Avoid Cheap Electronic Drum Sets

Recently I went to my local music store and tested a couple of display electronic drum sets from various brands. Those sets are priced in a range of 300-800€. I was actually shocked at the bad performance and I asked myself: Do people really pay that much money for these horrible e-drum sets?

Doing some further research online led me to videos with people that would sell their own mother just to make some money with these “low budget” sets. They seriously pretend these kits are somehow good.

The same happens with music magazines like for example MusicRadar. This magazine claims in their article “The best electronic drum kits 2018” that certain low budget sets belong to the “10 best e-drum sets in 2018”, while in reality, some of the sets mentioned should actually be listed in as “The worst e-drums of all time.” 

V-drumtips does not like this approach. Therefore I decided to write this post in order to prevent some guys from burning their money on horrible electronic drumming gear. This won’t be a rant post only but there will also be a solution in the end. 

Please note that I do not name any specific set that is junk, but I give you a hint. 

Here is the problem:

The good electronic drum companies are experts in the field, the specialist who even invented most of the technical principles. Talking about companies like Roland, 2Box or ATV (Ex Roland people involved).

These brands are famous for good quality gear. They had the ideas and optimized them for decades. You can easily spot the good brands by looking at major artists and the gear they actually use. Not the gear they endorse!

Ex Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison, for example, endorsed the Pearl E-pro, which is not a good e-drum set, but on stage, he uses Roland PDX-8 pads. 

What you see on the big stages is almost always Roland gear and there is a reason for this. 

E-drums became an increasingly successful concept in the recent years. Roland’s competitors took a note and want a piece of the e-drum cake too. So they make some half-arsed electronic drum products, just without all the expertise, without patents of the technology that actually works and they produce their sets on a low budget to attract buyers with little cash. The guys that only have 300 bugs but no clue about the subject. I was one of them too a few years ago. 

Companies that make low-quality e-drum products seem to spend more money on marketing than on the product itself. This is why you see them everywhere. 

If you are new to drums or new to electronic drums, you won’t spot a bad electronic drum set as they look like the good sets sometimes. I did not notice them myself when I got my first electronic drum set. I bought a horrible e-drum kit despite having 3 years of acoustic drumming experience. I had no idea what I was doing. I thought it makes a sound when I hit this pad and was happy. But my happiness did not last very long. 

What is actually so bad about cheap e-drum sets and how to spot these sets?

1. No Dynamics

Cheap e-drum sets have a trigger dynamic of a light switch. A good electronic drum set has a velocity range of around 127 steps. That means you can hit the pad at up to 127 different velocities (strength) and each “Strength-level” will generate a different sound, not a different volume of the same sound. The cheap sets have only 3- 10 different velocity levels and sometimes even less. And it gets even worse when they trigger the same sample at different volume levels. 

The nastiest piece of garbage I’ve ever played had only one velocity level, “Sound” or “no sound”. In this case, we are not talking about a drum set, but a toy, as you cannot use it for practising the drums. It will actually ruin your skills. You will never learn how to play the drums correctly with such a thing. Avoid!

2. Awful Hi-hat Controllers

A good electronic drum hi-hat has several different positions between open and closed hats, to mimic a real acoustic hi-hat cymbal. Most cheap sets have only 2 positions (Open and close). Even a cheap electronic drum hi-hat should have 3 stages (Closed, half open & open), else you won’t really develop a proper hi-hat playing technique. Furthermore, most electronic drum hi-hats, especially in the entry level sgment, do not work at all, even if they feature several positions between open and close. Avoid!

3. Noisy as Hell

What is the main reason for anybody to buy an electronic drum set? Right, Noise Reduction! You don’t want to disturb others. However, most cheap electronic drum sets are horribly loud. People sell them claiming they can be used in an apartment when in reality, you cannot play them for more than 3 minutes until your neighbour knocks at your door.

Many e-drum rubber pads are not usable in an apartment. Especially the low-end rubber kick pads sound to your downstairs neighbour like someone hitting a piece of wood with a hammer. Forget about low noise.

