Lend me your ear for a second because I’m about to blow your mind with this factoid. Are you ready? Drums are loud! That’s why you come here, right — to learn something new and shocking?
A thumping kick drum, punchy snare, and splashy cymbals are great if you live in a rural area, but if you live in the city, you can forget about learning drums. Right?
Thanks to electronic drums, that’s not the case. You can learn to play without your neighbors even knowing about your new musical hobby. And, you can actually get a decent set of electronic drums for under $600! That’s all of your toms, a snare, cymbals, pedals, and all that good stuff for a few hundred bucks.
Entry Level vs. High-End
Before we get into specific models, let me break down a bit what makes these drums entry level. There are tons of models available, and some electronic drum kits literally go for thousands of dollars. Obviously, something must be missing from these more affordable kits to get them down in price.
In general, the most important parts of the drum are the cymbals, the material of the drum pads, and the drum brain.
Here’s a great demonstration of Bernard Purdie rocking the drums:
Note: The above video isn’t played on an electronic drum kit. I just wanted to introduce you to Bernard “Pretty” Purdie to give you something to aspire to on your drumming journey.
With high-end kits, you’ll find cymbals with multiple strike points. This means that hitting the bow sounds different than the edge. Cheaper kits will generally just offer one point of contact, though most will detect velocity and alter the sound accordingly.
Additionally, more expensive kits usually come with mesh heads. The budget ones we’re looking at today mostly include rubber. Mesh features a bounce that feels more like a real drum head, and they’re quieter. Additionally, higher-end pads tend to have more points of impact, meaning you can hit rimshots and cross sticks.
Lastly, there’s the brain. This is part of the e-drum that reads your strikes and outputs a sound. More expensive ones feature far more sound samples and flexibility.
Now, why did I tell you all of this? Because most of these features are not critical for a beginning drummer. Are you going to be choking your cymbals when you can barely play an eighth note rock beat? Are you going to be working flams into your grooves? Can you identify the difference between 30 different jazz snare drums? The answer is almost certainly no, so if you’re just starting off as a drummer, you’d be paying for features you don’t need!
In the entry level space, it’s really a battle between two models: the Alesis Nitro (and the very similar DM6 Nitro) and the Simmons SD300. They’re both good, but the Nitro does offer a bit more at a lower price.
Alesis Nitro ($299/£359/C$420)
When you talk about entry-level electronic drum kits, the Alesis Nitro is the one that always comes up. It makes sense because it sells for only $300 (that’s the retail price, and it can often be found for less), and it comes with a solid set of features.
This is the first kit I purchased to start learning. While I’m thinking about upgrading to a higher-end Roland kit, I’m more than happy with my purchase.
The kit comes with three 8-inch tom pads, a dual-zone snare (main pad and rim shots), and three 10-inch cymbals (one of which can be choked, which is rare at this price). There’s also the high hat control pedal, a kick pad, and the bass pedal. However, the cymbals don’t detect different locations, so you won’t be able to play edges or bells.
The drum brain is the same as the Alesis DM6 Nitro, and it features 40 classic and modern kits, as well as 385 sounds that will let you store custom kits. It also comes with a built-in metronome, play-along songs, a recorder, several outputs and inputs, and ports to add more pads down the line as your skills grow.
Simmons SD300 ($350)
Another popular brand in the entry level space is Simmons. The company offers a model slightly cheaper than this in the SD100, but it sacrifices a bit too much to get down to that price. We’d recommend starting with the SD300, as its $350 price tag is still reasonable and definitely worthy of the entry-level label.
This kit features three cymbal pads, three toms, and a snare. It also has the bass drum pad, its pedal, and the hi-hat control pedal. As is usually the case with the cheaper kits, you won’t find multi-zone cymbals, and they can’t be choked.
The module lags a bit behind the Nitro. It has 10 drum kits and 170 different sounds. Still, while you’ll find some tradeoffs, it’s a solid kit for the price, and it’ll definitely handle the needs of beginning drummers.
Between $350 and $600
In a slightly higher price bracket, but still hovering in the $600 or less range, we’ve got more variation. While Alesis and Simmons both offer models in this price point with the Simmons SD500 and the Alesis Forge (UK/CA), you also gain options from Yamaha and Roland. Quite simply, these are the brands everyone wants in electronic drums. If you’re going to step up to this price, you’re going to want one of those.
Yamaha DTX430K ($499/£468)
The DTX430K is the kit I wanted to buy when I first got into drumming, but I was being cheap. As I said before, I’m happy with the Nitro, but this one really offers an incredible amount of features for the price.
Like all the kits, there’s four drum pads, three cymbal pads, a hi-hat controller, and a bass drum (with physical beater). While all the pads are quite nice in feel, they actually lack some features: namely multiple zone support, and chokeable cymbals. Don’t let that scare you away because it definitely makes up for it in plenty of other places.
One thing that’s really interesting about this kit is that it features 169 drum sounds and 128 keyboard sounds. If you’re thinking about using your electronic drums to be a one person band, then this could be quite useful. There’s also plenty of teaching functions, a metronome, and more in the brain.
Roland TD-1K ($499/£414)
The TD-1K is the perfect kit to get if space is an issue. It’s incredibly compact, but it still comes with three cymbals, four drum pads, and two pedals. The kick drum doesn’t come with an actual physical beater, which can be a bit of a drawback for delivering an authentic feel, but it does help to reduce the volume.
The reason Roland kits tend to cost more is the drum brain, as they deliver more authentic sounds. In spite of being (relatively) cheap, this one is no exception. It comes with 15 drum kits and all kinds of training options that’ll help you learn.
Another reason the small kit is on the pricier side are the more expressive cymbals that actually feature bow and edge sensing. It also offers support for choking.
Basically, what I’m saying is that you might want to look past the small size of the kit because the features it offers are a bit ahead of all the beginner models.
It’s Time to Drum!
There’s a lot to choose from, so I’m going to throw out a quick recommendation: get the Alesis Nitro if you want really cheap or get the Roland TD-1K if you want to spend more (while gaining lots of features). If you can get a great deal on the Yamaha or Simmons, they’re still great, but their competitors offer a bit more for the price.
Do you play drums with an electronic kit or do you only enjoy the acoustic feel? Are you planning to go out and learn after reading this? Let’s talk drums in the comments!
Image Credit: Tinatin via Shutterstock.com