Let’s face it:
Electronic drum pads are becoming more and more common in drummers’ setups, specifically the Roland SPD-SX.
Note from the editor —
Thanks for visiting Drumming Review. There are tons of websites that give recommendations on drumming gear. Many of them have articles that are outsourced to writers with the intent of selling you on every product they list in order to make a quick commission. In fact, many of these website owners don't even play the drums.
I hope you can take my recommendations (or our contributors) seriously, and just know, I'm giving my honest opinion and do my best to never mislead you into making a purchase. If you have any questions about drumming or gear, please don't hesitate to contact me.
Nick Cesarz — Drummer, Editor of Drumming Review
A drum sampling pad can offer a drummer a range of sounds that cannot be normally achieved with just a standard acoustic drum set.
Table of Contents
- The Best Electronic Drum Pads of 2019
- Alesis Sampling Pads
- Roland Sampling Pads
- Nord and Yamaha Sampling Pads
- MPC Pads
- What is an electronic drum pad?
- Percussion drum pads – For use with sticks
- Things to consider
- What is the purpose of using an electronic drum pad?
- How do you mount a sample pad?
- Add-ons for your sample pad
- Should you use a computer and DAW?
- Resources and additional samples
- Disadvantages of electronic sampling pads
- A brief history of the electronic drum
The Best Electronic Drum Pads of 2019
Disclaimer: Links in the table below and throughout the article are affiliated — some with Sweetwater and some with Amazon. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Many drum and percussion companies are creating higher and higher quality drum sampling pads each and every year.
Prices for these instruments range from inexpensive to very costly. We hope this list helps you decide on the perfect one for your setup.
When it comes to buying an electronic sample pad, the experience is a bit different than purchasing electronic drum kits.
An electronic percussion pad is essentially a tiny electronic drum set arranged in a portable fashion.
Most electronic sample pads consist of small rubber surfaces that can be programmed to play different sounds and triggers.
Alesis Sampling Pads
Alesis is a company most known for designing electronic musical instruments, MIDI controllers, digital audio processors, audio mixers, digital audio interfaces, recording equipment, drum machines, professional audio and electronic percussion products.
They opt for the best value, sometimes sacrificing quality, on most of their products.
However, with the new Strike MultiPad, those negative connotations may all but be a thing of the past.
New for December of 2018 is the Strike MultiPad, which is comparable to the Roland SPD-SX, featuring a similar look and number of pads.
I have to say I’m a bit blown away.
Alesis states right off the bat that this pad is designed around a drummer’s needs to sample, edit, loop, and perform on the fly.
- 7,000+ built-in samples
- 32GB of internal storage
- Ability to record samples from any source (phone, microphone, USB)
- Nine velocity
–sensitive pads with customizable RGB lights
- 4.3″ color display
- On-board looping software
The Ins and Outs
The I/O on the Strike MultiPad is fantastic. Alesis has done their homework; this is where they absolutely destroy Roland.
The Trigger In portion of the inputs features the option of five additional pads as well as a hi-hat input!
You could easily turn this thing into a small electronic drum kit!
Alesis has since released the Strike Multipad, which has far more options than the original.
We are looking at one of their more recent products: the Alesis Samplepad Pro. We have picked it as the Editor’s Choice.
This electronic drum pad used to compete with the Roland SPD-SX for features and usability, at half more than half the cost. But I think the new winner is the Strike MultiPad.
Overview of the pads and I/O – Alesis SamplePad Pro
The Alesis SamplePad Pro is a very attractive option for new drummers sporting the following features:
- 8 isolated and responsive rubber pads
- Blue LED illumination
- Two additional pad inputs, including both kick and hi-hat
- USB/MIDI to computer
- Five-pin MIDI input/output
- 3.5mm audio input
One of the biggest selling points on the SamplePad Pro is its ability to support both a kick drum and hi-hat pedal.
Both inputs can be set for either switch or variable operation.
Adding extra pads, a kick trigger, and a hi-hat controller can turn your SamplePad Pro into a small electronic drum set.
Many users of the Alesis SamplePad Pro are reporting dead pads after weeks of use! While we didn’t have this issue, it is worth noting!
What do you get out of the box?
The SamplePad Pro comes stocked with 10 kits with 200 sounds included, expandable by up to 32GB SD card. Alesis has made it easy to bring your own samples to the party.
