Portable drum sets have gained popularity in the drum world in recent years. While large and excessive drum setups were all the rage in the early 2000s, drummers have started to adopt minimalist setups in many settings for modern music.
Having a portable drum set at your disposal is a great way of ensuring that you’re equipped for any gig, no matter what the size of the stage is. Getting one is something every drummer should consider. So, I’m going to explain exactly what portable drum sets are and show you some of my favorite ones that you can choose from.
What is a Portable Drum Set?
Before we get down to business, you should know exactly what a portable drum set is as the name only explains half of it. As the name suggests, a portable kit is a drum set that can be moved around easily. It should be easy to take with you in a car and easier to carry around than a standard drum set.
A portable drum set also has a smaller footprint than a standard drum set. This is typically due to the smaller shell sizes. The small bass drum is always the biggest sign that a drum kit is designed to be portable.
Another name for a portable set is a compact drum set. You’re going to hear me switch between those two terms throughout this article, so be prepared!
Criteria to Look Out for in Good Portable Drum Sets
I have a small list of criteria to measure the quality of all the compact sets I’m going to suggest. Each of these things is important in determining how good of a drum set it is, especially if you’re looking for portability. The criteria are as follows:
These kits will be measured by the quality of the shell material used for the drums. The better the shell material, the better the drums are going to sound. Drum manufacturers use different types of woods to make drums, and you’ll often find that portable drum sets are made with cheaper woods.
So, we’ll look through each drum kit and see what type of wood it’s made of to establish what kind of sounds it’s going to produce.
The hardware of the kits is what keeps all the components together. Certain hardware choices will determine how secure and stable the drum kit feels. Some hardware is also heavier than others, so there’s needs to be a balance between those two things in a portable drum set.
One of the biggest hardware areas to look out for with a portable set is the tom mount. The way the rack tom gets mounted often adds to the portability of the set.
Size is another key factor to measure a portable set by. You may think that the smaller, the better. However, drum kits become less versatile with sound as their shell sizes get smaller. So, there needs to be a balance there as well.
These kits will be measured by how small the shell sizes are mixed with how good they sound. Snare drums and toms don’t always have to be smaller than standard sizes with compact sets. The bass drum, however, needs to be smaller to save space.
Value for Money
The final thing to measure these portable drum sets by is how much value they give you in relation to how much you’re going to pay for them. This is always a good thing to ask yourself when buying a drum set.
If it’s a bit more expensive, you should feel as though it’s well worth the money you’re paying for it. If it seems like it’s quite cheap, you need to ask yourself why and whether you’re happy to buy it.
My Top 5 Favorite Portable Drum Sets
My first recommendation is the Ludwig Breakbeats. This is a fairly popular compact kit as it’s one of the most affordable ones on the market. It was designed with the help of Questlove, who’s a well-known drummer in New York.
If you think about being a gigging drummer in New York City, you can imagine how much of a mission it is to haul a drum set around. This kit is the perfect solution for that.
The shells are made of 7-ply hardwood and they’re incredibly light to carry. Even though the shells are light, the drums project quite well with thick punchiness.
The hardware of the kit is surprisingly sturdy, and the rack tom mount allows you full maneuverability over the rack tom.
Something that I love about this kit is that it comes with nylon bags to pack it into. These nylon bags can be carried over your shoulder fairly easily, making this an excellent travel drum kit.
I found that the snare drum is the weakest aspect of the kit, but you’re going to hear me say that a few times in this article as compact drum kit snare drums have a bit of a bad reputation.
- Made with 7-ply hardwood shells
- 10” rack tom, 13” floor tom, 16” bass drum, 14” snare drum
- Includes nylon carry bags
- Lightest drum set on this list
- Comes equipped with high-quality Remo drumheads
- Can easily be held all at once in the drum bags
- The snare drum lacks tonal depth
The Pearl Midtown has been my personal gigging drum kit for several years. It’s slightly more expensive than the Ludwig Breakbeats, but it still sits in the same price range of being an entry-level compact kit.
The shell sizes are mostly the same. However, the Pearl Midtown shells are made from 6-ply poplar wood. This gives them a bit more of a lively sound with a stronger attack.
I’ve always been surprised at how diverse the tuning range of the drums is. Even though it’s a small kit, you can tune the drums to sound quite large and dominating.
The snare drum of the Midtown is 13” compared to the Ludwig’s 14” snare. The Midtown snare is higher pitched with a sharper crack when tuned tightly. Even though it’s got that sharp crack, I found myself replacing it quite quickly after getting this kit. A higher-quality snare drum tended to match the kit a lot better.
