Picking out an electronic drum kit is no easy decision. Whether you are an experienced drummer or a parent shopping 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 these types of kits 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 kit – Our best 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.

Alesis Nitro – A cheap option under $300

Alesis Nitro Mesh PictureAlesis 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 set up, 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

Alesis Nitro Mesh Pad

The build quality overall is great. Here’s the underside of one of the pads.

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 a 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 drumsticks.

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.

Dual Zone Electronic Drum Pad

Pictured is a Roland dual-zone pad. You can see how there are different “zones” where different samples can be triggered.

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 Alesis Nitro is the best option under $300.

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 your 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 sound 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!

Alesis Surge Mesh – Best option under $500

Alesis Surge MeshAgain, like the Alesis Nitro, the Alesis Surge Mesh 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 e drums to sound as real as possible.

The Alesis Surge Mesh module includes 600 instruments including snares, world percussion, electronics, effects, and unlike the Alesis Nitro, you can import your own custom sounds to this drum module.

Build quality of the Surge Mesh – Cymbals could use a major overhaul

Surge Mesh Kick PadThe Surge Mesh offers an 11″ dual-zone snare drum padthree 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 Surge Mesh

The metal frame on the Alesis Surge Mesh 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 of 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 Surge Mesh – Load your own samples!

The drum module provided with the Surge 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 kit 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 Surge Mesh

Like I said previously, this kit is not very impressive to the ears. This 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 in choosing this one over the Nitro as a beginner, however.

Roland TD-11KV-S – Best choice for adults

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 kit 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 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 be 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 kit you can buy. It’s going to give you the most authentic sounding drum kits with the best feel.

While other sets like the Yamaha DTX and the Roland TD-30 will be the ultimate electronic experience, this e drum kit won’t let you down in a live or studio setting.

What Makes the Best Electronic Drum Kit?

An electronic drum kit should be compared to an acoustic kit like a grand piano is to a MIDI controller. They have similar functions and use, but feel is completely different. There are three primary reasons for buying an e drum kit: practicing, performing live, and recording.

Now we’ve covered a lot of ground talking about different kits offered. You may still be unsure as to which features you need and which you don’t. We’re all in agreement that saving money is a good thing, right?

What Comes With Most Kits?

It’s important to know exactly what you’re getting when you make your purchase, as I’m sure you’ll want to be setting this thing up and playing on day one, right?

I still have yet to see any kit that sells the mounting hardware, rack system, or the drum pads separately. That being said, there are a couple of additional purchases you will likely have to make. Most kits do not include the bass drum pedal, drum throne, sticks, or even headphones.

If you don’t have a set of headphones / in-ear monitors, you’ll need to buy an amplifier to actually hear the sounds made from your kit. Personally, I use in-ear monitors since I am trying to keep the noise down, but it’s really up to your preference.

Often times when buying from Amazon, you can check down underneath the product listing to see if the manufacturer or supplier sells a bundle deal with commonly purchased products. This is a great way to save a ton of money on a new product instead of buying used.

Determining Your Needs

I would like to make it abundantly clear that I don’t believe you need the most expensive kit available.

In fact, you can purchase the cheapest option, the Alesis Nitro, and be just fine if your needs are practicing and recording. If you plan to play performances out in public, this may not be the best option. Practicing quietly is no problem and recording with MIDI is very easy now that we have USB connections.

For the vast majority of drummers just looking to practice, it is just fine. I say this because in all my time touring and playing, I have yet to encounter a drummer who exclusively plays an electronic drum set on stage at a professional level. Sorry if I just called you out!

Practicing 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. These types of drums drastically reduce the volume produced by practicing drums. If practicing is your only concern, I again suggest a lower range budget electronic kit like the Alesis Forge.

The most obvious and practical reason for purchasing an electronic drum kit is to lower the noise your drums make when practicing. While the noise of the pads is still audible while playing, the sound will be dramatically lower in volume when compared to a real drum set.

This really isn’t an end all be all solution. In fact, when I lived in an apartment in college, I had a neighbor who could actually hear the sound of the pads being played on my electronic drum kit. She came over and told me to knock it off and only practice at a certain time during the day. This is something you may have to deal with, as certain walls in buildings can be thin.

Recording an Electronic Drum Kit

E drums can unleash a ton of creativity when writing music, drum parts, and producing music.

So how do you record one of these kits, anyway? It’s more simple than you may actually think. There’s a couple of ways to do it.

