Here is an overview of the main differences between acoustic and electronic drums.
What is the difference between acoustic and electronic drums?
The most important difference is in the way the drums produce their sound. In an acoustic drum kit, the sound is produced by the physical impact of the sticks on a drumhead. Each time you strike, the top and bottom drumheads vibrate, creating a sound.
An electronic drum kit works differently: a drum module produces the sound – depending on the strike on a rubber or Mesh drum pad. This sound is called a “sample”.
In this case, the sound is not physically created by the strike, but the strike acts as a trigger to produce a sound. Although the feel of playing and hitting is almost identical to that of an acoustic drum kit, the sound is different. Each sound generated is played through an output and at the volume of your choice – whether through headphones, an amplifier or directly into a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).
In addition, all electronic drums have a large number of ready-made kits, hundreds of different samples to experiment with and many options to influence the sound of the samples.
For the price of a quality acoustic drum kit, including cymbals, you get an electronic drum kit with which you can easily vary the sounds, from soft jazz drums to pounding metal drums.
An electronic drum set consists of drum pads and cymbals. Hitting the pads triggers the drum module to produce sounds. You can listen to your sound through an amplifier or headphones.
Electronic drums: Silent
Unlike the acoustic drum set, the electronic version is not very loud.
For comparison, an acoustic drum kit played in a normal intensive manner produces levels of about 90 decibels (motorcycle engine volume) to 120 decibels (jet engine).
Electronic drum kits use rubber/silicone pads or mesh skins to dramatically reduce the noise level from 60 decibels (normal conversation) to a maximum of 75 decibels (a passing car).
Most of the noise level comes from the pedals used for the bass drum and the hi-hat, and it is possible to reduce it further by using damping pads or noise reducers.
This gives the electronic drum kit the advantage in terms of sound control, making it a great option for making music at home.
The trade-off of this low-noise design is that you’ll have to get used to having headphones nearby and or amplifier to practice with.
Easy to record
Recording an acoustic drum kit properly is expensive, and a good technique can take time to develop. An electronic drum kit, on the other hand, has two native recording functions: direct audio output and MIDI/USB output.
Unlimited audio possibilities
Whether you need a tabla, an 808 EDM kick or a concert bass drum, chances are you’ll find it in the sound library of your electronic drum module, along with a dozen or more traditional drum sets: from rock to metal to swing.
Therefore, it’s undeniable that even the best acoustic drum kit simply can’t match the ease and versatility of sound offered by an electronic drum kit.
Electronic drums advantages:
- Low volume: Electronic drums are a clear winner when it comes to volume control: 60-75 decibels (comparable to an office environment or a passing car). The volume can also be reduced with noise reducers. You can also play via headphones.
- Metronome and practice functions: Many electronic drum kits include a metronome, which is essential for improving your tempo. Some electronic drum kits also include practice features.
- Variety of sounds: Electronic drums generally offer many more types of sounds than an acoustic drum kit. For example, you can switch from an acoustic drum kit to a dance style kit, percussion kit, or many others. High-end electronic drums tend to have a very wide range of sounds and rhythms, making them suitable for many different genres and styles of music.
- Recording ease: Electronic drums are generally very easy to record. Many modules have a built-in recording function so you can listen to your playing again. For external recording, simply connect an audio cable to a recorded interface or mixer. You can also use your electronic drums for MIDI recording, which is built-in by default.
This is one of the most advantageous aspects compared to an acoustic drum set which involves a rather difficult mixing and recording process.
- Carrying: Electronic drums are much easier to carry. This is their biggest advantage over acoustic drums. Most electronic drums have small hitting pads, whereas acoustic drums may have a 22″ deep bass drum (for example) that will be more difficult to transport. The total weight and bulk of an electronic drum set is therefore generally much less than that of an acoustic drum set.
- Setup and configuration: An electronic drum kit also tends to be fairly quick to install.
- No drum tuning: Drum tuning is an art, and it can be difficult to get it right, even with dedicated tuners.
Electronic drums disadvantages:
- Poor feeling and response: Many inexpensive, low-end electronic drums simply don’t have enough feeling and response. This can mean that playing on one of these sets just won’t feel natural and you won’t get the nuances and feel of playing on an acoustic drum set.