By utilizing the Alesis SampleConverter Utility, you’ll be able to import any sound you wish to bring with you to your shows.
How is it that this is the only drum sample pad that supports sample playback from an SD card?! This is a killer feature!
Some drummers don’t need access to thousands of samples and lots of pads for playing electronic samples live.
You might only need a few pads pad to start playback from your backing tracks rig. That was my case entirely.
Similar to the Alesis SamplePad Pro, Alesis also makes a product that’s half the size and has half the pads.
The Alesis SamplePad 4 Compact is perfect if you only need a few pads for your style of music. Once picking up this smaller pad, I was able to decrease my footprint on stage and reduce setup time overall.
There are some issues with the SamplePad
Like I had mentioned earlier, it, unfortunately, has some problems. Things like dead pads, cross talk, and output problems seem to be an issue for many.
Cross talk is an issue where a pad that is not struck fires from another pad. Alesis has a dedicated article for dealing with the issue.
Some users are claiming that single pads on the unit are going dead after just weeks of use.
Others complain that the headphone output is not functional and the power switch doesn’t work.
In all of these cases, I can only hope that the QA department does their best to appease their consumer base.
For anyone with a problem, be sure to reach out to Alesis at their Support page.
Roland Sampling Pads
Roland is a Japanese manufacturer of electronic musical instruments. They are arguably the best and most notable when it comes to electronic musical instruments.
Whether it’s a MIDI keyboard, drum machine, or a percussion sampler, Roland is bound to have a great product.
Let’s take a look at the products offered from Roland.
No importing of custom sounds, but still functions great
This electronic drum pad was originally released in 1985 and it was revolutionary.
It has since been “reinvented” while still missing many in-demand features. By today’s standards, it just doesn’t hold up.
The SPD-30 has eight trigger pads and comes packed with hundreds of sounds and 50 drum kits. There are tons of percussion sound effects from all of the world, as well.
Overview of the I/O – The “monster” of pad inputs
The SPD-30 offers a ton of external inputs: kick, snare, hi-hat, ride, and does feature hi-hat control. That’s a plus in our book. You can make the smallest “big” electronic drum set out of this sample pad.
The biggest negative of the Roland SPD-30 is that lack of the ability to import custom sounds. Why spend upwards of $700 on a product, when you can get way more features from the SPD-SX or the Alesis SamplePad Pro?
Is there a way to still use custom sounds with the Octapad?
Yes! But, in order to achieve this, you will need a couple of things:
- Roland SPD-30 Octapad
- USB Cable / MIDI Cable
- Macbook or PC Laptop
- Digital Audio Workstation (Ableton, Cubase, Logic)
- Sample Libraries (EZ Drummer, Addictive Drums 2)
- Audio Interface
While it is possible, and this is what I do with my Roland SPD-SX and Alternate Mode malletKat, it’s much more of a headache if you want to just plug in and play. I have to plug all of that in at every gig I play.
The SPD-SX is the newest iteration of the SPD family.
I have owned both the SPD-S and the SPD-SX and I can tell you that this is my favorite electronic sample pad on the entire list.
Watch my full video review below:
Roland does offer a special edition model of the SPD-SX that has considerable amount of more memory (16GB), but it is more expensive.
A sample pad that boasts the best features
The Roland SPD-SX features nine customizable sample pads with LED indicators.
It’s the only instrument of its kind with a whopping 2GB of internal sample space, enabling approximately 360 minutes of mono samples.
The electronic sample pad offers two external dual-trigger inputs for additional pads. The SPD-SX also comes with over 900 drum and percussion sounds.
The instrument has an amazing feel. The velocity-sensitive rubber pads have excellent rebound and durability.
In my setup, I utilize the SPD-SX to its fullest; by connecting two Roland external pads as well as a malletKAT MIDI controller, there’s no limit to the number of sounds I can create live.
On the back, we have two USB ports: one for importing samples and one for connecting to your computer.
You can use your computer to import samples to the SPD-SX with Roland’s free downloadable software.
How does it compare to its predecessor, The SPD-S?
The SPD-S was notorious for extremely slow sample loading times.
Upon importing files from the flash card on the previous model, users would sometimes wait hours for their samples to load on to the SPD-S.
I can assure you, the sample load times on the SPD-SX are way better. Almost instantaneous!
