You don’t need to own a drum set to create hard-hitting and catchy drum beats in the 21st century. In-fact, most household name producers create their drum tracks using MIDI or finger drum pads.
MIDI drum pad controllers have become quite popular with music composers and producers in recent years.. This technology has been steadily improving with each passing year, and the current selection on the market is more than sufficient for any aspiring producer or performer.
If you are planning to purchase the best finger drum pads for your needs, you might be overwhelmed by the number of options available. This guide will explain the dos and don’ts of purchasing your first set of finger drum pads before discussing the top options available for producers and performers.
What are Finger Drum Pads?
When one hears the term “finger drum pads”, they might picture the square or hexagonal yellow rubber pads on old Casio keyboards that produce a drum hit sound when struck. Modern finger drum pads or MIDI drum pads could be considered an evolved version of this technology.
Modern offerings usually consist of a row or multiple rows of pads along with other controls such as knobs and sliders. It is important to note that MIDI drum pads typically do not contain built-in sounds. These devices must be connected to a computer or tablet operating a music production software or DAW. Once connected, you can load up audio samples on the DAW and trigger them by hitting each MIDI drum pad.
Considerations When Choosing Finger Drum Pads
If you are purchasing your first set of finger drum pads, you should be aware of the different features and considerations to watch out for. This includes:
Pads are the star feature of any MIDI drum pad device. These are the “buttons” you will be hitting to trigger your samples, so it is vital to choose ones you are comfortable with.
MIDI pads come in many shapes and sizes. However, they are typically square or rectangular in shape, and one or two inches in length.
If you have large fingers, you might struggle to hit the correct notes when playing fast on. In this situation, it may be better to go for finger drum pads with large pads. If you are skilled with your button mashing technique, you may be able to get away with using a device with smaller button-sized drum pads.
Most finger drum pads available today feature velocity sensitive keys. This means the pads trigger a louder sample sound the harder they are struck. However, some pads may be more sensitive than others.
If you intend to play intricate drum parts with subtle sounds, it may be better to go for MIDI drum pads models with high sensitivity. Some of these are also pressure sensitive, allowing you to control or modulate the sound after pressing down a pad with varying amounts of pressure.
Pad Material and Feel
You should also pay attention to the pad material. Most drum pads are made from rubber or a similar polymer. However, the texture of these pads may vary depending on the brand or model. Some pads may be made from a firm plastic-like material and feature smooth surfaces. Such pads can be uncomfortable to play on and won’t offer much rebound when struck. In addition to this, your fingers may slide off the pads due to their smooth nature.
Other pads may be made from rubber or synthetic polymers and may feature a rougher or textured surface. Such pads are comfortable to hit repeatedly and offer great rebound. Their surface texture also prevents your fingers from sliding off when striking the pad.
Many MIDI drum pad devices feature lights embedded under the pads. These lights may activate when the device is turned on, or flash whenever a pad is struck.
Lighting can tell you when a pad is registering being struck. They can also add a visual component to your performances. Some MIDI drum pad devices may also allow you to customize their lighting, giving you the freedom to create colorful patterns
Many MIDI drum pad devices feature controls other than pads. This includes sliders and knobs. These can be assigned to perform different functions such as controlling volume, tempo, frequency, resonance, and envelopes via the production software your device is connected to.
These additional controls can speed up your workflow and give you greater control of each pad sound. However, you might not need over a dozen sliders and knobs if you simply want a basic set of finger drum pads.
Many MIDI drum pad devices come bundled with a special software or editor that allows you to customize your device’s features. Such software and editors allows you to create custom MIDI mappings. This may help speed up your workflow or offer assistance when performing live.
Advantages of Owning Finger Drum Pads
The advantages of owning finger drum pads include:
Making Recording/Sequencing More Fun
Finger drum pads and MIDI drum pads are a great choice for any producer who enjoys creating music using a natural rhythm. The act of tapping to record or sequence a beat is far more satisfying than the process of clicking and dragging samples in a DAW.
Usable in Live Performances
Finger drum pads are also great for live performances. They show that the performer is engaged and that they are actively triggering the sounds the audience is hearing.
MIDI drum pads are also portable. This means you can carry them around with you and perform live in different places. That is, assuming you have a computer or tablet to connect the device to a DAW. All these features make MIDI drum pads incredibly useful and fun for composers and producers to use.
