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What I’m about to say might shock the drumming community—both veterans and newcomers. Donner is raising the bar when it comes to quality drum sets for new players. And before you scoff with brand-elitism, let me explain myself.
The DDS-520 from Donner is an innovative, yet relatively affordable beginner drum set that doubles as a practice kit with an internal mute system. At the time of publishing, the kit is $619 from Donner’s website. Readers of DrummingReview.com can get 15% off by using code drumming at checkout.
This price puts it in the range of kits like the Pearl Roadshow, Ludwig Breakbeats, and PDP Center Stage. And all these kits, including the DDS-520, have poplar shells. However, none of them have internal mutes allowing for quieter practice.
In June, Donner saw record booth turnout at NAMM 2022. One of the instruments on display was the DDS-520. The kit is a five-piece drum set that switches from acoustic to practice drums with the turn of a drum key.
Donner achieves this with integrated practice pads that sit underneath each drum head. Admittedly, I was a little skeptical initially, but after seeing rdavidr’s video on the 520, I needed to check it out for myself.
At the same time this was happening, a representative from Donner reached out to me to see if I’d have a look at any kits they were promoting. The DDS-520 was one, so I jumped on the opportunity.
This article is sponsored, but that will not take away from the objectivity of the review.
Overview of the DDS-520
The Donner DDS-520 is a full-sized five-piece drum set featuring a 22×18″ kick, 14×5.5″ snare, 10×7″ rack tom, 12×8″ rack tom, and 16×14″ floor tom.
Each drum has a mute system, allowing for quieter practice (take quieter with a bit of salt here). The shells are A+ grade poplar, which generally leads to low-end warmth and soft high-end tone.
The DDS-520 comes in four colors: red, blue, black, and yellow. However, the kit Donner sent me almost looks orange, so they may be in the process of adding more colors. (Get the yellow finish, you’ll look like Tony Williams!)
With the DDS-520, you don’t get traditional cymbals with the drum set. And I think this is a good thing. Instead, Donner includes a set of silent cymbals, which are on par with Zildjian’s L80s.
If you want to play a gig with this kit, you must buy real cymbals (here’s some of my favorite cymbal packs, if you’re interested).
However, the low-volume cymbals are still great for practicing when playing at full volume at home. The kit is quieter when combined with the mute system, but it’s still pretty audible in the same house.
Donner gives you everything you need to get going, including drum hardware. The stands for the drums and cymbals are fantastic, especially the ball and socket tom holders on the kick drum.
The included drum throne is really bad. It might be the most unstable seat I’ve ever used. I’m confident you will need to buy a professional drum throne if you get this kit. That said, most kits at this price point don’t include hardware, including the throne.
The drums come entirely unassembled, and it’s up to you to figure out how to put them together. It was a no-brainer for me, but it might be a challenge for someone completely new to drumming.
Fortunately, Donner has an assembly video, which you can watch here to see the process.
Sound of the Kit Out of the Box
I won’t lie. I expected this drum set to sound like total trash once it was together. However, I’ve played on enough beginner drum sets to be cynical about the sound.
The Donner kit ships with drum heads that are very similar to Remo Pinstripes. They’re much thicker than standard heads, typically reduce overtones, and sound much warmer.
And I was blown away. The kit sounded incredible, and I didn’t even need to use moon gels (hear it on my latest Instagram reels). Well, except for on the snare drum. The heads included on that drum aren’t the greatest, so switch them out!
Replace the snare wires while you’re at it, too—they were loose on my drum. I haven’t switched out the heads yet, but I managed to get a decent-sounding snare with two moongels and some tuning.
I put a blanket inside for the kick drum and muffled the resonant head with some gaffer tape and a paper towel—it sounds enormous.
Using the Practice Mutes
The kit is far quieter when using the practice mutes. I was pleasantly shocked. This drum set may still be too loud for apartment drummers.
The practice pads feel bouncy when playing, and since they’re only in the center of the drums, you have to be accurate to hit them (something new drummers usually struggle with). This downfall isn’t all bad, though—it forces you to play with good technique and hit the proper playing zones of the drums.
The kick practice pad feels like playing against a hard wall, but it does cut the volume significantly. I haven’t tried it yet, but getting a rubber bass drum beater when practicing with these drums might be worth it.
Who Should Pick Up the Donner DDS-520?
This kit might be perfect for you if you’re a new drummer or the parent of a young child, around nine or ten—especially if you live in a house with thin walls.
For apartment dwellers, your mileage will vary. In most shared living spaces, acoustic drums of any kind are no go unless you have extremely chill neighbors. Instead, you’re better off getting an electronic drum set, and even those sometimes can cause too much noise.
This drum set is most likely still too loud for an apartment, even with the mutes enabled.
Drummers interesting in trying the drums for the first time who can make noise may be able to get away with a cheaper drum set, like from the company Gammon, but the quality will be far lower.
You also could spend the extra $10 to get to the next level up, the Pearl Roadshow, but considering what comes with the DDS-520, I don’t think that’s even worth your money.
Donner has a compelling offer here. The kit impressed me for the money. And despite me getting the drum set for free in exchange for this review, I was genuinely blown away.
But don’t take just my word for it. Like I said earlier, rdavidr also reviewed this drum set, so watch that video too!
Thank you all for reading. Have you had any experience with Donner before? I’d love to hear your thoughts down below in the comments.