Programmed Drums – MIDI vs Audio

By SourceAudio | Updated March 11, 2023

When you’re programming your drums (or percussive SFX) into your session, there is a choice to be made: whether to store that information in a MIDI track or an audio track. Each option has its own unique advantage, so read on for a comprehensive assessment of these two options.


In a software-driven world, MIDI might seem like the obvious choice—and for good reason given the multitude of utilities available when working with MIDI drum tracks.

The MIDI track’s piano roll makes deleting parts, changing the instrument of a given part, or doubling parts a sinch, and the timing of these MIDI sequences goes even deeper than what’s visible on the piano roll. When using MIDI drums, you can swing your tracks on a granular level. Add a little bit or a lot just by pushing a slider, something that would never be possible on an audio track.

LFOs application is another area where MIDI shines. The innumerable applications of oscillators to bring life to your drums ends up giving the starkly computational MIDI track the option to be exactly as human-sounding as you want.

But what about side-chaining? MIDI tracks have that too, as well as transposition. While not as obvious as the transposition knob seen on any audio clip’s utility panel, transposition of a MIDI track would be accomplished using automation.

Another handy MIDI feature is MIDI overdub which allows you to cycle through your track playing part of the drum loop, and then adding on additional hits as the looped section replays with recording still enabled. The obvious workaround for audio track enthusiasts would be to use multiple tracks, but MIDI overdub certainly simplifies this. Need to separate out certain instruments in your MIDI drum track? Select that part in the piano roll » right click » extract chain.


How could audio possibly compete with the ever-expanding feature set that MIDI tracks offer?

It doesn’t try to.

Audio tracks provide tools that are simpler, more accessible, and thus more practical for many compositions.

For instance, essential features like the fades at the beginning and end of the track clips are right three on the track lane—a far more convenient place than buried in the MIDI functionality. These sorts of little wins add up and make the simplicity of audio tracks very appealing, especially for sessions with tons of tracks.

In addition to being overly complex for the already overworked recording engineer, MIDI may also end up pushing your computer too hard. One technical variable where audio trumps MIDI is the amount CPU processing it uses. If it means the difference between a frequently crashing session or not, opting for audio could be the clear choice.

Both MIDI and audio tracks have their rightful place in the producer’s arsenal. Enjoy using both!

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