Top 5 Finger Drum Pads
We researched various finger drum pads and MIDI drum pads from leading music brands and compiled the top 5 in the following list:
Akai LPD8 MIDI Drum Pads
The Akai LPD8 MIDI Drum Pads is a budget-friendly, portable, and minimalist MIDI controller. This device features eight responsive backlit pads along with eight control knobs. Both sets of controls are comparable to the ones found in the Akai’s higher end MIDI controllers and samplers.
- 13-inch, slim-line ultra-portable pad controller with 8 backlit velocity-sensitive drum pads for triggering samples, loops, controlling virtual instruments and more
- 8 MPC Q-Link knobs for seamless mapping to DAW parameters, virtual instruments and effect parameters for hands-on control and expressive performances
- 4 programmable memory banks provide instant recall of mappings for DAWs, virtual instruments, effects and more
- Lightweight, ultra-portable design stows easily in a laptop bag for production capability everywhere
- USB-powered and plug-and-play setup for Mac and PC
The pads on the LPD8 feel incredibly responsive. The material they are made from feels tough and sturdy, but also offers a satisfying rebound when struck. You can also customize your controller’s settings thanks to the landy LPD8 editor software that comes with the device.
This device isn’t perfect however. Some users have reported that striking a pad too hard will often trigger adjacent pads. However, this shouldn’t be an issue for users who figure out the right force to play with.
The LPD8 is the perfect MIDI drum pad device for any composer or producer who wants to take their first step into the music production world. This device retails for under $100, making it one of the most affordable MIDI drum pad devices around.
Akai MPD218 MIDI Pad Controller
Music producers and composers seeking a slightly higher-end version of the Akai LPD8 might be interested in the Akai MPD218 MIDI Pad Controller.
- Beat Production, Anywhere - Ultra-portable, feature-packed and USB powered pad controller with 16 thick fat MPC pads for triggering drums, melodic samples, effects and more
- Expandable Banks - Easily accessible dedicated controls for three pad banks provides a total of 48 assignable pads
- Assignable Control - 18 fully assignable 360-Degree potentiometers accessible via three banks for controlling DAW, virtual effect and virtual instrument parameters
- Feature Packed - MPC note repeat and full level controls for immersive expressive performances
- Comprehensive Software Suite Included - Ableton Live Lite, Drum Synth 500 by AIR Music Tech
This device features 16 velocity sensitive pads, or twice the number of pads the LPD8 offers. It also features a set of six rotary knobs that offer satisfying resistance when turned. This MIDI pad controller is also USB-powered, similar to the LPD8. This adds to the device’s portability for creating beats on-the-go.
The MPD218 might be the one of the most aesthetically pleasing looking finger drum pads on our list. Its black chassis, knobs, and pads contrast well with the bright red lights under each pad. The device has an almost futuristic look to it when turned on in the dark.
Users praise the MPD218 for its portability and functionality. However, many have complained that the chassis is made from a hard plastic rather than metal or a tougher type of plastic. This might reduce the device’s long-term durability, but we certainly can’t complain given the Akai MPD218’s modest price tag.
Novation Launchpad X
The Novation Launchpad X is a popular option for producers who want dozens of pads to toy with in a live setting. This device features a whopping 64 velocity sensitive pads with customizable lighting.
- Take Control of Your Performance – Essential performance controls are a single button-press away: stop, solo, mute, record arm and set your levels, pans and sends. Using Launchpad X is a simple as it gets, no drivers to install, just plug and perform.
- Dynamic and expressive playing – Large RGB velocity- and pressure-sensitive pads give you a perfect reflection of your Ableton Live or Logic Pro session, matching colours from the session window to your Launchpad Pro, making it easier than ever to see your clips and play your instruments dynamically and expressively.
- Our Deepest Ableton Live Integration – Quickly launch clips and scenes, access mixer, device and transport controls, and quantise, duplicate and double, all without touching your mouse — making it easier and more tactile to control your performances. Capture MIDI makes sure you never miss an idea so you keep in the creative flow.
- Make It Yours with Four Custom Modes – Go deeper and get Launchpad X working the way you want. Use Novation Components to customise MIDI mappings, and control almost anything; four custom modes mean you can design how this essential grid controller works for you.
- Dynamic Note & Scale Modes – Effortlessly play perfectly in-key basslines, melodies, chords and leads. Launchpad X even knows when you’re drumming and shows your drum rack on the grid. Easily explore, build and play complex chords straight from the grid; quickly find new harmonies to boost your track creation.
The Launchpad X features Ableton Live Integration, making it easy to launch samples, capture MIDI, and use performance controls in an instant. This includes controls such as stop, mute, solo, volume, pan, and record arm.
