Last Updated on December 7, 2020 by Dave Tudor
Alesis has been producing high quality, affordable products since its formation in 1980 – but it really hit the big time in 1986 with the release of its legendary Midiverb – the world’s first 16-bit digital effects processor available for under $1,000.
Those readers of a certain age will remember the Midiverb – prior to that, boingy spring reverbs ruled the roost. Now you could get pristine 16-bit (well this was the 1980s) digital effects. They sold in their bucketloads.
Today, the company remains focused on providing value for money; the Alesis Nitro Mesh Electronic Drum Set being a case in point.
Before we get into this, some historical information. The original Alesis Nitro Electronic Drum Set, released back in 2015, has largely been superseded by the Alesis Nitro Mesh Electronic Drum Kit which hit the marketplace in 2018.
And while you can still find details of the former on the company’s website, it’s practically impossible to buy it from any retailer (we checked).
But why would you? The Mesh is far superior. The original had rubber pads; the Mesh has, well, mesh pads on everything except the kick drum, resulting in much quieter operation (important if you’re a bedroom drummer) and a much more realistic, responsive playing experience. It’s a no-brainer.
So let’s get to it!
When drummers talk about the size of drum kits, it’s customary to refer to the number of drums in the kit. Thus a five piece kit usually comprises a kick, snare, and three toms.
So it’s a bit confusing that many companies count the cymbals as well. Alesis refers to the Nitro in product descriptions as the ‘Alesis Nitro Mesh 8-piece Electronic Drum Set’. We just wanted to clarify that they’re counting the cymbals as well here: a ride; a crash; and a hi-hat. Essentially, this is a five-piece kit.
In more detail, what you get is an 8” dual zone mesh snare drum, 3 x 8” mesh toms and a mesh kick drum. That’s right four of the five drums are mesh – and that’s a significant improvement over the original Nitro which sported rubber pads througout.
You also get a proper kick drum tower and chain-driven pedal although the pad itself is rubber. I’m sure Alesis’ reasons for not using a mesh kick drum pad are entirely economic, but it would have been nice to have.
Press the mesh
Mesh heads are the overwhelming preference of drummers when they play electronic kits because of their natural feel and ultra-quiet response. Plus, you can tune them like an acoustic kit, they tend to last longer and you can replace them when they do wear out.
That said, the drums on the Nitro Mesh could well take some getting used to. That’s because the rim around the drum heads stands quite proud from the pads and there’s a fair chance you’ll be bashing the rims every now and then until you get used to it.
That’s because, let’s face it, an 8″ drum isn’t a very big target to start with and if you put a high ring around it – well a bit challenging to say the least. It’s fine with a little practice. If you learn on these tiny pads, your accuracy on larger drums will be amazing. Every cloud has a silver lining!
The snare in particular is very responsive in terms of sound triggering, accurately capturing all the nuances of a performance including ghost notes. There are inevitable compromises with electronic drum sets at this price point so we’re pleased that no corners seem to have been cut where this is concerned.
Hold onto your hat
In the cymbal department, the Nitro Mesh features a hi-hat, ride and crash and they’re rubber. If you’re coming from an acoustic kit, these will feel decidedly weird, but they do the job. The hi-hat is a ‘pedal only’ version and the crash is chokeable. All cymbals are 10”.
Dwelling on the hi-hat for a moment; despite the obvious lack of a ‘proper’ pedal, it’s still pretty functional if a little basic, allowing for open, half-open, and closed hi-hat sounds and also ‘chick’ and ‘splash’ sounds when the pedal is pressed down and released without striking the hi-hat cymbal pad. There’s no way however of feathering the pedal for subtlety.
In the looks department the Nitro Mesh is no slouch and at the budget end of the spectrum it certainly has an edge over many of its rivals. The 4-post aluminum rack is as aesthetically attractive as it is functional.
Completing the package is the cabling, a set of sticks and drum key for easy set-up and the sound module of course which we’ll get on to next.
We should mention that this is quite a low kit dimensionally and if you’re a tall person (over 6’) you may well find the kit too low. A relatively cheap and effective fix is to use furniture risers such as these from Slipstick. They’re pretty sturdy and can handle 2,000lbs in weight. They’re often used on beds so an electronic drum kit should be a walk in the park.
