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The 9 best compact drum kits 2020: our pick of the best mini-kits at any budget

The 9 best compact drum kits 2020: our pick of the best mini-kits at any budget
(Image credit: Ludwig)

Compact drum kits have become increasingly popular in recent years, and despite their diminutive size, these micro drum kits are not simply small sets for children. Modern gigging environments with smaller stages, plus accommodation where space is limited have both contributed to the rise in popularity of small, agile setups that can be transported quickly and easily. In this guide. We’re going to point you towards the best compact drum kit for you.

But what exactly constitutes a ‘compact’ kit? Common standard kit sizes comprise a 22” or 20” diameter bass drum, along with 12” and 16” toms. ’Bop’ kits shrink the bass drum down to 18”, but often keep the toms to fairly regular 12” and 14”. So, for this round-up, we’re looking at kits that feature bass drums with a smaller diameter – capping it at 16”. It’s not just about the bass drum, though, as the toms usually shrink to stay in proportion and maintain a consistent voice across the kit.

If you’re looking to downsize your kit – or perhaps pick up a compact set as a second kit – here are our picks of the best compact kits currently available today.

What is the best compact drum kit right now?

The nature of this slice of the drum market means that most of the options here will set you back in the region of $400-500/£300-£400. The Ludwig Breakbeats is considered an excellent kit for the money, thanks to its association with The Roots drummer Questlove, plus cool, funky styling. In the same price bracket sits the Pearl Midtown, which we think offers more in the way of build quality.

Stepping up brings you to the mid-price point with the likes of the Sonor AQ2 and Yamaha Manu Katché Junior. If you want two rack toms, the Yamaha is a no-brainer, but we love the design and build of Sonor’s AQ2.

The upper end of the market offers fewer choices, with British Drum Co.’s The Imp shaving a hefty few hundred off the Gretsch Brooklyn Micro’s price, while still offering similar features in terms of size and construction. That said, brand loyalty and a premium slice of “that great Gretsch sound” might still win over those who love the features on offer in the Brooklyn series.

Choosing the best compact drum kit for you

When looking for the best compact drum kit for you, the options are similar to that of a full-size kit, except you’re generally going to be faced with fewer considerations. At the more affordable end, shell material is likely to be lighter basswood or poplar, while moving up in price will bag you some more familiar maple plies or a combination of tonewoods. 

The diameters are fairly uniform too, with 16”, 10” and 13” forming the bulk of the shell pack configurations, with variations in depth offering a slight change in attack/sustain. It’s worth noting that while small drums may offer some reduction in volume, these kits are still designed to play in a live situation. They save space, but they are by no means ‘quiet kits’. If you’re unsure, go and hit a 16” floor tom or 10” tom at full pelt – this is the volume these drums are capable of!

Some mini-kits use vintage style direct-mounted tom holders, while others use modern suspension mounts for an arguable boost in resonance. One of the most important features of kits of this type, though, is the riser. This little piece of hardware not only lifts the bass drum up to ensure your bass drum pedal beater is striking the centre of the drum, but it helps to keep it in place. A weak riser that’s tricky to fit/remove will result in reduced stability, and slow down your setup/pack down time.

At the lower price points, we’d set aside some funds to re-head the kit, or at least the bass drum. Pre-muffled bass drum heads such as the Evans EMAD, Aquarian Super Kick or Remo Powerstroke can give you a tight, punchy sound with added bass in comparison to stock heads, while a vintage calfskin approximation will work wonders for more open jazz-type open sounds. It’s important to shop for heads with a bass drum collar, though: throwing a spare floor tom head on will result in a poor fit (if it fits at all) and could damage the drum.

The best compact drum kits available today

Best compact drum kits: Ludwig Breakbeats by Questlove

(Image credit: Ludwig)

1. Ludwig Breakbeats by Questlove

The baby Roots brute – a compact drum kit for all

Price: $429/£399/€433 | Shell material: Poplar | Shell thickness: 7-ply | Configurations available: 16”x14” (with riser), 10”x7”, 13”x13", 14”x5” | Finishes: White Sparkle, Black Sparkle, Wine Red Sparkle, Azure Blue Sparkle, SaharaSwirl

Back in 2013, Ludwig teamed-up with Questlove – drummer for The Roots and the purveyor of some of the hippest grooves committed to record – to design a kit that is playable in small abodes and eases the burden of gigging around large cities like New York. Questlove said at the time, “I wanted to build a device that was apartment-friendly and compact for the street musician but was quality-sounding. A gritty, raw, 'break-able' kit for gigging in clubs that you can fit in a cab.”