Overview of the I/O – No hi-hat control
The Roland pad has DC In, MIDI In/Out, Audio In (so you can jam your favorite tunes with your SPD-SX!), Sub out, Foot SW input, Trig In 1/2 3/4, a master output, and a headphone input.
It’s very unfortunate that this sample pad doesn’t have hi-hat control! This is my biggest issue, as some trigger pedals do not work with it.
The SPD-SX is well worth your investment. I have had mine for three years and it is still in perfect working condition. I use mine in conjunction with my Alternate Mode malletKAT.
I currently am under-utilizing my SPD-SX. Since I use it with a computer, I do not use any of the included sounds, sampling features, or effects.
Is it a waste to do this?
Potentially, but Alesis did not offer the Sample Pad Pro when I bought mine. If they did, it was an earlier version of the product that didn’t have everything I needed.
Using Ableton Live with my SPD-SX
I use Ableton live to run backing tracks. Two pads on my SPD-SX control stop and start of playback. Two shoulder buttons on the top switch which song we currently are on.
While this does render my SPD-SX unplayable (If I assign sounds to it, I could potentially hit the stop playback trigger in the middle of a song), I do have two trigger pads that I use to play additional sounds on.
Maybe my setup is overkill, but I have found it to be the most reliable, and that is key. Except of course for this…
SPD-SX Motherboard Issues
Note: this is just my personal story of what happened to my SPD-SX. Your mileage may vary. I am in no way saying that all SPD-SX’s will have this issue.
I recall being on tour somewhere in the states, getting ready for soundcheck and plugging my electronics rig in.
Upon pressing the power button on my SPD-SX, I noticed…
No indicator lights, no big ‘Welcome’ message that I’m usually greeted with.
Our show was heavily reliant on my ability to cue up songs and various drum VST instruments to my laptop at side stage. There wasn’t really a way we could play without it.
Ha, it’s kind of funny how we make ourselves so dependent on technology these days.
Now imagine being in a setting where you have a bunch of fans coming to see you who all pre-paid for a ticket to a show that potentially may have to be cancelled because of a stupid drum pad.
I was freaked.
After soundcheck was finished, I toyed around with it and eventually was able to get the thing to turn on.
I have no idea what the exact issue with mine is or was, but for some reason, it doesn’t happen very often anymore.
Apparently, there is an issue with some of the SPD-SX models, and hopefully, the newer ones have no problems.
Some users of the SPD-SX have noted that after an extended period of time (months to years), the power button will cease to function.
This is most likely an issue with the motherboard and is fixable. This is not everyone’s experience, however.
*I have no way of actually knowing if this is indeed a motherboard issue, but that’s what I’ve seen suggested in online forums.
Roland, if you’d like to reach out to let me know what the issue is, I’m more than happy to update this post.
The SPD-SX is the go-to choice of touring drummers
Why do so many drummers use the SPD-SX? Availability.
Many touring and backline companies offer to rent the SPD-SX for fly dates, so you don’t always have to check your sample pad when paying for baggage.
If you’re unfamiliar, a backline company either rents you or supplies your band their gear for a certain show. This is handy when you don’t have time to drive to a gig and must fly out.
Roland makes it easy, as you can use a USB stick to save all your samples and load them onto another SPD-SX.
If you use a laptop with something like Ableton, it’s as simple as plugging in a USB cable to your freshly rented SPD-SX.
Want more information? Be sure to read our full review on the Roland SPD-SX.
By far the smallest contender on the list is the SPD-One.
Roland offers drummers a simple and affordable solution for adding percussion samples to live performances.
The SPD-One can be played with sticks, hands, and even your feet (making it perfect for guitar players who want to add a bit of percussion to their set).
One of the greatest features of the SPD-One is the ability to run the power off of a battery or an AC adapter. This is huge for those of us who hate clutter on stage!
The pad includes twenty-two pre-loaded sounds including samples from the legendary TR808 and TR909.
In addition to onboard sounds, you can also import your own samples via USB.
I don’t think the pre-loaded samples are bad, but they’re nothing extraordinary.
Nord and Yamaha Sampling Pads
Alesis and Roland are top dogs today when it comes to sampling pads. Let’s take a look at some of their competition.
Note: This is not a drum sampling pad. It is a drum synthesizer. We decided to include it in our post because it commonly is mistaken to be a product like the SPD-SX or Sample Pad Pro. There are no internal sound samples and you definitely are not able to load your own in.
