If you’re interested in electronic percussion, there are two basic categories to choose from: Electronic Drums and Drum Machines. Electronic drums are essentially electronic versions of acoustic drum sets, whereas drum machines are tabletop devices that enable you to perform and program beats. Electronic percussion instruments are among our many specialties in the B&H pro audio department. We’ve got everything you need, whether you’re looking to add some electronic drums to an existing kit, or pick up a complete set.
We’ve rounded up a number of different electronic percussion products in this article, and corralled them by category. A comparison chart is provided below to give you a way to quickly cross-reference the differences between these models. If you like what you see in this article and you want a little more, check out the Electronic Drum Kits Roundup article that we published late last year.
The Roland HD-3 does a great job of filling many needs. It features a simple user interface (which makes it an ideal kit for beginners) and natural-feeling cloth drumheads (which experienced drummers will appreciate). If there are gamers in the house, the HD-3 can be connected to video game consoles with a separately available adapter. There are 20 complete drum sets in the HD-3 that will all impress you with their rich and realistic sound. This is a very compact electronic drum kit that doesn’t demand very much physical space, and its responsive drum heads and foot pedals were designed to be as quiet as possible (while still being comfortable). The quiet operation means that the HD-3 can be played at all hours without disturbing anyone. B&H sells the HD-3 on its own, and we also offer it bundled with the Mad Catz RockBand 3 video-game adapter, which is required to control video games that support MIDI. It’s also available bundled with the Mad Catz adapter and the separately available DT-1 V-Drums Tutor software (Mac and Windows compatible) in the HD-3 V-Drums Lite Max Pack. Key accessories for the HD-3 are the TDM-1 Drum Mat, which reduces vibration noise and protects your floors, and the PM-03, which is a personal speaker monitor for rocking out.
With a sizable library of internal sounds and the ability to connect to a computer via USB to access even more sounds, the Acorn Triple-D5 makes for a really complete, five-piece electronic drum kit. It features rubber-coated drum pads that provide a nice, non-fatiguing bounce when played. The internal sounds cover a wide range of musical styles: rock, reggae, jazz, electronic, Latin and more. You can mix together sounds from different drum kits, adjust the levels of each drum sound to your liking, apply effects like reverb and chorus and save up to 30 of these custom user kits. The angle and height of every pad can be adjusted, and the included drum frame is made out of tough, extruded aluminum. It has a built-in metronome so you can work on your timing, and there are also 30 built-in songs that you can play along with and practice being a real drummer. The Triple-D5 comes with everything you need to get started, including a kick drum pedal and a pair of sticks. All you need to do is to connect a pair of headphones, or patch the stereo 1/4" outputs to a drum monitor like the Roland PM-10.
If you like the idea of an electronic drum kit, but you want something that provides a closer experience to playing real acoustic drums, you need to check out the Yamaha DTX560K. As a manufacturer, Yamaha has a solid reputation for making excellent acoustic drums, and it have successfully parlayed this experience into its electronic drum products. The DTX-PADs that come with this kit are impressively quiet to play, yet still offer a very realistic feel. The three-zone XP80 snare pad that’s included with this kit makes it possible to play open and closed rim shots, which is fundamentally important when simulating the act of playing an acoustic snare drum. This drum kit also comes with a real hi-hat stand. The dual zone trigger pad on the hi-hat cymbals behaves like a real hi-hat, so the transition between electronic and acoustic drumming is seamless. The other cymbals in this kit feature three-zone triggers (bell, bow and edge), and you can choke them as well (choking is the act of muting a cymbal by reaching out and grabbing it with your hand to stop it from shimmering). This kit does not come with a kick drum pedal, but models like the Yamaha FP-7210 are available separately. You can also purchase the Yamaha FPDS2A, which is a kick-drum pedal and a drum-throne bundle.
Not all electronic drums come in a full drum set form factor, there are many multiple-pad electronic percussion instruments available, and the Roland SPD-30 is a great example of one. The SPD-30 features eight individual drum pads that are physically isolated from one another (so there isn’t any crosstalk from striking vibrations). It’s loaded with 670 sounds (50 complete drum kits), and you can create live loops with its Phrase Loop feature. There are 30 built-in multi-effects, so you can really tweak your sounds. These kinds of instruments can be played on their own, or incorporated into an acoustic or electronic drum set. The SPD-30 has four external drum trigger inputs (one of which is a dedicated hi-hat controller), so this unit can be expanded with external drum pad triggers and made to be a full electronic drum kit. A USB port enables you to connect it to a computer to exchange MIDI notes with music software, and a second USB port lets you connect a flash memory stick to back up your phrase data. The SPD-30 is available in black or white, and it can be mounted on the separately available Roland PDS-10 Pad Stand. B&H also offers the SPD-30 Value Bundle, which includes a white SPD-30, the PDS-10 stand, a pair of Audio Technica headphones, a pair of drum sticks and a Boss FS-5U footswitch.
