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Alesis SR18 Drum Machine Review

Know your needs.

This really applies for any type of gear. People will read reviews and watch videos on the multitude of features and functions a piece of gear offers, without really thinking about how its practicality will affect their daily use. Drum Machines are no different.

For implementation with software and DAWs,you might want something along the lines of Ableton Push or Native Instrument’s Maschine. These machines will give you the ability to launch sounds and effects from your DAW, while maintaining the ability to customize your library. Immensely popular among electronic and future beats artists, these controllers are great for both live shows and studio-use.

If you’re looking for something more stand-alone, you might look toward something like an MPC.  Stand-alone machines like the MPC provide the ability to load sounds and samples for chopping and arranging. In addition to this, many come with warm, vintage drum sounds, along with many knobs and features, giving you control of effects and sequences in an analog setup.

For something in-between, however, the Alesis SR18 would be a great choice. With the SR18, Alesis combines the features a stand-alone machine offers, with the added option of MIDI out for use with DAWs.

Price

$259 (Amazon, Sweetwater)

Screen

Backlit LCD

Dimensions

1.9” x 7.5” x 9.6”, 1.1 lbs

Power

Six AA Batteries or AC Adapter

Inputs

1 x Instrument, 2 x Footswitch, MIDI In

Outputs

2 x 1/4”, 1 x 1/4” stereo, 1 x 1/4” headphone, MIDI Out

Features

12 Velocity Sensitive Pads

500 Drum Sounds, 50 Bass

175 preset patterns, 100 programmable user patterns

Built-in effects (Reverb, EQ, Compression)

Tap tempo (can also be controlled with footswitch)

Mute function

Pattern Play Mode (enables patterns to be triggered from pads directly)

Drum Roll Function

This does come with a caveat, however. And since there are plenty of in-depth reviews of the specific functions of the SR18, let’s instead take a look at the practical uses of this machine, and how its strengths and limitations will affect the average user.

Overview

The SR18 comes loaded with hundreds of sounds and kits for quick setup. The option to chop, mix, and create your own sets is available as well. For example, you can take a kick from a rock kit, add a neo-soul snare, and a clap with reverb to taste, to create a nice little soul kit. Even better, the machine offers 50 bass sounds, allowing you to just focus on creating. For a quick little preview of what you can do out-of-the-box, check out this YouTube video (cat-haters take caution).

Pros

Going into the hardware of the Alesis SR18, we see where it really shines; the kits and included bass lines make this machine a great tool for quick songwriting.

I’m sure everyone’s had that one chord progression pop up in their head, but after fiddling around with your drums and bass lines, you start to forget what direction you were headed in.

This video shows how easily you can start the writing process by using presets and bass lines to build ideas, without worrying about how to flesh out the rest of the song. The foot switch allows for tempo matching, as well as a quick on/off switch for when you need to think about the next section.

Cons

Now, unfortunately, while the SR18 does attempt to offer the best choice for someone looking for a middle ground between stand-alone hardware and versatile software controllers, not many machines are capable of truly satisfying these conditions. The SR18 is no different.

Sure, the MIDI out offers compatibility with DAWs such as Ableton, but this really renders it as merely a controller. The lack of ability to load custom sounds and samples into the machine make it not as versatile as a true stand-alone machine, and the lack of seamless DAW integration give it less features than other controllers with incredible in-DAW functions.

Final Thoughts

Again, know your needs. This can be a great tool for guitarists, pianists, and songwriters in general for quick idea-building. Once you get your personal sets saved, you can knock out riffs, progressions, and demos with ease. However, this isn’t a true alternative to something like Ableton Push or NI Maschine. It also does not offer the true stand-alone features an MPC would offer; the lack of ability to load your own sounds and samples highlight the relative limitations of this machine.

The Alesis SR18 is fun, intuitive, and easy-to-use. But it’s not the answer to every producer and songwriter’s needs. For those who need quick rhythm solutions, however, it is definitely worth a purchase.