When electronic drums first came out, they were a bit of a novelty, and even today there is still the residual stigma of them being the drum kit of choice for an 80’s cover band. But times change, and some e-kits today not only rival high-end acoustic kits, but many drummers prefer using them in live shows and on studio recordings. With recent technological advancements, you no longer have to shell out thousands of dollars if you want to start drumming on an electronic kit. Not only are they great at replicating the feel of an acoustic kit and building muscle memory, they also allow you to practice your chops while keeping room noise to a minimum (which is sure to be a bonus with your housemates and neighbors), and many of them can be connected to a digital audio workstation for recording purposes. As a beginner, you can pick up a kit for only a few hundred dollars, but making sure you are getting the most bang for your buck is important.
Things to Consider Before Buying One
Not all electronic drum kits are created equal. There are a few things that you should consider when shopping for an electronic drum set under $500.
Obviously, one of the major selling features of electronic kits is that they make way less noise than the traditional acoustic kit. However, they do still make noise. Depending on the model, some make more and some make less. The material that manufacturers use for the pads will either be silicone rubber or mesh. Mesh pads are like a pillow, and will absorb more of the sound, unlike rubber, which will sound more like you are drumming on a softcover book. The other noise issue you can run into is the kick drum pedal, with some having the traditional beater and pad, while other are more of a switch or trigger you just step on with your foot.
If you are going to be hauling your kit to different venues, you will want something that is portable and compacts easily. A lot of kits can be folded up (or in some cases, rolled up) for quick transport or storage, but if you are using it mainly at home it might not be a huge issue.
Most kits (even entry level ones), come with an abundance of features in their sound module to make your time on the stool more enjoyable. A metronome will help tighten up your playing so you are always in time, and included demo songs will help spur creativity. Kit customization including multiple sounds to choose from, assignable pads, and USB and MIDI support for DAWs are all additional bells and whistles that you will come across.
With home recording studios becoming increasingly affordable in recent years, electronic drum kits can greatly benefit musicians that are looking to lay down drum tracks rather than programming them in with MIDI, or using an acoustic kit. Hooking them up via USB or MIDI connection allows you to quickly capture the drums you want, or trigger the software kits. A lot of software has a wider range of drum kit presets, with many of them sounding more realistic than the pre-loaded ones you get with your electronic kit.
Your purchase will most likely come down to how much can you afford. While the entry-level kits hover in the $400 range, with some going as high as $500, there are some extremely budget-friendly options, ranging from $80 – $300. These are usually tabletop drum kits, or full size kits that are striped down to the minimal amount of features.
Electronic Drum Set vs. Acoustic
While they perform the same basic function, electronic drum sets and acoustic drum sets differ in a few ways.
Acoustic drum sets are the traditional way of playing drums. A basic kit is composed of a snare drum, bass/kick drum, a rack tom (sometimes 2), floor tom, hi-hats, ride cymbal, and crash cymbal. Sound is produced by striking the drums and cymbals with sticks, brushes, or mallets. You can play all styles of music on acoustic kits, from rock to jazz to blues and funk, with manufacturers producing models that cater to certain musical genres. Acoustic drums are also very responsive to your playing style, which is great if you want to play loud rock music, or soft jazz. While they are considered the “true way” to learn the drums, because of the amount of noise they produce, it is hard to find a quiet space that you can practice undisturbed. Recording acoustic drums is also a bit labor intensive as the entire kit has to be mic’d, and a lot of people just don’t have those kind of resources.
Electronic drums are gaining popularity for their quieter use, flexibility, and portability. While they need to be heard through headphones or an external speaker, the setup of these kits is similar to an acoustic kit. They use mesh or rubber pads that trigger a sound when struck, and depending on the model you can change the type of sounds you get from each pad, allowing you to play a wide range of musical styles from a single kit. The playing technique differs from acoustic drums in that they aren’t as responsive as a traditional drum set, although the technology is getting better. Due to the pad size, electronic drum sets take up less space, and many fold up nicely for transport or storage. Home recording is another area where they excel, as you can hook them up easily to a computer with only one or two cables.
Best Electronic Drum Sets
Alesis Drums Nitro Mesh Kit Review
With a natural feel and over 385 drum and cymbal sounds, this easy to set-up electronic kit from Alesis will have you thrashing about in no time. Designed in an 8-piece configuration, you get your bass drum pad, an 8-inch dual-zone snare for triggering head or rim shots, three 8-inch toms, and three 10-inch cymbals complete with crash choke function. Beginners will thrive as you can play along with 60 tracks, and cycle through 40 different types of kit sounds, allowing for endless possibilities. Registering your purchase on Alesis’ website will also give you access to 40 drum lessons on your phone or tablet to help hone your craft further. Auxillary, USB MIDI, headphone inputs and realistic mesh drum pads make this an attractive option at this price point.
