible, it was necessary.
There are a lot of tips and tricks that can make your tracks better, and it’s worth studying up on these kinds of things, whether it’s in articles like this one, magazines, books, videos, or otherwise.
Top Free Drum VST Plugins, Final Thoughts
Free drum VSTs can be a little limited, but there are more options available now than there were just a few years ago. So, it’s worth taking advantage of what’s available until you have access to drums, a live drummer, or someone who can record remotely for you.
Drum VSTs are a ton of fun to play with, and often form the foundation of a lot of pop, EDM, hip-hop, and these days, even metal songs (as there are a lot of popular metal guitarists on YouTube using drum VSTs).
As always, experiment plenty, and have fun!