Go Vintage With the DM1 Drum Machine

When it comes to creating music in a cost-efficient way, more and more people are turning to their iPads for the solution. The drum machine market alone could be considered fairly large on the iPad and features a large range of applications – many of which are either easy to use but lack in features, or have lots of features but are extensive to learn.

Fingerlabs have created a drum machine that looks to combine an easy to use approach but with plenty of features under the hood…

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Hailing as a simple drum machine app, DM1 can be used for creating comprehensive drum loops for a multitude of uses – including recording, writing songs, live performances or simply playing along to at home. Loading straight into the app you’ll be presented with a simple guide through the various sections. This is enough to get you to dive into the app itself and start looking around the interface.

Design & Interface

The design of the app itself incorporates a faux-leather background which looks great. The interface retains Apple’s ‘no manual’ approach so that within 5 minutes of starting to use the app you can get to grips with the fundamentals. The DM1 also features the ‘?’ button which quickly gives you a heads up of the features in each section.

You’ll find the speed setting (in BPM), sound bank selection (64 drum sounds since the last update) and the all important ‘play’ button on the top control bar along with the ability to select one of the 5 sections:

  1. Steps – Gives you a traditional drum machine view of the pattern selected. Each of the 9 drums can be selected in up to 32 steps.
  2. Pads – 9 individual pads allowing users to ‘play’ what they want and record straight into a pattern.
  3. Mixer – In-depth control of each individual drum sound.
  4. FX – 7 different effects in two easy-to-use XY interfaces.
  5. Song – Combines all of the patterns created to create a song. Also provides the MIDI control and the option to export the audio you have created.

First Steps

Whether you choose to ‘play’ your pattern in or select it step-by-step, getting your creative input into the drum machine couldn’t be easier.

'Steps' format section - 16 divisions

'Steps' format section, with 16 divisions.

The step interface can easily be divided into either 16 or 32, giving plenty of room for creativity. Whilst the basic interface looks easy enough, extra features are just waiting to be used within the interface. Single tapping on the pad switches it on then off again where a double-tap gives a weighted feel to that note.

By tapping on a channel you can ‘solo’ that channel where double-tapping mutes that individual channel.

Using the ‘Pads’ section, those less accustomed to the step interface can simply play their creative ideas into the machine using the ‘MPC’ drum pads. With a recent update, Fingerlabs have also added the ability to use an external MIDI controller (velocity sensitive) to play – fantastic when combined with something like the Alesis DM Dock.

Pads Section

Pads section.

Upto 25 patterns can be created in each song which for even the more creative of users should be plenty.

Controlling the Sound

Whilst the more casual user might stop there, another level of control is available to the user interested in adding more artistic flair.

Mixer view with automation

Mixer view with automation.

The mixer section has the ability to alter the level, length, pitch and pan (balance between left and right) of each of the 9 drum sounds. If that wasn’t enough, the automation view allows each individual step to be changed. Once you enter the automation view, each step can altered with regards to the pitch, level and length (though not pan). Unfortunately, this only uses a small amount of the screen which can prove quite difficult to get the accuracy you might want.

You can also chop and change the sounds from different drum patches – meaning you can have a kick from a TR-808 but a snare from a TR-909.

I discovered another great little feature – if you tap and hold the ‘play’ button on each track, it will reverse the sound – perfect for a reverse cymbal effect.

It’s maybe a bit of a shame that you can only exchange like for like with the channels (e.g. swapping a cowbell for a cowbell) but you normally get all the sounds you want from one pattern.

The FX section combines 7 effects – Overdrive, Delay, Phase, Texturizer, Robotizer, Filter and Compressor – though a simple reverb does appear to be missing. The XY interface gives very simple intuitive control without the need for a comprehensive section and can be a lot of fun trying different effects with the patterns you create.

FX Section

FX section.

Putting the Pieces Together

The song section pieces together all the created patterns into a song. Up to 25 patterns can be created in each song and can be used in any order. To create a comprehensive song from scratch can take as little as half an hour – depending on the number of patterns and complexity of the song you’re putting together.

Song View

Song view.

Thanks to a recent update, you can now export the beats you’ve created. You can either export a single pattern or the entire song to either iTunes, email, or the iPad’s audio copy function for integrating with other apps. Using this section you can also add a bit of swing to the patterns you’ve created, control the MIDI input and even connect to other iOS devices.

Exporting screen

Exporting screen.


The DM1 is not the only drum machine available, and at $4.99 it’s probably not the cheapest either. It misses out on a few features like the ability to record samples yourself and heavy manipulation of the drum sounds that you’ll find in apps like the Korg iElectribe. If a simple way could be found to incorporate these features the app would be the better for it.

The DM1 drum machine manages to strike the balance of simplistic elegance whilst packing a feature-rich punch. Whilst the sound quality may not compare to that of a professional unit, the range of sounds and functionality available makes your money well spent.


A vintage drum machine application with advanced features giving the user the ability for a wide scope of creativity. Fantastically easy to use and doesn't seriously limit your creativity.