Electronic drums can seem like the solution to so many of a drummer’s problems. They give a lot of flexibility to playing, they allow you to listen to your playing on headphones, and they’re more compact. However, they are expensive. Even compared to a good acoustic kit, electronic drums are pricey. Why is this?
We’ve explored some of the reasons why electronic drums cost more money in this post, and also why it might still be a worthwhile investment to get yourself a set. Spending a little more on music gear can sometimes be worth it.
Of course, we’re having to generalize a bit when it comes to our answer. There are, in fact, a lot of contributing factors.
The main reason electronic drums are so expensive is that they cost a lot to make. They involve a lot of different components, and to get a reliably good sound and feel, the parts are more expensive.
On top of this, the research costs and development of the products probably plays some part in the price, too. They’re a relatively new product (in comparison to other musical instruments, anyway) and this may be one reason for them costing more.
However, there are still loads of reasons why electronic drums justify their price tag. Most musicians agree that buying an electronic drum kit doesn’t mean getting ripped off, just investing a little more.
How Electronic Drums Work
To fully understand the price tag, it helps to understand roughly how the instruments work, and what is being asked of each of the individual components.
Instead of actual drums, you have pads. Each of these pads has a sensor within or underneath, and when the pad is struck, the sensor sends a signal to the sound module, or “brain” of the electronic drum set.
The “brain” uses this data to trigger a sound. Often, the user can choose from a wide variety of different sounds, which makes the drums even more versatile. From electronic kits for Hip Hop to kits that sound like vintage 60s drums, you can often make the choice.
So, even without taking into account the cables and connections within the drum set, there are already some very expensive components.
The Drum “Brain” – An Expensive Piece of Kit
We’ve already referred to the brain. This is basically the module triggering all of the sounds. In effect, it is like a mini computer, with the function of understanding when a drum pad is struck, how hard it is struck, and using this data to trigger sounds with virtually no latency.
Latency would cause the drummer a delay in what they are hearing, confusing them and for other musicians, as it can lead to paying out of time.
If you look for drum modules on their own, they can cost a huge amount of money. It is not uncommon for the best ones to cost the same as a whole budget drum set. With this in mind, you can see how a few hundred dollars is added to the cost just by having to have this extra component. Acoustic kits don’t need it, of course.
It is worth investing to get a module that can do the job well, triggering a lot of sounds, reliably picking up when the pads are hit and giving the sensitivity and dynamics you will need as a drummer.
The drum brain can also allow us some other great features and functionality that musicians love, including MIDI outputs for use with a DAW, and headphone outputs so you can listen in private.
Some cheap drum modules are a lot less reliable than you would want them to be. They don’t have the same professional feel to them. Unfortunately, it can be hard to find “budget” options of electronic drum equipment that can still do an adequate job.
Why do Acoustic Drums often cost less?
A budget acoustic drum set for beginners can be very affordable. You can sometimes find decent options for a few hundred dollars. These aren’t the sort of drum sets that will be used to record hit albums or headline festivals, but they can still be a good option to learn how to play.
A main reason for this is simply supply and demand. There are a lot more acoustic drum kits out there and so price of pre-owned kits comes right down.
Acoustic kits are also easier to maintain and repair for a long time whereas getting an old electronic kit repaired can be a costly and complicated process, and so often doesn’t get done.
For this reason, finding electronic drums under $300 can be a challenge, and if you are really serious about your kit, you might need to spend significantly more. Some of the very best electronic drums offered by brands such as Roland can be $5,000.
A decent electronic kit can be bought for around $500-1000. The more you spend, the better quality the onboard sounds tend to be, and the sensitivity of the drums may also be adjustable.
This post from Roland US explains how their pads can be adjusted to mimic the feel of acoustic drums. Head tension is different to pad sensitivity, and it is hard to give the same feeling as playing acoustic drums.
Are Cheap Options Worth Exploring?
As with a lot of expensive instruments, there are cheaper options cropping up on the market. People try to create drum sets that can do a good job without costing too much.
Electronic kits are often very good for beginners, but you won’t want to spend a huge amount on a set if you are just getting started.
