No instrument has had an impact on modern music like the drums. Quite literally providing us with the backbeat of our everyday existence, drums are integral to pretty much every type of music. The raw power of an acoustic drum is irresistible, immediately inviting everyone present to engage in a celebration of rhythm. But sometimes this raw energy is a little… too much for the modern world.
Enter the electronic drum kit. Designed to give drummers a means of practicing without waking up the entire neighborhood, electronic kits provide a way to tame the sheer power of the drums by offering a versatility that traditional acoustic instruments can’t manage. Not only are electronic drums an excellent way to learn or practice the drums, they also provide a useful recording tool. With a little bit of production know how, an electronic drum kit can be used to track drums for just about any purpose. You even exercise a huge degree of control over the final sound if you’re handy enough with mixing drum samples.
Let’s take a look at what goes into a quality electronic drum kit.
Table of Contents:
- I. Finding the Right Electronic Drum Kit
- II. What To Look For In An Electric Drum Kit
- III. Best Electric Drums – Our Hot Picks
- IV. Unleash Your Inner Rhythm
Finding the Right Electronic Drum Kit
Electronic drum kits (also called e-drums, e-kits, or electric drums) first hit the scene in the ’80s. Initially, they were not well received among drummers. They were regarded as cheesy, felt and sounded “fake,” and provided little to none of the visceral power of a real drum kit. Back then, the electric drum was relegated to being at best a practice tool and at worst an overpriced toy.
These days things are much different. Electric drum kits can now serve as a fantastic practice tool and a massively powerful device in the studio. When you start to look for electric drums, you’ll find instruments that are really only practical as practice tools on the lower end. These can be great for beginners or musicians who need something easy to practice on. They can be purchased for a fraction of the price (and make an even smaller fraction of the noise) of a full acoustic drum kit.
Move up the ladder in price and you start to find electric kits much more suitable for recording and studio work. These are an amazing addition to any home studio arsenal, allowing you to track drums practically silently. Higher end electric drums have a virtually endless variety of options to customize the sound and response of the drum. Often with amazingly realistic results. You can load and tweak your own samples to create your dream drum sounds, or even experiment with making your e-drum a new instrument entirely by loading it up with novel sounds. These electric drums open up the ability to directly track your drums to MIDI files, perfect for electronic music producers or anyone who might want to customize their drum track after recording it.
What To Look For In An Electric Drum Kit
If you’re just looking for an electric drum kit to practice on, you can get away with looking at electric kits on the lower end of the price spectrum. However, don’t go too low. Remember, drum kits are something you’ll be banging away on everyday. They need to be built to take a bit of abuse. Some cheap models just aren’t ready to stand up to frequent practice (or frantic playing.) Try to examine the build quality of the kit’s rack (the part that holds the drums up.) If it feels particularly cheaply made, look for something else. Ideally, avoid plastic racks and opt for aluminum or other lightweight metals.
The next most important thing is the type of pads. The material your pads are made from will have a big impact on response. The cheapest type of pads are rubber. These work well, but they don’t have the same response as higher-quality mesh pads. Mesh pads are engineered to more closely mimic the feel of striking an acoustic drum head.
You’ll also want to take a look at the cymbals’ features. One of the most important is choke. This allows you to grab the cymbal to stop it from ringing out, like you would with an acoustic cymbal.
Another thing to look for on your pads and cymbals is the number of zones. This is the number of different locations you can hit the pad to trigger different sounds. On low-end electric kits the cymbals and pads tend to be single-zone. This means that anywhere you strike the cymbal or pad, you get the same sound, Higher-end options incorporate 3 or more zones for more realistic response, letting you strike it as you would a real drum or cymbal to produce different tones.
Next, you’ll want to take a look over what parts of the drums you’ll need. Different styles of drummers and individual drummers often vary the number and type of drums and cymbals they integrate into their kit. With an electronic kit, you have the possibility of customizing the sound of every drum/cymbal pad to trigger just about any sound you want. This means you’re not limited to the physical properties of a particular instrument. However, specific drum pads and triggers are designed to emulate their real-world counterparts, so certain types of electric drums will serve some applications better than others.
A typical beginner electronic kit will consist of:
- Kick Drum (foot pedal)
- Snare Drum
- 2 Rack Tom Drum Pads
- 1 Floor Tom Drum Pad
- Hi-Hat (cymbal pad and foot pedal)
- Two Cymbal Pads (crash/ride cymbals)
- Control Module (the computer/”brain”)
Just like with a real drum kit, it’s easy to customize your electronic kit with additional drums. Actually, it’s even easier than a real drum kit in many cases. While you can play most styles of music with the setup described above, certain styles of music will require additional drums. If you need to expand the kit after you purchase it, just look for some additions compatible with your drum kit. You can easily setup double beaters, extra cymbals, or whatever your music requires.
Now that we know what we’re looking for, let’s dive in to a few choice models.
