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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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