The Ludwig Breakbeats kit is the classic compact size: 16”x14” bass drum, 10”x7” rack tom, 13”x13” floor tom. The snare drum remains a more traditional 14”x5” as-per Questlove’s preference, and the kit includes a bass drum riser to help get your beater position correct. The tom post also incorporates a holder for a cymbal arm, further reducing the need for carrying bulky hardware.

Soundwise, the Breakbeats is very versatile; while the drum dimensions aren’t going to perform like a larger kit acoustically, it is possible to tune them to produce rock-like sounds that will project under microphones. Of course, where the Breakbeats really shine is for funk, hip-hop and jazz-type sounds. But as an all-round, affordable solution to downsizing your setup, the Breakbeats are hard to top.

Read the full Ludwig Breakbeats by Questlove review

Best compact drum kits: Pearl Midtown

(Image credit: Pearl)

2. Pearl Midtown

Midtown funk gonna give it to ya

Price: $479/£409/€449 | Shell material: Poplar | Shell thickness: 6-ply | Configurations available: 16”x14” (with riser), 10”x7”, 13”x12”, 13x5.5 | Finishes: Black Gold Sparkle, Black Cherry Glitter

Pearl has long been a serious name across every budget, and the Midtown comes with a number of features that extends this into the compact drum kit market. The shells are made of poplar, which was (and still is) frequently used as the middle ply in classic/vintage drums from Ludwig and Gretsch. As well as its sonic qualities, poplar is known for being lightweight, which adds to the efficiency in a small setup like this.

The Midtown features a 16”x14” bass drum and 10”x7” rack tom, but the depth of the 13”x12” floor tom is reduced by an inch from some of the other kits in this line up. Likewise, Midtown kits come with a 13”x5.5” snare, so you lose an inch in diameter, but the added half an inch depth should recover some of the body of the snare sound. 

The supplied riser slots into a hole in the bottom of the bass drum, making sure that it’s firmly supported from the batter side as well as the front, and Pearl has cut a groove in the batter-side hoop to ensure that your pedal chain doesn’t get caught. It’s a simple, but nice addition that adds to the Midtown’s no-fuss design. 

While it may not have the funky charm of the Breakbeats, it does feel like it offers better build quality overall: you’ll find rubber gaskets on the bass drum claws, Pearl OptiLoc suspension mount on the rack tom, matching wood bass drum hoops, and even screw-mounted metal badges.

Read the full Pearl Midtown review

Best compact drum kits: Sonor AQ2 Safari

(Image credit: Sonor)

3. Sonor AQ2 Safari

One of the all-round best compact drum kits here

Price: $699/£699/€849 | Shell material: Maple | Configurations available: 16”x15” (with riser), 13”x6”, 10”x7”, 13”x12” | Finishes: Aqua Silver Burst, Titanium Quartz, Brown Fade, Transparent Black, White Marine Pearl

Sonor’s Jungle kits set the quintessential blueprint for a lot of micro/compact setups in the ‘90s. Taking aim squarely at the growing trend for drummers wanting to emulate the higher-pitched sampled sounds heard in drum’n’bass and hip-hop, the Jungle’s popularity became something of a catch-all eponym for kits of this size. In 2020, though, the configuration is called ‘Safari’ and is available as part of Sonor’s AQ2 series. 

The AQ2 Safari pairs workhorse quality with portability and price-point to deliver a kit that will perform at any level. All-maple shell construction, 45-degree bearing edges, Sonor’s SmartMount suspension system for the rack tom, maple bass drum hoops and a dual tom/cymbal arm holder.

Sonor doesn’t stop there, though, and one thing we love about the Safari is that it is available in all five of the AQ2 finishes. This means that you can easily add to the kit with additional drums, or create a modular kit with an existing regular-size AQ2 by adding a smaller bass drum, for example. It’s one of the most solid choices here.

Best compact drum kits: Yamaha Manu Katché Hip Gig Jr

(Image credit: Yamaha)

4. Yamaha Manu Katché Hip Gig Jr

It’s got five (drums) on it

Price: £873/€959 | Shell material: Birch | Shell thickness: 6-ply | Configurations available: 16”x14” (with riser), 10”x7”, 12”x7”, 13”x12”, 12”x5 | Finishes: Raven Black, Deep Violet, Cranberry Red

The Yamaha Hip Gig has been available in various signature guises since the ‘90s, but the current version is the Manu Katché Hip Gig Junior. While Yamaha’s marketing suggests this is aimed at kids (and it is), it’s definitely not limited to being a child’s drum kit. As well as being built from all-birch shells, the biggest difference here is the inclusion of a second rack tom, a suggestion made by Manu himself in order to offer a full learning experience for those who buy it. 