Most of the equipment in this article triggers a recorded sample of a drum sound when struck, but the Nord Drum offers a sample-free approach to electronic percussion. The Nord Drum is a drum synthesizer, so it generates tones rather than playing back recordings. This unit is not a full-blown electronic drum kit, it’s just a compact module with inputs for four drum pads and MIDI ports (it can receive commands from the pad inputs and MIDI at the same time). It’s compatible with a wide range of drum trigger pads (Roland, Yamaha, etc). Four channels allow it to create four drum tones at a time. Each tone is composed of three elements: the tone (which acts as the body of the sound), noise (which adds texture) and click (which lets you shape the attack of the sound). These three elements allow you to achieve a wide variety of sounds, from purely electronic tones to natural timbres. You can play the Nord Drum by itself or incorporate it into an existing kit. A good example of this would be if you were to put a trigger sensor on the kick drum of an acoustic drum set, and use the Nord Drum to add depth to the sound of the bass drum. This way, every time the drummer struck the kick, the Nord Drum would be adding a lot of body that could be shaped to suit your needs.
Native Instruments Maschine
A traditional drum machine is a stand-alone electronic device that can create drum sounds, so in this respect, the Native Instruments Maschine isn’t a drum machine. Maschine is a combination of a dedicated hardware controller and software that runs on a computer connected to its USB port (Mac and Windows compatible). It features two large 64 x 256 pixel displays, and much of the information that’s required to operate the unit is displayed on them, so your interaction with your computer can be very infrequent. The software can run stand-alone or as a plug-in (VST, AU and RTAS). There are 16 pressure sensitive backlit drum pads and you can have eight groups of these pads loaded up at any given time (you can essentially have eight kits loaded up at a time). When you load a kit, it comes with a pattern, and pressing the Play button starts the pattern. You can switch patterns on the fly, and create original patterns quickly and easily. It features Note Repeat, and has a nice library of effects. Maschine has been a really popular choice for a number of musicians who play different styles. Users just love the workflow. There is a dedicated case for Maschine called Maschine Bag by UDG for playing shows, and a custom dust cover by Decksaver for your studio setup. It’s also available in a more compact form (minus one LCD screen, but with the same power and features) as the Maschine Mikro.
Many people need a compact and lightweight drum machine for creating and recording music, and for playing along with guitar, bass or other instruments. For the better part of the last twenty years, one of the best choices for these needs has been the Alesis SR16. That model remains in production and in demand to this day, but Alesis recently improved upon the original with the updated SR18. It features an ample library of classic and current sounding drum kits, 50 bass instrument sounds (so it can supply a full rhythm section), and an internal sequencer that can record your performances and patterns. After you have enough patterns recorded to create a song, you can put the SR18 into Pattern Play Mode and use its 12 pads to trigger the patterns. It features a 1/4" input for direct guitar or bass connection. This way guitarists that wish to play along with drums and bass can just plug in and go. You can trigger the SR18 to start and stop with a separately available foot switch, such as the Boss FS-1.
The Boss DR-880 has features that appeal to a broad range of users. If you’re a beginner and you want a very capable drum machine that offers easy-to-use controls and features, the DR-880 has you covered with its “EZ Compose” functionality (which greatly simplifies the process of drum programming). If you’re a more advanced user, the DR-880 offers microscopic control over the beats with its “Groove Modify” tool and ability to add ghost notes and fills. If you’re a guitarist or a bassist who wants a rhythm section to play with, the DR-880 hooks you up with a front panel 1/4" instrument input, and a dedicated guitar multi-effects processor with presets for guitar, bass and acoustic guitar (which enables you to play along with the 100 drum kits with a huge sound). The DR-880 comes with 500 patterns that you can play along with right out of the box, and it lets you create and store 500 of your own original patterns. You can back up your work to a computer with its USB port, and connect to other equipment through its digital S/PDIF output. There are two footswitch inputs on the DR-880, but connecting a separately available Boss FS-6 dual footswitch gives you two pedals for each input, so it’s possible to control the DR-880 with up to four foot pedals for hands-free operation.
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