Arturia Drumbrute and the Korg Volca Beats – why compare them?
On first glance it may seem unfair to compare the Arturia Drumbrute with the Korg Volca Beats. Both are (mostly) analog drum machines. Both are very popular. Both sound great.
You could argue that with the vastly different price tags they’re not really aimed at the same market. While it’s certainly true that the Drumbrute is considerably more expensive than the Volca Beats, they are both arguably at the lower end of the amount of cash that can be spent on a drum machine.
Arturia Drumbrute and Volca Beats price comparison
Because the Drumbrute is relatively low priced some users may feel inclined to skip past the cheaper Volca Beats when buying their first drum machine. But how much we’re prepared to spend on musical equipment is a subjective, personal thing.
Outside of the world of electronic instruments there are plenty of people who would think nothing of spending £3,000 on a Gibson Les Paul, whereas others are just as happy with a £200 Gibson Epiphone Les Paul. Spending £3,000 on a guitar will not make you a better guitarist. Similarly buying a more expensive drum machine will not help you blast out killer beats.
So let’s get this out of the way. Here’s the lowdown on how much the Arturia Drumbrute and Korg Volca Beats are likely to cost you.
|New RRP||Cheapest new price||Used (on Ebay)|
|Korg Volca Beats||£139||£119||£85|
A few notes on the above prices
The prices are shown in UK sterling because that’s where the Making-Music.com HQ is. But there’s really almost no adjustment up or down if you’re buying elsewhere in the world. The exact figure will change but the comparative differences between the prices will not. The prices are the best we could find at time of publishing. The Ebay price was worked out by taking the rough average of completed listings. If you’re prepared to wait then it’s possible to get a used Volca Beats as cheap as £75. It’s worth noting that because the official RRP for the Arturia Drumbrute is taken from the Arturia website, where it is displayed in Euros, the RRP may appear higher than it should because right now, the UK pound is weak as hell against the Euro (cheers Brexit).
The Drumbrute does cost quite a lot more than the Volca Beats. In fact you could easily get yourself a Volca Beats, Volca Bass and Volca Keys and still have enough cash left over for a curry and a pint. But the Drumbrute has a ton of features that just aren’t present on the Volca Beats.
But does the price really matter?
While the Volca Beats will be perfectly comfortable in a high-end studio or on a huge stage the Drumbrute will likely nudge past it in terms of performance. The Volca Beats can be a little ‘noisy’ when amped through a big sound system. This isn’t a problem in itself, and can be mitigated by clever sound engineers. But the Arturia Drumbrute is never going to give you that type of problem.
Let’s look at the way we get sound out of these drum machines. The sound is taken from the Volca Beats via a 3.5mm headphone socket. The output from the Arturia Drumbrute is taken from a 6.35mm (1/4 inch) socket. I’ve personally used both jack sizes on stage, and I know which feels more reliable. It may seem strange to focus on the size of the output socket, but the fact that the Drumbrute uses a larger, more standard instrument jack size shows that it is aimed at a more professional end user than the Volca Beats.
Musicians hate being dictated to. There are plenty of examples of very cheap gear being used on multi-million selling albums. The Casio SK1 keyboard is just one example of something that was so cheap it was essential a child’s toy being used to brilliant effect by some of the biggest selling names in music. My point is that just because the Korg Volca Beats is a lot cheaper than the Arturia Drumbrute it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously.
I have no real comment to make either way here so I’ll just list the facts. It may be subjective to say so, but I don’t personally equate a wide choice of sounds with excellence. The best drummers I know play small drum kits. To cite a cliché, it’s not what you’ve got; it’s what you do with it.
Arturia Drumbrute instruments
- Kick 1
- Kick 2
- Rim / Claves
- Closed Hat
- Open Hat
- Tom Hi / Conga
- Tom Low / Conga
- Cymbal / Reversed Cymbal
- Maracas / Tambourine
Instruments listed with a forward slash denote two instruments on one channel.
