Electronic drum sets are expensive. The top end kits can easily set you back a couple of grand and it’s important to remember this when we’re foraging around at the budget end of the spectrum.
So, cards on the table. None of these sub-$600 kits are going to set the world alight compared to their more expensive peers and don’t go into this thinking they’re going to sound like an acoustic kit. Let’s get that proviso out of the way nice and early.
But buying a budget electronic drum kit doesn’t mean you can’t get something that has half decent sounds that’s really fun to play as you learn your craft. All the kits in this review are primarily aimed at beginners or perhaps ex-tub thumpers coming back to drumming after a long hiatus – commonly known as a mid-life crisis. And because all of the kits listed here are fully adjustable and compact, they’re ideal for parents looking to buy an electronic drum set for their kids.
At the budget end of things, one of the biggest reasons for considering an electronic drum kit will be so you can play quietly; bashing away in your bedroom without annoying the neighbors or the other members of the family. You may also need something that’ll fit snugly into a small corner of a bedroom without taking up too much room.
If this is you it’s your lucky day! There is a lot of dross out there but we’ve scoured the marketplace and shortlisted six of the best budget electronic drum sets around. Let’s get started.
Strapped for time? The Alesis Surge Mesh Kit is our overall winner.
Down in budget basement there will inevitably be compromise but we think these points are pretty important:
- Build quality: the construction and rigidity of the frame
- Pads: What’s the thing like to hit? How do the pads feel and are they responsive?
- Sounds: What are the stock sounds like? Can they be enhanced or expanded?
- Value for money: Yep even in a budget review, price is important isn’t it?
We like the Alesis Nitro Mesh kit up next quite a bit so the enhancements built into the Alesis Surge Mesh were welcome additions in our book. It’s the winner in this review.
Compared to its Nitro stablemate, the Surge mesh kit has a larger 10” dual-zone snare, three 8” dual-zone toms and a kick tower pad with pedal. No prizes for guessing that ALL drums are mesh – including the kick drum. On the Nitro it’s rubber.
This is a real advantage in a budget electronic drum set. Dual-zone drums mean you can have two sounds on one drum and mesh is just more fun to play. In the cymbal department, the ride and crash are chokeable
Aesthetically, the Surge Mesh looks the business with its 4-post chrome rack which is both solid and quick to set-up. There are 40 (24 preset + 16 user) kits built from 385 drum and percussion sounds.
The Surge module, essentially the same as the one supplied with the Nitro, is also home to a wealth of learning features including 60 backing tracks and metronome – really useful for brushing up and enhancing your timing. It’ll even give you an accuracy score at the end!
In line with the other kits in this review, a USB MIDI connection for use with computers is provided, as well as old school MIDI In and Out jacks for hooking up to a drum machine for example.
- Really nice looking kit with decent sounds considering the price
- Larger, all mesh drums make for more a more responsive (and quieter) experience
- Chain driven kick drum is large enough to take a double bass drum pedal
- Additional trigger inputs for extra cymbal and tom pads
- Typical at this price point but hi-hat response is limited
- That’s about it
The Alesis Surge Mesh kit is our winner in this review. It’s not perfect but at this price point nothing is. What you get is a really attractive looking kit with decent sounds and all mesh pads. Collectively, these factors put the Surge in pole position in this review.
Alesis has been around since 1980. They emerged on the marketplace with an almighty thump with their Midiverb effects unit. This was a gamechanger as it heralded the arrival of the first 16-bit multi-effects unit for under $1000.
And the company is no stranger to drumming technology. The Alesis SR16 drum machine is legendary and still widely used today – but how does the Nitro Mesh budget electronic drum kit measure up?
Very well actually. The absolute standout point with the Alesis Mesh Nitro is that whilst it is a budget kit, it does come with mesh heads on all the drums except the kick. Mesh heads are far superior to rubber variants: they feel more natural and are much quieter when hit – likely to be a primary consideration for potential buyers.
The drum pads are all 8” diameter and the snare is dual-zone meaning you can have a rimshot/snare configuration on the same drum – a welcome addition at this price point. This is a five-piece kit meaning you get a proper bass drum tower, a snare, three toms, three 10” cymbals: hi-hat, chokeable crash and a ride. The whole thing hangs off a sturdy four post aluminum rack.
The sounds built into the Alesis Nitro Mesh module are pretty extensive. You get 385 drum, cymbal and percussion sounds and 40 kits – 15 of which are user editable. They’re not brilliant, but definitely usable as this video from Alesis clearly shows.
You also get 60 built-in play along tracks (you can turn off the drums) and a metronome to hone your timing and skills. Each drum has editable parameters such as volume, pan, reverb, basic EQ and pitch.