Nord Keyboards is a Swedish instrument manufacturer. The company began in 1983 when founder Hans Nordelius created the Digital Percussion Plate 1.
Since then, Nord has made tons of great products used by many musicians all over the world.
Nord’s version of the electric drum pad is a little disappointing in our view. Like other Nord products, it has a clunky knob interface (just our opinion), with an old-school digital display that gives minimal information to the user.
I much prefer the design of the Alesis and Roland SPD-SX displays.
The Nord Drum 3P is not a drum sampler – It’s a synthesizer
Maybe this product doesn’t totally fit this post, but I wanted to include it since Nord is such a well-known brand.
The big thing to remember is that it is a percussion synthesizer. The unit is not a sampler. Therefore, all the sounds from the unit are made inside the unit using synthesis.
Is this a good or bad thing? It’s really up to you.
Modes of synthesis with the Drum 3P
There are four modes of synthesis: resonant synthesis, subtractive wave types, FM synthesis, and ring modulation synthesis. The Nord Drum 3P only has six pad channels, so you will be a little more limited on places to hit.
Analog is better, man – not really
If you want to join the know-it-alls at gearslutz.com debating analog vs. digital synthesis, I promise I won’t stop you.
What I will say is that this machine can make some pretty cool sounds. In the end, that’s all that matters. Not a bunch of technical circuitry.
Overview of the I/O – Nord Drum 3P
There’s a headphone output, main left/right output, a kick trigger in, MIDI in/out, and a 12V power input. It’s a little disappointing that there’s only one extra pad input for a kick trigger.
The Nord Drum 3P does not have USB capability
I know this isn’t a total deal breaker, but the Nord Drum 3P has no USB output. Yes, there is a MIDI input and output, but in order to use this product with a digital audio workstation (like Ableton), you’re going to need to buy a USB to MIDI adapter.
Yamaha is easily the biggest company on this list. They make everything from grand pianos, guitars, basses, acoustic drum sets, and even motorcycles.
Yamaha’s pad comes pre-loaded with tons of samples
The Yamaha DTX Multi Pad makes a case for competing with the SPD-SX and the Alesis SamplePad Pro.
It comes pre-loaded with 1,061 drum/percussion samples and 216 keyboard samples. This electronic drum pad also has a sequencer and preset loops.
The DTX offers the smallest sample storage space
If you want to add your own custom samples, you have 64MB of internal memory. This is where the Yamaha needs improvement.
The Alesis and the Roland SPD-SX both can handle way more internal samples.
Overview of the I/O – 5 trigger inputs for more fun
On the back of the unit, we have a standard 12V input, MIDI in/out, a Foot SW input and high hat control, 5 extra pad inputs, a mono aux-in, master out, and a headphone input.
A bummer that the aux-in isn’t stereo.
MPC Pads, or MIDI controller pads, are very common in a music production setup. These pads are played with your hands, not sticks.
They aid in the writing and recording process of a song when adding grooves, typically in hip-hop and pop productions.
The Maschine MK3 is a beat machine, groove box, and sampling pad all in one.
It essentially is a hardware controller that works in conjunction with software on a Mac or PC computer. You can both create music in the studio and perform it live using the same piece of gear.
Native Instruments has been in the game for quite some time, creating awesome software and hardware instruments, most notably, their flagship sample pack Komplete.
As the name implies, the MK3 is the third generation of Maschine and offers the most improvements over previous products.
New Features of the MK3
Here’s some of the quick highlights. We’ll go into more details below.
- 2 LED Color Screens; high resolution
- Addition of an audio interface
- Bus powered
- Better pads
- Touch sensitive knobs
- “Snapshot” Locks
The biggest and most notable improvement of the MK3 is the addition of two, big color LED screens.
They are on par with the Maschine Studio and were not nearly as useful in the previous generation.
The functionality of these two screens is daunting, due to their high resolution.
Maschine’s goal is clear: to get your eyes off the computer screen and make the magic happen on the instrument itself.
You rarely need to touch your computer while using the MK3.
Clip position, metering, sample browsing, and much more are available to see right on your controller.
Using the knobs is very intuitive and won’t take you long to get familiar with the panels.
The second major improvement of the MK3 is that it is an audio interface. This could be your all-in-one solution for recording and production.
