If you’re an aspiring drummer looking to get your first drum kit and start your journey in drumming, you’ll probably ask these questions at some point – “should I get an electronic drum kit or an acoustic set up?“, “what are the differences?” and “is it ok to learn drumming on an electronic drum kit?“.
I answer them in this article:
First up, here are the key differences at a glance:
Electronic Drums vs Acoustic Drums
|2 to 4 years
|3 to 5 years
Are electronic drums as good as acoustic?
As show in the table above, there are pros and cons to the use of electronic drums vs acoustic drums. It really boils down to your requirements.
2 common considerations aspiring drummers have are:
- Noise level
- Ease of setting up
Continue reading for more details on each point.
Do note that this comparison gives entry and mid level drums more weight. As you go up the quality chain, they could start to feel similar. However, I don’t have the experience nor the budget to judge high end drums.
In general, an electronic drum kit is less noisy compared to an acoustic set. On average, you should be about 40% – 80% quieter on e-drums.
This is a major concern for drummers living in apartments or studios in a shared building. So…
Do electronic drums make noise?
Well…short answer, yes.
As a gauge, an electronic drum kit with rubber pads comes in about 55dB, mesh pads are softer at about 50dB while an acoustic drum kit ranges between 90 to 130 dB on a sound meter. A rubber practice pad clocks in at about 55dB as well.
In layman terms:
Others can hear (and get irritated) by it, if they are in the same room. They could even hear some soft thumping if they are in the next room (and you have your door closed). However, your neighbours should not be affected by you drumming on an electronic drum kit.
As a summary, the noise level of drum kits are as follows (from loudest to softest):
- acoustic drum kits > electronic drum kit with rubber pads > electronic drum kit with mesh pads
You may think that an acoustic drum kit will always provide a better sound quality than e-drums.
But think again:
The sound quality from an acoustic kit really depends on your set up and your tuning. Although most entry level acoustic drum kits have acceptable sound quality, the variance of sound quality can be rather wide, especially if you’re a beginner who is attempting to set up your own kit with no guidance.
As for electronic drum kits, the sound quality you get would depend on the drum module, the quality of the recorded drum samples and your amp or headphones. That said, in my opinion, it is more difficult to go wrong with e-drums. Entry level or beginner e-drum kits tend to be easier to set up and provides acceptable sound quality right off the bat.
Here, I’m referring to the playing experience that a drummer can get from the drum kit.
Let’s face it, unless you own something like the Roland V-drum Acoustic Design (VAD) 506 kit, an electronic drum kit will almost never provide the full drumming experience for the following reasons:
- Limitation on Trigger Zones
The Roland VAD506 comes with drum and cymbals featuring high sensitivity multi-sensor triggering which were designed for great sound dynamics and accurate position detection. It’ll also set you back by about $5k. If you’re a pro drummer, it may be for you (though who am I kidding, I doubt pro drummers would be reading my simple blog).
In the world of e-drums, the more sensors there are on an electronic drum pad or cymbal, the more expensive the gear would be.
For hobbyist drummers like me (and I think many of you), we’ll probably be playing on entry level or mid level e-drums with single or double trigger zone pads and cymbals. The better of us may have cymbals with an additional bell trigger zone.
This means that our e-drums will trigger the same drum sample no matter where we hit or strike (within the same trigger zone). Highly unrealistic if you’re comparing against an actual acoustic drum kit.
- Limitation on Velocity accuracy
Some of us may have e drum kits with velocity sensitivity pads or cymbals on which you get a better volume feedback based on how hard you strike your drum kit. (i.e. the harder you strike, the louder it sounds)
That said, e-drums usually have an upper limit on the max volume you can trigger hence you don’t get an accurate drumming experience (compared to an acoustic drum kit).
It may be difficult to trigger ghost notes on some e-drum set ups as well.
- Surface feedback
For a lack of a better term…here, I’m referring to the physical feedback you get as a drummer.