The Midtown also has dedicated bags that you can use to store it in. However, you need to buy those separately. So, you need to decide whether the superior tone of the Midtown is worth paying extra for the bags.
- Made with 6-ply poplar shells
- 10” rack tom, 13” floor tom, 13” snare drum, 16” bass drum
- Pearl Opti-Loc suspension system
- Affordably priced
- Sturdy Pearl hardware
- Surprisingly wide tuning range
- Midtown bags need to be purchased separately
- Snare drum has a fairly weak tone
Yamaha Stage Custom Hip
The Yamaha Stage Custom Hip is undoubtedly the most unique option that I’ve put on this list. It has a few features that make it a drastically different kit from the previous ones.
Firstly, the kit has 6-ply birch shells. Birch wood is a higher-quality wood than poplar or hardwood, meaning the Stage Custom Hip has a better tone than the previous drum kits that we’ve looked at. These drums are punchy and full of tonal depth.
The shell sizes differ slightly as well. Instead of them having small diameters, they have shallow depths. The bass drum is a standard 20-inches, but it only has an 8-inch depth. This makes it look like a bit of a pancake bass drum. The rest of the drums are shallow like this as well.
The biggest standout feature of this kit is the floor tom. While it may look like a normal 13-inch floor tom at first glance, you’ll see that it’s a hybrid snare drum upon further inspection. It has snare wires underneath and a throw-off on the side. This allows you to switch between a floor tom sound and a very deep snare drum sound.
Overall, this kit is a great option for drummers who play modern music like hip-hop and pop. The only downside is that it’s a fairly expensive kit, especially because it costs about the same as a full-sized Yamaha Stage Custom drum kit.
- Made with 6-ply birch shells
- 10” rack tom, 13” floor tom, 13” snare drum, 20” bass drum
- Floor tom also acts as a snare drum
- You get the feeling of a full-sized bass drum
- High-quality birch shells
- Hybrid floor tom adds a very unique dynamic
- The kit is a similar price to a full-sized Yamaha Stage Custom kit
Sonor AQ2 Safari
The Sonor AQ2 Safari kit takes things up a notch in terms of design quality. This is one of the higher-end portable kits. Made from 7-ply maple shells, this kit produces warm and resonating tones that are suitable for any musical style.
I think the main thing that puts this kit above all the others I’ve mentioned so far is the quality of the hardware. It’s incredibly heavy-duty, which is not what you commonly find in portable kits. The lugs, bearing edges, and tom mount are all very impressive.
The snare drum that comes with this kit is also excellent. It’s one of the few compact snare drums that sounds amazing. It has such a strong rim shot sound and it’s beautifully sensitive, allowing you to play such subtle notes that can be heard very clearly.
Sonor kits are generally known to be high-quality kits, and this Safari doesn’t disappoint. If you don’t like the sizes of the shells in this Safari kit, you could also choose between the AQ2 Bop and AQ2 Martini kits that have different shell sizes.
- Made with 7-ply maple shells
- 10” rack tom, 13” floor tom, 13” snare drum, 16” bass drum
- Die-cast lugs
- Warm maple tones
- Excellent snare drum
- Heavy-duty hardware
- Fairly expensive
DW Design Series Frequent Flyer
The last portable kit that I’m going to recommend is the DW Design Series Frequent Flyer. This is undoubtedly the highest-quality portable kit that I’ve mentioned on this list. DW is one of the top drum companies that has a well-known reputation for producing high-end kits.
The Frequent Flyer is one of the Design Series kits offered in portable shell sizes. The toms and bass drum are made from DW’s famous HVLT maples shells which sound beautiful in every tuning. The snare is made from HVX maple. It’s a bit stronger with a bigger attack.
These drums have an overall warm and responsive sound that sounds amazing in jazz settings. However, you can tune them lower to fit nicely in rock and country settings as well. They’re quite versatile and will suit several different styles.
The reason DW kits are so highly regarded is due to their hardware features. This kit comes with True-Pitch tuning rods. These are rods that are designed to make it very easy for the drums to be tuned. They also keep the drums in tune for extended periods.
The snare drum also has the DW MAG throw-off which is a highly sought-after feature with DW snares.
This is arguably the best kit on the list. However, it’s by far the most expensive.
