If you’ve already decided that you want to start drumming, the next logical step is to get yourself a drum kit. Faced with what might be one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make, what do you go for? An acoustic drum kit or an electronic drum kit? electronic kits sound way better than they used to, but you can’t go wrong with an acoustic kit, right? In this blog, we’ll go over all of the pros and cons to help you get a better idea of what might work best for you.

Acoustic vs. Electronic Drum Kits

Acoustic or Electronic?

Below, you’ll find a very short summary of my personal opinion on the matter. If this isn’t enough and you want to know more, just read on!

  • For beginner drummers, both kinds of kits are great for practising, because both are made up of the same drums and can play the same beats with no problem.
  • Acoustic kits: even the best of the best electronic kits still don’t have the sound and feel of a real acoustic drum kit (although if you have the money, they are getting pretty close). If you feel like you just can’t do without the sound and playing feel of an acoustic drum kit, then it’s probably wise to just get an acoustic drum kit. Also, if you want to play gigs with a band at some point, it’s definitely a good choice.
  • Electronic kits: with acoustic drum kits, there’s the age-old problem of noise. If dampening the sound doesn’t help or changes the playing feel too much for you, then an electronic drum kit can be a good option. Also, if you want an enormous range of different drum sounds to choose from – including different kinds of acoustic kits and fat dance kits, then an electronic kit might be the way to go. On top of that, you can easily connect an electronic drum kit to a computer and it’s much easier to pack up and carry.
  • Swapping over from an electronic to an acoustic drum kit, or the other way around is always possible, but can feel a little bit weird at first.

Acoustic vs. Electronic Drum Kits

Acoustic Drum Kit: Pros

  • You don’t need any power and (within reason) can play anywhere you want.
  • You don’t need a set of headphones or a drum monitor (amplifier) to hear what you’re playing.
  • With an acoustic drum kit, you have more control over the timbre, or colour of the sound. You can get an enormous range of slightly different sounds out of an acoustic drum by using different techniques, while with an electronic kit, the sound will be the same, no matter how you play the drum.
  • Besides a set of drumsticks, you can play an acoustic kit with your fingers and hands, or with rods or brushes.
  • The dynamic range – in other words: the volume differences when you play softer or harder – is much greater.
  • An acoustic drum kit is easier to expand with an extra tom or cymbals and you can combine different drums or cymbals from different manufacturers without any problems.
  • You can also add electronic components to an acoustic drum kit and turn it into a hybrid kit using triggers or by adding a set of drum pads. However, expanding an electronic kit with acoustic components doesn’t work quite as smoothly.

Acoustic Drum Kits: Cons

  • In the first place, there’s the volume. If you haven’t been playing that long, it’s likely that you’re still developing your technique and have little control over the sound – as such, it’s probably tough to play softly. There are a few ways to dampen the sound of the kit to make it quieter, but it can be much more fun to just be able to play your drums without worrying about bothering anyone. To do this with an acoustic kit, you could make an arrangement with the neighbours so you’re only playing when they’re out, or make an agreement to only play for a fixed hour a day, or only between specific times. It can be worked out, but it can suck if you get the urge to play and you can’t.
  • Compared to most electronic kits, acoustic drum kits do take up more space but, unless you get a really compact electronic kit, it doesn’t make that much of a difference. However, when it comes to building or moving an acoustic kit, the size and format gets a little more awkward.
  • Drumsticks get damaged more quickly when playing an acoustic kit.

Acoustic vs. Electronic Drum Kits

Electronic Kits: Pros

  • For many people, the volume is one of the main reasons they go for an electronic drum kit. An electronic drum kit sounds much quieter, especially if you’re playing a kit with mesh-head drums. You can check if a kit has mesh-heads in the specifications listed on the product page.
  • A big advantage of an electronic kit is that you don’t just have one, but maybe 40 different drum kits to play with – and this will be different depending on the model. Besides different kits, you can also get access to percussion sounds, and can usually change and adjust sounds yourself.
  • You can easily connect an electronic drum kit up to a computer if you want to record yourself. You don’t need to use any microphones, and you can record in MIDI instead of audio. MIDI isn’t sound in itself but is actually note information, so you can correct any mistakes or even change the drum sounds later.
  • Some electronic kits are really compact once set up and can also be neatly folded up.
  • An electronic drum kit doesn’t need to be tuned up like you would have to with an acoustic kit.
  • Most drum modules include an Aux input so you can plug in a phone, laptop, or tablet and play back songs while you play along.
  • Electronic kits often come with a built-in metronome, and some modules also offer lesson functions.

