Acoustic drums are a fabulously dynamic musical instrument.
Yet they are also quite loud.
And not many city folks will take the news a drummer has just moved into the apartment above theirs with excitement.
That doesn’t mean you and your treasured acoustic drums are banished to the farms.
At least you don’t have to be, if you bag yourself a quieter electronic drum kit.
But are e-drum kits really quiet?
How much will you have to spend for one, and which are your best options?
Pull up a chair, because we are answering all those questions today.
How Different are Electronic Drum Sets From Acoustics?
Well, no more different than digital pianos are from acoustic ones!
Electronic drums are designed to keep the noise down, literally. Unlike digital pianos, they don’t quite manage to totally cut the noise out.
Playing e-drums is much about recreating the feel of playing a real acoustic drum set than making the music.
The sound itself is already pre-recorded into the sound module - the e-drum kit’s brain - and is controlled by a system of sensors pre-installed under the cymbals and drum heads.
These sensors can even detect stick velocity and assign the exacting volume and pitch to each triggered sound.
Quieter rubber pads or mesh heads are used in place of the cymbals and drum heads you get with acoustic drum kits. Other than that, the hardware for both acoustic and electronic drums is essentially the same.
Electronic drums might not give you the same enjoyment of playing traditional drums, but there are several advantages to using them.
Greater versatility, with drum sound kits to suit most music styles.
Recording and editing functionality.
Considerable portability and space efficiency.
Freedom to practice when you want to and as you like, which allows you to keep good relations with your neighbours.
Convenient for live performances where you don’t have to worry about feedback from microphones and bleed from other instruments.
What to Look For in an Electronic Drum Kit
Before anything else, you need to decide how much you are willing to spend on your e-drum set.
As with most musical instruments the price you are prepared to pay determines the quality of the instrument you will end up with.
In this case, a high end electronic drum set will also be the quietest. Budget limitations notwithstanding, this is where you should be training your shopping efforts.
With that, let’s discuss the qualities to look out for as you shop for your electronic drum set.
How Quiet is the Electronic Drum Set?
For most people an e-drum kit needs to pass the noise test before any other consideration.
There are different ways electronic drum manufacturers address the noise concern, including the use of rubber pads and mesh heads on the cymbals and drum heads.
But the sound vibration from the kick pedal is a little more difficult to deal with. The thumping sound absorbs into the walls and floor and will quickly put you on a collision course with your neighbours.
The effect is more pronounced in the cheaper models than the high end ones.
To mitigate against double bass sound vibration, some drummers build tennis ball risers that create an air cushion between the drum set and the floor beneath.
Tennis ball risers are quite effective, but they will add a few hundred dollars to the cost of your e-drum set.
Roland has its noise eater product they reckon addresses this problem. Consider these options if the sound vibrating from your double bass drum is too noisy for your neighbours.
A Large Library of Drum Kits and Good Quality Sounds
The depth and quality of an e-drum set’s sound has a lot to do with quality of the hardware itself, as well as the kits that come pre-recorded with the module.
Sound modules have evolved so much some will take you months to figure everything out.
But with so many musical samples and kits to load, module memory is often at a premium.
As a result, compromises are often made on the sustained quality of some notes, especially cymbal sounds that tend to be longer than most.
And then there is the issue of headphones:
Your electronic drum kit will only sound as good as the headphones you use with it. It is not unusual to find a $3,000 e-drum kit that is sold with crappy earphones.
Sound latency is another key measure of your e-drum kit’s overall quality. Poor latency makes it difficult to fully express and enjoy yourself as you play.
This is closely related to the sensitivity of individual sensors on the drum heads and cymbals. If these are not of a good quality, you pretty much have no drums to talk off, regardless of how quiet your set is.
Good Electronic Drum Sets Have a Near Natural Feel and Playability
If your primary training is in classical percussion, an electronic drum will take a bit of getting used to, and possibly require a few adjustments to your playing style.
The first thing you will notice is the considerable rebound and stick response differences between a poor e-drum set and a good one.
Mesh heads will produce a more natural feel that is close to that of a traditional acoustic drum. These can also be tightened to produce a more custom feel.
Rubber pads, despite being cheaper and more compact, have a poorer rebound feel and are also not as quiet as mesh heads.
In the higher end drum kits the cymbals and drum heads even have multiple strike points, allowing you hit rimshots, brush sweeps, and cross sticks. This makes for a more expressive drumming experience.
The Best Electronic Drum Kit Reviews - Top 5 Picks
Now that we have covered the qualities that separate the low from the high end electronic drum kits, let’s zero in on what your options are.
Each of the 5 e-drum kits reviewed below is among the best in its price range. It isn’t just our opinion, but also that of many verified buyers.
Alesis Nitro Electronic Drum Set
The higher end e-drum kits cost quite a bit, which makes you wonder how much you will be giving up by settling for the budget models.
Alesis has always made affordable musical instruments.
And as you would expect, their electronic drum sets will not win awards for feel and playability. But, for their price and judging from sales, most are fair value.
For its looks, and price, the 8-piece Alesis Nitro kit is something of a bargain. It would make a decent beginner kit.
