Back in the old days, there was only one way to lay down drum tracks for a song – record a live drummer. How quaint. With the advent of the electronic age, we got all sorts of drum machines and synths in a hurry. Then it was a competition for a long time to see who could make the deepest, dopest drum sounds.
These days, none of that seems to matter anymore. Of course, some styles still need a live drummer. But for lots of modern music, loops and samples are more than enough to create the sounds you’re looking for in your beats.
And with VST (virtual studio technology) plugins, you can simply and easily buy a pack of the most realistic drum sounds or weirdest, quirkiest percussion sounds out there. So what are the best drum VST plugins to buy?
What are VST Plugins and Why Use Them?
Before I get into my list of the best drum VSTs, it’s worth explaining what they are to new producers. Drum VSTs are virtual instruments that you can play, sequence, and otherwise manipulate in your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).
They come in the form of sample packs, simulating either a single kit or drum machine’s sounds, to massive packs with thousands of sounds. Many also come with full drum loops that you’re free to use in your compositions.
So what can you do with them?
First off, you can select the sounds you want, build your best sequences, and also edit them to get yourself the perfect sounding beat. Additionally, these can be loaded to a drum multipad or full electronic drum set and played live. You can also slice and dice the sounds and loops to create samples that you can play with a pad or a trigger with your hybrid drum set.
So there’s a bunch of reasons to use VST drum samples, rather than spending all the time and energy it would take to record or synthesize your own. But you need to ask yourself questions. How many sounds do you need? What styles are you looking for? How much memory do you have available (some packs can get huge)?
Normally, you’re going to want to avoid clicking with your mouse on a picture of a drum kit on your screen. To easily play VST drum sounds, you will want to get yourself either a midi keyboard such as the Akai Professional LPK25 Ultra Portable Controller, or a drum multipad, such as the Akai Professional LPD8 Ultra Portable Controller, to trigger your sounds, if you haven’t got one already. Now, are you ready? It’s time to look at some of the best drum VST plugins out there!
Not Free VST Plugins
I’ll begin with the “paid” side of things. But you don’t get paid, unfortunately. These are some of the best paid for drum VST plugins available.
1 – Damage 2 by Heavyocity – Best VST Drum Plugin for Soundtracks
Heavyocity has put out a sequel to their immensely popular Damage VST, and this is a massive collection. It comes with over 40,000 samples rammed into more than 60GB of memory. Making this one of the largest paid for VST drum plugins and but also a memory-heavy plugin.
What does it sound like?
In case the words “damage” and “heavy” weren’t already great clues, this is a sample pack for intense, heavy, and cinematic sounds. The producers have sampled real drums of all sorts, but also the strange and damaged sounds of large pieces of junk they bashed away on in a scrapyard.
Sounds are organized into epic organic drums, metals, ethnic drums, FX kits, and damage kits. We’re looking at trashy, heavy, intense, and huge sounds here. You can use the package to build a kit and make sequences, plus it comes with 864 loops for you to weave into your work.
In the kit designer…
You can put together 16-voice kits to program beats right out of the software. In the stage designer provided, you can drag and drop the voices into a simulated space to help you to produce ambient soundscapes in a truly intuitive manner.
This is going to be a great drum VST plugin for producing heavy and raw music and epic soundscapes for film soundtracks. If you’re looking for dance or hip-hop beats, though, look elsewhere.
Addictive Drums 2 is another extremely popular drum VST plugin used by music producers and composers of all sorts. Unlike Damage 2, however, you can buy this VST either as a whole or in parts. Each library (pop, rock, jazz, indie, electronic, etc.) costs only about $100, while the whole package, including the engine, is about $700.
So what do you get for that kind of money?
These libraries are incredibly well-sampled, and the drums sound more realistic than anything else I’ve tried. Now, I’m well aware that this can be a bad thing for some producers, while others will love it. I can even see a lot of studio drummers losing their jobs over this one package.