Korg Volca Beats instruments
- Lo Tom
- Hi Tom
- Closed Hi-hat
- Open Hi-hat
* These instruments are not technically analog. They are, in the words of Korg ‘used to cover sounds for which an analog synth is unsuited’. But the Drumbrute appears to have no such qualms.
Arturia Drumbute & Korg Volca Beats – sound comparison
When sketching out this article we decided to side-step the whole minefield of trying to describe Volca sounds compared to Drumbrute sounds. Instead we made a video showing both drum machines side by side so you can decide for yourself.
We tried to match the way we used each machine as closely as possible. But because the Arturia Drumbrute has a lot of features that don’t exist on the Volca Beats, this video doesn’t give a full picture of what this drum machine is capable of. There are also some functions on the Korg Volca Beats that don’t have an equivalent on the Drumbrute.
A note on the Volca Beats snare sound
If you’ve read any other reviews of the Volca Beats you will know how universally despised the snare sound is. I have no idea what Korg were thinking with this. The Kick sound is huge, but when paired with the wet fart of the snare it sounds silly. This can be countered to a certain extent by setting a clap to trigger on each snare hit, but it’s still woefully weak.
I won’t dwell on the naff snare sound on beats, because it can be fixed with a relatively simple modification. Have a look on ebay, there are plenty of people offering this service at a decent price.
To some extent what the Volca Beats lacks in snare sound it more than makes up for with the kick drum. On a long decay the kick has a brilliant booming 808 style boom.
If you want a thorough demo of each device we recommend you take a watch of the two videos below.
Both the Volca Beats and the Drumbrute are designed for live performance. The way beats are built on both devices are very similar. Both machines feature both step recording and quantised recording. When on stage with a drum machine you can either let it run as backing to whatever else you’re doing, or you can use your drum machine as a part of the performance.
Korg Volca Beats performance options
Using the controls
The control knobs on the Volca are tiny. Not impossibly tiny but tricky if you’ve got sausage fingers. The control strip is also a bit fiddly and can be difficult to see properly in low light. Some of the performance controls are accessed via the pressing the function button and the relevant section of the control strip.
In the pressure of a live environment control method could prove to be an unwanted stress. For example, the ‘Global Stutter’ option is right next to the options for clearing parts of your sequence. When you’ve worked the crowd up into a lather accidentally deleting your sequence could bring your set to an awkward stop.
Live sound manipulation
Because of its relative simplicity the Volca Beats does lend itself very nicely to live manipulation of sound. The Kick, Snare, Toms and Hi-hat have three sound control options each. These are great fun to experiment with.
There are less controls for the PCM controlled sounds, which include clap, claves, agogo and crash cymbal. But with the ‘motion record’ function changes to PCM sounds can be recorded on the fly. With an adventurous frame of mind this ability can result in some quite brilliant sounds. Something as simple as a crash cymbal can be used to play a melody.
The ‘stutter’ effects are the biggest way to make an impact on any beats sequence you are performing. With a little practice, and I really do mean almost no practice, you can get some brilliant dub type effects. The stutter effects are really quite flexible. You can use the stutter effects to subtlety affect your sounds, or you can dial up the time and depth knobs all the round for a really messy (but cool) smashed up cacophony.
One frustration with the Volca Beats is the way the sound levels for each drum part are set. The Volca Beats is tiny, so compromises had to be made. The compromise is that part volumes have to be set while constructing your beats. Once you have hit the play button the volume level of each part is locked in. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but compared to the Drumbrute, which has an independent volume control for each drum sound, the lack of control on the Volca feels limiting.
On the whole I’m not a fan of the type of touch sensitive control strip that is used on the Volca Beats. I know they are a lot cheaper than buttons or switches, but they lack the intangible benefit one gets from prodding a button.