- HVLT and HVX maple shells
- 12” rack tom, 14” floor tom, 20” bass drum, 14” snare drum
- True-Pitch tuning rods and MAG snare throw-off
- Pro-quality tones
- Very wide tuning range
- Extremely versatile kit
- DW hardware
- Most expensive kit on this list
Answer: I wouldn’t suggest having a portable drum kit as your only kit. You may find that there’ll be gigs you need to play or songs you need to record that will need large drums with a big presence. While most compact kits can produce large sounds to an extent, they’ll never be able to produce the big sounds that a standard drum kit can.
So, it’s good to have a portable drum set as your second kit to use whenever you need a smaller kit for the venue. A portable kit should be used when you’re limited for space, either in the car you’re traveling in or on the stage you’re going to play on.
Answer: Portable drum sets are excellent kits for children to use. Since they’re smaller than standard drum sets, they’re easier for children to sit at and be comfortable. The smaller the kit is, the better it is for any small child.
However, it would be good for the child to eventually graduate to a standard kit as the standard kit is what you should be ideally be learning the drums on. No portable kits have middle toms and learning to play the drums with a middle tom is arguably quite important for beginner drummers.
Answer: This question doesn’t have a definite answer. The brand of drum kit you like is subjective to your tastes and preferences.
Some popular drum brands are Yamaha, DW, Sonor, Pearl, Ludwig, Gretsch, and Tama. Every single one of these companies makes portable drum kits that are high-quality and loved by many different drummers.
Answer: Unfortunately, all portable drum kits come as shell packs. A shell pack is when you only get the snare drum, bass drum, and toms. You don’t get any hardware or cymbals with the purchase.
You may come across a music store selling those things with the portable kit as a package deal. But you won’t find anything like that when shopping online for a portable kit.
If you’re buying a portable kit and you don’t have any other drum gear, you’re going to need to look for some hardware and cymbals as well.
Here’s one of our cymbal guides that may help you with that.
Answer: If you’re completely new to the drumming world, you may be wondering what the difference is between an acoustic and an electronic drum kit. Acoustic kits are the standard drum sets that most people get. They’re the large ones that are made out of wood and metal. All the kits mentioned above are acoustic kits.
Electronic kits, on the other hand, are made of rubber pads and electronic wiring. They’re digital instruments that produce all their sound from a drum module.
Answer: While electronic drum kits are a fantastic investment in most cases, they’re not an ideal option if you’re looking for a portable drum set. Portable drum sets need to be easy to carry around and set up. Electronic drum sets have several components with a bunch of wires and plugs. Setting all those things up will never be a quick and easy process, unfortunately.
Also, you’d need to buy a high-end electronic drum set if you want to play gigs with it. The reason for this is that the high-end kits are the ones that have most of the same features as acoustic kits such as chokeable cymbals and multiple trigger points. High-end kits cost much more than any of the portable kits I’ve mentioned above, further adding to the fact of an electronic kit not being an ideal portable kit.
Answer: Choking a cymbal refers to when you play it and then grab it with your hand to cut the sound off suddenly. Holding it with your hand stops it from vibrating which in turn stops all the resonating tones from ringing out. All acoustic cymbals are chokeable. However, not all electronic cymbal pads allow you to do this.
Electronic pads have trigger zones, and the more expensive ones have more trigger zones to give you more sound options. You’d need to buy a high-quality electronic drum kit to have chokeable cymbals.
Answer: When thinking of buying a portable drum set, you’re also going to need to put some thought into what hardware you’re going to use with it. While cymbal stands are vital, people often forget to think about the drum throne. Having a good drum throne is key in feeling comfortable and secure when playing the drums.
There’s no definite answer to which drum throne on the market is the best one. However, there are a few things to look out for that will be present in the highest-quality ones. Firstly, the legs of the throne should be double-braced. This will ensure that they’re very secure to the ground.
The padding on the throne should also be fairly thick, making it comfortable to sit on. Lastly, the throne should have a well-designed rotation system that allows you to raise or lower the height easily.
Some of the best drum thrones come from popular drum companies such as Pork Pie, DW Drums, Pearl, Tama, Yamaha, and Gibraltar.
If you’re looking to get a portable drum set, have a close look at all the kits I’ve suggested and decide which one you think would suit you best.
The Pearl Midtown and Ludwig Breakbeats are excellent kits for people with small budgets. The Yamaha Stage Custom Hip is an awesome kit for anyone looking for something out of the ordinary. The Sonor AQ2 Safari and the DW Frequent Flyer are the top-of-the-range kits for anyone with a big budget.
Once you get one of these kits, you’ll have a perfect tool for playing gigs in small venues. It will be easy to travel with whenever you can’t take a full-sized kit along with you.
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