If you want a lot of variety in your drums sounds, though, never fear. There are 130 presets that you can use to make any of the sounds here completely unrecognizable from the original sample. The library has a feature called Sound Ideal to help you choose between totally natural and massively processed sounds.
The Addictive Drums Engine…
Build up your own kits, add effects to each voice, and even mix the sound by adjusting mic levels for individual pieces and overheads. The result is a soundscape that gives you about as much control as you would have in a professional studio.
From there, you can sequence your drum voices into perfect beats. But if you’re not a drummer, you need to check out the Grooves section. Here you’ll find a wide array of pre-programmed patterns that you can assign your kits to. The grooves range from basic to complex, letting you find the perfect accompaniment to your tracks.
Sorry again, studio drummers! But this is easily one of the best drum VST plugins on the market.
Toontrack makes products like the EZDrummer and Superior Drummer to help producers choose kits and make beats easily and conveniently. Here we’ll look at Superior Drummer 3, which holds over 230 GB of unprocessed samples. These include seven different drum kits with 25 snares and 16 kick drums, plus you also get a collection of electronic drum machine sounds.
Of course, this is just the basics…
You can import your own samples and manipulate them within the SD3 package. It also comes with tons of presets to make the kit sounds your own, plus 35 sound effects to shake things up. You can manipulate velocity curves, reverb, attack and decay, and a whole lot more.
When it’s time to move, you can pop into the Grooves library and try out different rhythms with your songs. This library is easy to search by setting rhythm and tempo parameters. You can even audition different grooves for a part of a song at the same time, like a drum battle, and pick your winner.
For a DAW-like experience…
Go into the program’s Tracker tab. This will convert your beats into midi, which you can then edit, slice, and dice. Superior Drummer 3 has some great sounds, and though it’s a whopper of an install at 250GB, it has a lot of versatility and is one of the best easy to use drum VST plugins you can buy.
GetGood Drums has put out a wide range of VSTs, mostly based on recordings of live studio drums. These packs range in price from $20 to $120, so they’re all pretty affordable. And I like how you can add more only if you need them.
Modern & Massive is my favorite of the ones I’ve tried (I haven’t tried them all, guys, sheesh!). It has modern and massive drum sounds laid out in a 3-kit selection. Actually, you get a total of 9 snares, 6 kicks, 14 toms, and 10 cymbals. So, it’s a lot cheaper than the other packages we’ve seen for a reason.
What do I love about GetGood Drums?
The quality of their recordings. These are crystal clear samples that shake the room. The voices are perfectly tuned, and the reverb is spot on, in my opinion. What else is great about this plugin is that it can be used with Kontakt Free Player. So you don’t need to shell out for the full version of Kontakt – this sample pack can be used right in the free version.
It’s also not as versatile as some of the other packs we’ve seen so far with their own engines. But here, you can still manipulate mics for each of the kit pieces to get a perfect balance. You’re going to love this pack if you’re producing heavy and hard styles, like rock and metal.
5 – BFD3 by FXpansion – Best Life-like Drum VST Plugin
No matter what you think BFD stands for, you’ll likely be well impressed by the big freakin’ drum sounds on BFD3. This is FXpansion’s 3rd generation drum VST, and it shows. They’ve learned by experience and now have a professional product that is getting used all over the music industry.
Because it’s a library of drum samples that have been recorded extraordinarily well. Here they’re giving you seven kits with incredibly realistic sounds. They’ve been recorded in two different rooms to give you a choice of room atmosphere.
And an excellent feature is the ability to adjust tom resonance and cymbal swell. As a result, it can give you a super-realistic live drummer sound.
Sorry once again, studio drummers!
The interface here is vastly improved compared to previous versions. It’s now far easier to manage and tweak your presets, select instrument voices, and get into the groove. And playing grooves is awesome with this VST. They’ve included beat loops played by drumming legends like Steve Ferrone and Peter Erskine.
For the number of samples here, this is a pretty massive collection. However, you get the 160GB library compressed down to just 55GB with lossless compression. So hopefully, it won’t gum up your system too badly.
