Picking out an electronic drum set is no easy decision. Whether you are an experienced drummer or a parent shopping for an electronic drum set for your child, you need to have all the best information before making a purchase.
Technology is rapidly changing how we interact with the world. For drumming, it’s no different. In the past twenty years, we have seen electronic drum sets morph from simple sample engines, to full-blown velocity sensitive, multi-layered, drum modules. It truly is incredible to imagine where we are headed.
- Best Electronic Drum Set Reviews – Our Top Picks
- Why Buy An Electronic Drum Set?
- What’s The Difference Between An Electronic Drum Kit and An Electronic Drum Pad?
- 1) Alesis Nitro – Best Electronic Drum Set Under $300
- Build Quality of the Alesis Nitro
- Using the Alesis Nitro In Practice
- Overall Sound of the Alesis Nitro
- 2) Alesis Forge – Best Electronic Drum Set Under $500
- Build Quality of the Alesis Forge – Cymbals Could Use a Major Overhaul
- Overall Sound of the Alesis Forge
- 3) Roland TD-11KV-S – Best Electronic Drum Set For Adults
- Build Quality of the Roland TD-11KV-S – Dual Zone Drum Pads!
- Overall Sound of the Roland TD-11KV-S
- Things To Consider When Buying an Electronic Drum Set
Best Electronic Drum Set Reviews – Our Top Picks
These electronic drum kits are our best picks for 2018, ranging from cheap to very expensive. Each manufacturer has different strengths and weaknesses with their products. It’s up to you to decide which one of these e-drum kits suits your current needs.
Why Buy An Electronic Drum Set?
Electronic Drum Sets Offer Great Noise Reduction
The most obvious and practical reason for purchasing an electronic drum kit is to lower the noise your drums make when practicing.
Electronic drum sets are perfect for drummers who live in apartments or need to practice in a quieter environment.
Drum Sample Possibilities Are Endless
In addition to the volume reduction, e drums can also unleash a ton of creativity when writing music, drum parts, and producing music.
You aren’t just limited to traditional acoustic drum sounds. You have the ability to choose from acoustic drum sounds, electronic drum kits, and even synthesized samples.
More and more recording studios and producers are using “programmed drums” on modern records via MIDI. With an electronic drum set, you can produce drums for recorded music very easily without ever having to record a real drum set.
You can use the built-in drum samples your module provides or use a plugin software like Addictive Drums. If you have no idea what any of this paragraph means, don’t worry. Just read on for the reviews.
What’s The Difference Between An Electronic Drum Kit and An Electronic Drum Pad?
Electronic drum sets are designed to simulate acoustic drum sets. They usually have either rubber or mesh pads that you play on with an electronic drum module mounted to the rack that gives the pads their sounds.
Electronic drum sets are different than electronic drum pads, such as the Roland SPD-SX. Sample pads are more intended to provide an acoustic drum set with occasional electronic sounds and samples. I wrote a review recently on the best electronic drum pad, which you can read here.
Rubber Pads VS Mesh Pads on an Electronic Drum Set
If you buy a kit with mesh pads, you will enjoy your drum set far more. Mesh pads on an electronic drum set do feel more realistic, but will hurt your wallet much more. The difference in price between a rubber pad kit and and a mesh pad kit can be upwards of a thousand dollars.
My First Experience Purchasing An Electronic Drum Kit
When I first began looking for my first electronic drum kit, I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of choices available.
I could buy a budget-friendly e-drum kit, and have limited options, or I could have gone full-blown and purchase the top of the line electronic drum set.
In this buyer’s guide I will tell you which kit is best for beginner players, noise reduction, practicing, for live performance, and for recording.
I will also break them down into different price categories to give you an idea, for example, the best electronic drum set under $1000.
Local Stores Don’t Have Many Electronic Drum Sets Anymore
Visiting my local music shop provided me lots of trials and testing, but even a brick and mortar store doesn’t always have the best options anymore. Local “chain” music stores like Guitar Center are failing. In fact, just last year Moody’s downgraded Guitar Center’s credit rating from CCC+ to CCC- due to $940 million in debt.
With this bad news, hopefully Guitar Center can turn themselves around, hire more competent and friendly workers, and do a better job serving the music industry at large. I do like their stores and frequent them often when at home and on tour. I don’t mean to completely rag on them.