Pro and Con List:
- Lightweight, but sturdy 4-post aluminium rack
- 8” robust rubber pads, including three single zone toms and a dual zone snare
- Upgraded kick pad with bass drum pedal
- 10” ride, hi-hat, and choke enabled cymbals, for enhanced feel and natural response
- Sound module with 40 kits, 385 custom sounds, and 60 play tracks
- The sound is not near as dynamic, and feel not as natural, as pro drummers would like
- Can’t handle aggressive drumming well and loses responsiveness after you have played it a while
The question for the Yamaha company, which competes in so many markets, is whether they can maintain the same quality level with all their products.
But the brand has proven its worth thus far. And, even though the Yamaha DTX 400K isn’t the most eye-catching e-drum set you will see, it has a lot going for it.
Eminently playable and a noticeable upgrade from the Alesis Nitro, this Yamaha kit is also not pro drummer quality.
But the kit is known as one of the quietest e-drum kits on the market, which is a very big deal for drummers.
Yes, there are no mesh snares for that coveted responsive feel. But the pads are made in a more consistent quality gum rubber.
Pro and Con List:
- Drum Trigger Module with 297 quality sounds
- 7.5” cymbal pads and a silent kick unit
- Full size JVC stereo headphones
- 10 drum sets, including jazz, hard rock, pop, funk, percussion, and R&B styles
- The module syncs to a downloadable iOS app with an intuitive interface that complements the module’s rather rudimentary interface
- Interactive "Voice Guidance" training feature
- Easy to assemble, and some parts even come pre-assembled
- For an entry level kit, it would help if the app was also available for android devices
- Snare drum seems to have a significantly lower volume when connected to a speaker output
- Not the greatest sensitivity and rebound quality is average
There are quite a few options at this price point.
But, when it comes to electronic drum kits, Roland is the real deal.
The Roland TD-11K-S is what you would call a semi-professional kit.
It will do an acceptably decent job for any home studio.
The kit has a cloth kick pad, mesh snare, a sturdy rack, with a lightweight and compact build.
You can expect a high end sound output, thanks to the same SuperNATURAL Sound Engine and and Behaviour Modeling features you get with the brand’s higher end models.
Pro and Con List:
- Custom V-Compact drums stand
- A good variety of customizable, pre-programmed sounds
- Super instructional CDs and videos
- The soft padding on the kick drum is remarkably responsive and quite enjoyable
- Fairly easy to set up
- A USB thumb drive that allows you to load your own tracks to play along to
- Cymbals won’t give you that acoustic quality dynamic sound
- The hi-hat is not that sensitive and won’t make for dynamic playing
- The kit does not include a kick pedal, which means kit is not ready-to-play and is quite disappointing
The Roland TD11KV is a good set that pro players on a budget can find acceptably playable.
However, for the truly pro features, the Roland TD-25KV-S is where you need to train your eyes.
Everything is an upgrade on the lower end models.
But most impressive of all the features is the snare drum that features multiple sensors. This allows more expressive playing and dynamic sound.
Pro and Con List:
- A highly expressive sound module with a streamlined interface
- Built-in audio recording functionality
- Super responsive, multi-sensored mesh cymbals and drum heads with a more natural feel
- Sound module enables customization and the creation of custom sounds
- Compact size and low noise that is perfect for apartment living
- A larger stand would have been nice
The feel, playability, and sound quality in these instruments get progressively better as you go up the price scale.
And with, but marginally better than the usual peers from Yamaha, this Roland TD-30K V-Pro Series sits comfortably in that high end category.
There are other kits priced above it, but most have struggled to beat this set’s all-round awesomeness.
It is certainly unlike its competitors. Instead of mere pads, the kit has actual drums, with the heads replaced by tension adjustable mesh heads. The result is unmatched feel and playability.
Suddenly you will feel you can play all those licks you thought were not playable on an e-drum set.
Pro and Con List:
- Larger drum heads for more expressive drumming
- Pro V-Edit feature and separate sound outputs for each cymbal and drum which enables easier sound recording and editing
- Behaviour Modelling and SuperNatural sound features for greater playability and a studio quality sound
- A dizzyingly expansive library of kits and customizable sounds
- Comes with a sturdy, professional looking stand
- At 132 pounds, this e-drum kit is not made to be portable
And Our Pick is...
The Roland TD-25KV-S.
Not because it is the best electronic drum kit on the market!
The Roland TD-30K V-Pro is undisputedly a better kit. It is a wonderfully well-made kit that you should not hesitate to buy if you can afford it.
The Roland TD-11K-S, if not for the missing kick pedal and not so responsive rubber pads for the toms, would be a good, cheaper option.
Our pick - the Roland TD-25KV-S - is a good e-drum set that is quiet, with pro level feel and playability that won’t break the bank.
Besides, I am also of the opinion that, you should spend as much as you need to for a good instrument, but never more than you need to.
Especially where musicians who own an acoustic version of the same digital instrument are concerned. Unless, of course, you have the budget.
The Alesis Nitro and Yamaha DTX 400K do not promise, nor deliver, that much more than you would expect for their prices.
But they are all functional, value kits that should keep you practicing if you don’t have money for a better set.
To More Drumming and Happier Neighbours
You can try every sound dampening trick in the book, including throwing blankets over the drum heads and cymbals, to appease your suffering neighbours.
But the truth is, to sufficiently mute your acoustic drum kit, you have to cover them so much that you will lose any rebound.
Your efforts will yield such a lousy feel and playing experience moving to the farms will seem more tolerable.
An electronic drum set is your most viable, and possibly the only, option.