The 10 Best Electronic Drum Sets
This wiki has been updated 33 times since it was first published in March of 2015. Percussion is an integral part of most genres of music, but it's often difficult, inappropriate, or simply impossible to practice, gig, or record with a large acoustic kit. Any of these electronic drum sets will allow amateur and professional musicians to play virtually anywhere, as they are lightweight and compact and can be played through headphones, or plugged into a monitor or PA system. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
March 10, 2021:
Over the last 20-plus years, digital drums have gone from being something of a niche instrument with a firm footing in electropop, dance, and electronica, to dynamic tools that emulate the real sound and feel of an acoustic kit, with the ability to also reproduce the aforementioned sounds of past decades, to the contemporary beats of the present day.
Our revised ranking switches the Roland V-Drums TD50 KVX with the Roland VAD-306-1, as the former is their flagship model (see our "Special Honors" section), and the replacement is better suited to the everyday serious player who doesn't necessarily need anything beyond a five-piece setup. Aesthetically, most observers would not be able to tell the difference between this and a regular acoustic kit, the main giveaway being its markedly shallower tom shells.
Another notable addition is the Yamaha DTX6K-X, which is a mid-range model that is ideal for the experienced musician or the professional drummer looking for a practice kit. Acoustic drums can be very limiting in this regard, as volume levels are hard to suppress and the ability to play through headphones, whenever inspiration strikes, can improve your skills by leaps and bounds while protecting your hearing over the course of time.
December 19, 2019:
There were a lot of upgrades to this list, causing us to send several popular models packing, like the Yamaha DTX450K, in favor of their upgraded versions. We also saw fit to remove some underperforming models, like the Alesis Strike Pro, which suffered from a lot of trigger malfunctions that are not the norm for the company.
While there are still purists out there who haven't joined the mesh revolution and are still clinging desperately to their rubber pads, we are unequivocally proponents of mesh on any and all electronic drum heads, even if cheaper attempts at the technology can cause some issues with triggering that inexpensive rubber doesn't suffer. At the end of the day we're looking for the best options out there, so cheap models aren't liable to make our ranking to begin with.
Beyond that particular feature, we took a close look at polyphonic capabilities, as a low or poor-performing polyphony could cause some hits to fail to register, or to blend together in unnatural ways, causing a kick to cut off when you hit the ride, for example. We also considered total available voices, as a small bank of these would seriously inhibit a musician's ability to find his or her own sound. To that end, the Yamaha DTX920 HWK is especially impressive, with over 1,000 available sounds for its responsive kit. The Roland V-Drums TD50 KVX also offers an impressive array of kits, numbering over 400, and its hi-hat has one of the most natural sounds and feels of anything in the electronic market. Of course, its price reflects these features, and holds it back from being a top contender for the masses. Little things added up, as well, like whether or not a set came with a kick pedal or a throne, but ultimately it was the performance of each that dictated their ranking.
Roland TD-50 KVX Professional drummers require tools to match their skill and this flagship model is sure to deliver on every level. Featuring their top-of-the-range TD-50 module, this kit uses the brand's Prismatic Sound Modeling technology to bring real drum samples to life, and boasts newly developed pads with multiple sensors, flexible connectivity, and deep editing functionality. roland.com
Roland PM-100 Ideal for both practice and on-stage or in-studio playing, the PM-100 drum set monitor sits tidily by your side with its wedge-shaped profile projecting directly at you as you play. It features 1/4-inch and 1/8 inch line inputs for playing media or connecting to a line-out from the desk or PA system, and has a two-band equalizer and dedicated volume controls for both the drums and line-in. roland.com
Fingers On The Trigger
That's fine and all, but you can really customize these sounds to anything and everything.
Electronic drums operate on the principal of what are commonly called triggers. There's no violence implied here. It's more like hitting a big red button than firing a gun.
When you hit a drum trigger, or pad, the intensity of the hit – and sometimes even its exact position on the pad – is relayed to a module of available sounds and translated through any number of presets you select.
The thing about most electronic drums is that you can assign that trigger to make any sound under the sun so long as it's programmed into your module.
Most people will give the pad in the snare position a snare sound, the tom positions tom sounds, the ride cymbal a ride cymbal sound, etc., until they essentially have a recreation of a standard drum kit in front of them.
That's fine and all, but you can really customize these sounds to anything and everything. If you want your snare to sound like a kick drum and your kick drum to sound like a spaceship launching or a geisha fanning herself, there's nothing but your budget to stop you.
Zen And The Art Of Electronic Drumming
Most drummers will tell you, especially if they're rock or jazz drummers, that there is no substitute for a real acoustic kit. It's not just the sound they're talking about, either.
They're liable to go off on a long pseudo-spiritual rant about the life force in a "real" drum set.
There's a great Robert Pirsig quote about this mentality in his spiritual road epic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, in which he's undoubtedly paraphrasing a Zen parable he heard along the way.
The more custom you want the sound and feel, the nicer a kit you're going to want.
He says, "The only zen you find on tops of mountains is the zen you bring up there."
What it means for us is that there's nothing inherently more spiritual about an acoustic drum than a electronic drum, it's just that we find it easier to connect them to things we view as living, namely trees. But steel and plastics are just as spiritually and practically alive as any redwood. It's what you bring to the experience that matters.
With the spiritual stuff out of the way, we can admit that there are significant sonic differences between acoustic and electric drums.
In the case of acoustics, the sound of the drum is largely determined by its environment: the size of the room, the moisture in the air, etc. But you are in complete control of the sonic output of your electronic drums.
You can fine tune an electric kit to sound like an old GMS kit in a 1000-square-foot barn on the driest day of the summer if you want to spend enough on the tech side of it.
In that sense, electronic drum sets are all about customization. The more custom you want the sound and feel, the nicer a kit you're going to want.
If it's really just a matter of getting your hands on something that'll let you rock out without disturbing the peace, you'll be happy with something less expensive.
Rhythm From A Box
In the early 1960s musicians and artists began to experiment increasingly with devices called rhythm boxes. They were essentially early drum machines made by companies like Maestro and Ace Tone.
A Sussex University professor named Brian Groves combined his technical knowledge with the ambition and imagination of the drummer from The Moody Blues, Graeme Edge.
One such drummer, a man named Felix Visser, modified an Ace Tone drum machine to respond whenever he touched any one of a dozen circuits he wired into a board.
There was no pressure sensitivity, and the sound quality was immensely mechanical, but it was the dawn of electronic drumming as we know it.
It wasn't until 1971, however, that a drum trigger pad, designed to be hit with a drumstick, came into being. A Sussex University professor named Brian Groves combined his technical knowledge with the ambition and imagination of the drummer from The Moody Blues, Graeme Edge.
Since then, the pads have become more sensitive and more elaborate, the sounds have been more fine tuned to sound like human productions and not the effort of machines, and the feel of the drums themselves has gotten closer and closer to the feel of actual acoustic drum sets.