  • Directly into the drum module – Depending on which kit you own, your drum module may allow you to record to a USB stick or right to its memory. While this may seem like the easiest way, it will ultimately get you the worst quality when recording, as you won’t be able to go back and mix individual instruments later on. You’re stuck with what you get from the start.
  • Stereo line out to an audio interface – This is basically the same technique as described above and will likely yield the same results. This option is for you if your module doesn’t have a recording function built it. I advise staying away from this method as well.
  • USB MIDI to your computer – This is the best way to record an electronic drum kit and by far the easiest. The only prerequisite is having a computer with a digital audio workstation, like Ableton, Pro Tools, Cubase, or Logic. Most modules have a USB output on the back, allowing you to connect to your computer easily. In addition, most DAWs come included with drum samples and instruments. While I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of MIDI recording, it’s very powerful and can generate great results with a low budget. While you can use your own drum sounds from your module, I guarantee if you use a professional sample library with MIDI, you’ll achieve way better results than any drum module on the market (even the TD-50).

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.

Capturing MIDI data for recording drums?

MIDI? Digital audio workstations? What does it all mean?

Now just above we were talking about the ways to record your kit. The third point I made was about using the USB MIDI output to send recorded data to your computer. While it may seem the most complicated, it’s fairly simple once you get the hang of it.

MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, and while the acronym and full name don’t necessarily matter, the technology behind it does. We’ve been using this technology since the 80s, and for a good reason.

Your drum module that comes with your kit will have one or both of the ports shown in the graphic below. We will be using these ports to get to your computer.


Both traditional 5-pin MIDI ports and USB 2.0 will both transfer the same type of data. The only difference being that USB can offer bus-power.

If your kit has the 5-pin MIDI port and no USB, you will need to get a MIDI to USB adapter. They’re fairly cheap and get the job done at the expense of one extra cable. It’s well worth it to go this route rather than buying a whole new drum module that has USB.

If you see a USB type B port (the more square-looking one), all you need to get is a standard USB cable (If one didn’t ship with your kit, I’ve used ones that have come with printers before that I had laying around the house).

Upon loading up a digital audio workstation, like Logic, you’ll find that most computers that utilize this technology today are Plug and Play. You shouldn’t have to install any additional drivers and you should be good to go with recording right away.

MIDI devices play well with each other. If you plan to utilize, for example, a Roland SPD-SX, a TD-30 drum module, and a MIDI keyboard, you can connect them all together and hit the computer with only one USB cable. Your digital audio workstation will be able to see these instruments all on different MIDI channels depending on how they are configured at the hardware level.

Choosing A Kit For Recording Specifically

The Surge Mesh is one of the latest kits from Alesis. It’s a perfect contender for recording MIDI drums.

When it comes to choosing a kit to record with this setup, any will do just fine. All the electronic drum kits listed here have a MIDI output available, so you’ll be able to connect to your digital audio workstation fairly easily.

Once the MIDI is into the computer, it’s likely to be edited further, so there’s really no point in spending a fortune if all your using is MIDI data.

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 Surge Mesh.

More and more recording studios and producers are using “programmed drums” on modern records via MIDI, as we were speaking above. With an electronic drum kit, you can produce drums for recorded music very easily without ever having to record a real drum set.

While I am usually completely against this practice, using programmed drums is an excellent tool for writing music without a drummer. They are perfect for capturing MIDI, rather than writing it in with a mouse on a piano roll.

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, it won’t apply unless you are recording and producing music.

Drum Pads VS Electronic Drum Kits

Electronic drums 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 kits are different than electronic drum pads, such as the Roland SPD-SX. Also known as sample pads, they are more intended to provide an acoustic drum set with occasional electronic sounds and samples. They are useful for drummers who use a click and backing tracks when playing live. I wrote a review recently on the best electronic drum pad, which you can read here.

Rubber Pads VS Mesh Pads

If you buy a kit with mesh pads, you will enjoy your drum set far more. Mesh pads do feel more realistic but will hurt your wallet much more. The difference in price between a rubber pad kit and a mesh pad kit can be upwards of a thousand dollars.

That being said, these types of heads can also give you a false sense of rebound. Upon returning to a regular acoustic set, you may not be used to the way real drum heads respond.

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 number of choices available. I finally settled on a Yamaha DTX kit, which is old by today’s standards. Honestly, the thing sucked and it was impossible to assemble and disassemble.

Despite its poor quality and features, I was able to have a lot of fun with it and get some great practicing in. The drum module had an auxiliary input on the back, so I was able to connect my iPod to it and play along with my favorite tunes. That’s why I think the quality of your kit isn’t necessarily that important.

The more important thing is that you play the thing. They are more intended for practicing if you ask me.

Local stores don’t have many options anymore

Visiting my local music shop provided me with lots of trials and testing, but even a brick and mortar store doesn’t always have the best options anymore. You can try your best if you wanna try some options out before buying, but I’m afraid you won’t find much to play around on.

