Alesis SR18 Drum Machine Reviewed!



The SR18 comes with a boatload of sounds including 71 kick drums, 99 snares, 89 hi-hats, 78 toms, 65 cymbals, and 169 various percussion voices. Each category of instrument is further divided into a number of sub-sections. For example, snares are broken down into acoustic snares, brush snares, rimshot and side-sticks, hip-hop snares, vintage snares, legacy Alesis snares, and vocal and sfx snares.

The purest way to audition sounds is to remove all the effects and give each a good, hard listen through a killer set of headphones. After an intense listening session, I found the entire sound set to have much more punch and clarity than Alesis’ older drum machines. As you might expect, the SR16’s sounds, while completely useable, were getting a little long in the tooth. The 18’s sounds have a fresher quality that haven’t yet been used to death.

When you need to sculpt your sonic palette, the SR18 offers all of the basic tweaks. You can adjust the overall volume of the sound assigned to the pad, the sound’s stereo position (seven different positions), the tuning (more than a two-octave range in half-steps), the decay envelope, and a filter that attenuates the higher frequencies.

Overall, the effects included on the SR18 sound good and offer both standard sweetening and effects with a little more edge and attitude. Effects can’t be added to each individual sound, but are applied to all the drum sounds in a kit. You can, however, turn the effects on or off on a per-pad basis. In all, there are 22 different types of reverb types and 14 different types of compression and EQ.

The SR18 has the ability to store 200 different drum sets in memory. Each set is the collection of drums, percussion, and bass sounds, along with their mix and effects parameters. The machine comes with 100 faculty sets and you can create 100 of your own. You might think about these sets as being similar to the patches on a synthesizer.

One the strengths of this machine is the inclusion of 50 different bass sounds. Bass voices include several different types of electric basses both picked and slapped, along with some pretty darn good acoustic basses that would be right at home in a straight-ahead jazz tune. A strong selection of dance-style and techno basses round out the offerings. Programming the correct notes on the bass layer with buttons is not as easy as you might think, but with a little practice, you can concoct some pretty convincing lines and grooves.

Recording Patterns and Songs

Most drum machines operate in a similar manner. You record patterns by playing the pads on the front panel or by MIDI’ing an electronic kit (or keyboard) into the unit. Once you’ve programmed a number of patterns, you create an entire song by simply linking patterns together in a chain. Learning how to create patterns and songs is sometimes tricky, especially for the new user. I found the SR18 to have a workable balance between ease-of-use and a complex feature set. While the operating system of the SR18 isn’t totally obvious, once you take an expedition through the manual, you’ll find that most commands are logical and easy to remember.

In the Record Setup area, scrolling through different pages allows you to arrange the quantize level from quarter-notes to thirty-second-note triplets to “off” (96 ppq resolution), adjust the gate time, swing amount (off, 54 percent, 58 percent, and 62 percent), click select (click note value), click volume, velocity (with eight fixed amounts along with soft, medium, and loud), number of beats in a pattern (from 1—24 beats), note value (quarter, eighth, and sixteenth), and pattern length, offset (shifting a sound ahead or behind the beat from +/- 00—384th note), and pattern name.

All the required features for programming are available. You can copy and append patterns, as well as erase any note or an entire sound from the pattern. If you don’t want to program in real-time, you can enter step-edit mode and build your pattern one event at a time.

As you might expect, creating songs is not much more than stringing patterns together. However, the SR18 makes it easy by allowing for real-time song programming or step editing. There are commands for adding a fill or removing a fill; inserting, deleting, or replacing a step; and changing tempo in the middle of a song.


I love the fact that the machine can run on 6 AA batteries! The SR18 is small enough to fit in just about any backpack, and at less than 5 lbs., the program-on-the-run factor is outstanding. The headphone output is HOT. You won’t have any trouble hearing this machine in even the loudest environment.

All in all, the SR18 is a welcome upgrade to the Alesis drum machine family tree. The sounds are fresh, the interface is logical, and the incorporation of great bass sounds is a unique twist. With its low price, I’m sure that Alesis has another hit on its hands. Give it a test ride at your local dealer and see if it fits your needs.


List Price $399
Features 32MB sound set of drums, percussion, and bass samples – more than 500 individual drum and percussion sounds; 50 different bass sounds; effects: Reverb, Compression, EQ; 100 preset patterns, 100 user patterns – four variations for each pattern: A/A Fill/B/B Fill; 100 user songs

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