Thanks to this control strip the Korg Volca beats has one very nice performance function that the Drumbrute doesn’t have. When the sequencer is playing in step mode swiping your finger across the inverts the selected parts. For example, if you had the kick triggering on the first beat of every bar a quick swipe across the control strip would change the kick to trigger on the last three beats of every bar. This is a neat trick but one that needs a bit of practice to get sounding good within the context of a performance.
This ability to be able to very easily select or deselect big chunks of a sequence is brilliant for dropping in drum rolls. Being able to instantly activate the entire strip for any instrument is also great for rapidly introducing parts that sound good on every beat of a bar, like the hi-hat.
On the whole the performance controls of the Volca Beats are very easily to learn. Within a few hours of playing around with this neat little analog drum and the controls were almost second nature.
Arturia Drumbrute performance options
Using the controls
The Arturia Drumbrute lights up like a Christmas tree when in use. In fact if you switch on the Drumbrute and do nothing with it eventually it goes into a sort of shop demo light show.
Whereas the Volca can get challenging on a dark stage the Drumbrute is very easy to navigate. The adjustment knobs for each instrument aren’t lit up, but they’re so big I think you would have to be fairly drunk on stage not to be able to easily find your way around them.
The drum pads are velocity sensitive, so emphasis can be given to any part of a drum sequence you are creating. Emphasis can also be set in step mode by using the ‘Accnt’ (accent) button. Press Accnt and then choose which parts of the sequence should be played with greater emphasis.
On the Volca Beats small LEDs show which part of a sequence is currently playing. On the Arturia Drumbrute this information is shown in a separate strip of buttons. This makes manipulation during performance much easier.
Every drum sound has it’s own level control. So drum sounds can effectively be faded in and out of the mix during performance. The only minor exception to this rule are the ‘channels’ that share the space of two instruments.
Live sound manipulation
The entire ethos behind the design concept of the Drumbute appears to be very much focussed on live performance. Each of the sound manipulation controls are available via a dedicated knob or control strip. Nothing is hidden inside a menu.
None of the performance controls can be used in such a way that they accidentally interfere with other functions of the drum machine. So whereas on the Volca it’s possible to accidentally kill your performance by switching a function off while trying to use a performance control, on the Drumbrute it’s not really possible to make such a mistake.
There’s no stutter effect (as such) like there is on the Volca, but there is a quite brilliant output filter. It’s not just any output filter either, it’s a two-mode Steiner Parker filter. The filter can be set to either high-pass or low-pass and is activated by a bypass button. The resonance control knob adds another tactile level of control.
Once you’ve got a pattern running you can adjust swing via a control knob. If you don’t want the swing to affect your entire sequence you can set the swing of a single track by pressing the ‘Current Track’ button.
While in ‘play’ mode you can randomise the sequence by adjusting the Randomness knob. This can bring some really quite interesting results. Just like with the Swing control the randomness can be assigned to just one track via a ‘Current Track’ button.
Even with a simple four to the floor type beat the swing and randomness controls take your sequence to some really interesting places, if used with caution. Arturia have given the user quite a deep range of control here. While you’re unlikely to break the flow off a beat too badly, you can make it very, very random. But I know of some electronica noise acts who would like to make a decent racket with these functions.
There’s also a step repeat control strip allowing the user to repeat sections of the sequence. The options being 1/4, 1/8, 1/16 or 1/32. Personally the step repeat is one of my favourite performance functions of the Drumbrute. When combined with the output filter the step repeat is great for impromptu middle eights / bridges or beat drops.
The Volca Beats has a mute function that allows you to mute a single track while all the others continue to sound. The Drumbrute also has a mute function, but additionally has a solo function. This allows you to mute all other tracks except the one you are soloing. This is surprisingly useful. For example, during a performance you can solo the kick drum and then bring in other tracks just by pressing the pad for the track you want.
Although not a performance function per se, the ability to send each track through a dedicated output offers a bewildering amount of opportunity for manipulation outside of the Drumbrute.