4. Non Durable

Cheap E-drum sets are not made to last for a long time, they are destined to end up in the bin. Many of these cheap electronic drum cymbals are made by one specific company (Starting with the letter M) that is known for producing very trashy e-cymbals that are not meant to function for more than the warranty period. 

5. Low Resell Value

If you leave a store with a low-end e-drum set, the value of it will go down 50% by walking out the shop door and another 20% when opening the box. People will not give you much money for second-hand junk. No one wants to buy these sets. If you search for an efficient way to transform 300$ to 50$ within half a year, buy one of those sets or simply light your stove with 50 dollar notes.

What to buy?

Let’s say you have 500$/€ and want to buy an electronic drum set. Well, there is really only one option. The Roland TD-1K. 

I am serious. In this price range, there is nothing that works decent enough except the Roland TD-1. The sounds might not be the best and the look is not outstanding, but it triggers well and the playing experience is very good.

In this price range, there is only one company that makes electronic drum kits that do not have the flaws named above. Every other set in this price range has at least 2-3 of the downsides I have mentioned before. Some cheap sets might look better and maybe they do even sound a little better, but they don’t trigger well and come with an awful hi-hat.

The Roland TD-1 has a functioning hi-hat, a quiet enough kick pedal, and very good cymbals/pads. It keeps at least 60% of its value since it is durable. So it can always be resold for a fair price, even after years.

I would even go as far as to say that you won’t find a decent e-drum set up to a price range of up to 800 except the Roland TD-1 or Roland TD-11K. Everything else comes at least with a non-functioning hi-hat. 

Roland is the leader in the field. They have 30 years’ experience in making proper e-drums and famous people use their gear, while the other companies just jumped on the bandwagon to make some cash. The competitor’s high-end gear might be nice, but their low-end sets are a pain. 

It sounds like I am a Roland fanboy, I know. But I am just telling you out of experience how it is. No one else will tell you this, as almost everyone wants to sell you one of those junk sets. 

What to do if you have only 300 bugs?

The answer is simple. Buy one for the following sets second-hand.

Roland TD-3, HD-1, HD-3 or TD-1. 

A 15-year-old Roland TD-3 triggers better and is more durable than most new competitor electronic drum kits in the entry-level section. They do have some flaws sometimes. But they can all be fixed very easily.

A used Roland HD-1 or TD-3 can mostly be resold for the purchasing price if you treat it well.

Most components of a Roland TD-3 stayed unchanged for over a decade, you can still find the pads and cymbals at the new Roland TD-17K-L set. Because the principle is reliable and therefore does not need to change.

I am very serious about this! Save yourself the hassle on burning your money on those cheap sets and buy something that works. 

Get a second-hand Roland set, play it while saving up more money to eventually buy a better set. Whatever you do, avoid this plastic garbage that most companies, stores and music magazines market as if it was a good product.

People will accuse of being a Roland fanboy because this is what they do if they disagree. But I couldn’t care less. You either take my advice or you don’t. I am a “quality gear fanboy” and I tell you if something is good or bad, even if it is a Roland product. 

What if I have less than 300$?

Leave it, buy nothing and save up more money. Playing nothing is better than playing trash. The chances of you losing interest in playing the drums due to a low bad e-drum set are very high. 

I know that some people will not agree with me. Fair play, go on and buy whatever you want. But don’t be mad at the messenger. I am just telling you the facts. 

Good Second-hand sets and their flaws:

  • Roland HD-1, HD-3 (kick and hi-hat pedal sometimes faulty – fixable)
  • Roland TD-3KS, TD-4K&KV, TD-6 (hi-hat pedal sometimes faulty – fixable)
  • Roland TD-4KP (hi-hat sometimes faulty – fixable and loud kick)
  • Roland TD-9K (hi-hat sometimes faulty – fixable)
  • Roland TD-1K and KV (hi-hat sometimes faulty – fixable)

The hi-hat issue can easily be fixed, but sometimes the sets come with cymbals not working, which can be fixed in 90% of the cases if you (or your music store technician) can solder.

I hope this article can prevent some people from buying a bad electronic drum set. Thanks for reading and keep on drumming!

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