You get two line inputs, a mic input, a L R line out, and a headphone jack with its own volume control.
If you’re curious about MIDI, Native Instruments has it covered there, as well, with a MIDI in and out on the back.
One other amazing feature I’ll mention is the “snapshot” lock functionality.
Say you’re working on a track and want to keep the current parameters set while experimenting with new filters, EQs and other effects.
Pressing the lock button allows you to turn knobs like mad, experimenting with sounds while saving the settings you had before you pressed lock.
Upon pressing lock again, your settings will revert to how you had them prior.
Akai’s Professional MPC X is a standalone MPC drum controller boasting a 10.1″ multi-touch display.
It’s really your choice whether or not to use a computer when being creative in the studio. 2 USB-A 3.0 slots are available for additional MIDI controllers or thumb drives.
Features of the MPC X Standalone
- 10.1″ Multi-touch display
- Standalone MIDI drum controller and production center
- Audio interface with lots of I/O
- 16GB on-board storage
- User-expandable storage via 2.5″ SATA drive connector
- Pre-installed with 10GB of samples
Just as with the Native Instruments pad, the MPC X also includes an audio interface with more ins and outs.
For starters, you get two mic inputs, that double as instrument inputs, and two line ins. You also get eight separate line outputs for sending signals to different places.
In addition to the two USB 3.0 inputs, you can connect two more MIDI controllers via 5-pin MIDI.
The standalone music production center has a very sleek design. Boasting 16GB onboard storage and a user expandable drive connector (SSD or HDD), you have the peace of mind knowing you’ll never run out of recording space (or at least shouldn’t).
The Akai MPC X comes preinstalled with 10GB of awesome samples from the get-go.
Notable sound design companies such as Capsun Audio, MVP Loops, and CR2 Records are included in the library pack known as The Vault 2.0.
What is an electronic drum pad?
An electronic drum or sample pad is a percussion instrument that triggers samples or synthesizes sounds.
Originally called tabletop electronic drums, these instruments are either one of two variants: the kind you strike with a stick (percussion pads), or the kind you tap with your fingers (MIDI pad controllers).
We will be touching on both types of instruments.
Electronic percussion pads serve many purposes when using them in a live setting: firing off one-shot samples, synthesizing drum sounds, playing looped phrases, and full playback for backing tracks.
Upon hitting or striking a pad, a trigger signal is sent to an envelope generator (ADSR), with the appropriate attack, decay, sustain, and release.
I recently wrote an extremely detailed guide (3+ years of experience in creating this system) to set up your own playback system for using backing tracks. Check it out if you’re interested.
Most drum pads these days can sense velocity input and will play different volumes or samples accordingly. You can be much more dynamic and musical when you play.
Modern drum pads generally use what’s known as a MIDI interface to play sounds. The trigger function sends a note on message and plays back the sample.
If all of that makes zero sense to you, do not worry, as this information isn’t too important to know as a beginner. Let’s check out the two different variants.
Percussion drum pads – For use with sticks
Not to be confused with a practice pad, this variant of drum pad generally has multiple numbers of strike-able pads and can have different preset kits that offer different sounds.
Percussion pads are very popular with touring drummers who still play an acoustic drum set.
Adding one of these to a setup allows players to have additional samples and sounds in a live performance.
Drummers who use sampling technology in their setups include Josh Dun, Neil Peart, and Tim Alexander.
MIDI pad controllers – For use with fingers and hands
These types of drum pads are extremely common in recording studios and production setups.
While many players do use them live, they are typically used in hip-hop and pop production.
MPC pads connect via USB to a computer, giving the producer a simple way to get MIDI information (in the form of beats and grooves) into their digital audio workstation of choice.
Things to consider
If you’re interested in purchasing an electronic sample pad, you must take a look at your specific needs as a player.
Some instruments offer more features at a more expensive price point.
Think of your needs as a drummer
Some players might have a need for just one sample during a live show, while others may want to play an entire show with only the electronic drum pad.
These benefits will help you in understanding which drum sample pad is right for you.
For the occasional sample user, consider purchasing a smaller instrument like the Alesis SamplePad 4 or the Roland SPD-One.
These electric sample pads offer the same functionality of a larger sample pad without the high price and larger size footprint.
Remember, the more things you add into your setup, the longer it’s going to take to set up.
