7 Best Electronic Drum Pads + [Comprehensive Buyer Guide]
Posted in Drums | Last Updated on September 30, 2019
Technology has been giving a new direction to the world of drumming since the appearance of the first commercial electronic drum set in 1976 by Pollard Industries. Nowadays there’s a massive variety of options for pretty much every drummer, doesn’t matter if you’re into ethnic, electronic or even symphonic music.
Here we have reviews of the best selection to help you find the pad that suits you best.
Nord Drum 3P
At first sight, you can’t help but notice how small it is (About 3/4 of an SPD-SX), and you may think it’s a toy. Then you pay attention to all the buttons and special functions like high and low-pass filters, and that’s when it gets serious. Clavia, the manufacturers of Nord products, bring you this set of 6 pads with a module that enables drummers to and modify in real-time a huge selection of snare drums, percussion, effects and more.
Here you can see a demo of the Nord Drum 3P by Gavin Harrison, and check the way it blends in with the drum set:
Important: This is a drum synthesizer and doesn’t come with samples, and its specialty is not importing your own sounds from another device, but rather creating them right in the 3P module. This is a minus for some people and just a different approach at electronic drumming for others.
Ideal users: Percussionists who are not afraid of programming, and want to add non-conventional sounds to their set. Great for touring drummers, due to its size.
- Super well assembled.
- A wide selection of electronic sounds.
- Modifying sounds is quick and easy.
- Very portable.
- Doesn’t come with sampled instruments.
- White noise when reverb is on. Same on the headphone output.
- Sensitivity is OK but could be better.
Summary: Faults in design, but overall it’s a durable product that works beautifully in its area. It’s one of the tastiest drum synths available, but I’d still recommend trying it first at a store to see if your style fits the 3P features and to know if you’re willing to deal with the noise level.
Yamaha DTX Multi-12 Pad
If you’re the crazy kind of drummer who wants to play a melody with one hand while playing a drum beat or even plays chords with your hands and a beat with your feet, you’ll be excited by this next product. A set of 12 pads that come with surprisingly well-made samples, this is the DTX Multi-12 Pad by Yamaha.
It’s got some well-thought points, like letting the user upload sounds via USB instead of an SD card, and a built-in sequencer. Other small details could have been made with more common sense, like not putting the volume knob on the back. Another issue is the stand (sold separately), which is expensive and wobbles around, so if you get a Multi-12 Pad, better play it on a flat table.
Ideal users: If you’re the type of drummer who wants a good sounding machine without editing much, this is for you. Also, if you’re a producer and want to replace an acoustic drum set, this will be one of the most realistic-sounding options in the market.
- Very clean sound.
- Incredibly realistic samples.
- Good response when playing with hands.
- Not sensitive enough on the upper pads.
- Small screen.
- Not much internal storage space
Summary: Having so many pads opens the door to a lot of possibilities like having a whole drum set sampled, or even playing any scale! Not all the pads are equally responsive, but comparing it to its price and all the other benefits, it’s just fair.
Roland is the most popular electronic drum manufacturer, and there’s undoubtedly a reason for this. After the release of their SPD-30 model, the company realized they should let the drummers incorporate their own sounds into a machine, and instead of squeezing more functions into the SPD-30 they decided to create a whole new model designed to satisfy this need. This is Roland’s most advanced set of pads, the SPD-SX.
This model allows you to load samples from your computer or even make them with the pads! Just play the audio, hit the pad where you want to start sampling, hit it again to finish and you’re good to go! Another big plus in this model: real-time effect knobs! With these quick features and fast software, you can trust this machine if you need to make last-minute adjustments.
That said, here’s an important warning: Many samples that come with the SPD-SX don’t match the quality of everything else. Latin percussion and Brushes kit, for example, sound very artificial so you may have to load your own sounds to make the most out of this pad. If you’re not passionate about electronics, it will be a headache to learn how to use this at its full potential. Still, the basic features are easy to use.
Ideal users: Session or live drummers who want to include self-made effects to an acoustic kit, or even trigger their own tracks, that can be either saved into the internal memory of the device or plugged to a computer, so it’s got some functions inspired in MIDI controllers.