Specifications are all well and good but what about the sounds? Actually, for the price, they’re pretty usable. The backlit Nitro electronic drum module comes with 40 different kits of which 20 are preset and 15 are user editable. In total, you have 385 drum, cymbal and percussion sounds built-in. There’s even 60 play along tracks – invaluable for honing your timing.
Hear for yourself how the kit sounds
Kits are displayed on the module display by number only so they’re not identifiable by genre or style which is a bit of a pain. You can tell a lot from the name of the kit in terms of its intended use but not with the Alesis Nitro Mesh – you just get a number. Fear not though, the full drum and voice list is available here.
In our opinion, the preset kits are a definite weak point. Some have strange volume settings for example where the hi-hat is miles louder than the bass drum and snare. We highly recommend creating your own kits and tweaking the parameters to how you want them. You could start with a preset; tweak to taste and then save.
Just look at what this guy was able to achieve with his own custom kits:
As with most electronic drum sets, you can assign different drums to different pads and each drum has editable parameters such as volume, pan, reverb, basic EQ and pitch. When you’re happy with the result, simply save it for future recall. Also on the module is a set of playable mini pads arranged the same way as the kit.
It’s this versatility that you simply can’t get with acoustic kits. For example, you could physically move the snare drum pad to say the tom 2 position and use the rim (because the snare pad is dual zone) to play a ride cymbal. You could use the tom 2 pad as a snare – although it would only be single zone.
Here’s a really useful video about the sound module and how to access its various functions:
We mentioned the 60 in-built play along tracks pre-programmed into the Alesis Nitro Mesh Module – and there’s also an onboard metronome. The backing tracks cover a wide gamut of styles spanning everything from Latin to jazz and rock to pop.
Whilst you can’t change the key of the track, you can adjust the volume, tempo and click track. A really useful feature when you’re jamming along to the tracks is that you can turn the pre-recorded drum track off – and there’s a built-in sequencer to record your compositions.
While some players will be content playing the onboard sounds on the Nitro Mesh, others will want to expand their sonic horizons. For those people, the USB connection on the rear panel enables direct connectivity to a computer which means you can trigger third party drum programs like EZdrummer from Toontrack or XLN Audio’s Addictive Drums via your digital audio workstation (DAW) software.
This video gives a pretty honest account of how the kit sounds. You’ll note a big difference between the onboard sounds and the triggered sounds the guy uses but it’s horses for courses. We reckon the onboard sounds are fine for beginners but when you want to upgrade – you can.
Practically all electronic drum kits offer this capability but it’s good to see nevertheless, particularly if you’re not struck on the Nitro Mesh’s internal sounds. One thing that is a bit different in terms of connectivity is the inclusion of old-school MIDI in and out jacks so you can hook up to your favorite MIDI-equipped drum machine, sound module or other audio gear.
In addition, there’s a headphone jack – perfect for private practice and those impromptu 3am drumming sessions, and stereo outs for connecting up to a PA system, mixer, audio interface or an external amplifier like the Alesis Strike Amp 12 electronic drum amplifier which offers 2000W of explosive bi-amped power.
We simply can’t over-emphasize this point enough: the quality of sound emanating from the kit will depend largely on the quality of headphones and/or external amp so don’t skimp in these areas. The kit will sound best through a decent set of cans like Sennheiser HD280 Pro’s or a dedicated drum amp like the Alesis Strike mentioned above.
Note the Alesis Nitro Mesh is expandable via two input jacks on the rear panel where you can connect an additional tom and crash cymbal.
Completing the connectivity line-up is a 1/8” stereo aux in input for hooking up to your phone, tablet or MP3 player. If you’re not impressed with the integral play along tracks, why not jam along to your favorite tracks directly from your device?
Train to Gain
Whether you’re new behind the skins or a more experienced player – you’ll always need to work on your timing to keep your rhythmic performances tight and in time – which is why the Nitro module features no less than three different learning modes for developing your skills and becoming a better drummer. Start by holding the Page/Select button until the LED under Song/Pattern is lit, and then choose from one of three learning modes:
Beat (BEA): this mode is for the snare pad only and helps develop timing, meter, and basic patterns
Rhythm (RHM): rhythm mode expands the learning environment to the entire kit and helps develop coordination and timing
Pattern (PTN): this mode adds backing tracks for practice playing with accompanying instruments
To help you improve, every practise is recorded and scored by default. Don’t worry; you can turn this function off. You can also record your own performances. Great for identifying areas for improvement.
