Do drums sound better in hardware than software? The answer!


Man…when I decided to post my little experiment yesterday I didn’t think it would be so fun and popular.

We really got some very, very, interesting ideas going and that’s what I love about yall, always down to speak your minds.

For those that missed it, go read the post: Do drums sound better in hardware than software?

Fun stuff.

Just to keep it all connected, here are the drum loops again.

Drumloop 1 by JK Swopes
Drumloop 2 by JK Swopes

Now, if you read the article again, never did I once say “I made one with hardware and one with software” In fact, I never said anything about what I made them with.

The whole point of my post yesterday was not about a hardware vs software debate, because I love both and have used both over the years. I don’t think one is inherently better than the other.

The point of my post yesterday was to show how our thoughts, ideas, mindsets, and beliefs can effect what we hear, and how we approach music.

Let me explain the experiment

By starting the article talking about drums in hardware vs drums in software, this automatically caused a divide in the readers. You chose a side before you even started reading, it’s natural.

Then by going through explaining my journey, how I “felt” something was missing in my digital drum patterns(notice I made sure I said I “felt”), I was constantly suggesting a difference.

Then I post two drumloops which have slightly different sounds to them, and ask you to comment on if they sound different and if so, do you think one was made with hardware and one with software.

Notice again, I never said you had to pick which one was made with hardware and which was made with software πŸ˜‰

I know, I know…tricky…but I wanted to prove a point. That’s why I kept using statements like “if you think there is a sound difference” or “if you feel you can tell if one is hardware or software” or “What characteristics do you assign to which? Is it really that different or is it just a mental thing?” Ha! I know I know! I love ya tho! Don’t hate me too much lol.

Now, there were some who were not influenced by my article prior to listening…bravo, they just listened and determined their own mind.

But most where influenced by everything I said. Nothing wrong with that, just showing that we all allow various factors to effect what we perceive, and the conclusions we come to.

Time for the answer

Only 12 people got the answer correct, both loops were made with software πŸ™‚

Some even exposed the techniques used! Great job! I was actually hoping more would say “I don’t care” lol. As that was the point, it really shouldn’t matter.

Anyway, here’s the process: I made the loop in maschine, and drug that audio out to my desktop. After I had the raw loop “loop 1” I put guitar rig 4 on the drum bus, added the custom eq module and the tube compressor module and tweaked it to my liking ( I saved it as a preset for myself in guitar rig as I was testing it out)

My goal wasn’t to make the drums “sound like an mpc”, “sound like an asr” or, “sound like hardware” I just wanted to mess with them to see if I could change the dynamic and make them knock a lil bit harder using a guitar amp software lol.

I know many who say there is a difference really just assume hardware sounds louder or punchier. Some thought it was because hardware pads are more sensitive. Actually sometimes they are, but this is more important for the subtle ghost notes and quite hits as opposed the loud ones, the more sensitive your pads are, the lighter you can hit them and still register a sound.

I do this all the time for my drums, and I will say that the 4k has a slightly more sensitive response for me…meaning I can barely touch it and still get a lil “bump” works create to add bounce to the tracks. Β But software is close enough and I can just adjust the velocity anyway lol, so it’s all good.

Again, this is NOT a comparison, and I am NOT saying hardware isn’t needed, what I am saying is that you should work with whatever you feel the most creative with. You don’t have to choose one or the other!

But by some of the answers it’s evident how much we are effected by what we’ve heard or been told. There were folks who said they heard a difference in the groove of the tracks! They were the same exact track! The same exact loop! One had fx and one didn’t πŸ™‚

BUT…because of what we’ve come to believe about the differences between two mediums, I truly believe they heard a different groove! This doesn’t make it wrong or right, I just think it’s very interesting how much really goes into how we hear something.

That’s some of the stuff I wanted to show! How beliefs and ideas will definitely shape what we hear and perceive and ultimately how we approach our own music.

My MPC story…..

I didn’t start with an mpc, I started with a boss dr-5 drum machine, it had 4 tracks.

From there I moved into a yamaha qy-100, and then even had an alesis quadrasynth. Β Then I got an E-MU mophatt keyboard with a separate kawai q-80 sequencer. After that I got an emu px7 command station to go with it. This sequencer was pretty dope I loved it, but wished it had a sampler….so I bought a fantom.

Finally I had so much gear, I wanted something to control it all…so I bought an akai mpc 4000 from a friend. It had 4 midi out puts, which I needed (after that I bought a novation supernova lol) so I could sequence everything, PLUS I could load my samples into it, AND I could use it like a rack sampler to play akai sample cds, effectively creating my own sound module.

