Hydrogen: best free drum machine ever

Hydrogen Advanced Drum Machine
Disclaimer - UPDATE 28/12/2022
This post is really old. Times change and techniques improve, if you’re afraid to waste you time reading outdated posts please close this tab. You’ve been warned 😉

As most of you already know, I really like the world of open source software and Linux. During last years things have changed for producers: you can find on the internet extremely powerful Linux multimedia distributions, focused and well packed for this particular purpose, to let people make music, for free. The existence of these distribution is the very confirmation that to make good music you don’t have to spend a lot of money in software licenses: open source web communities offers to the world the chance to do it almost for free.

From Drum Machines point of view I already talked about EZDrummer and Addictive Drums on this blog, they are awesome commercial products, top on the market. But did you know that you can find free alternatives to these ones? It’s the case of Hydrogen, a quite advanced drum machine created by Alessandro Cominu, developed primarly for Linux but available these days also for Mac OS and Windows.

Hydrogen has everything that a professional drum machine can give us to emulate “real” drums: multi-layer sounds support, velocity and timing “humanize” feature, embedded editor to edit your sounds and the chance to build a kit from scratch. Everything you need to start is a drum samples library. I’m not going in details on how to create a drumkit, you just have to know that you can find some great scripts on LinuxMusician forum that will help you to build an awesome drumkit in few minutes. The web is full of website that can give you drum samples even for free, I decided to do a test and I downloaded the Big Mono kit by Analogue Drums for free from their website. This is not an Heavy Metal kit for sure, but I think it’s quite good to make some “seventies” sounds and, why not, even for a more classic heavy metal sound of the ’80s, maybe for some old style thrash, it dependes on how much you like to tweak the kit.

Building a drum kit from your samples is quite easy. I just had to create a folder with a subfolder for each piece of the kit (so I created a subfolder named “Kick”, one named “Snare” and so on) and then simply run the script I found on LinuxMusician forum, like that (Linux OS):

./makekit folder_name

And here you are a complete kit in Hydrogen file format (.h2drumkit) ready to be imported and used on your projects. I found this kit really versatile, below you can find a small sample that I created on the fly to do some tests, I just tweaked some velocity hits and used the “humanize” feature on velocity and timing. The secret, as usual, is to focus on how a drummer actually plays drums, you have to think about movements and try to “mimic” the pattern you’re writing, just to understand how to manage dynamics on each hit (please note: go easy with those parts full of hits, drummers are human beings, and even if you find it strange, they have “just” two arms and two legs!).

What do you think about? As I said, this is not a “modern” Heavy Metal kit, but in my opinion is completely usable to jam something at home or to write some “old style rock” riffs 😉 during next weeks I’ll try to build a more “up to date” kit to do some good Heavy Metal and I’ll let you listen to what I reached, meanwhile let me know about you’re experince with Hydrogen.


  • Daniele Malavasi
    at 10 years ago

    Ciao! Innanzitutto tanto rispetto e stima per il tuo interesse verso l’opensource. 😉
    Uso Linux da una vita e non puoi capire che dolore tutte le volte usare windows, ma vabbè…alla fine usando un prodotto come Reaper rende la pillola un po’ meno amara!
    Anche io avevo tentato qualcosa in passato con l’opensource (Ardour), ma alla fine secondo me i tempi non sono ancora maturi. Il problema, secondo me, sono ancora i drivers per le schede audio e la ancora poca varietà  di software a disposizione.
    Tengo comunque sempre un occhio a Linux perchè in futuro chissà !
    In compenso poi ho provato Reaper con wine…funziona alla perfezione su Linux! Solo a 32 bit però! 🙁
    Carino Hydrogen, molto bello anche il sample che hai postato….sono rimasto colpito dalla qualità . Mi pare che però non funziona come vsti, o sbaglio?
    Per creare le tracce di batteria io sto usando DrumCore (Free) che ha dei suoni che mi piacciono molto e, detto tra noi, non ho voglia di spendere dei soldi per i vsti più blasonati dato che registro principalmente per me stesso!
    Recentemente mi sono imbattuto su Drum Lab della Native Instruments, l’hai mai provato? Secondo te può funzionare per creare tracce rock? Non credo che per l’heavy metal sia il massimo. Interessante però il prezzo 😉

    • Santo
      at 10 years ago

      Non conosco DrumLab ma gli darò un occhio in futuro! Non conoscevo neanche DrumCore ma sembra molto interessante! I tempi sono sempre più maturi per usare Linux per produrre audio a livello professionale, senza nulla da invidiare ad altri tipi di produzioni sotto Windows e Mac. E’ vero però che bisogna dedicare del tempo per avere un setup affidabile e che la compatibilità  delle schede audio in commercio non è sempre garantita. Però ammetto che mi ci diverto tantissimo e ne sono proprio soddisfatto! Ho quasi pronto un kit per Hydrogen per fare metal e hard rock, in futuro ne parlerò qui sul blog con qualche sample da ascoltare!


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Hi! I'm Santo Clemenzi.

Software engineer, music producer and bass player (From The Depth, Mindohm, Outerburst). Welcome to my blog! I (rarely) post about music production but sometimes I also rant about anything else.

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