Thanks to media outlets like Twitch and YouTube, more players than ever before in history are vying for their chance to be seen behind the kit.
A common question we get asked is, “Which type of drum set is right for my favorite drummer or me?” Acoustic drums tend to take center stage, but a growing range of entry-priced electronic kits packs this market corner with attractive alternatives.
Whether you or a student are transitioning from one type of kit to another (acoustic to electronic drum, electronic to acoustic drum) or picking up the sticks for the very first time, in this guide, Fidlar will show you Acoustic Vs Electric Drums comparison.
Hands down, electronic kits have the edge in terms of sound control. Due to their wall-penetrating bass frequencies, practicing on acoustic drums is virtually impossible in an apartment complex or within a quiet neighborhood.
Electronic drum kits employ rubber/silicone pads or breathable mesh drumheads to dramatically reduce the level of ambient noise, making them an excellent option for making music at home, as well as for playing out on quiet stages and worship platforms.
This is not to say that electronic drums don’t produce any sound. Footwork is still going to be transmitted from your leg to the floor and down to any neighbors or family in the room beneath you.
Roland’s Noise Eater isolation pads and drum hardware go a long way in reducing vibrations’ transmission. Even with these, you may have to consider a floating drum platform to eliminate low-frequency rumble.
The tradeoff of this subtle design is that you’ll have to get used to having a set of headphones on hand for practice and an amplifier or PA ready for jamming with other band members.
Easy to Record
Properly miking and recording an acoustic drum kit is costly, and a good technique can take years to perfect. Electronic kits have the lock-in two ways: direct audio output and MIDI/USB performance.
Let’s say you come across a sound in the module that you love, and you want to capture performance for safekeeping to flesh it out later in your DAW. Most electronic drum modules will give you a way to output the stereo audio mix the very same mix you hear in your headphones to a computer interface for tracking.
This is drum recording at its simplest. More advanced kits will even let you export multitrack audio (individual kick, snare, toms, and cymbals) via USB without the need for an interface.
But there’s another way in which electronic drum kit recordings are future-proof, and that’s thanks to MIDI. You’ll find this protocol on intermediate electronic kits as either a 5-pin DIN connector, which requires a simple MIDI interface to connect to the computer, or a streamlined USB-MIDI connection, which plugs directly into a compatible laptop or desktop computer.
Capturing a performance as MIDI rather than audio gives you access to the latest virtual instruments and sound libraries, which allows you to edit and even completely change the sound of your performance down the road.
So, even if a rock track becomes a club banger as production proceeds, the heart of your account remains intact. It also makes advanced editing such as quantization and tempo adjustments a whole piece of cake.
Limitless Sound Possibilities
Whether you need a tabla, an 808 EDM kick, or a concert bass drum, chances are you’ll find it in your electronic drum module’s stock sound library along with a dozen or more traditional drum kits from rock to metal to swing. All told, even the most delicate acoustic drums can’t match the ease of versatility provided by modest electronic equipment.
This makes them indispensable solutions for cover bands and recording artists who need instant access to a wide variety of drum sounds. Selections are made all the more exhaustive with virtual instrument libraries in the studio and complete setlists of stabs, one-shots, and effects sound importable via SD card (varies by module) onstage.
No Amplification Needed
Suppose sound control and recording simplicity are not all-important factors. In that case, we at Sweetwater feel an acoustic set of drums is the ideal musical foundation for any drummer who’s just building their chops.
One of the most significant advantages of this type of kit is its ability to keep up with a full stage of amps or an entire concert ensemble without amplification.
There are no cables to plug in, no sounds to dial in, and feeling the raw power and immediacy of an acoustic kit from the player’s perspective can inspire performances in ways that electronic kits cannot match.
Of course, two primary concerns you’re going to run into with acoustic drums are
1. Muffling those shells to a desirable level and
2. Keeping heads fresh and tuned up.
Poorly tuned drums can undoubtedly take the wind out of a fledgling drummer’s sails. Fortunately, Sweetwater offers many online articles and videos for getting the best sound out of an acoustic kit.
More accessible to Gig and Jam
The acoustic drum kit is as central to modern music like the electric drum itself. Nothing facilitates creative music-making, quite like a set of classic drums tuned up and ready to rock. From churches and schools to practice rooms and music venues, anywhere you can plant it, an acoustic kit is bound to facilitate sweet jams.
The acoustic drum kit is also, in many respects, more comfortable to gig out with. Sure, acoustic drums are bulky and heavy, and they require several back-and-forth trips and lots of time to set up. But once set, there are no cables to plug in, no power outlets to track down, and no stage levels to dial in. In a live environment, it’s as close to throw-and-go as gigging gets.
Better for Learning Proper Dynamic Control
There’s something else you’ll gain from cutting your teeth on an acoustic drum set, and that’s the dynamic control you learn from manipulating drum sounds with your hands and sticks. We mentioned that acoustic drums are loud, and that’s no lie.