That was my purpose, it fit exactly what I wanted to do at the time, all the magical sound and magical groove stories meant nothing, truth is I never used quantize on that thing and still don’t use quantize today.

I still think they are some of the dopest machines around, but for what I do today, it’s simply not needed. I no longer have all those synths and keyboards, so that’s the main reason really. All my sounds come from the computer mostly (unless I end up with a virus TI somebody wanna donate? lol)

The conclusion…

We are all influenced by what we read, what we hear or what has been said about certain things. The bottom line is that that’s okay, because if you make better beats with an mpc than you do with ableton live, maschine, flstudio, reason, etc… because you feel the groove, sound, and feel is better…then that’s all good!

Because that’s what’s going to allow you to work properly. If you feel this way and you spend your time trying to find software to replace or imitate that which you are looking for….you’ll always be upset.

Like my man F-Major said…”if you want an mpc, get an mpc, if you want a Moog then get a Moog.” That’s the point here. There are tools out here for everyone, and everyone can get what they want, you don’t have to sell yourself short because you feel it’s too much work, it cost too much or because someone you respect says you don’t need it. No one can really tell you how something will effect your personal creativity but you!

Are there truly sound differences? Yeah sure, each gear, software, and instrument has it’s own character…but for the most part, unless it’s just a very unique piece, it’s not all that noticeable. This is coming from someone that has used both hardware and software. Of course…I’m not talking about fx processors and virtual vs physical guitars, etc lol….but you get the point

This was really fun for me, I hope you’re not too mad at me for it but I just wanted to show you something. The bottom line is, hardware, software, analog, digital, in the end for the most part it just doesn’t matter. What REALLY matters is if you have the tools that let you freely create what you wish to create, whatever combination of tools that may be. And also realize that we carry a lot of ideas, perceptions and preconceived “facts” around with us in everything we do, especially music, and these always play a part in how we approach things.

No matter if it’s how we approach a new peace of gear because we’ve heard nothing but bad things about the company, how we use sample libraries based on what others think about them, or even when we buy a specific set of monitors because our favorite album was mixed on it (not thinking about the fact that that awesome mix engineer has ears of gold!)

Truth be told, I’m still in the market for a standalone drum machine (something like the emu command stations) not because I don’t like the sound I’m getting from my current software setup…but because I want something to use away from the computer, it fills that area of creativity for me….beats and bbq baby! Say whaaaaaaat!

Please…share you’re thoughts πŸ™‚


  1. Thanks for taking the time to do this. It was great to see. I didn’t see the initial one in time to vote. Knowing that you use Maschine I wondered if one would be a regular loop and the other be with the MPC or SP emulation. You are exactly right though. People are influenced by what they see, read, and have been told. If it sounds good it doesn’t matter where it came from. Do what works best for you.

    By the way, I’ve got an MP-7 command station that I am selling and you are right if it had a sampler it would be a beast.

    I’m very happy with Maschine and I was very convinced that hardware sounded better for a long time but then again it is what I had heard and been told and conditioned to think. Now the day that Maschine has VST support will be a great day.

    Thanks as always for taking the time to do this.

    • @Mannas, I agree with everything you said man…oooooh weee you tempting me with that mp7 man lol. I’m waiting to see if a certain company actually comes through with theirs first before I buy an old school joint. But I miss that joint. I had the mophatt keys AND the px 7 command station both maxed out with roms lol. I agree with you on Maschine as well πŸ™‚

      • @saintjoe, Haha. If you’re interested just let me know. If it doesn’t sell I may just keep it. I have it and a Proteus 2000 I was looking to sell because I want to go all software but I hate to see it go. The two are a hell of a combination. Hit me up if you decide you want it or both.

        I’m looking forward to more videos. They are always helpful and I appreciate the insight and reviews.

  2. My Vote was 1 was software and 2 was hardware ,but my comment revealed how I really felt.
    They Both sounded Good and it really was no difference except slight FX for more punch.
    I was hoping you wouls say both were made with Software so I could crack up at the “Platinum Ear” producers who brought all kinds of extra theories to the question!!

    My story is I always wanted an MPC but never could afford oneI’ve made MPC Style Beats with my iPod Touch 2G and BeatMaker that have surprised “Industry Cats”

  3. My Vote was 1 was software and 2 was hardware ,but my comment revealed how I really felt.
    They Both sounded Good and it really was no difference except slight FX for more punch.
    I was hoping you wouls say both were made with Software so I could crack up at the “Platinum Ear” producers who brought all kinds of extra theories to the question!!