- Excellent feel and response time
- Dual zone snare
- Multiple sounds and tracks
- Drum lessons upon registering product
- Comes with drum key and sticks
- Can feel small for some drummers
- Headphone volume low at times
Roland TD-1K Review
The TD-1K from Roland is an acclaimed kit that might have you switching from acoustic to electronic drums for good. With 15 realistic-sounding drum kits to choose from, the response time is excellent with dual-zone triggers on the snare and cymbals. Special attention has been paid to the intuitiveness of the drummer, changing sounds and volumes in accordance with the velocity of your playing. Designed as an extremely quiet kit, the beaterless kick drum and hi-hat pedals are not attached to the kit, allowing you perfect placement while maintaining low room volume levels. The set takes up little room and the pads are all rack mounted and fully adjustable for your comfort, while the sound module allows you a variety of functions from click tracks, to coaching, to demo song play-alongs. An outstanding option for beginners, or amateur musicians that are looking for something for practice and studio recordings.
- Extremely versatile
- Realistic response to playing
- Multiple kits to choose from
- Frame width can be tight for some
Donner DED-200 Review
A kit that is geared more towards drummers who are just starting out, Donner’s DED-200 8-piece electronic kit is an affordable way to learn your way around a kit. The 8 inch mesh drum pads come in the basic configuration (snare, 3 toms, kick drum), and are adjustable on a sturdy metal frame that can also be folded up for easy storage. Detached from the frame is the hi-hat pedal, allowing for perfect foot placement while triggering open or closed hats. With customizable sounds, you can dial in your ideal kit using the brain that offers over 200 unique options, while practicing along with 30 provided demo songs. The sound module also allows for you to create and save your own custom kits, includes MIDI compatibility, and is easy to connect to a DAW for recording applications.
- Decent budget kit
- Great for beginners
- Good flexibility in sound and practice modes
- Latency issues can make complex playing sound sloppy
- Kick pedal can feel loose
- Small size
Pyle Pro Electronic Drum Kit Review
This is a cool little tabletop kit that looks unconventional but can replicate the sounds of a live drum kit pretty well. Measuring around 22 inches from left to right, each pad will trigger a drum or cymbal sound, and it comes with two foot pedals to trigger your hi-hats and kick drum (the pedals can also be programmed in a double-bass configuration). The onboard computer gives you a lot of flexibility in choosing your metronome tempo, drum sounds, EQ, and also comes with a learning mode for beginners. On the back of the unit you get the standard headphone jack, auxillary input, as well as a USB port so you can record you drums parts on a Mac or PC. In addition to being extremely portable, it can run on 6 “C” batteries, allowing for you to play the drums anywhere you please!
- Customizable drum sounds
- Drum trainer mode included
- Lack of traditional drum setup
Alesis Surge Mesh Kit Review
This model is the step-up version of Alesis’ Nitro mesh kit, and while a bit pricier, it comes with a few improved features as well as a higher overall quality. A larger dual zone snare at 10 inches, as well as a 10 inch kick drum can now allow for double bass beaters. The frame has also been upgraded from aluminum to chrome, making it a bit more eye pleasing. The intuitiveness of the kit is more or less the same, with good response from both the mesh pads and rubber cymbals, and it emulates an acoustic drum kit pretty well. Tightening/loosening the mesh heads allows you to dial in perfect response settings. Hooking it up to a computer can get more seasoned players the sounds they want, although there are a ton of different kits and drum sounds already built into this model.
- Comfortable and quiet mesh design
- 10 inch snare
- 10 inch bass drum can accommodate double bass pedals
- Multiple sounds and demo tracks
- Drum lessons upon registering product
- Comes with drum key and sticks
- Included drum sounds can sound canned
- Instruction manual lacks clarity
Carlsbro CSD130 Electronic Drum Set Review
The CSD130 from Carlsbro is a fun kit that is basic in its function, but rivals the more well-known name brands at an affordable price. Equipped with over 20 kits to choose from, as well as 250 different sounds, the 7.5-inch snare is dual-zone allowing rim shots, while the 7.5-inch toms and 10-inch cymbals are all single-zone, with the crash having a built-in choke. You can program the pads to your liking using the sound module, changing the volume, sensitivity, or preset (ie. change a ride cymbal to a crash). The kick drum pedal beats downward, eliminating noise that traditional beaters can cause, but the overall rubber pad design renders the kit a bit louder than if they were mesh. Getting the set out of sight is easy enough as it folds up in to small size for storage or transport. Overall, a nice entry level kit that hits a low price point by stripping it of a few features.
