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Editor’s note: this electronic drum set was sent to us free for review
Keeping with our goal of being the most accurate and up-to-date source in the drumming community, it’s important to inform our readers of the relationships between us and brands. The BackBeat was given to us free of charge to evaluate from Donner, but that has no impact on our objectivity.
Donner unveiled their newest electronic drum set, the BackBeat, at the NAMM 2024 convention in Anaheim, CA. Luckily, we were fortunate to get our hands on a review unit to check out.
The BackBeat boasts a revolutionary shell design incorporating LED lighting on each pad and a killer drum module featuring a 7″ LED color display.
The impressive specs don’t stop there, either. Donner’s new kit has “VST-quality” drum sounds, mesh drum heads, an internal wiring system built into the rack, and a large 10″ mesh kick tower.
- 50 preset kits & 50 user kits
- 900+ sounds
- Bluetooth compatibility
- 10″ kick, 8″ rack tom (2), 10″ snare, 10″ floor, 10″ hi-hat, 12″ crash, 12″ ride
- All pads/cymbals are dual-zone and have LED lights
- All cymbals are chokeable
- Triple-zone snare drum pad
- Individually customize each drum’s LED color
- LEDs sync with practice features and light up while playing, providing numerous visual effects
- 7″ LED color display on the drum module
- Individual settings for compression, reverb, and EQ
- Impressive drum rack with internal wiring system
The Donner BackBeat does not come with a drum throne or headphones.
The box was really heavy to move. I managed to get it into my rehearsal space by sliding it carefully down my stairs. But if you need to take the kit up, I suggest calling a friend or busting open the box and walking the smaller boxes up one at a time.
The packaging is fantastic. Each drum and cymbal pad has a dedicated box. The rack is secured with polyethylene foam and comes mostly pre-assembled.
Setup and Assembly
Because of the rack design, I got the kit up and running in less than thirty minutes, which may be a record. It would have been even faster had I not lost the manual in the sea of empty boxes.
The rack goes together in seconds since it’s mostly pre-assembled. All you need to do is put each corresponding leg in its slot and use the drum key to tighten.
With the rack together, next is adding the clamps for cymbals and drum pads. The clamps, made of high-quality plastic, fasten around the rack rails, and you can easily adjust where you want everything with a slight loosening of each. The cymbal arms and drum mounts fit into the clamps with no issue.
Internal Wiring System
The internal wiring system is incredible. I’ve never seen an electronic drum set with a feature this seamless. On many points of the rack are input jacks designed for cables to run from drums closest. Donner includes right angle cables that keep the rack clean and organized.
The drum shells are high-quality. When I held the snare drum pad, it felt heavy and robust, and it was evident that meticulous planning had gone into its design. Donner’s gear in this price range does seem to rival Alesis in many ways.
The LEDs look awesome. Each drum shell has dedicated LED lights, and to my surprise, they bring the kit to life. Even the cymbals have lights near the cup. The colors are easily changed within the menu of the drum module and even sync up to practice exercises, displaying which drum to hit when—perfect for beginners. The mesh drum heads are great, and feel similar in quality to Alesis.
The included 12″ crash and ride cymbals look and feel impressive. But the hi-hat leaves me wanting more. It’s a little cheap, and some quicker patterns need to be very deliberate. I may have to tinker with the sensitivity.
The shells light up the most on the BackBeat. They’re bright and easily shine through the grey translucent shell, so that’s a major plus. The LED strip can be seen through the mesh drum head, making this kit perfect for dark environments, content creation, and learning the drums with the integrated and synced practice tools, which we’ll cover shortly.
BackBeat Drum Module
The drum module looks impressive. With its large 7″ LCD touch screen and minimalist design, the module is a marvel at this price point. The vibrant screen has loads of real estate for volume control, sound adjustment, and easy-to-read exercises. I’m glad Donner went this route, as it would be a shame to see another drum module with an outdated graphic LCD display (looking at you, TD-50X).
Bluetooth makes it easy to use with apps like Moises. Drummers love to play along to popular songs, and Bluetooth receivers are necessary for today’s drum modules, so good on Donner for including it with the new module.
The BackBeat has a 1/4″ stereo out, MIDI output, SD card input, and a USB MIDI/Audio connection.
The “VST-quality” drum sounds could be better. Despite all the innovation the BackBeat offers, the sounds just aren’t there yet, to my ears. It would appear that e-kit manufacturers are moving to improve the quality of drum samples. They’re not quite there yet, I think.
For the most part, the snares and kicks sound great on the BackBeat. However, the cymbals are overly harsh (and loud), and the toms seem to have little to no attack.
When I would go for a fill, sometimes it would seem like the toms would get lost, like I’d need to play hard to hear them through the mix. I think this can be volume adjusted in the mixer, but having them a little louder right out of the box would be nice.
I think the quality of the recorded sounds on this kit is fantastic, but the issue may have arisen with whoever “mixed” them for the module. I found that a lot of the presets have volume problems. On some, the cymbals are way too loud; on others, the toms are almost inaudible.
Incredible Practice Tools
The practice tools are a highlight. The Donner BackBeat has by far the best practice tools right out of the box for learning drums. Not only can you learn a ton of grooves from many genres and styles, but the notation for each is displayed on the drum module and highlights each note as you play. In addition, the drum kit lights up where you’re supposed to play (except for the kick drum, which has no light facing the player).
Donner can innovate on this already impressive design. The practice module should include more styles. It also should contain examples of grooves with drum fills. The practice grooves do not have drum fills (firmware update?).
Donner should also redesign the kick drum tower to include an LED light facing the drummer so they can easily visualize the kick pattern while learning.
A firmware update for the future would be a good start for improving the mix of the preset drum kits, and an expandable sound library would be a welcome addition to the BackBeat module (plus a way to extend the life of the drum module further).
How Does the BackBeat Compare in Features and Price?
The closest competitor in price is the Alesis DM10 MKII Pro. And while that drum set has more drums and cymbals, it doesn’t come close to the drum module sounds of the BackBeat.
The DM10 MKII Pro also doesn’t support Bluetooth. In fact, the only Alesis kit that supports Bluetooth is the newly released Nitro MAX, so it’s clear that they’re moving in that direction for their new drum sets.
On the other end is the Roland TD-07KVX, which retails for $1199. The pads on this kit are significantly smaller, albeit with a larger 12″ snare pad. The TD-07 module does support Bluetooth. The kit even features a stand-mounted hi-hat, which is unheard of at this price point.
And one step up from the Donner BackBeat is the Roland TD-17KVX in terms of features, price, and value.
However, the Nitro doesn’t have nearly the practice tools the BackBeat offers. To use a site like Drumeo, you need an external device to view the website, and sometimes, we drummers just want to keep things simple. The practice tools included in the module are great for quick warm-ups and learning new grooves without setting up a laptop with a stand next to the drums.
If you’re a new drummer unafraid of a heftier price tag, the BackBeat offers an unrivaled experience both in learning and playing.
For more information on the BackBeat, check out the listing on Donner’s website here.