The large files are due to the intricate recording of each voice, many of them using up to eight velocity layers. You have rock, metal, jazz, brush, and mallet kits here to play with, which gives you a huge amount of versatility.
For accurate and true lifelike samples, you can do a whole lot worse. And FXpansion also sells expansion kits to flesh out these sounds with beautiful wooden snares, vintage jazz sounds, and all the metal you need. That way, you can get into whatever genre you want to tracks in.
Steven Slate is something of a legend in the drum sample world. This VST plugin gives you the latest and greatest from his collection of samples, including 135 snares, 112 kicks, 58 toms, 11 hi-hats, 14 crashes, 6 rides, and 7 splashes and chinas. These sounds are prearranged into 148 kits, modeled on the sounds and set-ups of many drumming legends.
The sounds here are realistic, and some are incredibly powerful. Surprising clarity and explosiveness come from the OG collection of previously unreleased one-shot snare samples included. Then you can wrap all of these sounds into 2400 MIDI grooves that save you huge amounts of time in sequencing your own beats (which, of course, you can also do).
This is the new version…
So, it includes a faster, “smart” MIDI Map & Learn tool to help edit your electronic drum kit or drum pad quickly and easily. We’re looking at great sounds for heavy and full rock styles, but also more versatility for funk, hip-hop, and even jazz. These sounds are full and realistic – you’d be hard-pressed to pick them out against a live studio drummer.
Native Instruments has put out some excellent drum VSTs lately. Studio Drummer focuses on three big-sounding acoustic kit samples. DrumLab blends acoustic with electronic samples and sound effects. But for me, Battery 4 is their most impressive offering.
Battery 4’s focus is electronic sounds and urban-style drum beats. It comes with 143 different drum kits that work well in electronic and hip-hop genres. The interface is quite different from a lot of the others we’ve looked at so far.
It gives you different instrument voices arranged in color-coded cells. You can easily click on them to adjust parameters or drop them into your beats. You can adjust modulation, attack, reverb, compression, and a whole lot more.
On top of that…
You can import your own samples into the software and chop and change them or the local sounds. The Editor Tab lets you see a sound curve that you can trim, reverse, or otherwise adjust to your liking to make some unique sounds. You can also use this Editor to make loops.
Overall, the sounds make this a great drum VST plugin for urban and electronic styles. It can sound modern, quirky, or even old-school if you like. This isn’t the VST for producers looking for true-to-life acoustic drum sounds, but that’s not what everyone’s about.
8 – Punch2 by Rob Papen – Best Drum Pad VST Drum Plugin
Rob Papen is something of a legend on the Dutch sound production scene. With Punch2, he has re-created and upgraded his Punch drum synth to a whole new level. While this product is intended first as a drum pad, playable through Mac or Windows machines, it speaks the VST language and offers a wide array of sounds.
By adjusting the parameters of only 28 different drum models, Punch2 offers you over 2500 preset drum and percussion sounds spread over 900+ preset drum kits. It also gives you over 1300 HQ samples to work with and 150+ preset loops. So you get a whopping big library to work with here.
Working with the drum pad…
You can drag and drop your samples onto each pad, even adding up to three layers to each. Of course, all of these sounds are editable, as well as the pad response (attack, velocity, etc.). Once you build up beats, you can process and add effects.
Punch2 provides 31 different FX types like tape delay, analog phaser, noise gate, flanger, auto wah, and frequency shift, just to name a few. Finally, you get eight sequences to work within the Pattern section. You can edit these grooves to make loops with your own voicings, so this is a really handy tool to get beats up and running fast.
Punch2 is a much easier to use and much bigger collection of sounds than its predecessor. The presets here definitely lean towards the electronic world, and some can sound outdated. At the same time, it all depends on your taste. If you’re looking for some classic sounds plus some electronic weirdness, this might be the package for you.
If you’re looking to really push things towards the classic/808-style, have a look at Synthwave Drums by BeatSkillz. This package gives you popular classic drum machine sounds, plus dry and processed versions of the same sounds. This is what you want if you’re looking for one of the best drum VST plugins for classic video game sounds or early 80s beats.