Buying An E Drum Set Online is the Way to Go
While it is nice to actually play on the kit you’re going to buy, sometimes you won’t be able to try it before you buy it. I find that you can actually find a better deal online most of the time.
If you don’t like what you buy, retailers like Amazon offer a simple way to return items.
1) Alesis Nitro – Best Electronic Drum Set Under $300
- Dynamic, comfortable pads for great feel and natural response
- 8" high quality rubber drum pads (dual-zone snare, three single-zone toms)
- Kick pad tower with bass drum pedal included
- 10" cymbals: ride cymbal, hi-hat, crash w/choke
- 4-post aluminum rack-super solid for stability and flexibility
Alesis has produced an insane amount of awesome products for us as drummers. For starters, this is an e-drum set under $300. A quick glance at the Alesis Nitro reveals some amazing features and impressive specs.
It includes 385 sounds, 60 play-along songs, and a very simple drum module. To me, this e-drum kit is much better than the Alesis DM6 for beginners.
The Alesis Nitro electric drum kit is the best selling set on Amazon (over 1,000 models per month). It provides an amazing value at such an awesome low price. This kit is an 8-piece e-drum kit featuring tom pads, a dual-zone snare pad, cymbals (both chokable and non-chokable), a mounting rack, and a powerful drum module.
When setup, the Alesis Nitro takes up about 6’x4′ in a room. Don’t blame us, real drums take up space too!
Build Quality of the Alesis Nitro
To say that the Alesis Nitro is a brand new product would be a bold faced lie. By turning the drum module over to the back see, we can see this is reconfiguration of a DM7X. Alesis simply re-branded this product and it became the Nitro kit.
The “new” DM7X (aka Nitro) features an 8″ dual-zone snare pad, three single tom pads, dual-zone 10″ crash cymbal pad, two additional single cymbal pads, a hi-hat controller, and a drum rack with four posts. Included, as well, is the Alesis DMPAD kick pad, which features a strong steel housing, grounding spikes, and a single zone pad.
The e-drum kit comes bundled with its own kick pedal. It’s pretty poorly made, so I suggest upgrading this one piece of hardware to something like the DW3000 Kick Pedal for a better experience. You also get an assembly key as well as a set of drum sticks.
The Nitro’s drum module does have expansion features with two inputs in the back and buttons for each expanded pad on the front of the module.
Using the Alesis Nitro In Practice
The stick from the response is decent. It feels like a rubber practice pad when playing. You aren’t going to get the feeling of the Roland V-Drums, that’s for sure. However, even though the feel isn’t on par with a $4,000 e-drum kit, the Alesis Nitro still plays great!
Unfortunately, the snare drum pad is the only one that features a dual-zone. This is something we usually only see at the higher end of the spectrum.
A dual-zone pad allows for different sounds, whether on the rim, or the main pad. The other pads can only produce one sound at a time.
The Drum Module of the Alesis Nitro – No Custom Samples!
The drum module provided with the Alesis Nitro is very basic. Don’t expect world class sampling and FX.
Using the drum module, you can create you own drum kit setup with the available 385 sounds or just use a preset. The drum module is very intuitive and easy to learn your way around it.
If you own a laptop, you can use the USB MIDI connection to connect to your laptop or desktop computer. This is useful if you plan on recording your performance into a Digital Audio Workstation, such as Logic or Pro Tools.
From here, you can either use the included sounds from your Alesis Nitro, or you can use virtual instruments, such as EZ Drummer or Addictive Drums, to playback what you recorded. This is a great way to record band demos.
There is no way to load custom samples into the Alesis Nitro. For most beginner players, this should be a non issue.
With the Alesis Nitro being so affordable, it’s no wonder why it’s the top selling e-drum set on Amazon. This kit is perfect for a beginning young child or for an experienced drummer looking for a cheap way to practice on the quiet.
Overall Sound of the Alesis Nitro
Being that this an electronic drum kit that costs next to nothing, I didn’t expect the sound to blow me away. And it didn’t.
Unfortunately, the Nitro’s biggest issue for me is sound. This electronic drum kit sounds like early 90s MIDI drums; here’s an example.