The performance controls on the Drumbrute may take a little longer to become familiar with than those on the Volca Beats, but the scope for manipulation in a live performance environment is much wider.
Technical and physical notes
The Drumbrute and Volca Beats are clearly very different drum machines from a physical perspective. The build quality of both is great, but the Drumbrute feels a lot more solid. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the plastic casing of the Volca Beats, but the Drumbrute’s rock solid construction would likely survive the rigours of a life on the road better than the Volca. The Volca beats would fit comfortably in a coat pocket, whereas the the Drumbrute would struggle to fit in anything other than a roomy rucksack. But if you’re in a position where you wish to carry around your drum machine in a coat pocket then you may need to ask yourself some questions about how well you’re looking after your equipment.
The Korg Volca syncs beautifully with other items in the Volca range via a couple of simple in and out sockets. By connecting a mono 3.5mm jack lead from the ‘out’ of the Volca Beats to the ‘in’ of my Volca Bass was simplicity itself.
The Drumbrute has USB, Midi and CV Clock sync options. I had a small issue with getting the Drumbrute to sync nicely with my Volca Bass, until I learned that the sync output needed to be set to something Volca-friendly via the software control panel that comes with the Drumbrute. It would appear that the Drumbrute is geared more towards syncing with modular gear and other synthesizers (like the Arturia Microbrute) then it is with the Korg Volca series. But the important fact is that it does sync with the Korg Volca series, and without too much hassle.
The Korg Volca Beats is not supplied with a power supply. The Beats ships with four AA batteries and the device appears to be able to run for weeks on end on AA batteries. It’s possible to buy a Korg branded power supply, but it would appear that any 9V DC supply will do the job just as well. Although it’s worth noting that the ubiquitous Boss FX pedal type 9v supply that powers most FX pedals doesn’t fit the Volca. This is unfortunate, because if the Boss style power supply were to fit powering Volcas with FX pedal power supplies would be really handy.
The Drumbrute is supplied with a 12V DC power supply that attaches via the same sort of single pin connector as the Volca Beats. A kettle style lead would be more convenient, but hey, you can’t have everything.
Side by side technical comparison
The table below was in no small part inspired by a brilliant synth comparison spreadsheet you can find in Google Drive by clicking here…
|Arturia Drumbrute||Korg Volca Beats|
|Sound engine||Analog||Analog & PCM|
|Filter||Yes - LP/HP||No|
|PPQ||1, 2, 24 or 48||2|
|RRP (at time of publishing)||£370/ €449 / $449||£128 / €169 / $170|
|Power supply included?||Yes||No|
Arturia Drumbrute vs Korg Volca Beats conclusion
At the start of this article I mentioned that comparing the Drumbrute to the Volca beats may not be a fair comparison. The Volca Beats is stupidly cheap. So cheap that a second hand Beats will only cost a couple of tenners more than a new Teenage Engineering PO-12. At this price it’s almost a no-brainer if you’re wanting to start experimenting with drum machines.
The Arturia Drumbrute is considerably more expensive, but it is also a much more powerful device. The performance options alone blow the Volca Beats out of the water.
In conclusion I’d say that if you’re considering buying your first ever drum machine then your best option may well be the Korg Volca Beats. The Volca will help you learn the fundamentals of making music with a drum machine. But when you’ve mastered the Volca beats, which doesn’t take long, you are likely to find yourself reading Drumbrute reviews and realising that the Drumbrute is really the drum machine you need to properly scratch your beat making itch. The good news is that if you do buy a Volca Beats you’re unlikely to have any trouble selling it. The second hand market is for Volcas is buoyant and even if you buy your Volca brand new you won’t loose much money when you sell it.
If your pockets are deep enough I’d recommend skipping the Volca Beats and investing in an Arturia Drumbrute, I very much doubt you’ll regret it.
Arturia Drumbrute and Korg Volca Beats gallery