To hear your rhythmic masterpieces, you’ll need to hook the Nitro up to an external amplifier or use headphones. A bass amp would be preferable or alternatively try this dedicated drum amp from Alesis.
- The mesh drums are a real plus point. They feel good and for those of you partial to a 3am drumming session, they’re pretty quiet too
- Excellent value for money
- Three onboard learning modes to improve your timing
- USB MIDI connection to hook the Nitro module up to a computer and access drum programs like EZDrummer and Addictive Drums for much better drum sounds
- The Aux input means you can connect your phone, MP3 player or tablet and play along with your own music
- Kit can be expanded to include an additional tom pad and cymbal
- The onboard drum kits are a little weak and some have really weird volume settings on each drum – the hi-hat being miles louder than the kick drum for example. We definitely recommend you create your own custom kits
- This is quite a low kit dimensionally. If you’re tall you may actually find it too small. The solution is a drum riser
- There are rims around the drum heads that are quite high. An 8” drum isn’t exactly large to start with so you may find yourself hitting the rims. Not a dealbreaker but it takes some getting used to
- Not really a con but there’s no throne included so you’ll need to buy one (link)
- Headphone volume is on the low side
For the money, the Alesis Nitro Mesh kit is certainly one of the best budget electronic drum sets out there largely due to the mesh pads, it’s compact size, dedicated kick drum pedal and tower, and online learning modes.
As with most kits in this price bracket the Nitro’s inbuilt sounds are a weak point but as an entry point into electronic drums they do the job. The drum sounds can also be improved relatively easily by using the pads to trigger external drum software.
“The moment you play the DTX is the moment you become a drummer” Yamaha boldly claims.
Well, Yamaha is a household name and you do get 10 genre spanning drum kits, including acoustic effects and electronic sounds, and you can create your own kits. A sturdy steel construction keeps everything in place – but no mesh pads unfortunately.
With the 402K you have 8” rubber pads and 287 editable onboard sounds at your disposal, but there’s no hi-hat or kick drum units as such. Both of these are ‘silent’ type which means they’re essentially just pedals. They are quiet but they don’t suit everyone. Try the 402K’s big brother the DTX 432 if physical pedals are important (provide a link).
Where the Yamaha DTX 402K really excels is with its training modules – easily the best in this review. There are 10 built-in training functions – accessible via the module and a downloadable app (DTX 402 Touch) which comprise really useful stuff like Pad Gate, Rhythm Gate Function, Fast Blast Function, and Recording function to quickly assess your skills.
There are one or two gimmicks here, but generally these will really improve your chops as a drummer. A really useful inclusion.
The Touch app also allows you to customize drum kits and sounds and take advantage of the training functions. Another compatible app, Rec’n’Share, enables you to practice and perform with your favorite music and share on social media. (if that’s your thing!). You can even, via your device, record video of you playing.
- A breeze to set-up; literally 15 minutes. 90% of the work is already done in the box
- The sounds are pretty good – arguably better than the Alesis Mesh
- Excellent training modules and really usable apps
- It has rubber pads. Not as quiet, responsive or long-lasting as mesh
- Aesthetically a bit ‘meh’ looking
- ‘Silent’ kick drum and hi-hat. Pedals only
- No screen on the drum module
We actually slightly preferred the sounds on the Yamaha DTX 402K to the Nitro Mesh but there’s not a lot in it.
The mesh pads are a big omission though. Rubber pads just feel artificial. For that reason, we’d put it just behind the other kits ahead of it in this review.
Like Carlsbro, Behringer isn’t a name synonymous with drum kits. Most people would know them for a plethora of other stuff like studio monitors, mixers, signal processors and PA systems. They’re generally regarded as a middle of the road brand: decent quality at decent prices.
With the Behringer XD80-USB we have a 5-piece drum set (8” snare; 3 x 8” toms; 3 x 12” cymbals) powered by the HDS240USB sound module. 10 factory preset kits provide a wide choice of genres covering acoustic, standard, rock, power and jungle. There’s even electronic variants, including an 808 kit.
No less than 175 studio grade drum, cymbal and percussion sounds underpin the XD80-USB and five kits are user programmable. The snare and tom pads are dual-zone rubber and on the cymbal front, the crash and ride are also dual-zone. Great for bell sounds.
Other features include an audio input to play along with music on your device of choice and also a built-in sequencer for play-along practice and performance.
The sounds are pretty good – velocity sensitive for a natural dynamic response and a proper, chain driven kick drum pedal. The hi-hat is pedal trigger only.