Okay, maybe not that bad, but the Nitro sounds very rigid with no dynamics to my ears. This is pure speculation, but I believe that both the Nitro and the Forge do not have different samples for each velocity level.
For example, tapping the snare drum quietly should produce a different recorded sample than just a quieter version of a snare hit. This would allow for a greater dynamic range and would make the electronic kit sound more realistic.
Do you kind of get what I am hinting at? This could have been one way to keep the price tag down on these electronic drum kits. While this might not make a huge difference for “electronic-style” kits, acoustic drums with one velocity layer tend to sounds pretty bad.
Here’s a video demonstration of many of the included patches.
My conclusion: an excellent choice for beginners. If you’re buying this for your son or daughter, it will make a fantastic gift!
2) Alesis Forge – Best Electronic Drum Set Under $500
- Dynamic, comfortable rubber pads for great feel and natural response
- 11" dual-zone snare and three single-zone toms
- Kick pad tower with bass drum pedal included
- (3) 10" cymbals: ride cymbal, hi-hat, crash w/choke
- Forge Drum Module with 70 kits (50 factory + 20 user) and 600 sounds
Again, like the Alesis Nitro, the Alesis Forge suffers from the same sonic issues that kit did. While this might not be an issue for beginners, it surely was for me. Being a traditional player of acoustic drums, I’d like my electronic drum set to sound as real as possible.
Build Quality of the Alesis Forge – Cymbals Could Use a Major Overhaul
The Alesis Forge offers an 11″ dual-zone snare drum pad, three single-zone drum pads, three cymbals, two pedals, a bass drum pad, and a drum module.
Alesis has a unique electronic cymbal design, in that, the trigger area doesn’t include the entire circumference. A little bit more than half of the cymbal is playable. I’m not huge on this design.
Another unfortunate issue with the cymbal pads is the lack of a bell. There are two sensors on these pads, only offering the ability to play on the edge and the bow of the cymbal. You can, however, choke the cymbal if you grab the area marked with depressed dots.
The Hardware Frame – Alesis Forge
The metal frame on the Alesis Forge is much better than I’ve seen in the past. Other kits like the Yamaha DTX (at least the older models) featured an all plastic hardware stand, or had some aluminum and really poor plastic clamps and knobs.
Even though the kit is made from metal, it is very lightweight. You should be able to pick this kit off the ground with no issues if you’re young and able bodied.
The Drum Module of the Alesis Forge – Load Your Own Samples!
The drum module provided with the Forge kit strikes me immediately as much better than the Nitro.
For starters, you get 50 preset drum kits with over 600 sounds. In addition to a large sample library, you get 60 play-along tracks to practice your drumming to.
A nice feature that the Nitro does not offer is the ability to load your own samples. I have been screaming for this feature since day one! Finally, an electronic drum set that doesn’t require the combined use of a laptop while playing!
It’s as simple as using a USB stick to load custom .WAV sounds from whatever drum libraries you may already own.
Overall Sound of the Alesis Forge
Like I said previously, this kit is not very impressive to the ears. Once again, this electronic drum set might serve the needs of a beginner, but definitely won’t be used at a professional level for touring or recording in a studio.
My conclusion: another great beginner kit! I don’t see much benefit for choosing this one over the Nitro as a beginner, however.
3) Roland TD-11KV-S – Best Electronic Drum Set For Adults
- SuperNATURAL-enhanced sound engine with Behavior Modeling provides an expressive and natural drumming experience
- Diverse sound library covers a wide variety of musical genres for performance and practice
- Professionally recorded backing songs onboard, ideal for play-along practice and performance
- Practice features include Quick Record/Quick Play, plus a unique COACH function that helps players of all levels build drumming skills effectively
- Large LCD and icon-driven user interface for easy operation
Now that we have Alesis out of the way, let’s take a look at Roland. The TD-11KV-S is the first “professional” electronic drum kit we have seen thus far.
This electronic drum set is intended for intermediate and advanced players, as it has many more features that lower end e drum kits do not have. You’re going to notice a major improvement of the sound overall.
With the Roland TD-11KV-S, you get dual-zone mesh drum pads, V-cymbals, the TD-11 drum module, a kick pad, and a custom hardware stand made specifically for compact V-drums.