    My story is I always wanted an MPC but never could afford one . I had to start out on my PS2 with MTV Music Generator then others , finaly Got to learn Fl Studio before getting my own computer and buying Fl Studio 6 ,then Streetboxx SB-246 was my first Drum machine.
    I moved on to the PS2 then iPod Touch now my Computer and my iPod Touch are my “MPC” I’ve made MPC Style Beats with my iPod Touch 2G and BeatMaker that have surprised “Industry Cats” and love the Work Flow of FL Studio and BeatMaker as well as Beat Thang Virtual.

    So even if I get an “MPC” which mabey soon I might not use it if I can’t get that feel and work flow I’ve grown accustomed to!!!

    Bravo Good Experiment ST. Joe!!!

  4. Anywho, both have samples in them anyway. The only difference is that hardware is a bit dirty cus it may travel thru a jack but you can dirty the software sound up too. You just have to know your equipment. Neither wins! A hit is a hit no matter the way you got it. (ie: Soulja boy-Fruity Loops, 9th Wonder-Fruity Loops, Dj Khalih-Reason, Dj Toomp-Reason).

    saintjoe Reply:
    November 2nd, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    @Louis, I hear ya man, it’s all about knowing your gear and the sound you want. FYI these are the same exact loops, midi for midi, so it’s not likely one will sound tighter or loser than the other

    Nooo, not the same exact loop saintjoe, one had an effect that alter the sound, and your point was somewhat proven as to whether drums sound better in hw or sw. Like i mentioned neither wins, know your equipment. A hit is a hit. (and the second one did have a slightly different “feel” that plug-in gave a bigger punch, so once again, no the loops where not the same! it was amped up lol!)

    • @Louis, I hear ya man, but it’s still the same loop, eq and compression doesn’t change the groove, sorry lol, you said one had a different groove, which is impossible lol. FX will not change the timing/location of the midi notes unless it’s specifically designed to do so, eq and compression will not change the timing of the loops, thus, the groove was exactly the same πŸ™‚

  5. I actually didn’t even vote lol. But clearly the 2nd loop had a punchier sound, reasonable now that you explained it’s origin. I was leaning toward thinking the second loop might be BPM given the loud but crisp sound of it. Like I said yesterday I can pick out a MPC60/3000 or an SP but that’s to be expected given the no longer manufactured components in those boxes. But other than those particular boxes there’s not much distinction between hardware and software generated sounds. Certainly having MPC’s and Maschine etc. right in front of me now informs my opinion. I know from experience that I can make ipod apps, Reason, Fl, etc have that knock by using swing, distortion and compression. It’s fortunate that I can compare the HW and SW sitting right here, because I think a lot of this debate is on some repeat what you heard stuff, and I just avoid that and trust my own ears.

    This and the sample library discussion were dope, keep coming up these Joe! Thanks.

    • @Metatron72, thanks yo! I just like to get the mind thinking a bit πŸ™‚ It’s fun, and I love all the answers folks give man, really educational on learning how different people think on different topics.

  6. I got it right also ha ha!!!!!There are many things you can do to make your beats hit harder.You can eq them to boost bottom or high end.Also adding a little compress does not hurt either.It could depend on the daw you use also.I am an Ableton user and my beats knock hard!!!!

  7. yeah i started to suspect this was the case….!
    interesting test bro, it gets to the heart of this shit: it dont matter!
    our perceptions are clouded by so much other ish that we cant see the wood for the trees sometimes.

  8. Hey man.

    Yesterday when you posted this, I read it but lurked and didn’t make a decision because I didn’t have a conclusion. They sounded too close to the same to be considered different, albeit the boosted freqs to me. I also wanted to be subjective, and unbiased in case you did write another article regarding this, but didn’t think it was an experiment.

    Good experiment. Right now I’m in college for Music Marketing and Tech, so there’s already been a drastic change in the way I listen to things and pay attention to what I’m hearing. I always knew people hear things differently, as our heads aren’t the same shape, which plays a major role in the resonant frequencies within our heads. But I didn’t think the information we digest in our brains could also affect the way we hear things.

    Good test man.

  9. you trickster! lol. it makes sense. i guess you get used to certain characteristics from one particular machine and that is what you expect. i always remember its more about the person’s ability to make a beat sound a certain way, not the hardware or software…good experiment!

