Acoustic drums, what was once only available to a niche market of people who could afford them, now electric drum kits become highly affordable for every drummer in the world. Have they come far enough to compete with acoustic drums, though?
Can electronic drum sets be a suitable replacement for the real thing?
The answer is no. But electric and acoustic drums each have strengths and weaknesses.
Acoustic vs Electronic Drums – What’s the difference
In this article, we will discuss the differences between acoustic and electric drums, benefits and limitations, playability and practicality, recording, and pricing.
- Firstly, acoustic drums are responsive: They stay constant in how they sound depending on how you hit them. So you as a drummer will learn to play them in a certain way to get the sound you want. This will develop your technique. You will need an excellent technique to get the best sound out of the drums.
- Acoustic drums are loud: They are good for high energy playing. When playing live gigs, your band members are going to want to feel it when you kick the bass drum.
- Easy to set up and take down: All acoustic drum sets are generally structured the same way. So if you end up playing on a kit that isn’t your own, you will still know how to rearrange it to fit your preferences.
- It’s easier to shift to e-drums. If you have been playing acoustic drums all your life, you can transition to electronic kits smoothly. However, if you are used to electronic drum sets, you will find moving to acoustics kits to be a little tricky.
- Volume can be an issue when it comes to acoustic drums. They’re good for gigs but they’re not good if you live in an apartment or a quiet neighborhood. To be able to practice in those spaces, you will have to somehow soften the drums, which in turn won’t give you the authentic feel of them when playing.
- Regular drums tend to take up space. Even the smallest acoustic drum set will need a decent area of space to put the bass drum and then fit cymbal stands all around.
- Standard drum sets need to be tuned. The tuning process can take years to master. Tuning the drums is necessary if you want them to sound great.
- Electronic drums have volume control. This makes them ideal for low volume practicing. So if you’re living in an apartment or a quiet neighborhood, they are perfect for that.
- They also don’t take up much space. The drum pads on electronic drums are small. The bass drum pad included. Meaning an electric drum kit will fit into any tight corner.
- Electronic drums don’t need to be tuned. They have a multitude of drum kits programmed into them, which sound studio quality. You can tweak those sounds on most electric kits.
- Not much maintenance is needed: Even if you haven’t cleaned or done any maintenance work on your e-kit for months, it will still sound as good as the day you bought it.
- Technological features. The sound module in an electronic kit is nothing short of a mini-computer. You get complete control over your sound output; you can change 10s if not 100s of different parameters. You also get built-in metronomes with almost all e-kits now, something you cannot find even in a million-dollar acoustic kit. Many kits also come with a slew of different coaching and training tools that will be useful for beginners and amateurs.
- Infinite sounds. Using MIDI outputs, you can have a single electronic kit make all forms of sounds, from a simple cowbell to something alien to the world. A big factor to electric kits is that you will get sounds that are electronically made, like handclaps and the 808 kick drum sound. This is good for electronic music and production.
- Players who exclusively play on electric kits tend to develop bad habits. The bad technique doesn’t reflect on an electric kit. The pads produce a good sound no matter how you hit them. You can manually control the volume, so there is no penalty for playing too loud or too soft.
- Electric kits have a large learning curve. It seems straightforward to set it up and play on the first kit available. But you can do so much more with the kit and it will take time to learn how it works.
- Technology advances so quickly that your electric kit will devalue significantly in a few years.
Comparison of Acoustic vs Electronic
Playability vs practicality
Acoustic drums can be set up anywhere and played. In contrast, electronic drums need a power source. Most electric kits don’t have built-in speakers, so you will need to use headphones or plug the kit into an amp.
You will get a better sound for cheaper out of an electric kit since it doesn’t have to be tuned. However, an acoustic drum kit will have a more authentic sound which is vastly preferred.
With regards to home practicing purposes, it depends on the space you’re living in. It would be more practical to play on an electric kit if noise is an issue. If noise is not an issue, it will be more beneficial to play on an acoustic kit to keep up with good habits and techniques.
There are going to be situations where you will need to record yourself playing drums from home. It could be to post videos to social media, watch yourself for practice perspective, or track drums for a song. All of this is possible with both electric and acoustic drums. However, it will be a lot easier to do it with an electric drum set.
Most electric kits come with a MIDI output option, which means you can plug it into a computer and record straight into a DAW(Digital Audio Workstation). It is easy to learn to do this, and you can use a free DAW such as GarageBand. Since you will be capturing your sessions as MIDI rather than audio, you will be able to edit and completely customize your song in the future if you want to. If you wished your bass drum had more oomph or if you want your snare drum to sound more shrill, you can make that change instantly with MIDI instead of having to re-record your entire session.
Acoustic drum kits, on the other hand, require a microphone. One microphone will work, but you will usually need several to get the full range of sound. The microphones then need to be plugged in through an audio interface. You will need to know how to EQ and master the sound to get the best recording possible.
The best drum mic kit and audio interfaces are extra expenses that come into play when deciding to do a home recording with an acoustic kit.
Gigging and performing live
Since acoustic kits are loud, some gigs won’t even require you to mix them up, making it easier when playing intimate gigs in coffee shops, restaurants, and pubs.
An Acoustic drum set produces a solid sound on stage. Everyone will feel the bass drum when you kick it, making it easier for the band to sit in the groove.
However, it will be easier for the sound engineer at a gig to get a good mix with an electric kit since he is not dealing with microphones for each drum. He will be able to easily control volume if the electronic drummer is playing too loud.
Acoustic kits will look more aesthetic on a stage. I can think of using an electric kit over an acoustic drum set because only an electronic drum kit can provide certain sounds.
Electric drum kits have come a long way in terms of quality and pricing. Nowadays, it will be pretty easy to find a decent electric drum kit that is affordable – anywhere from $1000-$2000. However, the electric kits closest to sounding like an authentic acoustic kit are still pretty expensive. They will cost from $2000 up to $5000.
You can get a decent sound from the cheapest acoustic drum set by replacing the heads and giving it a good tune. You can’t improve the sound of a cheap electronic kit.
Mid-tier-priced electronic drum kits are what you need to aim for. They will give you good sound and many features while remaining affordable.
Acoustic drum kits range in price from $400 for a cheap kit up to $3000 for an expensive high-tier kit. However, no matter what kit you get, you will always end up buying new cymbals eventually. So you may end up spending more money that way.
Acoustic vs Electronic Drums: Which One should I get?
Starting with an electronic set gives you the advantages of testing different drums and styles that you wouldn’t have the opportunity to otherwise.
When you use both acoustic and electronic drums together, it’s called hybrid-drumming. Many modern drummers have gone this route, using electronics within their acoustic setup to play contemporary music styles and recreate sounds from albums.
I suggest that all drummers own an acoustic as well as an electric drum kit. It’s important to realize that one is not a replacement for the other.
Sometimes you are going to want to practice at three in the morning. An electronic drum kit allows for that. Sometimes you are going to want to get your frustrations out and make a considerable noise. An acoustic drum kit provides for that.
There is no clear winner when it comes to acoustic vs. electric. There are benefits and limitations to both, so it’s an excellent investment to have both and use them to cater to your needs.