Inspiration often strikes at inopportune times. You’re not always in a full recording studio or near a drum kit when a new musical idea pops into your head. Maybe you’re in your apartment when you get the urge to create and it’s difficult to slam on your drums because you don’t want to annoy your neighbors. If you have access to a DAW, you can still achieve big acoustic sounding drums without the actual kit. In addition, a variety of compact pad controllers can help you record your ideas without having to rely on a keyboard and mouse.

Digital and MIDI drum programs have come a long way since their first inception. Drum machines like the Linn LM-1 and the Roland TR-808 featured some iconic digital drum sounds that changed the direction popular of music however, they were always less organic sounding than an acoustic drum kit. Today, there are several high quality third-party plugins that emulate acoustic drums so well that you might not even be able to discern which drum tracks are played on MIDI or a real drummer. Let’s take a look at some of these drum simulators:

MODO DRUM – IK Multimedia

MODO DRUM from IK Multimedia is 10 virtual drum kits in one. You can use it to emulate practically any acoustic drum kit you need with it’s outstanding customization abilities. You can customize just about any part of your drum kit including the height, diameter, shell profile, and tuning of any drum on your rack. You can also adjust the spring tension on your snare drum, the type of beater on your kick pedal, drum resonance, and hit location. You can even choose the type of sticks your virtual drummer will use. MODO DRUM is a one stop shop for your next MIDI drum track.

Addictive Drums 2 – XLN Audio

Addictive Drums 2 is another great drum simulator plugin that can get any job done. Out of the box, AD2 comes with a handful of studio quality preset drum kits and the ability to switch out specific pieces of a kit to build your own custom one. What sets AD2 apart from other simulator plugins is it’s extensive mixing capabilities. AD2 offers it’s own mixing interface where you can access compressors, EQs, transient shapers, distortion, reverb, delay, and parallel processing to perfect your sound. While you can create your own drum patters, AD2 comes with 5,000+ preset MIDI patterns that you can use to get to work building your musical ideas quickly.

EZdrummer – Toontrack

EZdrummer 2 from Toontrack has been one of the most popular drum simulator plugins since it’s first release. EZdrummer comes with 5 complete drum kits ranging from modern to vintage models and the ability to swap out instruments. An interesting and helpful feature of EZdrummer 2 is that you can open the program in a stand-alone mode meaning you don’t have to have a DAW open to access any of the drum kits. Also, the entirety of EZdrummer 2’s samples were recorded in at British Grove Studios in London, England. EZdrummer 2 also features it’s own built-in sequencer that you can use to drop in preset or custom MIDI patterns to quickly build your drum grooves. If EZdrummer 2’s extensive preset MIDI library isn’t enough for you, there are several genre-specific expansion packs you can purchase to find the perfect groove for you.

SSD5 – Steven Slate

SSD5 prides itself on being one of the most realistic sounding drum simulators on the market. It comes stock with over 2,400 preset MIDI grooves to choose from along with hundreds of combinations of drums, cymbals, and percussion instruments. SSD5 comes with over a dozen complete drum kits giving you the range to compose a soft jazz piece filled with ghost notes or a power metal beat embellished by heavy complex fills. Similar to EZdrummer 2, SSD5 has a handful of expansion packs that you can purchase with curated grooves and drum sounds by legendary producers like Chris Lord-Alge, David Bendeth, Terry Date, and even a Blackbird Studios expansion pack.

BFD3 – Fxpansion

BFD3 is the third rendition of a drum simulator that has been widely used by producers around the globe since it was first released in 2002. A portion of BFD3’s library was recored in Ocean Way Studios in Burbank California which has been the birthplace of iconic albums like 21st Century Breakdown (Green Day), Californication (Red Hot Chili Peppers), and Bad (Micheal Jackson) just to name a few. The other portion of BDFD3’s library was recorded at Omega Studios in Rockville, Maryland. Omega Studios has hosted artists like Prince, Elton John, Jimi Hendrix, and Chuck Berry. All of BFD3’s drum sounds were finely curated by Grammy-nominated engineers and recorded through a vintage Neve board to get those sought after warm tones. Out of the box, BFD3’s drums are meant to sound great and ready to use without EQing or compression. But if you need to change a sound to match your vibe, BFD3 has a mixing interface that gives you access to the EQs, compressors, distortions, and reverbs you need to make your drum track perfect.

There’s nothing like banging on a real kit but sometimes we have to make do. The next time a great musical idea comes into head, don’t be discouraged if you’re not next to a drum set or cannot play on your kit for whatever reason. There are so many awesome drum simulators out there that can deliver realistic sounding grooves to help you get out your ideas and ultimately record your perfect record.