  10. I thought both where software… For sure the 2nd one… Heard the EQ and compression in that one… Like you said it dosen’t matter. What ever works works!!! Straight Up!!! Good one kid

  11. Yo really what should matter is does it sound good . I am sick of those peeps on youtube etc giving their two pence worth of ideas saying all kinds BS (about Hardware vs Software). It really boils down to the listeners it, if sounds goods then you are quids in. I was watching a electronic music documentary ( about depeche mode , kraftwerke) etc) the other night and I was amazed how innovative this guys were creating drum sounds / sounds from anything and it sounded really good as a result they went on to sell millions of records . So musicians(/ would be musicians) these days have to let their ears do the talking not their tech know how or lack of it in some cases. Peace out

  12. Great post. I purposely stated out of this conversation But can now comment and I would like to touch on a few things. Often time I hear people in my own studio debating on what I used to make a certain beat for an MC ( I us both hardware and software ) and I hear things like ” oh u hear the snap on those drums that’s. Gotta be mpc” or ” them keys are smooth that must be logic” or ” that one sounds like maschine cause Its got that thump” so I started testing things like the actual sample converters and the outputs between different sound cards etc. And I have found that yes I can absolutely hear a difference but 9 times outta ten it is not due to the maschine but more the method of execution. For instance one filter setting on my mpc with the same sample as I have on my maschine will not sound identical but if I tweak the settings I can then achieve that sound. So I would as always state its up to the techniques. Nowwa days we have so many affordable options if you can’t get the sound u are looking for then I would suggest 1 thing. Instead of more equipment invest in a book or other education. That will make far more difference than hardware or more software πŸ˜‰ this was a great article thanks!

  13. Fo sholly! Man I bought Logic Express about 8 months ago and hated it, because I did not understand how deep of a program it was. I went through a phase of buying to try to make the sounds I thought I wanted, but truly just had to put the work in to figure out the program. You can have the greatest piece of gear and not even recognize by listening to what other people say instead of putting in the work. Example, most people say that you cannot make banging beats on a Korg ESX-1 Electribe But I might just pick one up just because of that. Truth is, it is NEVER the tool but the CREATOR and how they use it. Sure some gear have different features that give the ability to make music through a different process, but in the end if the CREATOR does not put in the work to drain every creative possibility out of the gear you might as well not do it at all.
    Peace to the real BeatMakers and Creators out there!

  14. Man everything you said is so true, i used to think all i needed was a MPC to make beats and i would be ALL SET lol, little did i know there was SO MUCH more you can do with all the software that’s out there. Don’t get me wrong though, I love hardware and I hope to purchase some hardware in the near future but what I’m starting to learn is that it’s not JUST about the sounds, mixing/mastering programs, or hardware but it’s mainly about the PERSON who is using them. I use Reason but my stuff doesn’t sound NEARLY as good as Kajmir Royale’s beats and he uses Reason too!!! But since he has been using it longer than me he knows how to tweak his sounds to make them sound better, i’m still learning how to make the most out of Reason (I only been using it for about 3 or 4 years). So the point i’m trying to make is that a good producer will make the MOST out of ANYTHING he/she has until they have pretty much outgrown whatever they are using and are ready to try something different to get what they want…..awesome topic bro! πŸ™‚

    • @B.M.I., word man πŸ™‚ I say they decision on what to use is up to the person, it’s all about how you work and what let’s you “flow” the best, I don’t think one is better, I don’t think one is a replacement for the other, I just think different people like different tools and a lot of what we think, or believe is do to what we’ve been told or influenced to believe.

  15. Yo whatup my brotha, I been away for awhile working on some other avenues so I’m playing catch up on my emails but I really like this test that you did. Too bad I’m coming end at the end part of your experiment.
    Ain’t psychology a blip. Reminds of how execs use commercials we see everyday telling us we should like this over that…this brand over that brand and most time we follow things based on the best persuasive view (come on who took the Pepsi Challenge back in the day and could tell the difference lol).

    I think its fine to search and try all things out pertaining to music or whatever but what it comes down to is what works best for you…in this case be it hardware, software or both.
    If I hear something that makes me bob my head I don’t care what ya used unless I’m trying to emulate your setup.


  16. yo u got me on that, have to say i have all hardware at the moment, but thinking bout getting the machine everytime but something always stops me, its all about the work flow 4 me, what ever works fast so i can get it done..

    • @babar141, yeah man, workflow is my main thing, I like everything, and sometimes I just want something different. I still love hardware because it’s away from the computer, so I’ll probably end up with one or two pieces again.