- Not completely silent: Electronic drums are considerably quieter than the acoustic version, but they are never completely silent. Hitting the pads can still cause some noise, which can be heard through walls and floors, especially if you live in an apartment.
- Building bad habits: Drummers can develop bad habits when playing on an electronic drum set. Since you can control the volume directly from the module, this means that you may learn to play too softly or too loudly without having the proper feel for the dynamics. Also, most electronic drum pads have too much bounce, which can affect the way you play when you switch to an acoustic version.
- Cymbals: Cymbals are usually the biggest issue with electronic drums. Even though drum samples have improved massively, cymbals have such a depth of sound that it is very difficult to model them digitally, although the technology is quickly improving in this area.
- Tactile response: The experience is absolutely different from an acoustic drum set that offers power and feel.
A standard acoustic drum kit consists of a bass drum (with a bass drum pedal), a snare drum, several toms, a hi-hat (including a pedal), a ride cymbal, a crash cymbal and the hardware to put it all together.
Many drum kits can include additional elements. The most common way to expand an acoustic drum kit is with additional toms and cymbals.
No need for amplification
If sound control and ease of recording are not the most important factors, an acoustic drum kit is the ideal musical foundation for any drummer just starting out.
With an acoustic drum kit, if you want to play alone or even in a band there are no cables to connect, no sounds to adjust.
The playing experience is completely different from an electronic, the raw power and immediacy of an acoustic kit inspires musical performance in a way that electronic kits can’t. Nevertheless, you’ll want to make sure your drums are always in tune.
Creativity, improvisation and play facilitated
Acoustic drums are as essential to modern music as the electric guitar. Nothing can match the ease of play and musical creativity that a classic drum kit can offer.
Although an acoustic drum kit is bulky and heavy, requiring several trips and a lot of time to set up, it is, in many ways, easier to use at a concert. Once set up, you can simply add a few microphones to ensure a good balance with the rest of the band.
Acoustic, ideal for learning dynamic control
An acoustic drum set is best suited for learning how to properly master dynamic control of sounds with your hands and sticks.
An experienced drummer with good dynamic control and the right set of tools (sticks, brushes, mallets) can easily create an almost unlimited dynamic range to suit any style and application of music.
From classic rock to the purest jazz, an acoustic drum set in the right hands is one of the most versatile instruments available.
Advantages of the acoustic drum kit:
- Great sound depth: There are an almost infinite number of ways to hit a drum or cymbal. Acoustic drums offer a much more dynamic range and nuances that are simply not possible with electronic drums today (even on electronic kits costing thousands of dollars). Rim shots, ghost notes, cymbal bells, …, sound much better on an acoustic set.
- Acoustic Styles: An acoustic drum set is the only musically acceptable option for playing live in many different acoustic music styles, such as rock and jazz. It is quite rare to see an electronic drum set playing live with these genres. Finally, it is possible to enjoy electronic sounds by adding triggers to use MIDI.
- Stage presence: an acoustic drum set is absolutely fantastic on stage.
- Cymbals: Acoustic cymbals are an absolute pleasure to play and listen to. Electronic drum cymbals can sound quite flat compared to these.
Disadvantages of the acoustic drum set:
- Acoustic drums are very loud: The sound of an acoustic drum set can resonate throughout a neighborhood: 90-120 decibels (comparable to a motorcycle or small jet engine). The sound can be easily modified with different heads, sticks and dampers of all kinds (gels in particular).
- Bulky and difficult to transport: Acoustic drums also tend to be much bulkier, take up much more space, and are heavier to carry than their electronic counterpart.
- Maintenance: An acoustic drum kit requires regular adjustment and occasional changes of sticks, heads and cleaning products.
- Can quickly become expensive: An acoustic drum set does not have the same variety of sounds that you can get with an electronic drum set (thanks to the built-in sound bank). If you want a completely different sounding cymbal or drum, you’ll have to buy it.
Electronic, acoustic? Which drums do you choose?
If you really don’t have to worry about the volume of an acoustic drum kit and the cost of maintenance and supplies isn’t an obstacle, an acoustic drum kit is a great place to start.
If you need to practice quietly, don’t want to disturb the neighbors, want to choose from hundreds of different drum sounds, would like a kit that will fit your development and drum practice, and most of all don’t want to worry about maintenance, an electronic drum kit is the best choice.