Rock Drum Machine review – a drum box for ‘rock!’ from Luis Martinez

Download from iTunes App StoreRock Drum Machine logoIf you like your drum and rhythm parts to be electronic then there are plenty of iOS music apps that can turn a good trick. However, when it comes to acoustic drums for rock and related styles, there are perhaps somewhat fewer choices. There are some decent virtual drum kits you can play and a number of the iOS DAWs (Cubasis and Garageband included) offer both acoustic drums as audio loops or MIDI-triggered samples. In addition, there is also the very good iOS Drum Loops HD drum loop library.

Of course, we also have the rather excellent Drum Jam and Drum Perfect apps and both of these are well worth a look. However, if you want something a little more streamlined, tailored very much in the ‘rock’ genre, and providing just enough flexibility to (with a little additional work within your DAW) generate a quick drum track, then Rock DM – Rock Drum Machine – by developer Luis Martinez might be worth a considering.

For those about to rock

Rock Drum Machine is a universal app and priced at UK£2.49. It’s a 30MB download, requires iOS7 or later and was originally launched back in October 2013. It has, however, recently been updated to v.1.11 and, as it now includes both Audiobus and IAA support, it is now a much more viable option for integrating into a wider workflow alongside your other iOS music apps of choice. By the way, I explored the app using an iPad and all the screenshots are therefore from the iPad version. On the iPhone, you get the same functionality but with slightly different screen layouts.

Drum Drum Machine - a drum machine but built to rock :-)

Drum Drum Machine – a drum machine but built to rock :-)

So what does Rock Drum Machine offer? In essence, what you are getting here is a sample-based drum machine with a three-lane, grid-based, sequencing environment. The samples are all based on classic rock drum sounds and the three lanes generally provide kick, snare (plus the occasional tom) and cymbals (hi-hat and ride, for example).

A collection of preset patterns (grooves) are provided organised into banks based around rock, grunge, funk rock, progressive, ‘odd times’ and a user bank (where you can put your own grooves). The Edit page (selectable via the tabs located bottom-left of the main display) allows you to pick a groove bank, then a particular groove (rhythm) from within that bank and finally a set of drum sounds from the 18 ‘kit’ presets and this is all done via three ‘spin’ selection menus.

The app is supplied with a good selection of preset patterns in various styles.

The app is supplied with a good selection of preset patterns in various styles.

At the top of the screen you can set the tempo and trigger playback of the currently selected pattern. At the base of the screen, you see the three lanes of the current grid. Tapping on any of the grid cell toggles you through three different ‘velocity’ settings and then clears the cell. For many of the drum sounds, the different velocity settings produce a louder sounds 9as you might expect) but a rather nice touch is that for some sounds (for example, some of the snares), you also get performance options such as short rolls and this means you can add some nice performance touches.

Spin me right round

While you can tap away on the Edit screen to change your pattern, flicking to the Pattern screen changes the lower portion of the display to reveal three further dial-up menu options. This is quite neat as it allows you to pick pattern presets for each individual lane of the grid. As a means of quickly building your own patterns this is a breeze and, if you then flick back to the Edit page you can fine-tune by tapping the grid again.

The sounds are definitely built to rock; classic acoustic kit sounds only here.

The sounds are definitely built to rock; classic acoustic kit sounds only here.

Select the Sounds tab and the three bottom-most dial menus switch to adjusting the three sounds to be used. Again, most of these are hi-hat, snare and kick options but there are a few other things included and, usefully, you can select any sound for any lane so, if you want two kick or snare lanes for a particular pattern, then that’s possible.

The final tab – Mixer – coughs up a simple mixer with level, mute and solo options for each of your three sounds.

The Mixer tab - er...  not much else to say really....

The Mixer tab – er… not much else to say really….

