Electronic Drum Kits – A Brief Survey

Electronic Drum Kits – a brief survey – Autumn 2020 edition

Electronic Drum Kits are increasingly popular with students, especially beginners. In recent years, they have improved in playability and sound quality. The price range has also expanded, ranging from very low cost toys to very sophisticated kits for creative professionals. This is a brief survey, and can’t hope to give all the information, and certainly can’t identify the best kit for everyone – that will depend on your individual circumstances. The aim is to give you a head start as you begin to explore the fast-moving world of electronic drum kits.

Brands and manufacturers

For a long time, Roland and Yamaha have been the go-to brands for quality, reliability and durability. Their equipment continues to enjoy a strong reputation, and they have both improved the capability and economy of their products over the last 10 years or so.

Alesis has come to the fore over the last 5-10 years, initially at the budget end of the market, but increasingly with quality kits that get great reviews.

Millenium and Digital Drums are relatively new to the market, and as such they are not so well-tried for durability, reliability, etc. Their offerings often undercut the other brands on price, and might be a good deal, depending on the quality that they actually deliver. They seem to be supplied only from on-line stores, so it’s not easy to check them out physically before you buy.

Depending on the kit, and what equipment you already have, you may also need…

  • A music stand for your tutor book and printed music.
  • An external speaker and lead, so that you can hear what you are playing. Essential if you want other people, such as your teacher or band members to hear what you are playing.
  • Headphones if you want to play without waking the neighbours.
  • A drum stool.  
  • Drum Sticks of sensible quality. Beware of the dodgy toy drumsticks that tend to be included with entry-level kits.
  • Bass drum pedal – some premium kits are supplied without the physical pedal, so you can choose your own.

What’s out there

Here is a brief survey of what’s available, in order of increasing capability and price.

Examples below are for illustration only; they are not endorsements or recommendations. There are many other choices of equipment and suppliers.

And remember that equipment may well be available second-had as well as new.

1. “Tea Trays”  
Perhaps better than nothing, but ultimately frustrating, these are set out very differently from an actual kit, with all the instruments sitting very close together on a 2-dimensional space. They have either no foot pedals, or very rudimentary switches for pedals. Practising on one of these, then playing on a standard kit, is a confusing experience because the instrument spacing, layout and sounds are so different. They are not suitable for intermediate to advanced playing, or preparation for grade exams.

Examples: Alesis CompactKit 4 Anpro Electronic Foldable Drum Pad

2.  “Tea Trays with Pedals” 

These do at least have pedals, giving the opportunity to practice co-ordination of hands and feet. However, there is still the problem of drums and cymbals laid out on an essentially flat surface, making much playing awkward compared to a conventional kit. Also the feel of the pedals is different from the real thing. Because of layout differences, transferring between one of these and a real kit can be confusing.

Examples: Yamaha DD-75

  •  “Basic Electronic Kits”

These are laid out like a conventional drum kit, which makes them much more useful than the first two categories. They typically have solid rubber drum and cymbal pads, each pad triggering a single sound. The foot pedals are simplified compared with an acoustic kit, so their feel can be a bit different. Often they have a number of different pre-programmed drum and cymbal sets, pre-programmed songs, metronome and other electronic features. They are pretty good for practice at home, and the transition to an acoustic drum kit is relatively easy.
Examples:  Alesis Debut Digital Drums 420X Roland TD1K  Millenium MPS 150E  Yamaha DTX   

  • “Intermediate Electronic Kits”

These add useful features such as:

  • Dual-sounds for some pads – important especially for the snare drum pad, where you want a conventional stroke as well as a rim click or rim shot sound.
  • Mesh drum pads – which give a more convincing drum feel and are quieter when struck.
  • More realistic feeling pedals – for example, some use a conventional bass drum pedal

Different kits will have various combinations of these additional features, with price varying accordingly. These are great for practice at home, and suitable for grade exam preparation.

Examples: Alesis Nitro Mesh  Alesis Surge Millenium MPS 450E  Roland TD-1DMK  Yamaha DTX 432

  •  “Advanced Electronic Kits”

These typically have all of the extras listed for intermediate kits. They have sturdier and more adaptable frames, and may have extra drum and cymbal pads. Their sound quality and responsiveness will be better than other kits. They are beyond the requirements of most students, and take up more space in your studio than the earlier examples.

Examples: Alesis DM10 Millienium MPS 850  Roland TD17-KVX Yamaha DTX6

Jonathan Lewin – November 2020