Electronic Drum Sets vs Acoustic: Which Should You Choose?

Electronic Drum Sets vs Acoustic: Which Should You Choose?

Deciding between an electronic or acoustic drum set is one of the biggest choices a new drummer has to make. Both have their own sets of advantages and disadvantages that make them better suited for different needs. This comprehensive guide will compare electronic and acoustic drum sets across all the most important factors so you can determine which is right for your goals, skills, living situation, and budget.

Overview Comparison

Here is a high-level overview comparing electronic drum sets versus acoustic drum sets:

FactorElectronic Drum SetAcoustic Drum Set
SoundDigital sounds from drum module/brain Extensive built-in sounds and ability to load more Variability depends on module qualityNatural acoustic drum sounds Sound depends on drum construction More realistic feel
VolumeVolume controlled through headphones/amp Almost silent practice possibleLoud acoustic sound Difficult to keep quiet
FeelMesh heads and rubber pads Good dynamic response Doesn’t match acoustic exactlyNatural acoustic feel Most realistic drumming experience
CostAffordable basic models Higher-end sets compete with acoustics No maintenance costsWide range of prices Ongoing maintenance expenses

As you can see, electronic drum sets excel in volume control and affordability, while acoustic sets provide the most realistic drumming experience. The following sections explore all these factors and more in detail.

Sound Quality

The first major difference between acoustic and electronic drum sets is how they produce sound.

How Electronic Drums Make Sound

Alesis Nitro Max Kit Electric Drum Set

Alesis Nitro Max Kit Electric Drum Set

Electronic drum sets have drum pads and mesh heads fitted with sensors. When you strike the pad, the sensor transmits a signal to the drum module or “brain”. This module contains pre-programmed drum sounds that play through an amp or headphones when triggered.

Electronic drums rely on digital samples to recreate drum sounds. While the quality of these samples continues to improve, they still have some limitations compared to real acoustic drums. On the plus side, you can plug electronic drums into a computer and use software sounds for more realism.

Some key attributes of the sound quality of electronic drum sets include:

  • Built-In Sounds: Drum modules contain lots of pre-loaded drum and percussion sounds including snares, kicks, cymbals, orchestral percussion, electronic drums, and more. High-end modules have hundreds or even thousands of sounds.
  • Sound Customization: You can edit sounds by adjusting parameters like pitch, decay, reverb and more to craft your own customized sounds.
  • Sound Expansion: Many drum modules allow you to expand the built-in sounds by loading free or paid sound packs which gives you endless sonic variety.
  • Audio Recording: Electronic drums can connect directly to a computer via USB or MIDI to record drum tracks. This makes them an excellent choice for home recording and working with drum software.

How Acoustic Drums Make Sound

Ashthorpe 5-Piece Complete Junior Drum Set

Ashthorpe 5-Piece Complete Junior Drum Set

Acoustic drums produce sound waves naturally when the drum head vibrates after being struck by a stick/mallet. The sound is authentic and organic rather than digitally reproduced.

The quality of acoustic drum sounds depends on factors like:

  • Drum Shells: Acoustic drums are constructed with wooden shells, metal shells, or other materials that resonate and amplify the sound of the drum heads. Higher quality shells produce better sounds.
  • Drum Heads: The batter and resonant drum heads (often made from materials like Mylar) also significantly impact tonality as do head properties like thickness.
  • Tuning: You can fine tune acoustic drums by adjusting lugs/tension rods. Proper tuning dramatically affects the quality of sound an acoustic kit produces.

While acoustic sound depends more on physical construction, this allows for a lively, rich and familiar sound that electronic drums strive to simulate.

Sound Comparison

When comparing electronic vs acoustic drum sound, some key differences emerge:

  • Realism: Acoustic sounds feel more realistic, organic and responsive. The sound reflects the natural tones of wood, metal, and drum heads. Electronics are more artificial.
  • Variability: Electronic drum sounds vary wildly depending on module quality. Lower-end models sound more artificial while higher-end modules provide very realistic sound.
  • Flexibility: Electronic kits offer far more flexibility thanks to an abundance of built-in sounds, customization options, and ability to add new sounds.
  • Ambient Noise: You hear ambient acoustic noise on electronic kits from stick hitting plastic so acoustic sets provide more isolation.
  • Microphones: Recording acoustic drums generally requires high-quality microphones while electronics can plug directly into recording gear.

For professional-level realism, nothing yet matches the sound quality of a fine-tuned acoustic kit played with high quality drumsticks. However, electronic sounds continue to improve with some high-end models coming extremely close to replicating the tone of acoustic drums – close enough for many users.

Volume Control

Another major area where electronic drum sets and acoustic drums differ significantly is volume control.

Acoustic drum sets are inherently very loud instruments thanks to the ample resonance created by drum shells and the loud “crack” of drum sticks striking head. This makes volume control a constant struggle for acoustic drummers.

Acoustic Drum Volume Challenges

A beginner beating away full-force on a low-end acoustic kit can easily hit sound levels over 100 decibels – as loud as a jackhammer! Playing aggressively at this volume risks:

  • Hearing Damage: Prolonged volume over 85 dB can cause long-term hearing damage. Acoustic drums when played hard easily exceed safe levels.
  • Noise Complaints: The loud sounds of crashing cymbals and pounding drums easily penetrate walls in homes, duplexes and apartments risking formal noise complaints and fines.
  • Practice Limitations: Extreme volumes greatly limit when and how long you can practice acoustic drums so as not to disturb others.

Controlling acoustic drum volume requires a number of creative solutions:

  • Sound dampening pads attach to drum heads reducing sustain and volume but also high-end resonance.
  • Wooden mute pads placed on drum edges to reduce resonance when the head isn’t stuck directly.
  • White noise machines help mask drums (for you and others) without causing additional hearing damage.
  • Isolating rooms/barriers block sound penetration through walls but are costly.
  • Electronic drum kits for silent practice is an increasingly popular solution!

In summary, managing acoustic drum volume takes effort, compromises sound quality, possibly still annoys others nearby, and limits flexibility if drums must be kept quiet.

Electronic Drum Volume Control

With electronic drum sets, you control volume in two ways:

  1. Via Headphones
  2. Via Amp/Speakers

Headphones allow you to drum in complete silence – perfect for apartments or late night practice when you don’t want to disturb anyone. Just plug headphones directly into your drum module.

Amps/Speakers give you control over loudness. Set your amp volume to an appropriate level depending on time of day and location. Bass amps and keyboard amps work well for projecting e-drum sounds.

Electronic drums also generate some ambient acoustic noise when drum sticks strike rubber drum pads and mesh heads but this noise is insignificant compared to an acoustic kit.

With either sound setup, your e-drum volume is entirely adjustable on-demand avoiding noise issues or hearing damage. Just bear in mind using an amp at excessive volumes still