For every guy out there who’s ever fantasized about being in a rock band -- OK, for every guy out there -- the dream has now become a little more accessible thanks to the arrival of electronic drum kits. We asked two veteran drummers for their thoughts on electronic drums in general, and which kits in particular get them jazzed.
“Early electronic drums were crude,” says Ray Brinker, a Los Angeles-based drummer who’s toured and recorded with some of the biggest names in the music business, including Ray Charles, Pat Benatar and David Lee Roth. “The sounds were very limited and the playing surfaces were hard and unforgiving.”
But that was then. “Electronic kits have progressed in quantum leaps,” continues Brinker. “They’re now extremely touch-sensitive, the feel of the heads is natural and the sound quality is pure. And with an electronic kit, you can control so many more variables when you’re recording in a studio. The result is a very clean-sounding record.” Brinker admits you do lose a bit of warmth with an e-kit, but in the studio, he says, there’s really not much difference between a good electronic drum kit and a nice-sounding acoustic set.
New York-based Mark Robohm has been drumming for more than 23 years, accompanying artists from Alicia Keys to Jay Sean, both in the studio and on tour. He believes electronic drums are great -- in their place. “When you’re learning, I think about 50 to 70 percent of what you need to accomplish can be done on an electronic set,” he says. “But I wouldn’t depend on them alone.” And as drummers become more proficient, adds Robohm, they care more about things like texture, feel and sensitivity. “As you grow as a musician, you find that electronic kits just don’t cut it. You’ll need to work with acoustic drums.” Though Robohm, like most pros, does use an electronic kit to augment his acoustic set, he doesn’t believe e-kits will ever replace acoustic drums at the professional level.
As far as which kits are best, both Brinker and Robohm recommend either Yamaha or Roland. Brinker thinks Roland has a slight edge, though, says Robohm: “It’s really less a question of brand and more about what level you’re buying in at.” Below are four kits at various levels and price points to get you started.
TOP OF THE LINE: The Yamaha DTX950K
Incorporating Yamaha’s innovative DTX pads, this first-rate kit is designed to please even the most seasoned professional. The pads have a textured cellular silicone head that deliver a feel similar to an acoustic set.
Drum Brain: DTX900
Rack System: HXR4LD -- new expandable Hex Rack system
Price: The Yamaha DTX950K is not longer available and has been discontinued, but you can shop for other electronic drum kits here:
MOST BANG FOR THE BUCK: The Roland TD-12KX
It’s not Roland’s absolute top-of-the-line kit, but the TD-12KX is a lot of bang for the buck, and it offers plenty of features to satisfy an advanced drummer. Roland has upgraded the pads and hardware on this model and has also given it enhanced VEDIT features.
Drum Brain: TD-12 Percussion Sound Module
Rack System: MDS-12X -- newly designed and streamlined
Price: $3,999 at B&H Foto & Electronics
BEST ASSORTMENT ON A BUDGET: The Yamaha DTXPRESS IV Special Edition
The rubber pads are a downside for some, but the kit also features a nice assortment of acoustic drum sounds, including new audio from their Oak Custom series drums.
Drum Brain: DTXP4
Rack System: RS-85 -- compact and foldable for easy storage
Price: $1,500 at Amazon.com
MOST AFFORDABLE: The Roland TD-4SX: V-compact Series
This latest version of the TD-4S kit was created with affordability in mind. The kit has great feel and versatility for the price, and the company has outfitted this incarnation with newly developed 6.5-inch mesh pads for high-toms.
Drum Brain: TD-4 Percussion Sound Module
Rack System: MDS-4 -- includes rack, plus clamps and arms, for both pads and cymbals
Price: $1,400 at PSSL.com