What do you get in this package?
You’re getting a total of 1356 one-shot drum sounds. These are organized into 63 kits, each with 12 sounds. In addition, you get 13 kick-snare combo banks, 4 cymbal banks, 5 clap banks, 8 hi-hat banks, 4 percussion banks, 12 tom banks, and 4 reverse sound banks.
The Synthwave Drums software may not be the easiest to navigate, but it does have some nice features. You can install Stereo Mix output or Multi-out versions of the plugin. Multi-out allows you to separate each of the 12 sounds of a kit into individual channels in your DAW for easier processing.
Furthermore, this is one of the cheapest drum VST plugins in the market. This VST is currently priced at around only $10, so there’s basically no reason not to pick it up.
Free VST Plugins
Most of the VST plugins you have to buy to use cost between $70-200. That’s not an awful lot of money if you consider how much time it would take you to build up your own bank of similar sounds. Still, some producers are strapped for cash, while others are just looking for something unusual and special that not many other folks are using.
There are a lot of free VST drum plugins available out there. Some are great, some terribly amateurish, and most are limited in size. Of course, you can also scrounge through message boards and sharing sites to assemble a library of your own special sounds too.
But free VST drum plugins are an easy place to start looking for a lot of great sounds. Below is a short and dirty list of some of the best free drum VST plugins you can find.
SSD5 Free is the free version of the paid VST plugin we looked at earlier. Here you get to play around with only one kit, but the free version at least gives you a great idea of how the paid version works, and you get a quality kit out of it.
A great library of professionally sampled and processed live drum sounds. These are samples played in a studio and recorded from grooves rather than individually. This delivers more natural, realistic velocity levels.
This is a free hip-hop-style drum kit with 47 quality samples. You get kick, snare, snap, clap, toms, hi-hat, crash and ride sounds that are very processed and funky sounding. All for free.
This is a free plugin of an “infinite series of free software instruments” compatible with any DAW. The collection is always growing as samplers and musicians keep adding to the bank of sounds. There is a strong lean towards ambient and electronic sounds here, but also a fair bit of realistic acoustic drums.
Massive! This VST plugin is a collection of 13,000 high-quality drum samples with 25 velocity levels per articulation. They were made on Sennheiser mics and released as a marketing ploy, so lucky you! There are thousands of free sounds for your productions, making it one of the best professional sounding free drum VST plugins around.
Want to Make Your Own Music?
We can help you get started. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best USB Audio Interfaces, the Best Audio Interface, the Best Multitrack Recorder, the Best Portable Audio Recorders, the Best iPad Audio Interfaces, the Best Audio Mixers, and the Best MIDI Keyboard for FL Studio, and the Best Drum Machines you can buy in 2021.
Also, have a look at our 2BOX D5 Drum It Five Electronic Drum Module Review, our Roland Octapad SPD-30 Review, our Presonus Audiobox USB 96 Review, our Focusrite Scarlett 18i18 3rd Gen Review, our Behringer UMC22 Review, and our Reason Studios Reason 11 Review for more awesome items currently available.
What are the Best Drum VST Plugins?
VST plugins are an absolute boon to the home producer. No longer do you have to record all your samples, spending hours tweaking and processing them to get great drum sounds.
Now you can just buy some excellent samples, plug them into your DAW and get composing. Most paid packages even come with dedicated software for editing the sounds, grooves, and beats to drop them into. And there are some great free packages out there, too, if you know where to look.
Which is the best will depend on what you need it for; if you’re after the best ‘real’ drummer replacement tool, I’d go for the…
But, if you’re not a drummer and want to create as authentic a drum track as possible, the choice would have to be…
Or, if you just want sounds for beats and will be creating something unique, you can’t beat…
I feel so sorry for the studio drummers losing their jobs all over the world. But drum VST plugins can help you get some of the most realistic drum sounds out there, along with the weirdest and quirkiest electronic sounds. Either way, I hope you find the incredible sound you need, and they make your productions hot.
Until next time, may the beat go on.