Assembly & What’s in the Box
Alesis has done a great job with the packaging of the Nitro Mesh kit: the pads, cymbals, pedals, the sound module itself, the rack and mounting hardware, and accessories all come neatly packaged in their own boxes for easy identification.
Also supplied are color-coded connection cables, a set of drum sticks, drum key, power supply and a printed set of distinctly average assembly instructions. There’s an online version here.
The kit comes in a large box with approximate dimensions of 38 x 20 x 13”. It weighs in at around 41lbs. When assembled, you’re looking at the Mesh taking up around 4’ x 3’ of real estate so it’ll easily squeeze into a bedroom or the corner of a room.
The actual arrangement of the kit is customizable so you can position it exactly how you like. It’s also pretty portable: if the crossbars connected to the two center posts are loosened, the kit can be ‘folded’ to make it easier for travel.
One thing we do recommend is not to set the Nitro Mesh up directly onto a wood or laminate floor. It’ll quite likely slide around like a bar of soap. So whilst a rug or piece of carpet isn’t technically required, we recommend you use one. It’ll help keep the entire kit (particularly the kick drum tower and hi-hat pedal) in place and also improve sound isolation.
The Nitro Mesh is configurable for right and left-handed players. Some lefties are saying the cables are a little short and have had to buy extensions to configure it how they want.
What you DON’T get is a drum throne supplied. Probably a bit cheeky to expect one at this price point but you’re gonna need one. If you’re not seated comfortably while you’re bashing away on the pads you’re just not going to enjoy the experience.
Unless you’re planning on nicking a dining room chair which risks upsetting your wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/Mom, especially if they’re sitting on it at the time, purchasing a good quality drum throne is a sound investment.
Metalheads and fans of double bass drum pedals could be disappointed here. The bass drum pad is only 8” diameter so at best, using a double pedal, you’re going to be hitting the outer edges of the pad.
Definitely not ideal. With a single kick drum pedal, the beater hits the pad dead centre because that’s what it was originally designed for. We’re not saying it can’t be done – only that it’s a bit hit and miss – so we can’t really recommend it for that reason.
But if you’re hellbent on having two, why not program the hi-hat to be a second kick drum. That’s what makes electronic kits really versatile. Any pad; any drum.
At the budget end of the market, the Alesis Nitro Mesh Electronic Drum Set fares pretty well. We think Roland has almost priced itself out of the market at this price point: its entry-level kit is now the TD-1DMK which comes in at a tad under $700.
OK so the Roland is a better kit but the Nitro Mesh is priced under $400 so it’s not exactly comparing apples to apples. Plus the TD-1DMK doesn’t even come with a kick drum pedal.
Yamaha offer some decent sub-$500 electronic drum kits – like the DTX402K – but this has rubber pads which are nowhere as good as mesh so that’s a +1 for the Alesis.
In our budget electronic drum kit roundup, the Nitro was pipped only by its Alesis stablemate – the Surge – but it was a close run thing because the Surge is about $200 more expensive than the Nitro.
The modules for both kits are identical, but on the Surge you get a bigger kick drum pad (important for double bass drum thumpers), a chrome rack, dual trigger toms (Nitro is single trigger) and a chokeable ride cymbal.
What we liked
- The mesh pads. Vast improvement over the rubber pads on the original Nitro kit. They feel better, they’re replaceable, last longer and are quieter if you’re looking to keep the noise down
- A nice looking kit with its solidly constructed aluminum rack
- Plenty of onboard sounds and good training modules
- Great value for money
What we didn’t like
- The included sticks aren’t great
- The high rims around the drum heads takes some getting used to
- Headphone volume a little quiet
- Where’s the tambourine?
Verdict: So who should buy the Alesis Nitro Mesh?
In our review of best budget electronic drum sets, the Alesis Nitro Mesh Drum Kit bagged our ‘Best bang for buck’ award’ and deservedly so. It’s ideal for beginners and bedroom drummers and those mesh pads are the icing on the cake.
The kit has limitations however. We wouldn’t want to gig with it and, depending on how serious you are, it’s quite likely that you’ll outgrow it before too long. But it’s relatively simple to breathe new life into it by simply using the pads to trigger external drum software.
So if you’re looking for a relatively cheap introduction into electronic drum kits that represents great value, you should definitely check out the Nitro Mesh. At its price point there’s nothing to touch it. Also, just as importantly, it’s just great fun to play.