If you rarely gig, make a kit as a large as you want! The more you play gigs and tour, the more you’ll realize that going simple is always better.
Unless you have a team of people setting up your drums every night, you’re not going to want to spend a lot of time setting up at a show.
These products can be used along-side various products in their family, so upgrading from this is never a problem.
If this is your first electric sample pad, you can always add more to your setup without fear of wasting your hard-earned money.
A few of the products listed here do not have the functionality of custom user samples.
If you have a need to bring your own samples from the studio, you will need to pick either the SPD-SX, the SamplePad Pro, or the DTX Multi Pad.
It’s unfortunate that the SPD-30 still cannot load custom samples after all these years.
If you love synthesizers and synthesis, the Nord Drum 3P is the instrument for you.
It features so many cool sounds that can be completely manipulated inside the unit.
While it might not be my favorite electronic drum pad, it may very well be yours.
What is the purpose of using an electronic drum pad?
Most drummers and percussionists we see use drum pads for a few reasons:
- Using a drum pad is cheaper and much simpler than buying and setting up an electronic drum set every night
- Drum pads allow drummers to still play a majority acoustic drum set with an added few electronic samples
- Drum pads are cheaper than hiring an extra percussionist to play additional parts and instruments
- Depending on the setup, sample pads can provide backing tracks and click tracks for playback of a show (backing tracks)
- Allows drummers the freedom in the studio to experiment with electronic sounds and samples, without having to worry about the ability to recreate it live
What kind of electronic drum pads should you avoid?
Just like every product on the market, there’s going to be some cheap entry-level ones you should not waste time with.
While the lower price-point might seem more attractive, these types of drum pads are essentially toys and are not utilized by any serious drummers.
There are many electric drum pads available that have this exact design. Don’t waste your time or money on these.
They generally have poor strike detection, small pads, and terrible sounds. I would only suggest one of these as a gift for a small child.
How do you mount a sample pad?
Hardware stands generally do not come with any of the sample pads we’ve listed. You’ll need to get one separately.
I still to this day do not actually own a “legit” stand. I made my own out of things I already had.
You find an old hardware stand laying around and rig it up to your drum pad with a multi-clamp.
Another way to mount your multi-pad is to put it in an old snare stand. While this might not look the coolest, it will get the job done.
If you want to get really creative with it, you could mount your sample pad over your bass drum as WorshipDrummer.com instructs on their website.
Add-ons for your sample pad
Having all your sounds and samples located in one location on your drum pad is great, but what if you want to have a trigger on the other side of your kit?
Adding extra trigger pads is relatively easy and only requires an instrument cable.
Depending on which product you own, you may need to get an additional adapter to add more pads.
Roland’s SPD-SX, for example, has both the trigger inputs essentially in stereo.
They are labeled trigger in 1/2 and 3/4. In order to run more than two pads, I have to get a splitter cable.
The Roland BT1ROLAND Bar Trigger Pad (Amazon) connects to your one of your trigger inputs located on the back of your instrument.
It connects with an instrument cable and can be mounted wherever you like on your kit.
The playing surface is a little different from a traditional pad and these types of bar pads don’t really provide much dynamic sensitivity.
The advantage is that you can stick this thing wherever you like on the kit and it can fit into some tight spots, where a regular pad won’t.
In theory, Roland’s product should work with any of the products we have listed here.
If you’d opt more for a traditional style drum pad, the PDX-8 is a solid choice. I use two of these live, one on my left under my hi hat and one to the right of my floor tom.
I find that, while these pads are larger, I still can get them into places that work. The sound engineer can get mad from time to time, but it’s his or her job to work around it, right?
Should you use a computer and DAW?
More and more drummers these days are forgetting about the internal sounds and using their sample pads as MIDI controllers with computers and digital audio workstations.
Why do you ask?
Using a drum pad with a program like Ableton Live is far more powerful for effects, control, and automation.
Here are some of the benefits of using a computer with a DAW:
- Automated patch changes
- More customization of effects like pitch, reverb, delay, and compression
- Backing track control + sampling
- Ability to use backline sample pads at festivals and fly dates
- Routing different samples to different buses
Using a computer will require a digital audio workstation and potentially an audio interface
You’ll have to pick whichever digital audio workstation you like: Ableton Live, Mainstage, Cubase, Logic, etc…
We recently wrote an article detailing each digital audio workstation, which I suggest reading if you’re new to audio.
