Drum pads vs. Samplers: Know the difference

Drum pads and sample pads may look similar, but they are two different kinds of instruments. They appear to have the same characteristics, such as rubber pads, LED indicators, and both are usually square-shaped. Music producers and beatmakers use these in their home music studios to record drums and other instruments such as synth pads. However, as beginners, you can’t really tell which one you need to help you create music.

The main difference between a drum pad and a sample pad is: drum pads usually play short samples of instruments such as drums and synths. While sample pads, on the other hand, trigger long samples or tracks. Usually, a sample pad is more expensive because of all the extra features such as sequencing, loops, and many more. Drum pads usually come as an auxiliary to MIDI controllers. To learn more about these two instruments and determine which one do you need for your home music studio, continue reading:


Drum pads are used to create drum tracks for your tracks. They do not usually have a beat sequencer, so you need to manually play the drums with your fingers and record the tracks. You can also program the drum tracks with the use of the MIDI editor in your DAW. If you want to lay the drum pads for recording manually, it will fall onto the MIDI track, so you can edit out any errors or add more drum sounds to the main drum track.

Some drum pads resemble an acoustic drum kit. These types of pads are what are known to be electronic drums. Electronic drums will usually have built-in sounds and a sound engine when you purchase them. However, you can always use these drum pads along with the sound collection in your DAW. Here are some examples of electric drums:


(Price: $799)

The Alesis Command X is a 9-piece mesh head e-drum kit. It has adjustable pads for a realistic feel.

The package includes:

  • Three tom pads
  • Four cymbal pads
  • One snare pad
  • One kick pad
  • LCD module
  • 50 built-in presets
  • 20 user presets
  • 600 different sounds
  • Line input
  • Headphone jack
  • USB and midi inputs


Roland is known for making revolutionary electric drum machines. The quality of the built-in drum sounds in a Roland is better than most of the virtual instrument plug-ins out there.

The TD-1DMK includes:

  • One snare pad with dual trigger
  • 3 PDX-6A toms
  • 1 KD- Kick drum
  • 3 CY-5 cymbals
  • One hi-hat control pedal
  • 15 quality drum presets with the Roland standard

Kick pedal not included in the package.


Some MIDI controllers will include a couple of pads in addition to the keyboard. These types of drum pads do not produce their sounds. Without a sound engine, you will need a host such as a DAW with virtual drum instruments to make a MIDI drum pad controller produce sounds. Here are some examples of MIDI controllers with drum pads:

  • AKAI MPK 49

(Price: $400)

It is a combination of Akai’s best Midi features. The keys are semi-weighted for a nice piano-like feel. It is an excellent Midi controller with most of the features that you want in a controller. Right out of the box, you can select the DAW of your choice using the LCD selector, and it will map out the Midi functions automatically.

Key Features:

  • 49 semi-weighted, velocity-sensitive keys

The keys have a very natural piano-like feel to them. It is best for the piano players who are looking for a fantastic Keyboard controller.

  • 16 MPC PADS

The pads illuminate when pressed and can you can use as launchpads that you can set to loop, trigger, or hold.

  • 24 assignable knobs

The knobs are fully assignable to control the parameters from your DAW. Knobs and faders that have an excellent feel when you are tweaking levels.

  • 10 Octaves

This MIDI controller has a range of 10 octaves that you can switch quickly with a press of a button. Play around all the sections of the keyboard with the use of this feature.

  • Note Repeat

One of Akai’s trademark features, where you can hold down a button to play an individual note repeatedly. You can change the not speed with a press of a button.

  • Comes with over $200 worth of free software and samples

When you purchase this MIDI controller, you can get free software such as Ableton Live Lite, MPC Essentials, Hybrid 3, and Twist 2.0.


(Price: $89)

If you want a smaller package of the Akai MPK 49, the MPK mini is the right one for you. It has almost all the same features of its big brother, but with fewer keys, pads, and knobs. This controller is great for just going out and creating beats and music. It can fit inside your backpack. You can connect this to a Laptop or mobile device.

Key Features:

  • 25 velocity-sensitive keys

At first, I never thought you would be able to play chords on such small keys, but I was mistaken. The small keys on this device are capable of anything you can do on a real piano. It only takes a little time to get used to small keys, especially if you came from playing a full-sized keyboard.

  • Eight assignable pads with two banks

The eight responsive pads are such a pleasure to use when finger drumming or just doing simple piano melodies and chords. It has two banks so you can have 16 pads for each user preset.

  • Arpeggiator

This controller also has a built-in arpeggiator so you can create rhythmic patterns. Your synth lines would not sound monotonous and repetitive with the use of this feature.

  • Eight assignable knobs

The MPK mini also comes with knob control. For its low price, this midi controller surely has it all.

  • Free software included

When you purchase this MIDI controller, you can get free software such as MPC Essentials, Hybrid 3, Wobble, and the Akai MPK Mini editor. The editor is used to set the value of the pads. You can use them with any of your favorite DAWs.