- Highly customizable sounds.
- Very reliable to use on stage
- Comfortable feel and great sensitivity.
- Supports external pads.
- Many built-in sounds could be better.
- Doesn’t come with many factory-loaded sets.
- Pads not as good as other models.
Summary: The SPD-SX is a great accessory to your set whether you’re a working drummer or you want to practice at home, it’s very fun and easy to use, and surprisingly versatile.
It’s a small pad that contains its own samples of instruments and effects. Features are intentionally made simple: 11 sounds, one knob for tuning, one for effects, and one for volume. Some drummers say it’s like using a single pad of the SPD-SX.
You’ve got four options depending on your style: there’s the Electro with claps and snares, the Percussion if you’re looking for a cowbell or bongos, the Kick featuring many bass drum sounds, and the WAV Pad, where you can fit your own samples or play along.
Even though it’s small, it’s got pretty much all you need. You can adjust the sensitivity if you want to switch from hand to sticks or even your feet, and still get the same response.
It comes with many useful sounds, but just like in the SPD-SX, Roland could have included more sounds required by the normal drummer. And since this one is so small, it only lets you add one more sound to its memory. And another downside, the Kick Pad (made specially to play with feet) wears out quickly if used with shoes. Really, Roland? That’s what you made it for!
Ideal user: Any musician who wants to add something different to their performance without having to carry a hundred instruments. Suitable for adding effects to a drum set, or even for accompanying yourself if the main instrument is a voice or a guitar. Important to remember that these pads are an addition to the drum set but not a replacement for it, especially if you intend to practice.
- Easy to use.
- Highly responsive.
- Light and resistant.
- WAV Pad can be used as MIDI controller.
- Only one empty set.
- WAV Pad is a little pricey for what it offers.
- Variety of kick samples are a bit reduced.
Summary: Small, simple, and good sounding. These pads are useful for drummers of any level and surely will not disappoint.
Alesis Samplepad Pro
This is our budget choice if you’re an SPD-SX kind of drummer but don’t want to spend a big load of money on a set of pads. This is the latest model by Alesis, that includes 8 dual-zone pads, LED illumination, and pedal inputs to expand your set if you want to use it as a mini drum kit.
To keep the price down, the company included only the necessary buttons and didn’t spend much time sampling instruments. This is a disadvantage if you expect a pro sound out of the box, but doesn’t matter much if you’re willing to customize the machine using your computer.
Ideal user: Somebody who wants to enter the hybrid drumming world, and is not looking for complicated features.
- Affordable and handy.
- Adjustable sensitivity on each pad.
- User friendly.
- Snare sounds are super dynamic.
- Top pads have a small delay.
- Cross talk when not mounted on a stand.
- Samples on SD card charge slowly.
Summary: It’s effortless to understand, looks fancy, and fulfills its purpose. Many people who buy the SamplePad Pro are impressed with how great it sounds for its price. Cross-talk problems can be solved by adjusting sensitivity, and built-in sounds can be replaced, so with a bit of customization, you’ll love what it can do.
Roland HandSonic HPD-20
Whether you’re an old drummer who is not enthusiastic about carrying tons of instruments, or just a young lazy drummer (like me) and want to carry everything in a small bag, you will be amazed by what the HandSonic HPD-20 can do.
This is a set of 13 ultra-sensitive pads that respond amazingly to speed, includes 850 percussion sounds (from ethnic to symphonic) and supports up to 500 custom sounds that can be loaded via USB. It has its own equalizer, multi-effects processor and ambience filters, and it’s compatible with external MIDI controllers. And the best part, 100 preset kits ready to use or modify!
Ideal users: Electronic and modern music performers for either live concerts or recording sessions. Recommended mostly for experienced percussionists. It works for folk drummers because it allows them to use traditional hand drumming techniques, giving authentic results. Still, it doesn’t replace the traditional instruments completely, since acoustic and electronic worlds are not that close yet.
- Responsive to different hits with hands.
- Easy to carry and to use.
- Pads are individually adjustable.
- Incredibly versatile.
- Additional device needed to make good loops.
- Drum set sound is not realistic.