In fact, I visited my local Guitar Center the other week to ask about the brand new product from Pearl, the malletSTATION. The guy working being the desk had no idea what the product even was and didn’t really care to investigate whether they would have a display model in the future.

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. I’ve had great experiences outside of my hometown.

Buying 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.

While I can’t recommend that you do this, many retailers offer wonderful financing options on expensive items, like musical instruments. I’ve gotten 0% interest for 48 months before. This is one way to make that expensive piece of gear more affordable.

If you don’t like what you buy, retailers like Amazon offer a simple way to return items.

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 kit is right for you, ask yourself these questions.

Are you concerned with having the best sounding drums?

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.

Even if you are recording your drum kit, I doubt you would want to use stock sounds from even a high-end Roland kit. Anyone who uses MIDI drums on an actual recording is going to use a sample library, from the likes of That Sound or GetGood Drums.

Do you plan on playing live gigs?

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 kit 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.

As a reminder, these are expensive instruments. If you plan on playing gigs or touring, be sure to take good care of your instrument. Find a way to keep the cables in order. Get yourself some cases (hard are best) and come up with a system for assembling the kit every night in record time.

Pro Tip: If your drum pad cables do not come as a sub-snake (one cable with a connector on the ends), you may want to consider making what’s known as a ‘loom.’ Looms are hand-made “snakes” that keep your cables that reach the same destination together. You can use electrical tape or gaff tape to make your looms.

Where to Buy a Used Electronic Drum Kit?

Buying used is a great way to get into playing without having to fork out your entire paycheck. I love buying used gear, but you must be careful. As with anything used, you’ll need to be aware of the potential problems a used instrument will have. For example, the MIDI output may be broken, the instrument may not power on, the USB jack is faulty, etc…

Many sellers on platforms like Ebay will not honor returns, so it’s wise to avoid these types of sellers. Here are some great places to find used gear.

  • Ebay – This is the most obvious marketplace for used products, but it needs to be mentioned. You’ll generally have the most success here as tons of items are listed daily. Be sure to watch out for sellers who do not offer a return policy. While they can be reported to Ebay for malpractice, it’s not something you want to be dealing with and no one wants to be scammed.
  • Amazon – Not surprisingly, Amazon does have a used marketplace. It can be tricky to find, however. When you’re on a product listing page, if you look near the bottom, you should see “Used from $x.xx.” Since I haven’t purchased much on Amazon that is used, I cannot speak for the level of quality control here. However, if it’s like anything else Amazon, it’s fantastic.
  • Music Go Round – If you live in the United States, there may be a chance that you live near a Music Go Round. They are a chain of retailers that deal exclusively with used musical instruments. I have two locations within an hour and a half of my house. I tend to find tons of great deals on used equipment and the best caveat is being able to try before you buy. They also offer a nice return policy on used equipment, which is a plus in my book. If you don’t live close to one, be sure to check their online inventory, as they do offer shipping.
  • Reverb – Another competitor for the used market is Reverb. I think they offer more professional listings, dealing with more vintage gear and expensive items that are more suited to pros. There’s definitely a great selection here and is worth your time to check out.

Are you a drummer looking to add a few electronic samples to your acoustic kit?

I wouldn’t even consider buying an electronic drum kit in this scenario. What you need is an electronic drum pad. You can mount one of these units next to your kit and play electronic drums only when called for. These instruments also contain MIDI outputs, so if recording was your plan, you can get away with it on these, as well (though, not as intuitively).

Do you have an electronic drum kit? Which one do you use? If you have any questions or concerns, be sure to leave a comment down below. Thanks for reading!

Images courtsey of Alesis.com

Posted by Drumming Review Staff


  1. I agree, it is nice to see another entry into the Electronic Mallet field, but I feel this is geared toward high school band and not the professional percussionist. The product isn’t out yet, and I do have the following concerns. I do not not like the lack of MIDI ports (major issue for me) or internal sounds (not a deal breaker) and the exclusive use of an USB output. Although it sounds great in concept, is a professional musician or even a student going to use a phone? How does the phone produce the sounds to external speaker? I also have a collection of sound modules that I would have to use a USB to MIDI interface and the USB would have to be powered since there is no power to the malletstation if I am not mistaken. I look forward to seeing the product once released and videos with more detail before deciding.


    1. Hi Matty. Thanks for the awesome reply. I agree with you 100% on the malletSTATION. All the points you raised are completely valid and in line with my concerns. Did you mean to post this comment on that page? Here’s a link to it. Thanks for reading.



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