Build Quality of the Roland TD-11KV-S – Dual Zone Drum Pads!
At more than double the price of the Alesis Forge, the Roland immediately decimates the performance and build quality of the previous two kits.
Right of the bat, you get dual-zone mesh drum pads on both the snare and toms. Like mentioned earlier, dual-zone pads allow for rim clicks, rim shots, and customization of multiple sounds on any drum pad you desire.
The V-cymbals have three trigger points, allowing for playing on the bell, edge, and bow of each cymbal. While this is much nicer than the two previous kits, it’s still not that realistic. Zildjian is the first company to introduce a line of acoustic electric cymbals that feel much more accurate than traditional electronic cymbal pads.
The kick pad you get with this electronic drum set is big enough for using a double kick pedal.
The Hardware Frame – Roland TD-11KV-S – Not Good or Bad
The hardware frame on this e drum kit didn’t exactly impress us. It does look nice in all black, but didn’t seem to built much better than either of the Alesis drum kits.
The TD-11 Drum Sound Module – No Custom Samples!
While the shape is a little funny looking, the TD-11 does pack a lot of features into an affordable drum module. Included are 50 preset drum kits and 190 instruments with many built in effects.
You can easily switch through presets using the left and right arrows located on the bottom of the drum module. I found that these drum samples sounded much better than either Alesis drum modules and had a much greater dynamic control when playing.
The TD-11 Drum Module is SuperNATURAL Powered
This marketing slang is just a simple way to say that this drum module sounds and feels better than others available. I have to agree. This drum module takes a lot from its big brother, the TD-30, providing more precise and faster response when playing.
The Roland V-drum pads feel much nicer, though could be a little bit larger, like we see on the more expensive Roland V-drum models.
I/O on the TD-11 Drum Sound Module
On the side of the drum module, you can plug in headphones, output sounds left and right to a PA system or speaker, plug in an aux to play along with music, add an additional crash cymbal, and send MIDI data out of the unit.
The back of the TD-11 offers a USB connection for integration with your laptop or desktop as well as a USB memory input for playing back audio files. I don’t really see much use for the USB memory, as I just like to plug in my phone or tablet and just jam with Spotify.
Overall Sound of the Roland TD-11KV-S
At this price point, this is the best electronic drum set you can buy. It’s going to give you the most authentic sounding drum kits with the best feel.
Things To Consider When Buying an Electronic Drum Set
Buying an electronic drum kit is an investment. Some of these instruments are not cheap and require quire considerable thought and planning prior to purchasing. If you’re lost and don’t know which electronic drum set is right for you, ask yourself these questions.
Do You Need the Highest Quality Drum Samples When You Play?
If you answered no, I would suggest you stick with something a little more affordable, like the Alesis Forge. Sure, the kit won’t sound like the most amazing studio recording, but if you’re still having fun, it shouldn’t matter. If you aren’t putting out a recording for other people to listen to, then it really doesn’t matter.
Do You Need to Practice Drums Quietly?
Acoustic drums are very loud. If you rent an apartment or own a condo, there’s a good chance that having an acoustic drum set is almost impossible. Electronic drum sets drastically reduce the volume produced from practicing drums. If practicing is your only concern, I again suggest a lower range budget electronic kit like the Alesis Forge.
Do You Plan on Playing Live Gigs With Your Electronic Drum Set?
If you play music with a live band and want to switch to an electronic drum kit, I would steer clear of the Alesis Nitro or Forge. They aren’t bad kits, but for a live show, I would strive for a higher quality drum sound, both to satisfy me as a player and the audience.
The electronic drum set needs to be easily transportable. Some hardware designs are almost impossible to pack up and won’t last being shoved in the back of cars, trucks, and trailers. I suggest at least going for the Roland TD-11KV-S to play live shows.
Are You a Recording Engineer That Wants to Use an Electronic Drum Kit to Capture MIDI Data For Programmed Drums?
In this situation, any of the kits will do just fine. All the electronic drum kits listed here have MIDI output available, so you’ll be able to connect to your digital audio workstation fairly easily.
The drum sound module will not matter at all, as you should already have your own drum sample libraries. If you don’t, check out this article on our favorite drum sample library from Adam Getgood.
If budget is a concern, go with the Alesis Nitro.