  • ALESIS Q49

(Price: $200)

The Q49 is a Midi keyboard controller that provides a surface for performing and writing music with your favorite DAWs. This keyboard controller offers total Midi control in a simple package. It does not have any pads and a lot of knobs. However, the weight of the keys is ideal or piano players.

Key Features:

  • 49 velocity-sensitive semi-weighted keys

The weight of the keys feels so incredible to play. The feel of the keys ensures a dynamic performance.

  • Pitch and modulation wheels

The standard pitch and modulation wheels roll smoothly for additional expression when recording and performing live gigs.

  • Octave up and octave down controls

Despite having a lot of keys, you can still switch up the octaves so you can play on any part of the keyboard bed.

  • Free software included

Ableton Live Lite and AIR software are included so you can create music instantly.


Sample pads or drum machines are much more expensive than drum pads because of all the extra and useful features they include. Because they have a built-in sound engine, you do not need a DAW to produce sounds for live shows. You can also load your own samples on to these pads and create a sequence for your sets and your recording sessions.

Drum machines can trigger longer samples, unlike MIDI pads, where you can only play drums and synth pads most of the time. However, I discovered how to use a MIDI controller to trigger longer samples with the use of music software.


(Price: $650)

The Native Instruments Maschine MK3 is an integrated hardware and software system drum machine. The device includes a sampler, arranger, mixer, effects, and more. It is a stand-alone hardware drum machine and an all-around audio workstation. You can also use it as a Midi pad controller for your favorite DAW.

This device lets you effortlessly produce beats, melodies, and harmonies with the use of the premium sounds. The combination of the hardware presets and software instruments makes this device the ultimate producing machine. You can instantly transform your ideas into entirely produced tracks with high-quality samples.

Key Features:


It includes a built-in sound library with thousands of samples to choose from.

  • Audio Interface

This device comes with a built-in audio interface that supports up to 24bit.

  • Touch Sensitive Knobs

The knobs for tweaking are touch-sensitive for expressive level adjustments.

  • Smart Strip

A smart strip is a tool for strumming notes, pitch bending and adding different effects in real-time.


(Price: $300)

The KP3+ is a dynamic effects sampler that enables the user to modulate different effects on live sound or samples in real-time. The practical functions of the Kaosspad are straightforward to use for live performances as well as home music production. The futuristic look and the advanced features of the KP3+ are very pleasing to the eye.

Key Features:

  • 150 effects for remixing for live gigs or in studio
  • FX release, mute, and pad motion functions
  • USB, MIDI, and SD card support
  • 42 new and improved effects
  • Looper with unlimited overdubs, undo and redo
  • Vinyl break
  • Ducking compressor
  • Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator

(Price: $89)

This tiny sampler module can make samples up to 40 seconds. It is an excellent product for beatmakers and producers alike.

Key Features:

  • Built-in microphone for recording
  • 1/8” headphone and output jack
  • Eight melodic sample slots for triggering samples chronologically
  • Eight drum sample slots for playing drum samples with one shot
  • 16-step sequencer for arranging patterns
  • Ability to create and save complex sequences
  • Built-in speakers
  • Battery efficient


  • Integrated sound engines
  • Beat sequencer
  • Audio interface
  • Knobs and Wheels
  • Expression Pads
  • A collection of classic drum sounds


Now that you know the differences between drum pads and sample pads, you can now decide on which one you need for your music studio. I do not own a sample pad, because, in your home studio, a MIDI drum pad will work the same way if you use a DAW. The other features of a sample pad or drum machine are excellent for live performances. However, for a home studio, I think a MIDI drum pad is enough. Although, a drum machine will help a lot in creating synth and drum sequences for your tracks.


  • Can you use a drum pad to trigger samples?

With the use of software instruments and features on your DAW, you can trigger longer samples using your MIDI drum pads. All you need is the right software to do so. Any DAW with a built-in sampler and MIDI learn can create an extended sample and assign it to one of your drum pads. For my example, I used the AKAI MPC PRO 2, and an AKAI MPK MINI II.

  • What is finger drumming?

Finger drumming is an effective way that producers, as well as DJ’s use, to record drums with a Midi controller or drum sampler. You can also master and use this technique for playing live and jamming with your friends. All you need to do is feel the beat and do what drummers do.  By using your fingers and a drum pad, you can emulate the pattern drummers do.

If you are a drummer and already know the flow of how to play actual drums, learning how to finger drum will be a breeze. If you are a non-drummer, all you need is a sense of tempo and rhythm, and your fingers will do the rest. If you do not have experience playing an instrument, you might struggle at first to play the rhythms, but eventually, practice makes perfect.


Samplers and MIDI drum pads are two different devices that are both essential and very useful in music-making. If you happen to decide to get one, you should learn the features and integrate them into your music creating process. Aside from their uses, they are enjoyable devices to play around with. Who knows, by messing around with one of these devices, you might just get an idea for your next best track!

Recent Content