Best Electric Drums – Our Hot Picks
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This fantastic budget kit from Alesis offers an excellent entry point that will allow you to grow from the most humble of beginnings all the way up to cutting your chops recording in a home studio, all on the same kit. The Alesis Nitro features an eight-piece configuration using all mesh pads that give a realistic response when struck. You get the standard rock kit setup of mesh snare, kick with real beater pedal, hihat, two rack toms, floor tom, and two chokable cymbals.
For an affordable model, the pads on the Nitro sound great and respond well. The whole thing is mounted on a sleek and lightweight aluminum frame which is suited to take the abuses of daily drumming. In the brain of the Alesis we find some nifty options. Integrated MIDI and USB input/output make it brilliantly easy to record the Alesis, track MIDI drums, or even use it to sync up with other instruments. You’ll also find a build in metronome, sixty play along tracks for practicing, and a library of 385 built-in drum sounds.
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This electric kit from Roland is engineered specifically with the needs of beginner drummers in mind. Included with the Roland V-Drums we find three rubber pads for floor and rack toms, a mesh snare, hi-hat pedal and cymbal, two cymbal pads with choke control for crash/snare, and a kick drum pedal. The V-Drums are easily customized with other electronic drum products from Roland. This flexibility in customization – combined with the V-Drums free floating pedal design which lets you put the pedals anywhere you please – make it a very versatile kit.
Since it’s targeted primarily at beginners, the sounds in the V-Drum aren’t the most impressive. But they do manage to sound pretty realistic for such an affordable drum. You also get some features like Roland’s Rhythm Coach which helps you practice, a built in metronome, and fifteen preprogrammed songs to jam to.
One major drawback is the lack of a real beater pedal on the kick drum. Instead, the V-Drum just has a pedal you depress. This lacks the mechanical response of a real kick drum beater. While it does offer the ability to connect to a computer via USB, the V-Drums don’t pack any MIDI outputs. This makes this more of a practice tool than something to serve as part of your home studio.
Just taking one look at the Yamaha DTX450K, it’s obvious that it’s not winning any awards for style. Despite being not much to look at, this entry level Yamaha is one of the most popular electric kits on the market. Simply because it sounds and feels great. Equipped with a three-zone rubber snare pad, three rubber rack and floor tom pads, hi-hat, two cymbals, and a nifty kick pedal for the bass drum which features an actual beater.
The addition of the beater is a nice touch. Instead of just having a fake kick pedal like many electronic kits, the DTX450K integrates a real beater which makes contact with a small rubber bass drum pad. This gives you a much more realistic feeling as you play the bass drum. Though excelling down below with the kick drum, Yamaha left something to be desired with their cymbals. They are single-zone cymbals without any choke features, definitely making them the weakest part of the kit.
From the DTX450K’s brain we get a choice of 169 sounds, USB connectivity, an integrated metronome, and the ability to select from ten pre-configured kits or customize them to your heart’s desire. All of the sounds are sampled from real Yamaha acoustic drums. There are some great sounds to be found in here!
The big brother of the entry-level V-Drum we looked at above, the Roland TD-17KVX is priced as a mid-range electric kit but is packed with plenty of high-end features. In many respects a professional electric kit, the TD-17KVX brilliantly emulates the feel of an acoustic drum kit. It does this in a few nifty ways.
First, the snare is engineered to emulate a real snare. This includes an adjustable tension for the head, the ability to play accurate rim shots, and a natural feeling 2-ply mesh head. Compounding this real-world feel is the kick pedal, which makes use of a real beater head that contacts a cloth and rubber bass drum pad. The result is a quiet kick pedal which responds just like the real thing!
Next we have the hi-hat, which has an integrated open/closed sensor to synchronize the motion of the foot pedal to the cymbal pad. This goes a long way towards emulating a real hihat, while also affording you the opportunity to refine your control of the hihat! Rounding out the package are three 8” rubber toms, and three choke-equipped cymbals (two crash and one ride.)
Roland has packed a few nifty features into the control unit, as well. You have fifty preset kits built in, plus the option to customize them anyway you like. One novel addition is the ability to connect the drums to BlueTooth, letting you easily stream songs off your phone to practice with. Combine this with the headphone output to put yourself right in the mix of your favorite song.
The TD-17KVX makes short work of recording as well. Connect your computer or audio interface via USB or MIDI outputs. You can even load an SD card into the brain to record tracks directly onto the TD-17KVX itself for super streamlined workflow. An amazing kit which goes the distance towards emulating acoustic drums while still maintaining the limitless possibilities of digital technology. The perfect practice tool to compliment even the most diehard acoustic drummers, or an absolutely wondrous addition to any studio.
Unleash Your Inner Rhythm
Electric drum kits are an amazing way for us to integrate drumming into our everyday lives, regardless of where we might live. Even the smallest apartment or tiniest practice space can handle an electric drum kit, giving you the ability to keep building your chops anywhere you find yourself.
Find the perfect electric kit and get yourself behind it today!