Electronic Drum Kits: Cons

  • One of the biggest disadvantages of electronic drum kits is the lack of control that you have over the sound. The cymbals and the snare in particular tend to lack a certain ‘feel’. This is because you’re dependent on triggers that need to be able to pick up every detail of your playing. The sensitivity of the triggers of cheaper models tends to be less than that of more expensive models, so there’s a chance that much of the details in your playing are missed, or you hear back details that you didn’t even intend.
  • You can’t play an electronic kit with your fingers, hands, rods or brushes. Technically speaking, it’s not impossible, but it’ll have no effect on the sound like it would with an acoustic kit, since you’d still be triggering the same sound as you would with a drumstick. Because of this, it can be hard to play certain styles, like jazz, with an electronic kit. Luckily, this is getting better, though.
  • If you don’t like playing with a set of headphones on, then you will need to use a speaker.
  • Another downside can be the price. If you want an electronic kit with a realistic acoustic sound and feel, and that gives you control over the timbre, then you’ll have to spend quite a bit of money.
  • If you want to expand an electronic kit, you need to find drum and cymbal pads that are compatible with the module you have, and you also need to get the right cables. Not every manufacturer works with the same system, so you’re pretty much brand-dependent when it comes to electronic kits. And, if you have an older model, you might not even be able to find extra pads for it any more.
  • If you play in a band and have a gig booked, then an electronic kit tends not to be as convenient as an acoustic kit. Since some venues already have their own acoustic drum kits, you’ll need to get used to playing acoustic kits anyway, since they’re the standard. While it’s not impossible to play an electronic kit, unless you’re the headline act, it can just be much easier to get used to an acoustic kit instead.
  • If you take drum lessons, there’s also a big chance that your teacher will have an acoustic drum kit. So, if you’re more used to an electronic kit, the transition can be a little bit awkward. When I give lessons, I can usually tell which of my students practise at home with an electronic kit. While they have the right coordination, they often miss out when it comes to controlling the timbre you can get out of an acoustic drum kit. This makes sense though, because they’re used to it not really mattering, since the module will make the same sound anyway. Drummers that are more used to electronic kits also tend to hit a little harder when playing an acoustic kit, and there are some who are shocked at how loud an acoustic kit is, which can make them a little more shy.

So, what do you prefer? Acoustic or electronic? And why? Let us know in the comments!

Interview with Drummer Michael Schack

“Because I actually started playing the drums on an electronic kit, I think it made me a better acoustic drummer”, says Michael Shack. “Whenever you hit an acoustic drum without exact precision, like the rim of the snare or the bell of the ride, the mistake can actually be camouflaged by the acoustic sound of the rest of the kit. But with electronic drums, there’s actually nowhere to hide. They simply respond exactly to what you do, so you actually have to be a much more accurate drummer, and not just in the way you hit the drums, but also in terms of your rhythm. All of that has definitely translated into me being a better acoustic drummer since I now drum with more focus and stability than before. You can see that when young drummers start out with an electronic drum kit (to keep the neighbours happy), they’re often actually better. So, there’s a lot to be said for doing both: acoustic and electronic. It’ll only make you a more complete musician. Compare it to guitarists, who are usually able to play both electric and acoustic guitar, or a pianist, who loves their upright piano just as much as they love their synthesizer.”


Belgian drummer Michael Schack is a pioneer of electronic drumming. Originally an acoustic drummer (which he still is), Michael is now almost completely devoted to exploring electronic drumming. When Roland released the very first complete electronic drum kit in the nineties, the V-Drums, he was one of the first in line. Later, other manufacturers followed, including Yamaha, but since 2001, Michael has been working for Roland, travelling the world over performing demonstrations of Roland’s electronic kits. “I’ve even been all over South America!”

When he’s not working for Roland, he’s a drummer for hire and has worked with big names, including Soulsister, Ozark Henry, Squarelectric, V-Topia, Netsky, Milk Inc, and Kate Ryan. “With Soulsister and Ozark Henry I always play acoustic, but with all of the others, I use an electronic kit. I have no trouble shifting between the two and back, which isn’t that crazy, since drumming on both electronic and acoustic setups is essentially the same.”

