Originally published on Jan. 13, 2016 and updated on .
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Electronic drums are a heck of a lot of fun to play with, but more importantly they're the best way to learn, practice and improve your chops without making all the noise associated with acoustic drums - just slip your headphones on and you're good to go!
Some of these entry level kits also work as MIDI controllers where you can get much more expressiveness and 'feel' by recording your drum tracks to MIDI rather than programming them directly into a DAW.
Things To Consider When Buying A Budget Electronic Drum Set
Complete List of Gear You Need to Start Drumming
Most electronic kits don't include a few of the essentials you need so make sure to leave room in your budget for any of the following items that you don't already have...
- Drum Sticks: these come in different weights with 5A being the most popular - you can get these at Sweetwater.
- Drum Throne: This is what a drummer's stool is called - they are much better than regular chairs and you can find the highest rated ones in our Drum Throne Guide.
- Headphones or Amplifier: Most electronic drum kits don't provide sound on their own, instead you have to plug your drum's brain or sound module into headphones or an amplifier. To practice quietly (and not annoy the neighbors) get yourself a set of closed-back headphones - see our guide here. If you're going to play with other musicians, or if you just want to be loud, then you'll need an amplifier. There are a range of different amps that are good for drums - see our guide to Drum Amps and for further information read Things To Consider When Buying An Amplifier For Electronic Drums.
If you want to use it as a MIDI controller or to record drums directly your computer then you'll need one that sends out MIDI, which in this price range will usually be MIDI over USB.
Drum pads with multiple zones are ones which you can hit in different areas to trigger different sounds. Zones are usually concentric circles. For example a snare pad with multiple zones allows you to play regular snare sounds as well as selecting a rim-shot sound for the outer circle. The more zones you can get the wider the sound pallet is that you can work with in a single pre-set or custom kit saved in your sound module.
Some electronic kits come with cymbals you can choke - this means that after you strike them you can grab them with your hand and the cymbal sound will immediately stop just like with an acoustic kit. Some of the cheaper models don't have this option so read the details carefully if this is something you want.
The Best Electronic Drum Sets Under $500
Alesis Nitro Kit
Our research shows that the Alesis Nitro Kit is by far the most popular electronic drum set in the sub $500 price range. It is also the highest rated set under $300 by quite a wide margin - it leaves all other options in this price bracket so far behind that it's the only one we currently recommend at this price.
In addition to coming with a snare, hi-hats, kick and 3 toms it also has 2 additional 2-zone inputs on the module to allow for future expansion - you can use these for extra toms or cymbals.
It's mounted on a 4-post aluminum rack which provides a good combination of being light-weight while remaining reasonably strong.
This set is used by beginners and also as a practice kit by more experienced drummers. There are also a lot of guitarists, singers, bass players, keyboardists and just about every kind of musician who play an Alesis Nitro Kit just for the sheer fun of it!
One thing to note: Alesis bill this as an 8-piece kit because they, as many electronic drum manufacturers do these days, count the 3 cymbal pads as pieces - in terms of traditional acoustic drum kits this would be considered a 5-piece kit.
- A dual zone snare pad
- 3 single zone tom pads
- Kick pad with drum pedal
- 10" Hi-Hat Pad
- 10" Crash Pad with Choke
- 10" Ride Pad
- Hi-Hat Pedal
- 40 ready-to-play classic and modern kits - 385 drum and cymbal sounds
- 60 built-in play-along tracks, sequencer, metronome, and performance recorder
- USB/MIDI connection for virtual instruments and recording software
- 5 pin MIDI in and out ports
- Can be used as a MIDI controller directly with hardware or via your computer
- Stereo line outputs and headphone output
The vast majority of customer reviews were very positive with many saying it was "a great kit for the price" or words to that effect. In his review for Music Radar Dave Holmes said, "The buttons of the graphical kit layout are great for various kit/drum voice editing and this is where the module has the edge over almost any other at this price-point. Changing any of the drum and kit parameters is rapid thanks to the layout."
A couple of people said that some of the cymbal sounds were quieter than they would have liked in the pre-set kits. Because it only has a dual zone snare and single zone toms. anyone who develops their chops and gets serious will eventually out-grow this kit and want to graduate to higher-end options like these, but it's still a great place to start without spending too much money if you're not yet sure if you'll get really serious about drumming.
This is very popular as a starter kit and as a present for children starting out with drums. There were also experienced drummers who reported having a lot of fun with this kit as well.
The Alesis Nitro Kit is at the top of many best seller lists at major retailers - if you're looking for your first electronic drum kit and aren't sure quite where to begin then I strongly recommend buying this one.
Alesis Forge Kit
This is the most feature-packed kit in the sub $500 price range and the one we most highly recommend - it also includes drum sticks which is a nice touch.
It has the most pre-set kits, user configurable kits, and the most sounds out of all the drum sets in this price range.
The snare and toms have rubber heads that have a relatively natural response which are all mounted on a 4-post chrome plated aluminum rack which has plenty of strength while remaining relatively light-weight. The kick tower pad is also large enough to use a double kick pedal with it.
It also lets you plug in a USB memory stick which you can use to load samples or record your playing onto.
