Diving into the world of the drum software can be a lot of fun, but it can get expensive fast - this is why it's important to know exactly what each program offers.
Sure, you can always go download a free drum plugin like these, but it won't be nearly as flexible or as in-depth as the ones listed down below.
As far as using drum software goes, you can either play around with the software on its own, or even better, trigger the sounds using an electronic drum set. You can find our top picks for electronic drum sets in our electronic drum set buyer's guide.
Another great and more portable option is to trigger the drum sounds through a MIDI Pad Controller. Add in a laptop and you've got a top-of-the-line drum machine at your fingertips wherever you go. Make sure to check out our MIDI Pad Controller buyer's guide to find the best one for your needs.
The important question to ask yourself is, “What am I going to be using this for primarily?” Being able to answer that question will save you a ton of headaches and money in the long run because it takes plenty of time to really get to know the ins-and-outs of each product.
By the time you realize a specific software package wasn’t for you, you will have invested a lot of time and energy into it. I’ve been there myself so creating this article is my way of making sure you can make a more educated decision before diving in.
Besides the best drum software packages I picked below, I’m aware that there are a ton of other paid options out there like Steven Slate Drums, Abbey Road Drums, and Battery 4, but I wanted to pick my top 3 favorite drum VST plugins that appeal to me personally.
To give you some context I’m an e-drummer at heart and I also like producing and mixing realistic sounding drum tracks, so if those things appeal to you I think you’ll enjoy what’s on this list as much as I do.
Here is the best drum software you can buy at the moment:
Superior Drummer 3
The newest drum software of the bunch, Superior Drummer 3 is without a doubt the king. The amount of thought and care that went into every section is pretty incredible, and upon launching the program for the first time I felt like a kid in a candy store.
Over 230 GB of raw sound material was captured by master sound engineer George Massenburg at Galaxy Studios in Belgium. This isn’t just any studio - the whole complex was built on springs to make sure that there is zero outside interference. It’s actually the most quiet recording studio space of its size in the entire world!
With over 7 unique drumkit starting points, drum head selection, 25 acoustic snare sounds, 16 acoustics kicks, and too many more to list, you should be set for any sound you want. Hearing “7 kits” might not sound like a lot, but between the mixer and changing up the kit parts you can create pretty much any type of kit imaginable. There are tons of different presets for each kit and 35 mixer effects (EQ, delay, reverb, filters, dynamics, distortion, modulation).
The amount of mics you have control over including bleed control for each drum part can be a little overwhelming, but if you take the time to watch some tutorials and figure out some of the controls it’s a great feeling to have all that control.
Something that I absolutely love to use is the new Tap2Find feature in the huge Groove Library. Have a beat idea in your head that you want to find quickly? Just tap out the groove on the drumset in the window and Superior Drummer is smart enough to give you grooves that match and order them by how closely they resemble your beat.
Using the new Tracker feature, you can actually import in your own raw acoustic drum tracks and the program will turn it into MIDI data so that you can switch out the drum parts, or gently bleed some new kit pieces in and have complete control over every aspect of your sound.
Now on to my favorite part - edrums! After using my Roland electronic kit with a ton of different drum software programs and having mixed results, I’m happy to say that it was a breeze with Superior Drummer 3.
The built in e-drum presets work great straight away. All I had to do was select Roland from the list and it worked perfectly - even the hi-hat which other programs seem to have trouble with initially. I just run a MIDI cable straight from the Roland module into a Presonus Studio 26 USB Recording Interface running through Reaper as my DAW which works great.
The drums sound and feel completely realistic when I play and it really makes it a joy. I find myself playing much more often just because I’m so excited about the possibilities of my next great drumkit!
I haven't even mentioned the fact that you can download various SDX plugins that give you completely new kits recorded at different studios. They’re all geared toward specific genres like metal, electronic, or rock, so finding something that suits your tastes should be a piece of cake (although you will have to pay for it).
When it comes down to it, Superior Drummer 3 easily takes the top spot in this list of best drum software. If you are at all interested in programming virtual drums or expanding the options of your electronic drum set at home, you absolutely should not miss this one.