In this scenario, your drum pad will still act as the audio interface, with the outputs still functioning as normal.
If you’re looking to include backing tracks alongside your drum samples, you’ll need to get an audio interface, as you will most likely need more outputs for backing tracks and a click.
The MOTU 828 MK3 is a favorite of mine, due to its reliable nature, but any audio interface will work just fine.
Ableton Live is my go-to DAW for live performances
One of the reasons I use my SPD-SX with Ableton Live is for backing track control and automated patch changes.
I use two pads on my Roland pad to start and stop playback.
In addition, I have two Roland PDX-8 pads to my right and left, and a malletKat from Alternate Mode.
All of these pads talk to each other via MIDI. All the MIDI data is then sent out of the SPD-SX and to Ableton Live.
Because Ableton is running backing tracks, I am able to automate my patch changes in the middle of a track.
For example, on one song, the pre-chorus patch automatically switches from a bass drum sample to a vibraphone sample for my malletKat.
Ableton makes everything easier and the technology is so powerful.
This method may not apply to you, but for me, I am doing a lot while I play and having one less thing to do during a song always helps out.
If you decide to use a computer, you’ll have to account for latency with the buffer rate. You’ll want to keep this setting below 512, otherwise, you may feel a noticeable delay when playing.
Resources and additional samples
If you’re not satisfied with the sounds that come with your pad, depending on which one you buy, you can add additional sounds to your drum pad.
Here are some great resources I have used to find new samples. There’s only a few listed here, so be sure to check my article on free drum kits in a separate tab.
Splice – Marketplace for sounds made by a community of over one million musicians. Subscriptions to Splice are $7.99 per month.
1,000 Free Drum Samples – MusicRadar has a download of 1,000 free drum samples on their website that originally appeared on Computer Magazine’s cover DVD.
99Sounds Free Sample Pack – 99Sounds has a free pack of drum samples that were meticulously engineered with internal and external audio hardware.
There are drum machine and acoustic samples that were ran through a tape machine, adding more grit and dirt to the sounds.
Cymatics 100k Pack – After reaching 100k followers on SoundCloud, Cymatics released a sample pack that has tons of synth presets, and 75 samples, loops, and MIDI files.
If you’re looking for more traditional and realistic sounds, check out my roundup of the best acoustic drum samples of 2019.
Disadvantages of electronic sampling pads
Just as is with anything, these types of instruments come with many side effects. Nothing in the world of music is perfect, nor will it ever be.
The feel of the pads – This one should be obvious. The feel and rebound you’re going to get from the pads are not at all realistic and, in some ways, can actually mess with your playing.
Getting used to playing on practice pads, for example, will give you a false sense of rebound. Upon returning to real drums, you’ll find it almost is harder to play than it was on the pad.
Cable nightmares – If you’re not careful, you can end up with a big mess of cables that can be infuriating.
Be sure to be neat, else you’ll have a big tangled mess when you want to pack up.
The requirement of a PA at live shows – Depending on how big of shows you play, you’ll absolutely need an amp or PA to use any of the equipment on the list.
You want the audience to hear you play, right?
Some technical knowledge may be needed – If you want to use custom samples, you might need a little bit of expertise when it comes to creating samples, chopping them, and ultimately importing them into your drum pad.
Understanding how MIDI works can also be daunting.
A brief history of the electronic drum
In 1964 at the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), a Japanese company named AceTone introduced the first fully-transistorized, non-automatic electronic drum instrument.
There were no preset patterns, but each button on the instrument, when pressed, played a different percussion hit.
The product was called the R-1 and its inventor, Ikutaru Kakehasi, would eventually go on to found Roland Corporation.
The product was completely useless at the time, since organists wanted some sort of accompaniment when playing, but paved the way for many products to come including the FR-1, TR-77, Rhythm 330, Dr. Rhythm, and the TR-808 we all know and love.
The electronic drum pad that stood out to us was the Roland SPD-SX (Sweetwater).
Thanks to the incredible ability to import custom samples, excellent durability, external trigger inputs, a stereo auxiliary input, and overall great feel, choosing the Roland SPD-SX as our favorite wasn’t a difficult decision.
In case you feel like we left out an electronic drum pad you love using, feel free to leave a comment down below.