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Electronic Drum Kits For Under $500

Why, when I was young, we had to hand-crank our old generator to get electricity! Back then, there were only a few electronic drum kits available, and only a couple with MIDI. You had your Simmons SDS-9 and your Roland DDR-30. If you wanted to use an electronic kit to interface with a computer of play sounds from a sampler, you had those two choices. Each had only a few onboard sounds, they played like crap, and they cost over $2,000. Today, you young whippersnappers have electricity running into your house 24/7. On top of that, you’ve got half a dozen kits with hundreds of sounds, plenty of kit memory, MIDI, and even USB connectivity. Plus, they’ve got a street price below $500! What a time to be alive.

We’re going to be looking at kits from Alesis, Ddrum, KAT, and Yamaha. All of these kits have certain attributes in common. All of them come right out of the box with everything you’d need to start playing except a bass drum pedal and a throne (although some come with a bass drum pedal). You’ll get pads for drums and cymbals, a rack-mounting system, hi-hat pedal, all necessary cables, and sometimes even a pair of sticks.

Each kit has five pads designated as snare, three toms, and sometimes, a dedicated kick drum pad. Three cymbal pads are provided with each kit: ride, crash, and hi-hat. Each of the hi-hat systems offers one sound when the pad is struck with the pedal down (normally a closed hi-hat) and a different sound when the pedal is up (open hi-hat).

To get an idea of how the kit feels under your hands and the responsiveness of the pads, you’re going to have to play the kit in person. But all these kits come with rubber surfaces that are designed to minimize impact sound while giving a somewhat natural drum-like response.

These kits have sound modules have the ability to select between a number of different kits and assign different sounds to each of the pads. Each brain also has a number of built-in songs that serve as playalongs for your practice. In addition, all modules have an auxiliary input for connecting an iPod or other music player. They also include a metronome and tap-tempo capability.

For some, the money-saving features applied to these kits may be a minor problem. After all, lower costs means fewer bells and whistles, and some corners just have to be cut to bring this much technology in at this price point. But let’s face it, those who are buying a kit in this price range want a good value for the money, but likely aren’t expecting true professional features or performance. Does that mean anyone interested in a kit like this is only an amateur weekend warrior? Absolutely not.

There are many reasons why a professional might want one of these kits. For one, they are inexpensive. They can serve as practice kits while your main kit is at the club, in the truck, or otherwise not available. They are perfect for those who want to practice in an apartment or home where an acoustic kit just isn’t possible due to the volume. For those who are into sequencing and home studios, having an electronic kit to input rhythms and grooves, as well as creating loops, is as essential as a piano player owning a digital keyboard.

electronic kit

Alesis DM6

The newest version of the DM6 has recently changed its name to DM6 USB. As you might guess, the new name indicates that the DM6 brain now has a USB output in place of a MIDI output. In addition to the USB port, the back of the module sports 1/8" mini-jacks for headphones, main output, and auxiliary input. There’s also a power switch and a small switch that selects the type of bass drum trigger you’re using, allowing the module to substitute a simple footswitch. The pads hook into the brain with an included cable snake that makes hooking up the pads easy and quick.

The front of the DM6 has several dedicated controls: master volume, tempo, click on/off, pattern select, start/stop for patterns, drum off (for muting the drums in the included patterns), kit select, voice select, volume (for individual control of kits, voices, patterns, and metronome), and save/rec. Yes, this last control is used to enter record mode. Of the kits included in this guide, the DM6 is the only one that lets you record your own pattern. Okay, so there’s only one user pattern location for your recording, but there’s plenty of memory – about 5,000 notes – allocated for your recording. And, it’s one more recording location than the other kits have.

Another important item that separates this kit from the others is a stereo snare pad. With a stereo pad, you can assign one sound to the head’s surface, and another sound to the rim (rimshot, rim-click, cowbell, etc.).

electronic kit

Alesis DM7X

The newest version of the DM6 has recently changed its name to DM6 USB. As you might guess, the new name indicates that the DM6 brain now has a USB output in place of a MIDI output. In addition to the USB port, the back of the module sports 1/8" mini-jacks for headphones, main output, and auxiliary input. There’s also a power switch and a small switch that selects the type of bass drum trigger you’re using, allowing the module to substitute a simple footswitch. The pads hook into the brain with an included cable snake that makes hooking up the pads easy and quick.

The front of the DM6 has several dedicated controls: master volume, tempo, click on/off, pattern select, start/stop for patterns, drum off (for muting the drums in the included patterns), kit select, voice select, volume (for individual control of kits, voices, patterns, and metronome), and save/rec. Yes, this last control is used to enter record mode. Of the kits included in this guide, the DM6 is the only one that lets you record your own pattern. Okay, so there’s only one user pattern location for your recording, but there’s plenty of memory – about 5,000 notes – allocated for your recording. And, it’s one more recording location than the other kits have.>>

electronic kit

Ddrum DD1

The front of the module supports a number of individual function buttons. There are dedicated controls for volume, save, start/stop, kit selection, song selection, drum mute (for the percussion parts of a song), metronome, increment and decrement, pad selection, and tempo. The back panel of the DD1 module offers up the power-input jack and the on/off switch, along with nine trigger inputs, a MIDI output, a stereo output, and an auxiliary input. The headphone jack and the control for the volume of the aux input are located on the left side of the unit.

One of the features that separates the DD1 from some of the other units in this group is the ability to adjust the sensitivity and crosstalk rejection of each pad. There are 15 available settings for sensitivity and higher values make the pads more sensitive to softer strikes. There are also 15 levels of rejection for each pad. The DD1 also lets you adjust the pitch of a sound over 15 different values.

The DD1 does not come with a bass drum pedal. You’ll need to get one of those if you want to play the kit as soon as you get it home.

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