Addictive Drums 2
Coming in at my 2nd place choice is Addictive Drums 2 - if you are playing live on an electronic drum set. I don’t think the features, sound mixing, and tracking choices come close to Superior Drummer 3 or EZDrummer, but I personally think Addictive Drums 2 comes the closest to the sound and feel of a real acoustic drumkit while you are playing it.
It’s interesting because I still find that the Toontrack products sound better if I’m sitting and listening to it or trying to mix with, but it’s a WHOLE different experience when you are actually sitting behind the kit and playing. The Addictive kits just have that impact and intensity that makes you zone out and forget you’re playing an electronic kit, and THAT is the hallmark of a great drum program in my opinion when it comes to live playing with headphones.
None of this is to say that features are lacking in Addictive Drums 2. There are still tons of options with mics, tone shaping, and effects to keep you busy. The one small downside is the lack of mic bleed options, but that shouldn’t stop you from creating your dream kit.
Like Superior Drummer it comes with a large MIDI groove library along with ways to find what you need by filtering for Library, Category, Tempo or Time signature. Just drag the MIDI groove into your DAW and you are up and running.
The ADpacks are expansion packs that you can download to get more drum sounds. There are a ton of them (21 in total), including metal, R&B, pop, rock, indie, electronic, jazz, funk, and more. I really enjoy the funk and jazz kits as they add quite a unique sound compared to the default library. Just be warned - XLN Audio will suck all the money out of your wallet once you get addicted to all these expansions! I guess that’s why it’s called Addictive Drums.
If Superior Drummer 3 is made for e-drummers and producers, Toontrack’s EZDrummer 2 is made for songwriters. The sounds are premixed for the most part, and it’s all about quickly finding what you want, throwing it into the mix, and sitting back to enjoy.
Just like in Superior Drummer you can tap to match and find a specific groove. If you find a track you like and drop it into the Song Creator, EZDrummer will list all files with a similar style and groove which makes it very easy to create full songs in little time.
I was actually really impressed with how fast you can put together a full song. It comes with a bunch of easy to modify song templates, and whenever you select a specific groove it will give you all the matching intro, verse, and chorus grooves so you will have a good idea of where to slot in the suggested ones which leads to a more polished and cohesive sounding song.
One really cool feature is that you can “talk” to your drummer. You use a Power Hand to instantaneously change the leading instrument or the Amount or Velocity knobs to control the complexity and velocity in your selected groove - while it’s playing!
The sounds in this package sound great, and there are a bunch of features copied over from the older Superior Drummer 2. There's a large range of controllable effect chain presets that will allow you to shape the drums in any way you see fit.
The kit sounds are primarily focused around modern and vintage, but you can always expand into other categories with the EZX expansion packs if you need to. There's actually a whopping 33 total expansion packs you can get, so any style drum you need should be readily available to you.
Final Verdict - Best Drum Software 2018
When it comes down to comparing these 3 choices, I think there’s clear path to which is best for you.
If you play on an electronic drum set, enjoy tons of options for tweaking the sounds, and/or enjoy producing raw sounding drum kits into your mixes, then Superior Drummer 3 is for you. It’s definitely the big boy of the group and it shows in it’s price. The nuances in sound articulation and quality go far above and beyond the others and you will really enjoy working with all the built in features.
If you strictly play on an electronic drumset and want to replicate playing on an acoustic kit as closely as possible, then i would highly recommend checking out XLN Audio’s Addictive Drums 2. The features and the final mix quality won’t be on par with the other choices, but I’m telling you it just feels great to play on these kits. It’s less than half the price of Superior Drummer 3, and you can give the free demo a try before pulling out your wallet.
If you are a songwriter at heart and just want to find and throw high quality drum tracks straight into your mixes, EZDrummer 2 should be your top choice. There is no faster way to search for premixed drum parts and start gluing them together to form the backbone of that song you’ve been working on. The price is about the same as Addictive Drums 2, so it’s a great deal if you don’t need all the complexity of its bigger brother Superior Drummer 3.