- A dual zone 11" snare pad
- 3 single zone 8" tom pads
- 10" crash cymbal with choke
- 10" ride cymbal with choke
- 10" hi-hats & pedal
- Kick pedal and Tower trigger pad
- Comes with 70 kits - 50 factory + 20 user kits and 600 sounds
- 60 built-in tracks to play along with for practice
- A Drum Key is included for adjusting the rack
- The drum module has USB/MIDI out for using as a MIDI controller with your computer and accepts MIDI In for triggering the module
- It has an additional USB port for memory sticks
- 2 x 1/4" Out for left and right channel outputs
- 1/8" Stereo Out for Headphones
- 1/8" Aux In for listening to external tracks you play along with while wearing headphones
Many of the customer reviews praise the response of the pads and feeling quite like real drum heads. The sturdiness and quality of build are also frequently mentioned in positive reviews for the Alesis Forge. Conrad Tracey summarized his Mixdown Magazine review by saying, "For me the Alesis Forge represents great value for money. It’s packed with features that are useful and relevant to musicians and artists alike. It looks great and I would be happy to play it on stage as a primary kit or as an addition to my acoustic drums."
On the downside, although Alesis say you can use a double-kick pedal with it there are a few people who found it didn't register fast double kick playing.
Overall this is the best value kit under $500 provided that you're not a fast double-kick player.
Roland TD-1K 5 Piece Kit
The Roland TD-1K is a compact kit well suited to younger players and those who don't have a lot of spare space at home.
The cymbals can be choked just like acoustic ones, and the hi-hat plays much more like a real one. The cymbals are also dual zone and their velocity sensitivity lets you get a 'bell' sound as well.
It also has a built-in metronome and coach functions which measure your performance and give you feedback helping you to improve your drumming.
It's a small compact kit which is a plus if space is at a premium, but if you're used to playing a full sized kit you will have to adjust to the size. The demo video below gives you a good sense of the size and layout.
- A single zone 7" snare pad
- 3 single zone 7" tom pads
- Kick pedal which is beater-less and is quieter than having a kick pad
- Hi-Hat Pad
- Hi-Hat Pedal
- Crash Pad witch choke
- Ride Pad
- TD-1 Drum Module with 15 Kits
- 15 bult-in kits
- USB/MIDI connection for editing and using it as a MIDI controller with your computer
- 1/8" Stereo Out for Headphones
- 1/8" Stereo Mix In for listening to external tracks you play along with while wearing headphones
Reviewers consistently praise the sound of the 15 preset kits and the realism of the hi-hat. Many reviewers also say that with the USB MIDI it works very well as a MIDI controller and for recording drums to MIDI.
In his expert review on Harmony Central Dendy Jarrett said, "Even though the TD-1K is marketed as an entry- level electronic kit, I would consider it for light-playing gigs".
I was unable to find any consistent negatives reported about the Roland TD-1K 5 - although it does have one downside at this price being the lack of dual zone snare.
This is a great choice for smaller drummers or if you don't have a lot of spare space.
Yamaha DTX400K 5 Piece Kit
The Yamaha DTX400K comes with 10 preset kits which can all be reconfigured using the 169 built in sounds.
One special feature that Yamaha included is the ability to use the hi-hat pedal as a second kick pedal allowing you to play a double kick.
It includes 10 songs to play along with but you can also download more songs via USB.
Yamaha make some great high-end electronic kits, and have a lot of additional hardware you can upgrade with, such as getting a 3-zone snare, but in doing so you have to spend quite a lot of extra money.
- A single zone 10" snare pad
- 3 single zone 7.5" tom pads
- Kick pad with drum pedal
- 10" Hi-Hat Pad
- 10" Crash Pad - No choke
- 10" Ride Pad
- Hi-Hat Pedal which doubles as an extra Kick Pedal
- DTX400 Drum Trigger Module with 169 sounds including 23 snares, 36 toms, 21 kicks, 31 cymbals 16 hi-hats
- 10 Preset kits - you can edit and overwrite the presets
- 10 built-in play-along tracks
- USB/MIDI connection for using it as a MIDI controller with your computer
- Free iOS App for customization and importing
- Headphone output
Most of the positive reviews for the DTX400K center around it being a good starter kit, good for practice and as a MIDI controller.
The cymbals are not chokeable and are only single zone as are the drums - this lack of features was the cause of a number of negative reviews. There were also a number of complaints about the free companion App not being available for Android.
Although many customer reviews rate the sounds of this kit quite highly, it's clear the lack of multiple zones means this is a kit you will outgrow much more quickly than other kits in this guide, although the Yamaha DTX400K is quieter which will appeal to people who need to keep the noise down when practicing.
The following video offers a good comparison of the sounds of the Yamaha DTX400K and the Roland TD-1K
We looked at all the electronic drum sets currently selling at major American online music gear retailers for less than $500 and analyzed reviews and forum posts by customers, users and experts. We processed all this data using the Gearank Algorithm to produce the scores out of 100 you see above and added them to our Music Gear Database. We then selected the highest rated options to present above. For more information about this process please read How Gearank Works.
Cheap Electronic Drum Kit Summary
You can see all of the electronic drums we have processed for Gearank here - if you feel there is a cheap kit that we've failed to consider then please say so in the comments bellow and we'll take a look at it - if it scores high enough we'll add it to this gear guide.