This is one of the best finger drum pads for any composer who wants to use all ten of their fingers at once. The device also features dynamic scale and note modes to make playing melodies, chords, leads, and basslines a breeze.
Users have praised the Novation Launchpad X for its beautiful and responsive set of RGB pads and Ableton integration. Some reviews have complained that the device features only 4 custom pages. However, this more than enough for most producers seeking a device that retails for under $200.
If you thought the Akai LPD8 was minimalist and affordable, wait till you see the Korg nanoPAD2. This device features sixteen velocity-sensitive trigger pads as well as an X-Y touchpad.
- Low-profile pad controller – excellent for playing or entering drum data
- Sixteen solid, responsive, and velocity-sensitive trigger pads
- Control multiple MIDI parameters via the X-Y Touchpad
If you don’t want lights under your drum pads, then the nanoPAD2 has you covered. These pads are as basic as it gets. However, the X-Y Touchpad adds an interesting dynamic to any performance or composition session.
The Touchpad is similar to the ones found on Korg’s futuristic Kaoss Pad audio effect units. It is incredibly fun to play with, and offers modulation options to make every note a blast.
The device also features four scenes, allowing you to input 64 different pad assignments.
Users love playing with the Korg nanoPAD2’s X-Y touchpad. However, others have complained that the device’s MIDI pads feature spotty velocity sensitivity. At under $60, this is one of the most affordable MIDI drum pad devices out there.
Arturia BeatStep Pro
Calling the Arturia BeatStep Pro a MIDI controller or drum pad wouldn’t do it justice.
This device features 16 velocity and pressure sensitive pads that light up beautifully. Users will also love the 16 control knobs divided into two rows above the pads. It also features a built-in memory that allows users to save up to 16 projects at once.
- THE ULTIMATE SEQUENCING POWERHOUSE: BeatStep Pro is a controller and a sequencer that provides nearly endless possibilities! It features 3 modes of operation - 2 melodic Step Sequencers and a 16-track Drum Sequencer - and all the controls you need - Transport, Tran LNK/PRST, SWING & Randomizer, Display, Sync Mode, Sequence control, Project/Control mode, 16 sensitive knobs, 16 Step buttons, 16 pressure sensitive pads.
- MASTER YOUR PERFORMANCES: Make your MIDI devices and VST instruments do exactly what you want them to! BeatStep Pro brings together the most sought-after performance effects available: a looper with a touch strip, a randomizer, swing settings and a slew of hands-on controls that will make your performances the stuff of legend. In addition, Control mode lets you trigger clips in your favorite DAW, play sounds from an external device or make magic with your plug-in of choice.
- EASY TO USE: Setup is a breeze with color-coded connections on the back panel that help you know what to plug where. And the color of the backlit Step buttons will always match the current sequencer, so you’ll always know which sequence is being edited.
- ALL THE CONNECTIONS YOU NEED: With BeatStep Pro you can connect to virtually any musical device within reach: computers, virtual instruments, modular synths, drum machines… It includes CV/GATE outputs (1 volt per octave CV, 10 volt gates), 8 drum gate outputs, a Clock sync with multiple standards, a MIDI In/Out with supplied MIDI adaptors and a USB class compliant.
- CREATIVE SOFTWARE INCLUDED: BeatStep Pro comes with all the creative software you need to get your musical ideas flowing and start exploring right out the box. Make great-sounding tracks in full (Ableton Live Lite), get hundreds of pro-grade synth and key sounds (Analog Lab Intro) and easily edit your MIDI setups and sequences (MIDI Control Center).
The Arturia BeatStep Pro is chock-full of extra features that place it above most basic MIDI controllers or finger drum pads. This includes note quantization controls, tap tempo control, and even a drum fill generator. Users can also use multiple-scale settings to make the melody creation and playing processes easier.
The Arturia Beatstep Pro’s most notable feature is its internal drum sequencer, and pair of melodic sequencers. This places it a league above the other MIDI drum pads on our list.
Users love the Arturia Beatstep Pro’s controlling capabilities and drum fill generator. Other users have complained that the device’s price tag is quite steep. However, you get a fully functional MIDI controller with a drum sequencer and two melodic sequencers for the price.
As you can see, there are numerous considerations to keep in mind when looking for the best finger drum pads. Most of the devices featured on the above list are suitable for beginner and novice producers and performers. Users who are seeking something a little extra should consider the Arturia BeatStep Pro. It’s bells and whistles place it far above other MIDI drum pads, making it the best finger drum pads on our list. Happy finger drumming!