Get my groove on

If you tap on the New Groove button located top-right, you can then specify the resolution of the grid you want to create. There is a little bit of ‘lost in translation’ here but the number of ‘times’ refers to the number of beats you want in your groove while the ‘subs’ indicated the number of steps per beat. Pick 4 and 4 in both these options and you end up with a standard 16-step, 4-beat grid but, of course, there are plenty of other combinations if required. Indeed, picking 8 ‘times’ and 4 ‘subs’ gives you what amounts to a two-bar pattern so you can build a groove with a little more variety.

You can define the number beats and beat steps used in your patterns.

You can define the number beats and beat steps used in your patterns.

You then simple pick sounds, program in your pattern (manually or via the Patterns tab) and, once you are happy, hit the Save button. You can then name your new groove for latter recall. This is all very simple, easy to use and, as a result, very quick.

Syncing feeling

So far, so good…. the samples themselves are decent and, given the flexibility provided by the pattern editing and the general ease of use, creating a pattern – or set of patterns – to rock along to with your guitar or bass is pretty easy to do.

Working with four steps bet beat and eight beats patterns allows for plenty of flexibility.

Working with four steps bet beat and eight beats patterns allows for plenty of flexibility.

There is, however, still a catch or two. First, at present, Rock Drum Machine doesn’t feature any option to either sync tempo to another app nor to trigger the sounds via MIDI from an external sequencer. Second, the app doesn’t (yet at least) have a pattern-chaining mode where you can create a sequence of patterns into a ‘song’ and have them playback one after another. In terms of using the app to create a full drum performance – perhaps to use in a recording app when building a demo – both of these features would make life a lot easier.

Rock Drum Machine played nicely within Audiobus.

Rock Drum Machine played nicely within Audiobus.

That said, the app does seem to play nicely both with Audiobus and IAA and I had no problems getting audio output into a Cubasis audio track via either of these routes. Providing you match the tempo in Rock DM with that of your project in Cubasis, you can easy record a series of patterns into Cubasis as audio, trim their start and end points so they loop nicely, and then arrange along the timeline of your project. It’s not the most elegant of solutions given how quickly you can create the grooves within Rock DM initially, but it does work and the end results are not at all bad.

I had no problems getting audio from Rock Drum Machine into Cubasis either via Audiobus or IAA.

I had no problems getting audio from Rock Drum Machine into Cubasis either via Audiobus or IAA.

In summary

While Rock Drum Machine doesn’t have the depth or subtly of something like Drum Perfect, it is easy to use, the sounds have a nice attitude for all flavours of ‘rawk’, and it is selling at a pocket-money price. Even used just a a jam-along device, it is good fun but, for someone creating a basic rock drum part for putting together a song idea demo, it is also a pretty useful tool.

Although the Audiobus and IAA support seemed to work very well, without internal pattern sequencing, MIDI Clock sync and MIDI in/out, the workflow for creating a full drum performance is perhaps not ideal but you can work around this. And, for those that do like to rock, I suspect they will like the attitude of the sounds enough to make this a worthwhile exercise. No, Rock Drum Machine is not in the same ballpark as a desktop BFD3 or Superior Drummer 2, but, at UK£2.49, to rocks pretty well.

Fingers crossed Luis Martinez can keep the development work going; within the limitations noted above, Rock Drum Machine has obvious potential. Here’s hoping it can be realised to take what is a decent little app even further.

Rock Drum Machine


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    Comments

    1. Jayson Vein says:

      I love this app. The sound quality is excellent. A breeze and a half to use. The additions you mentioned John would be nice.

    2. David Hart says:

      One preset is ‘grounge’???

      Maybe they meant Grunge?

      • Jayson Vein says:

        lol…. Ya, I think it’s spelled correctly on my ipod version. Grunge. The movement that officially killed thrash. ;)……

    3. An app I really like to create drum parts is Drumstudio.

      You can write the drums for the songs using a songwriting structure like intro, verse, chorus, etc.

    4. Ok, now THIS looks like an awesome app!! Can I use it to actually create midi files for my actual pedal drum machine (the BeatBuddy)?? It’s at mybeatbuddy.com I do a lot of live performances, and it would be so cool to have something in my phone to make beats on the fly…

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