- Excellent three-year warranty available from Behringer
- Responsive pads – catch all those nuances and ghost notes. Chokeable cymbals
- Expandable – you can add an additional tom and cymbal
- Excellent value for money
- Nice to have a bass drum pedal but it is a bit flimsy
- You can’t change the pitch of each drum individually
- Not the best instruction manual
- Hi-hat trigger prone to the odd dropout
A solid offering from Behringer. This is a company that consistently offers high quality equipment and cost-effective prices. The XD80-USB is set to continue that trend.
Carlsbro are a well-established British company, better known for their guitar, bass and keyboard amplifiers than they are for electronic drum kits, but let’s not hold that against them!
The Carlsbro CSD130 5-piece electronic drum set features 20 preset and 10 user assignable drum kits, 250 drum sounds (with reverb) and 20 demo tempo adjustable demo songs with mutable drums. The ‘brain’ behind the kit is the Commander 130 sound module.
The kits span a wide variety of musical styles – from pop to funk, jazz to electronic and Latin. Like just about every electronic kit out there, you’ll need headphones and/or an external amplifier to hear what you’re playing. The CSD 130 does have an aux jack so you can hook up a music player to jam along to.
Additional nice touches are a dual zone snare (rimshot anyone?), MIDI in/out, dual chokeable cymbals and a proper kick drum pedal that looks a bit weird because the bass drum pad itself is horizontally oriented.
A not so nice aspect of the CSD130 however are silicone/rubber pads rather than mesh. As far as rubber pads go, these actually feel pretty good.
- Dual zone snare pad
- Sturdy, compact portable 3-legged drum rack. Cabling is virtually invisible
- Dedicated bass drum pedal
- Drums are attached to the rack for convenient folding down and storage
- Great price
- At only 7.5” diameter, the drums are very small
- Distinctly average sounds
- Although the pad positioning is adjustable on the toms, the snare isn’t. If it’s uncomfortable you’ll have to live with it
Carlsbro has done a pretty good job with the CSD 130 to produce a budget electronic drum set that would suit any beginner. It has no standout points however: the sounds are only average and despite the rubber pads being OK, they’re certainly not as good as mesh.
Compared other brands in this review, Hong Kong-based Donner is a relatively unknown commodity – but the facts speak for themselves. For a tad more than $400 you get a five- piece kit, a set of headphones, sticks and a drum throne – and mesh, dual zone heads. A pretty decent bang for buck ratio we think.
The kit configuration is standard fayre: 3 x 8” toms; 8” snare; 10” hi-hat and pedal; 12” ride; 12” crash and an 8” bass drum with pedal. There are 225 built-in drum sounds and 30 rather cheesy tempo adjustable songs to play along to. Fortunately you can hook up your phone or MP3 player and play along with your own tracks
Like the Alesis Nitro, there is connectivity to a PC or MP3 player to access more drum sounds via third party drum software. 16 drum kits are included.
- Drum throne, stick and headphones included – but the headphones are pretty naff. Invest in a decent set and/or an external amp
- Easy assembly. Collapsible three-piece frame
- Mesh heads on all drums
- A dedicated kick drum pedal. It’s not the most stable model we’ve come across though
- The sound module is basic but functional offering control over drum pad sensitivity, reverb and EQ
- Depending on your perspective, the drums have an almost ‘trashy’ sound which will appeal to some for industrial type music. Others may see it as a negative
- Drum pad sensitivity isn’t the best. Be prepared to lose the odd ghost note
- Processing power of the module is lacking. On intricate parts it sometimes gets overloaded and can’t process things fast enough
Whilst it has some advantages over the Alesis Nitro, such as a mesh bass drum pad that’s potentially large enough to take a double bass drum pedal (the Nitro’s won’t), larger dual zone cymbals and dual zone heads, the Nitro has a better controller and better sounds in our opinion.
The Donner DED-200 is somewhat cheap sounding and we think most budding drummers would grow out of it pretty quickly. There are better budget electronic drum sets in this review.
The Bottom Line
It’s important to note that for any kit under $600, there will be compromises, but when we collated all the pros and cons from each entry, the Alesis Surge Mesh Kit is the worthy winner, closely followed by its stablemate, the Alesis Nitro Mesh Kit.
Whatever kit you choose, it’s worth investing in a decent amp and/or headphones, a comfortable drum throne and a set of sticks. Also, to prevent your drum kit from sliding around like a hockey puck, particularly on a wooden or laminate floor, we’d recommend either a piece of carpet or a Drum Mat. A sound investment.
Note also that while these are essentially beginner or kids’ electronic drum sets, it’s pretty simple to upgrade the drum sounds by hooking up to dedicated drum software (like EZDrummer from Toontrack or Addictive Drums from XLN Audio) via a computer.
This is where mesh pads, with their natural, more responsive feel are a real advantage.