On an acoustic drum kit, you have full control over the tension and bounce (which affects your double strokes) from your drum head. Comparatively there’s a narrower range of control on the electronic drums, especially if you are using rubber drum pads and cymbals.
This will affect the way you drum on different sets.
On an acoustic drum kit, you’ll get different sounds depending on where and how you strike. It’s plain physics – for example accidentally hitting the cymbals with the middle of your drumsticks will produce a vastly different sound from tapping the cymbal with the tip of a drumstick.
Having access to a wide range of sound dynamics may be important for musicians who want to experiment with different sounds, or if you play music like Jacob Collier. In this case, you should consider an acoustic kit.
However for most hobbyists pop, rock drummers (and dare I say most jazz drummers), the dynamic range of a mid-level e-drum is sufficient.
In general, the pricing for entry level drum kits are pretty similar. You should be able to get a decent electronic or acoustic kit within a $500 budget.
However, if you are comparing high end drum kits, acoustic drum kits can rack up the budget really quickly especially if you are planning to build one suitable for live concerts.
How long do these drums last?
Depending on your practice schedule, playing style and luck, most entry level electronic drum kits can last about 2 to 4 years. If you’re really down on the luck element, you may experience connectivity or sensitivity issues. Some pads or cymbals may just stop working.
Hence, if you’re getting an electronic drum kit, always make sure you have some sort of warranty that will provide you with technical support for at least 2 years.
Comparatively, entry level acoustic drum kits tend to last longer between 3 to 5 years. If you’re a really hard hitter, you may need to replace the drum heads thereafter. Cymbals tend to last, if it cracks…I’d love to learn your drumming technique.
In my opinion, a major downside of entry level acoustic drums is that they come with relatively average bass drum pedals. It may last way longer than you’d like, and would often be the first gear you’ll want to upgrade.
Or basically, how much space would the drums take up?
A common misconception that aspiring drummers have is that electronic drum kits take up less space.
It really depends on the drum kit you’re looking at, there are electronic and acoustic options available to suit your needs.
A compact drum kit like the Yamaha DTX400 series could take up as little as 33″ x 28″ floor space while a 5 piece drum kit could take up about 60″ by 48″.
Are electronic drums good for beginners?
This is one of the most common questions I get.
In short, if you’re an aspiring drummer with absolutely no experience and only wish to pick drumming up as a hobby, you can learn the basics on an electronic drum kit. You’ll be able to practice and build your fundamentals like time keeping, rudiments and even basic fills. The skill set you build on your electronic drum kit will allow you to play covers and jam with friends in a studio.
However, if you aim to be playing in a live band or become a professional, you’ll want to go with an acoustic drum kit instead.
That said, if your conditions (eg. noise levels or budget) limit your choice, you’ll have no issues picking up the fundamentals with either option.
You’ve read about the limitations on the playing experience that an electronic drum kit provides above. In the next few sections, I’ll share more points of considerations:
Impact on your technique
An acoustic drum kit provides the most direct feedback when you’re practicing or drumming. For example, a common newbie mistake is to hit the snare or toms off center, resulting in a softer sound ridden with overtones and ringing.
You’ll never experience this on an average electronic drum kit. Even if you were to hit off center, you’ll trigger the same drum sample.
This tactile difference may seem like a small detail initially, however it will affect your drumming habits as well as the consistency and strength of your strikes. Such habits will not be obvious if you’ll drumming on an electronic drum kit most of the time.
However, you’ll probably go through a short acclimatization period when you decide to transition to an acoustic drum kit later on.
Electronic drums vs Acoustic drums: It really boils down to your goals.
In conclusion, if you’re an absolute beginner and are looking for a drum kit that is easy to set up and generally quieter, go for an electronic drum kit.
However, be prepared for a slight learning curve if you wish to switch over to an acoustic drum kit in the future.
My advice: if you plan to play with a live band and eventually go on tours, learn to drum on an acoustic drum kit (if you are not restricted by any noise level regulations). Personally, I’m living in an apartment at the point of writing this and have been practicing on an electronic drum kit even during the lockdown, with no complains.