- Not designed to be played with drumsticks.
- Not useful as drum set addition.
Summary: This is a very innovative model that takes MPC to a whole new level. Some people say it’s too expensive compared to other Roland devices that include more features, but the reason for this price lies in the amount of sampled instruments and the ability to get response when playing with fingers.
Native Instruments Maschine JAM
Next on this list, we wanted to include another kind of MPC pad for those who make music with a DAW. This is the Maschine JAM by Native Instruments. It’s a set of pads that work with a software that helps you create drum beats, melodies or chords! A versatile option for many musicians.
I know, I know, many of you are probably thinking, “Hey, this is a website for drummers!” Yes, but the drum sequences you can make with this machine are pretty sweet.
If you’re planning on buying the Maschine Jam, better include the Maschine software in your budget. In order to use this device at its full potential, you’re kind of forced to buy the software, (which comes separately), since many of its elements don’t work on DAWS like Cubase. Another downside is that even though it enables you to make music right on the spot, it needs a lot of setting if you’re searching for a specific sound.
Ideal users: Drummers who like audio production. A right choice if you’re looking for gear that helps you compose/mix your own tracks, from electronic to symphonic music.
- Solid build, great price-quality.
- Touchstrips let you add ghost notes.
- Custom settings can be saved/changed with one button.
- Can replace a MIDI keyboard.
- Very useful for working with rhythm sections or strings.
- Takes a lot of time to learn how to use all its features.
- Pads are NOT so sensitive to speed.
- Not made for live performance.
Summary: The Maschine JAM gives incredible results even if you’re not a professional musician. It’s a quality sequencer and MIDI controller that works incredibly well.
BUYING GUIDE: What to keep in mind before getting an electronic drum pad
What is an electronic drum pad?
Percussion controllers designed to trigger sounds by hitting/tapping them. These are different from the ones you would find on an electronic drum set in two fundamental aspects: its size (the ones of an electronic set are made to resemble an acoustic drum or cymbal, and therefore are larger), and the separated module used to select and modify the pad’s sounds. So an electronic drum pad is basically a compact electronic drum set with an integrated processing unit.
Easy to transport. Just fit it in a bag or case with the cables you need, and you’re good to go.
Versatile. You can have a hundred snare drum sounds or many complete sets of percussion instruments suitable for many musical situations.
Quiet sounding. Great news for either live performances when you can’t be too loud, or practicing sessions at home when you don’t want to disturb your neighbors.
Not just for drummers. Most of these products can be used to create tracks without much drumming knowledge. Some models even come with a sequencer, enabling you to compose drum patterns with consistent sounds without having to play them.
Parts of a drum pad
Screen: Some of them come with it, which shows you the preset, effect, or kit you’re using. When a screen is not included, you might need to plug your device to a computer in order to adjust the settings.
Panel: It’s the part where you have all the buttons. Some people prefer a minimalist design that shows only the essentials, while others prefer a sophisticated design that will show each function separately.
Dial/buttons/arrows: This is for selecting the different elements on the pad’s integrated module. It’s important to think which one would be more efficient if you need to change settings quickly.
Volume knobs: Some pads come with separate knobs to change the master, headphone, and monitor volume. Think if you will need all of them depending on the situations where you’ll be using your device.
Inputs/Outputs: These come in the back part of the machine, and they enable the user to connect the pad to other machines, from computers to external speakers and MIDI controllers.
Pads: These are the surfaces you hit. They come in many sizes and thicknesses depending on whether they are designed to be played with sticks or hands.
General points on how to choose
There are four main components that give a product its value: Build quality, sound, features, and operation. Remember that most of these elements depend on your taste, the situations you’ll be facing and even your personality.
Build quality: A relevant aspect you should pay attention to is the quality of the pad material, in order to play with a realistic feel and get satisfying sensitivity. While it’s good to look for durability, thick pads may not be as responsive as thinner ones.
To know how well-built they are on the inside, you must search for cross-talk issues. If you hit one pad and the next one also triggers, this is a sign of poorly soldered cables, and it might give you trouble in the future. Also, you’ll want to make sure it provides as little white noise as possible.