- Well priced
- Customizable pad functionality
- Compact and portable
- Smaller pad sizes
- Cymbals not dual zone
- Rubber pads increase noise
Yamaha DD-65 Portable Digital Drum Kit with Foot Pedals and Drum Sticks Review
With 50 drum kit presets ranging from rock, jazz, reggae, blues, and electronic, as well as the ability to store 3 custom kits (for all you lefties), the DD-65 from Yamaha offers a lot of flexibility as well as portability, making it a convenient way to fit an entire drum set in your bedroom. Designed for table top use, you can use this unit with a pair of sticks or throw it into Latin percussion mode for a literal hands-on approach. Hooking up to a computer via MIDI will allow you to use the pads to trigger software kits in an efficient way. While the internal speaker is a bit quiet, listening through headphones or through an external speaker is the best way to get a full sound out of this unit. Designed more for basic drumming rather than a complex opus, this is a fun way to brush up on your chops or introduce “live” drums into your studio recordings.
- Easy to use
- Assignable pads and pedals
- Computer connectivity via MIDI
- Can record your playing
- Can run on batteries
- Some sounds lack realism
- Can be difficult to pull off complex striking on small pad area
- Foot pedals have tendency to shift but can be upgraded
Yamaha Electronic Drum Set, DTX402K Review
The DTX402 e-drums from Yamaha have a durable build and are great for beginners or those who hit their kit pretty hard. With the exception of attaching a few cables, this kit is pretty much ready to go right out of the box, and the module is easy to wrap your head around (and even links up with an app) so you are playing more and doodling around less. Training functions and demo songs will help speed your progress if you aren’t the greatest drummer in the world, and Yamaha has packed it full of sounds options as well with 10 ready-to-go kits at your disposal, and another 400+ drum sounds that you can use to customize your pads. An auxiliary input allows you to play along with songs on your phone or tablet, and the USB port will link your kit to a computer transmitting audio and MIDI for home recording.
- Durable lightweight build
- Easy to setup
- App supported
- Free floating kick and hi-hats trigger pedals for comfort
- Some sounds lack realism
- Can’t “re-arrange” kit / cymbals
- Pads can feel small
- No dual-zone pads
Behringer XD80USB Review
The entry-level XD80 from Behringer probably won’t win any major awards, but its a good kit if you are just starting out or looking for a faster way to record drums that doesn’t require programming. This 8-piece kit comes with a snare, 3 toms, 3 cymbals and floating kick drum and hats pedals. Easy to setup and sporting large surfaces for playing, each pad and cymbal have dual-zone capabilities, and the user can program up to 5 different kits using the sound module. A cool feature Behringer has included (that you don’t see on many entry level kits) is expandability, as you can add a fourth tom (which can be assigned any sound), or a second crash cymbal for a more well-rounded kit. At 175 sounds and 15 unique drum kits, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding inspiration playing on this.
- Good for beginners
- Dual-zone pads and cymbals
- Can expand the kit
- Large amount of sounds and presets
- Kick pedal build quality subpar
- No double-bass capability
- Hi-hat pedal doesn’t respond well to nuances
PAXCESS Electronic Drum Set Review
Rivalling the size of a yoga mat, the Paxcess is more of a pad than a drum set, and works well for anyone that can’t afford a real kit, or are at the age where they aren’t allowed a real kit. Unlike other electronic drums, this one comes equipped with dual-stereo, bass-heavy speakers so you can rock out without having to connect it externally. Of course, a headphone jack is also included for the times when you need to be quieter, and the unit is re-chargeable, lasting anywhere between 8 to 10 hours from a 2 to 3 hour charging time. A built-in metronome helps out while practicing, multiple drum kits allow you hours of exploration, and you can switch your snare and hats around at the push of a button. The unit supports USB / MIDI for computer hookups, and connecting your phone or tablet will allow you to play along with MP3s. Taking a drum set anywhere has never been easier as this kit rolls up and can be transported in a bag or backpack quite easily.
- Extremely affordable
- Suitable for kids
- Battery back-up
- Extreme portability
- Good value
- Can’t adjust metronome tempo
- Limited sounds and customization
How to Set-up an Electronic Drum Set?
Most electronic drum sets will come with relatively straightforward instructions on how to set them up, as manufacturers want to get you playing them as soon as possible. The drum pads and cymbals will mount to the rack in a configuration that resembles a traditional drum set. Adjustment levers will be present to position the pads for your comfort. The kick drum and hi hats pedals will most likely be free floating, allowing you to position them wherever your feet rest naturally. Cables from each pad and cymbal will be fed into the sound module and you can hear the kit either through headphones, or an external speaker.
Electronic drum kits provide an excellent opportunity for new and old players to practice their chops while continually finding new inspiration. With a myriad of sounds to choose from, kit customization, and a quieter playing experience, they are an attractive option to add to your musical arsenal, and at under $500, an affordable one too.