But in reality, a seasoned drummer with reasonable dynamic control and the right set of tools (rods, brushes, mallets) can whip up the nearly limitless dynamic range to suit any style and application of music.
From wide-open classic rock to the sweetest holiday jazz, an acoustic drum kit in experienced hands is one of the most versatile instruments on the planet. Acoustic drums teach this control in ways that electronic drums can’t touch.
Acoustic Vs Electric Drums Conversion
For many fledgling (and, indeed, veteran!) drummers, the acoustic drum kit’s domestically challenging volume levels are a potential show-stopper and no one enjoys playing on deadheads or drum mutes.
On the other hand, E-drums deliver their sampled sounds via volume adjustable headphone and line outputs, and although their rubber pads are still far from silent, the difference is night and day and mesh pads are even quieter.
Even the smallest full-size acoustic drum kit is a big, hefty collection of things, and the kick and cymbal stand legs outline a considerable footprint. Again, the budget e-drum kit walks away with this one, its racking, small pads, and kick tower adding up to a comparatively compact rig.
Another easy win for e-drums, as most modern beginner kits fold down to a readily manageable, almost flatpack arrangement, while the acoustic alternative barely packs down and generally demands separate cases for each drum, plus two more for cymbals and hardware if it’s heading for long-term storage or leaving the house.
Technology being what it is, the saying, ‘You get what you pay for’ applies more directly to electronic drums than it does their acoustic counterparts. The meaningful difference between a $/£500 drum kit and a $/£6,000 one is less profound than the increase in playability and sound quality that the equivalent upgrade gets you in the e-drum market.
So, while a budget acoustic kit may well see you through those formative years and some way beyond, you’ll quite quickly outgrow a similarly priced e-drum equipment as your skills and aural discernment improve.
Unsurprisingly, the electronic kit holds all the aces in this particular game, providing not only tons of tweakable onboard sounds, glamorous DSP effects, and convenient MIDI (over USB and 5-pin DIN) and audio output, but also a variety of genuinely useful coaching and training tools that are of enormous value to the aspiring newbie.
From exercises designed to develop timing, speed, and consistency to full play-along tracks, it’s here that e-drums trounce the resolutely albeit reassuringly low-tech architecture of the acoustic kit.
There’s simply no comparison between the natural feel and directness of a real drum set head and the hard, triggering response and smaller target area of an 8″ rubber pad, most budget electronic kits these days include a much more ‘realistic‘ mesh head for (at least) the all-important snare drum ideally dual-zone for rimshots which we would argue is a must-have.
For added realism, a kick drum tower, as opposed to a beatless pedal, should also be on the drummer’s shopping list, along with a dual-zone ride cymbal if possible. Even with all those boxes ticked, though, the acoustic kit still can’t be ahem beaten in the playability department.
With budget e-drums not necessarily blasting out the most precise sounds and requiring some form of amplification to be heard in a live setting be it through the venue PA or a dedicated amp and speakers, the acoustic kit has the edge on stage when it comes to rock, jazz, and other electric/acoustic styles.
The MIDI output of the e-drum equipment facilitates velocity-sensitive triggering of synths, samplers, and drum machines, either hardware or laptop-hosted software, opening up an endless universe of tonal possibilities that transcend the earthbound limits of acoustic drums. If your band is of an electronic bent, this alone could seal the e-drum deal.
The samples built into your affordable e-drums aren’t going to cut it as a bonafide acoustic kit emulation in the studio any more than they will on stage but once again, that MIDI output proves an invaluable inclusion.
Connecting it to your Mac or PC lets you use those pads to trigger instead remarkable multi-gigabyte sampled drum set plugins such as Toontrack’s Superior Drummer 2 or FXpansion’s BFD3 in any software DAW, and capitalize on the creative power that MIDI recording and editing bring to the table.
Committing an acoustic kit to ‘tape,’ meanwhile, calls for a decent set of microphones, an engineer who knows what they’re doing, and an adequately treated recording space that’ll be a recording studio, then.
Moving from one to the other
The final consideration in our percussive wood/silicon face-off is how readily technique developed on e-drums translates as, ultimately, it must to the acoustic kit.
To make this crucial switch as painless as possible, mesh pads (for the snare at the very least) and a kick drum tower are essential, as these will get you significantly closer to the physicality of sticks/beater on Mylar than rubber pads and a beatless pedal ever could.
Even with those criteria fulfilled, though, moving from the 8″ places of the entry-level e-drum set to the 14″ snare and 10-16″ toms of the real deal is always going to involve a period of adjustment.
So, where does all this leave us? In a nutshell, for the novice drummer, an acoustic kit is the better choice from a developmental perspective, and every effort should be made to accommodate one if and when at all possible.
However, today’s affordable e-drum setups make more than acceptable substitutes when space and noise are issues, especially if you opt for a model with mesh heads (on the snare at least) and a kick drum tower.
And, of course, onboard training tools, ‘produced’ sounds, and MIDI output all make for compelling extras, especially if you’re looking to integrate your drums into a home studio.