Acoustic drums are what most people think of when they think of drum kits. They have round shells made of wood with plastic heads. They also come with various cymbals on stands. While the drum kit has been around for about a century and has evolved, electronic drum kits are newest evolution. Electronic drums are round pads made of rubber, plastic or mesh that plug into a central brain. Each pad gives you a different drum sound. There are additional pads that are suspended and those give you a cymbal sound.
When you’re first starting out on the drums, it’s important to get the type of kit that will best suit your needs. There are a number of considerations when deciding between acoustic and electronic drums. Let’s break down the 6 major differences to help you make a more informed decision about which type of drum kit is right for you.
HOW DO THEY SOUND?
There is no substitute for a good sounding acoustic drum kit. To make a drum sound good however, it must be properly tuned. That requires know-how and maintenance. While you can vary the sound of your drums through tuning, it takes time and effort. Most drummers get their kits sounding the way they like and then they try to keep them that way.
Electronic drum kits come with many different drum and cymbal sounds pre-loaded. While the sounds on an electronic drum kit are quite realistic, they aren’t perfect. You can usually tell them apart from the sound of an acoustic drum kit. With an electronic drum kit you can enjoy practicing with a variety of different sounds. Play with a rock sounding kit and then change to a hip-hop sounding kit with the push of a button. That is something you can’t do with an acoustic kit.
THE FEEL OF ACOUSTIC AND ELECTRONIC DRUMS
There is a certain feel to a drum stick bouncing on a drumhead when you play an acoustic kit. You will also notice that the sound of the drums vibrates and you can feel it in your body. This is especially noticeable with the Bass Drum. The way you control every note you play comes from your body and not a machine. When you play them, your sound and feel are the result of how your body plays the drums.
On an electronic kit, the sound itself is a sample, which means it sounds exactly the same every time. The sound also comes from a speaker or headphones and not the drum itself. This means that the drums will have less of a physical response from the notes you play than an acoustic kit. That difference can also be noticed in the dynamic range (soft-loud) of the notes. On an electronic kit, very quiet notes (ghost notes) are sometimes missed. The rubber, plastic or mesh pads tend to have a bouncier rebound as well. This difference is noticeable enough that most drummers feel a little less comfortable on the opposite type of kit.
THE LOOK & DESIGN
Let’s face it, a drum kit is a work of art. Everything from the hoops and hardware to the finish is designed with a specific look in mind. Drummers sometimes even decorate their kits with graphics on the Bass Drum head. Electronic drums, not so much. No matter how good an electronic kit is, it won’t look very different from other electronic kits to your friends and family. It will ultimately look like a series of pads all plugged in with various wires.
When the music and/or the look of the band on stage is very electronic in nature than an electronic kit can be a great fit. With other instruments however, they aren’t always the best choice and can look or sound out of place. You can’t really decorate them aside from hanging something on the frame. An acoustic drum kit however, is often one of the main focal points on a stage and rarely looks out of place.
THE PRICE TAG
The price tag on acoustic and electronic drums can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. An electronic kit with mesh pads and a more realistic touch will easily cost you over a thousand dollars. There are cheaper alternatives, but generally speaking a cheaper electronic drum kit may not be as responsive as you’d like. Less expensive usually means you will have fewer and less realistic sounds. An acoustic kit will also vary in price depending on whether you are buying a high end kit or a beginner kit. An entry level acoustic drum kit however is a little cheaper than an entry level electronic kit.
The difference between an acoustic and electronic kit here is that with a little care and some tuning, a low end acoustic kit can sound pretty good. A low-end electronic kit on the other hand can be a little sub par and there’s not much you can do to improve it. The other key difference is that a great acoustic kit can be purchased used, for a cheap price. I would not recommend buying an electronic kit used unless you are sure that all the pieces, cables and hardware are included and that everything works. Parts for an electronic kit are costly to replace if they are broken or missing. For more information and tips on buying acoustic drums used click here.
SETUP & CONVENIENCE
Both acoustic and electronic drum kits have many pieces and take time to set up. An acoustic kit will have drums, hardware and cymbals. If you needed to set them up in a small space, you could easily nudge them a little closer together or leave out a piece (like an extra Crash Cymbal or the Floor Tom for example). An electronic drum kit is more complicated to setup. There is generally a frame which all the pads are attached to and you are limited to the size of that frame. It cannot be made smaller regardless of how close together you setup the pads. There are also cables that attach the pads to the brain of the kit and you will need electricity to power the kit. Electronic drums are considerably more inconvenient to pack up and move. This means it isn’t quite as adaptable for traveling as an acoustic kit. Usually people who own electronic kits leave them at home, where as an acoustic kit is far easier to pack into a car and take to a gig or your buddy’s garage for an evening jam.
YOUR PRACTICE ENVIRONMENT
Finally there’s the environment you will be practicing in. Acoustic drums require the freedom to make noise without bothering anyone. There are some things you can do to muffle the drums and cymbals but they will still be noisy. Electronic drums can be played with headphones on. They are a great option if you don’t have the freedom to make noise. If there is anyone below you (in a basement or another floor) then they will likely hear some thumping from your feet on the pedals. If that isn’t a concern then you can easily practice at almost any time of day or night. Pretty awesome if you ask me.
THE CHOICE IS YOURS
You may notice from reading this article that I lean more towards acoustic drums. In the end, the better choice will depend on your budget, whether you can make noise and how much you care about the look, sound and feel of the drum kit. If you live in an apartment building and just want to practice at home, an electronic kit might be the better option. If you can make some noise, want an authentic feel and sound and want to take your kit places (like a gig or a jam), then an acoustic kit would be a better choice. Of course, if you can afford owning an acoustic and electronic drum kit, then an electronic kit makes the perfect practice kit when you can’t make noise or if your acoustic drums aren’t setup.
Hopefully these points help you to make an informed decision about buying drums that are right for you. The next thing you need is some direction so you know what to practice when you get those drums.