  17. Reminds me of years back when a certain artist was choosing between my studio and someone else’s. He chose the other studio. His comment to me was he decided on other studio because the guy had an MPC it let him know the guy knew what he was doing. Funny thing is I got to record all of his material over because the sound quality was crap.


  18. yo I missed that to Ive been busy with school and I’m def getting maschine next and a mpc and some hardware module I seen a ARS Pro for 200 at the pawn shop but I also sold my BTV but guess what now that reason samples I have been sampling all the drum sounds from it its dope also know you are still waiting on that BTHW.

  19. Nice article Bro Saintjoe,,
    I agree with you about perception, how people preconceive thoughts can hinder workflow decisions.
    Working with both external units as well as ” in the box” soft plugs, unless you have a total analog setup it usually will be mixed on a computer ”in the box ” anyway.
    In your test you could have used any machine or a DVD loop for that matter.
    I good mixer could make it sound like whatever you wanted it to sound like, Digital or Analog based on perception, of course….Lol
    Good work though.
    Peace & blessings.

  20. In the End they are all computers and software Mpc,ASR,Fantom,Motif blah blah blah
    I’ve had em all
    some software(sequencers) just feel more natural to some than to Others
    sometimes you have to let the kids believe in Santa Clause just because it keeps them excited about the good things they are doing LOL
    as long as the beat is hot i can care less how you made it


  21. whats good joe, just read the answer today.. man.. im one of those who hate you right now.. lol! im clownin man.. guess i dont have nothin else to say round here, already said a lot on the other post.. lol.. good job man.. keep bloggin more wisdom πŸ˜€

    stay safe


  22. I feel you on this one S.J! It’s funny that you did the whole illusion with out doing anything but letting our minds run free! witch is what we should be doing with our music, breaking out of the box, doing what ever we feel. For along time i was wanting to jump on the T-Pain bandwagon and get Antares!!!!!! LOL…once I got it i was so happy and made some killer beat, all because i was feeling how i was going to sing on it! truth be told the songs were better with just my voice and only using antares on the hook!

  23. Maybe the general sound of a loop being played back may not sound different but when it comes to processing there is a huge difference between the levels you can bring prior to clip if you’re using an outboard like an SSL πŸ˜‰ or an external compression device – or recording to tape! I agree you can replicate a sound source and this is dependant on the quality of your signal for sure. Let’s not get rapped up in the ‘WARM’ sound. I know some engineers who hate the way the MPC sounds. ‘It’s gritty and the quality due to bit reduction is unclear and makes a mix muddy!’ It’s all about taste! but the difference is huge if your signal is clean and the processing is out the box. On the other hand my in the box moulding devices such as waves packs and other secrets are great! you can do a lot these days! but i would never process drums solely in the box for a commercial mix down it just wouldn’t feel right unless your a magician! πŸ˜€

    • @KT1, word man , yeah I think there is a difference, this was moreso how a study in how a lot of what we think about sound and the differences is really influenced deeply by what we’ve been told or what has been suggested. I wasn’t trying to say software and hardware sound the same, both have inherent differences and most people can get the sound they look for on either platform.

      thanks for the response man!

  24. Man I read the other article 1st and yea I would of voted that they were both software. Just cause you said that this is and experiment so I would of been very skeptical from the jump. Also, I read all the comments before reading the answer and I just would like to know:

    What happened to “pppeeeppee’s Panning Laws” Lol

    • @Pat Of Jammdat, LOL! Yeah fam, I was just having some fun with this one for the folks that said they could instantly hear the difference. I’m all about using whatever you want and I use hardware and software together. I think thete are differences but I wont claim to have supersonic ears…point being, if you know the sound you want you can usually get it with a little work πŸ™‚

  25. Great experiment and point! It doesn’t really matter what you use its how you use it! Benny Blanco takes samples records guitar chords one string at a time cause he can’t play guitar! The time and dedication is what will always be the key and of course good ears and creativity. The same drum breaks have been used for years but different producers slow them down, add FX, reverse them, etc. The possibilities are always endless and there is no right or wrong there is only DOES IT SOUND DOPE! Great article man love reading your stuff

    • word, I do feel each product or tool will have it’s own sound, but the point behind this was that many of the people that claim they can “easily hear the difference” really can’t. Thanks for the comment fam!

  26. Thanks.
    Iam searching info on hardware kick machine. I’am a bedroon music lover, a businessman but not a musician.
    I got my answer.

    (My guess was both software)


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