Sound: There’s a wide variety of electronic drum pads in the market, and of course, they don’t all serve the same purpose. Before going straight to a model, it’s essential to clarify whether you want a product designed for sampling if you prefer a product with solid sounds out of the box, or if you’re the programming kind interested in a drum synthesizer to sculpt your sounds from scratch.
Features: Many drummers just aim for the most luxurious model available but won’t need all the features it offers. Sometimes people think that paying more money equals to better quality, but in some cases, you’re paying the price for more functions at the same sound level.
Same goes for drummers who need a device capable of covering many areas such as looping, sampling, and sequencing, but end up buying a simpler model that isn’t crafted for all those purposes. As a result, they will inevitably be unsatisfied with their purchase, and that’s one of the reasons why some people trash about electronic drums. Like buying the most expensive cell phone only for the alarm clock, or getting an alarm clock and complaining that it doesn’t have apps.
When choosing a model, it’s crucial to judge based on what it can do and how that suits your needs.
Operation: Next point is in the type of situations where you intend to use the product. Touring drummers would take more advantage of models that are quick to use with a simple interface. Recording drummers or producers, on the other hand, would work more efficiently with machines that are controlled when being connected to a computer.
You should also consider the type of cable you’ll be using to record, as well as how many outputs you’ll need if you expect to hear your sounds on a speaker and headphones simultaneously. And if your idea is to connect external pads, more inputs will be necessary.
Some products are handled intuitively, while some others require spending some time reading the user’s manual. Before buying a specific drum pad, you must know if you’re willing to spend hours watching tutorials. Otherwise, many models allow you to change settings by merely moving a couple knobs.
Other elements to consider
- Some models feature lights between the pads to know which one is sounding, and this helps to play more easily in dark places.
- Weight and size of the product, depending on how much you’re going to carry it.
- Internal storage, in case you want to save additional sounds into the device.
- Not every device has the ability to loop, so keep that in mind if you’re a multi-track kind of performer.
- Take some time to see how hard it is to get replacements for the model you’re buying in case a part of the machine breaks. If your power input or volume knob ever break, the device will become unusable until you change the part, and you surely don’t want to get stuck for such small things.
- For live sound, it’s way better to have your individual speaker. Don’t listen to the singer if they say “you can connect to my amp, I have another input.” The equalization you’ll need for the pad is way different, and it’s awfully uncomfortable to be switching all your module’s EQ right on the spot.
Additional gear/software needed
These machines are not designed as all-in-one products, which means you will need additional things to get your pads to work correctly. They usually don’t come with sound included, so you may want to include headphones or a speaker and an instrument cable when ordering your device.
Attention: These pads can trigger a considerable range of frequencies, so make sure to get a speaker that can handle them well. If, for example, you plug your pad to a small guitar amp and play a deep bass drum sound, it will sound distorted, and there’s a risk of damaging the amp. Drum amplifiers are constructed specially for this issue, though bass amps also work well.
Also, for recording drum pads an audio interface is generally needed. The other option is getting a MIDI-USB cable to plug directly to your computer. Once you have managed to connect your device to a computer, a music production software is needed to record and save your sessions. Luckily, some manufacturers have this figured out, so you’ll get a DAW included when getting some sets of pads. Some Yamaha products, for example, come with Cubase.
And of course, a stand. There’s nothing less sexy than showing up with your expensive machine on a small table. And due to the vibration produced when hitting the pads, this may give you cross talk problems. Not every stand works with each model, so check the back of the device to verify which stands are compatible.
Even with the most modern drum pads, there’s a small amount of latency. This is the time between the stroke to the surface and the module’s response. This can be felt particularly when playing drum rolls. This is the main point that keeps acoustic and electronic drumming worlds apart.
And when it comes about limitations inside the electronic world, there’s a noticeable difference between the capabilities of a complete electronic drum set with a bigger separate module and individually connected pads and a smaller machine that comes with all these parts together. Still, it’s a rather minor disadvantage compared to all the benefits you get.
Electronic drum pads are, though not perfect, incredibly advanced nowadays. Considering all the points above, with enough research about various models, you will definitely find the right pad for you.