Some of the options that are around the $500 mark are pretty good quality. The Alesis Surge Nitro Mesh Kit is a great affordable option. You can get a very basic kit for less than $300 or a pretty advanced kit for just under $600.
You can spend less by buying options from Behringer or budget manufacturer Donner, but they tend to be lower in terms of quality. They are often lacking in clarity and fidelity when it comes to the sounds they can generate.
If you simply want to practice the drums and aren’t going to try and record them then a cheaper kit should be fine.
Reasons to Choose Electronic Drums
Though electronic drums are more expensive, for some people they might be a better choice. Opening up more functionality and causing less noise pollution for the neighbors.
With more of us now forced to live in apartments, a full acoustic drum kit is simply not an option. Even using dampening pads or brushes just won’t do the job and you are bound to get an angry letter from Susan in the apartment next door within a week.
If you want to practice in a place where the volume can’t be very high, or you want to find a drum set that can easily link with software such as a DAW, electronic drums can be a good choice.
And although not many musicians use them in a live scenario, they certainly can be used live if you wish, they just need to be connected to an amp or PA system.
Electronic drums are much more compact in their design as they don’t need the large size to create volume and resonance. You can get away with a tiny pad as rather than a huge kick drum for example.
They also fold away and store much more easily, so if you are in an apartment and you can’t have them out all the time. You will be able to fold them down and store them away. Something you simply can’t do with an acoustic kit.
Faster and Simpler Recording
Although the sound quality might be lacking a bit of ‘realism’, it is much easier to record a decent sound quickly from an electronic kit.
With an acoustic kit you have all sorts of things to worry about, how many microphones to get, which microphones to get, microphone placements, room acoustics. It’s not a job for the faint hearted, and even after that the sound can be less than satisfying!
With an electronic kit you can simply plug into an audio interface using the outputs on the kit and record into your DAW software.
Cheaper options to consider
If you like the benefits of an electronic kit but still can’t justify the cost, then here are a few other options to consider.
A Table-Top Kit
As a cheaper compromise why not consider a table top kit? Ok so it won’t feel like playing a real drum kit. However, if you want to use it to record or to play MIDI samples, it will help you make your recordings sound much more realistic than simply programming a MIDI track. This was one of my top tips in an article about how to make programmed drums sound more real.
You still get to use stick and hit things, but the price is well under half what you would pay for a full electronic kit and it takes up a fraction of the space in your studio too.
These table top kits from Alesis are a great value option to consider:
A Midi Drum Pad Controller
Another step removed from a full kit is a Midi Drum Pad controller. These work by controlling MIDI samples in your DAW or on a MIDI program. For more info on what MIDI is check out this detailed article.
These pads are designed to be played with your fingers rather than drum sticks, and so are even less like a drum kit than the table-top kit just mentioned above. However, you are still able to create dynamics (variation in volume) in your drum tracks and so they will still have a realistic feel when compared to just manually programming a MIDI drum track.
Consider Hiring a Practice Room or Recording Studio
If you really want that acoustic drum sound but don’t have space, money or patient neighbors to have one at home; then consider practice rooms.
These spaces are now more common than ever. And for not much money, you or your band can hire a space which comes with a drum kit included and you can play them as loudly as you like without having to worry!
Followers of the blog will of course know I’m an advocate for recording as much as you can at home. But even I concede that you may need to go into a studio, even if only briefly, to record something like drums.
In a studio everything will be mic’ed up professionally and the acoustics will be sorted for you. This can save so much time and so many headaches.
So perhaps consider recording most of your tracks at home (even using programmed drums) and then hiring a studio for a day at the end to re-record your live drums!
As explained in this guide, the electronic drums on the market are more expensive due to the way they are made, and the fact that the technology is pretty advanced, and relatively new.
Electronic drums aren’t the sensible choice for everyone, but some musicians will find them to be the most convenient option, and your neighbors might thank you, too.
As with everything in the home studio you must consider what you need it for. Is it mainly to practice or is it to record? These are all questions to ask before rushing out and making a purchase.