On Stage

Michael is definitely a cheerleader for electronic kits. “I’m convinced that electronic drums are about to get really big, also when it comes to live shows. Electronic drums are now fully grown instruments and deserve a place on the stage, and you’re actually seeing them more and more.” He’s not wrong, many bands, including names like St. Vincent are turning to electronic kits on tour, which is little surprise considering the evolution of music. “Electronic drums are the sound of today and tomorrow, so of course you can play them live. You can compare it to the emergence of the electric guitar. Even though they first came out in the thirties, it wasn’t until the fifties that they took their place on stage, and they haven’t left since. I think electronic drums are going the same way. It just takes a few big artists to use them.”

Practical Benefits

Deciding to play an electronic drum kit can be a practical choice or a music-based choice – or both. “A really practical plus of playing electronic drums is the low acoustic noise. You can set up an electronic kit in a cellar and go nuts without worrying about bothering anyone, simply because you’re wearing a set of headphones. They also offer the freedom to experiment and compose at home, so drummers are able to bring something more to the bands they play with.” In rehearsal rooms and other live settings, a set of electronic drums can also be a practical choice. They never sound too loud, no matter how hard you hit, so you can comfortably play in a pub or venue with a strict dB-limiter (where acoustic drums are usually the biggest culprit when it comes to noise). Another great perk is that you don’t need any microphones to amplify the sound of an electronic drum kit, and there’s actually no difference in build-up and sound check times when you compare electronic to acoustic kits. Also – and more obviously, you can assign a different sound to each part of an electronic kit. If you want the toms to sound deeper, you don’t need to buy new ones, just assign a different one. Every kit will come with its own set of drum configuration that can be freely mixed, matched and often even customised at will.

The Musical Choice

So, the practical benefits are clear, but according to Michael, people often make the mistake of picking an electronic kit purely on that basis. “When it comes to playing gigs, choosing an electronic kit over an acoustic kit is almost always a music-based decision that’s tied into the genre. You wouldn’t necessarily see the drummer of a blues rock trio or jazz ensemble with a double bass and piano sitting behind an electronic kit. And you might say the same of rock, but we’re seeing a change in that as well – just look at Radiohead. In specific genres, electronic drums are actually an essential ingredient. In current pop music, you almost exclusively hear electronic drums these days.”

It’s actually because Michael plays electronic drums that he ended up part of the bands he’s worked with. “It just wouldn’t have happened if I only played acoustic drums. I also always look for what an electronic kit is able to add to the live setting. When I play with Netsky or Milk Inc, I play acoustic drums – so no one is dancing. Because of the specific beat and sound that I can produce with an electronic kit, it’s able to create an atmosphere that just makes people want to move.” What electronic drums do miss in a live setting when compared to acoustic drums is a natural acoustic play with the room. An acoustic kit will sound different in every room you set it up in – something that just can’t happen with an electronic kit. While this can actually be a benefit in more problematic spaces, you still miss out on something. As such, Roland offers a solution by adding ‘ambience’ to the sounds loaded into their kits, where the natural acoustics of a space is mimicked and can be adjusted to match the space you’re actually in.

A Different Way of Drumming?

Is electronic drumming fundamentally different from acoustic drumming? “Of course there are differences,” says Michael, “and one of the most immediate differences is where the sound comes from. With an acoustic kit, it comes directly from the shells and cymbals – so from the kit itself. With an electronic kit, it comes out of the speakers. To be honest, this is the biggest difference that any drummer is likely to notice, and is probably the only one, since physically speaking, there is no difference. You’re playing with the same set of sticks, the same pedals, the same drum throne and you hit the drums with sticks. From a bodily perspective – as in – what you’re doing with your body – it’s all the same. Which is why it’s so easy to switch between the two, even if I’ve been playing an electronic kit for two weeks straight.”

There are, besides where the sound comes from, some other more subtle differences when it comes to the physics of playing an acoustic or electronic kit, but according to Michael, this doesn’t actually make electronic drumming any different from acoustic drumming. While you’re hitting pads or mesh-heads instead of metal and skins, and these mesh-heads don’t vibrate in the same way as a normal drumhead, and the cymbal pads are smaller than actual cymbals, “…it’s just something you get used to, and usually, it’s never a problem.”

Buying a Kit

So, after a long and arduous period of debate, you finally decide to go for an electronic drum kit. How do you pick out the right one? And how much do you need to fork out? “There is a lot to choose from,” admits Michael, “If you were to ask for my advice, I always say: do you just wanna hit something or do you actually want to drum? In the first case, it doesn’t matter which model you get. Just bear in mind that you’re literally hitting something – so a really cheap kit is unlikely to last that long. But if you really want to drum, then go for quality. That doesn’t necessarily have to cost a few thousand euros. I mean, for a thousand, you can already buy a really great electronic drum kit.”

A really important point to look at when hunting for a high quality kit, according to Michael, is the speed of the module. “It needs to have absolutely minimal latency – so, the delay between you hitting the pad and the module generating the sound needs to be as small as possible. Zero latency just doesn’t exist. There will always be a couple of milliseconds of delay. If the music you play is fast-paced, and you have a module with a latency of something like seven milliseconds, for example, then you’re likely to notice it. With slower-paced, more laid back music, this is less of an issue. Try some kits out in the store. Actually sit at them, play a fast beat and see how the latency feels. If you notice it, then go sit at a different kit.”

The quality of the pads is also important. “The pads need to have a good feel when you hit them, so they need to have a little resistance to them. They also need to be able to respond accurately to the dynamics of your drumming and pass that onto the module, so you can clearly hear the difference between a hard hit and a soft hit. I also recommend taking the drumsticks that you always play with along to the store with you to try this out. Sticks are a really personal thing, and you definitely shouldn’t go changing your sticks just because you’re switching from an acoustic kit to an electronic kit.”

A Bright Future

Michael views the future role of electronic drums from the perspective of music history as a whole. “The history of combining drums and electronic instruments already goes back fifty years. Halfway through the last century, we already had organs complete with a rhythm box which was mainly used to create a certain atmosphere or effect. In the seventies and eighties, the drum machine emerged, and while people got scared that this would chase drummers out of the studio, that never happened. What the drum machine did do was make drummers better at their job since it pushed them to get better at maintaining tempo stability. When you record in a studio, you’re almost always asked to play to a click track, and a good drummer will have no problem doing this.”

When it comes to music in general, and how we experience it, Michael believes that we’re actually in a golden age. “So much groundbreaking music is being made across the UK and the Benelux. Many people think that all new music comes out of America, but that’s really not the case. It’s astounding how so many different styles can exist in a small country like England, the Netherlands, and Belgium. It’s fantastic. And there are more people going to see gigs now than ever – and those gigs are even better than ever. I think these are exciting times and that electronic drums have just grown up in time to be a part of it. I think we have a bright future when it comes to electronic drumming, both in studios and on stage.”

Some tips from drummer Michael Schack

  • Play an electronic drum kit in the same way that you would an acoustic kit, and use the same set of sticks.
  • Play the music that you want to play. Then you’ll become the better drummer that you actually want to be. Play along with recordings and also play along with computer-programmed recordings. You’ll learn a lot from both.
  • Develop your own drumming ‘personality’. Ignore the millions of opinions around you and make your own plan. The only opinions you need to listen to are those of your bandmates.
  • Read, listen and take on all of the information about drumming that you can find.

Thrash Metal (Using Triggers)

To play thrash metal, you need a double bass pedal and you need to be able to play at an incredibly fast pace, so that the kick spits out of the speakers like a machine gun. To give this effect as much definition as possible and make it pop out of the mix, drummers will fit their acoustic bass drum with triggers. In other words: every kick drum strike is registered and electronically converted into sound before being (in the case of acoustic kits) mixed with the acoustic sound to create that well-known machine gun effect. Drummers across various genres also use electronic triggers with their acoustic kits to create a kind of hybrid kit.

Do Electronic Drum Kits Cause Blisters?

The pads of electronic drum kits tend to have a different feel and response to acoustic drumheads. Can that put strain on your joints and maybe lead to blistered fingers? “Earlier this was a problem, because the pads used to be much harder,” admits Michael, “But with the good quality electronic kits that are built these days, you don’t need to worry about it. Modern pads and mesh-heads have a much more natural feel and are only getting better.”


As you’ve probably noticed, triggering is an important term in the world of electronic drums. The trigger is what registers the drum strike and turns it into an audio signal. As such, it’s also one of the most fundamental building blocks when it comes to developing any of the concepts surrounding electronic drums. The quality of a trigger depends on the trigger speed (so, the latency), the dynamic response (its sensitivity to harder and softer hits and the effect this has over the volume), triggering quality (stability: whether the ‘command’ is always correctly passed on), and of course, the sound quality.

See Also…

» How do I become a drummer?
» What’s the Best Electronic Drum Kit for Me?
» What’s the Best Drum Kit for Me?
» The History of the Drum Kit

» All Acoustic Drum Kits
» All Electronic Drum Kits
» All Drums, Percussion & Accessories

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