The sizes follow the familiar format: 16”x14”, 10”x7”, 12”x7” and a 13”x12” floor tom. The snare is a 12”x5, which is heading into ‘side snare’ territory by normal standards. But it can be tuned low to produce a weighty-enough regular snare sound.

The bass drum is the standout part of the kit, with an impressive range of sounds taking you from a funky, tight low tuning to a fuller, more sustained 808-type note. We love the riser too, which attaches to the drum in a similar way to the Pearl Midtown. Visually, we’d prefer some traditional bass drum hoops, but it’s a small price to pay when you’re met with such great sounds.

Best compact drum kits: Gretsch Brooklyn Micro

(Image credit: Gretsch)

5. Gretsch Brooklyn Micro

Get into a NY state of mind

Price: $1,899/£2,090/€2,298 | Shell material: Maple/poplar | Shell thickness: 6-ply | Configurations available: 16"x12" (with riser), 13"x12", 10"x6", 13"x4.5" | Finishes: Silver Grey, White Marine Pearl

Gretsch’s Brooklyn line of drums is a reference to the original USA factory, and gives a clue to the types of players these kits are aimed at. But the Brooklyn Micro is by no means just for jazz. This is another upper-end kit, despite its scaled-down sizes and, as with the rest of the Brooklyn series, it has some premium features. 

First up is the classic Gretsch 6-ply maple and poplar construction, the 30-degree bearing edges, 302 double-flanged hoops and that all-important Gretsch silver sealer on the inside of the shells. The Micro is available in Silver Grey, oozing with contemporary class, or White Marine Pearl for authentic retro charm.

Just like The Imp, it comes factory-fitted with USA Gretsch-branded Remo heads: single-ply coated on the tom batters, clear on the underside, and a Powerstroke 3 on the kick. The Brooklyn Micro is a hefty investment, but reinforces the concept that ‘small’ doesn’t need to mean ‘cheap’. It’s a top-tier kit with features and sounds to match, and if you’re looking for professional-level sounds combined with the most portable configuration, the Brooklyn Micro should be on your list.

Best compact drum kits: British Drum Co. The Imp

(Image credit: British Drum Company)

6. British Drum Co. The Imp

Mission: Imp possible

Price: £1,625/€1,835 | Shell material: Maple | Shell thickness: 6-ply | Configurations available: 16”x10”, 10”x6”, 13”x10”, 12”x5.5” (available separately) | Finishes: Kensington Knight (satin black)

So far, the kits we’ve featured have followed a similar size and price range. However, The Imp from British Drum Co. switches things up a little. First up is the price – make no mistake, this is a high-end compact kit built using premium wood and the same processes that have quickly made BDC a head-turning name. The diameters are the same, but BDC has altered the depths of the drums giving us a 16”x10” bass drum, 10”x6” rack tom and 13”x10” floor tom.

Not only does this make The Imp more portable, but shallower shells give you a faster response, while BDC promises great projection from this boutique beauty.

The construction is maple, with vintage-style 30-degree, round-over bearing edges and matching maple bass drum hoops. It comes with USA-made Remo heads supplied, too, which means you won’t necessarily need to factor in extra expenses for quality heads. 

The Imp is finished in Kensington Knight (satin black) finish which allows the grain to come through and the whole lot is designed to fit into a specially-designed Hardcase. Being aimed at pros, the kit is sold as a three-piece shell pack, but a 12”x5.5” snare is available separately. Imp might mean ‘small and mischievous’, but in this context we think it’s also an abbreviation of Impressive.

Best compact drum kits: Tama Club-Jam Flyer

(Image credit: Tama)

7. Tama Club-Jam Flyer

Pump up the Jam sessions

Price: $379/£339/€379 | Configurations available: 10”x14” (with riser), 8”x6, 10”x9”, 10”x5” | Finishes: Candy Apple Red

Nestled among the triple-pronged attack of Tama’s Club-Jam series (also featuring the Club-Jam, and Club-Jam Mini) is the Club-Jam Flyer. Unlike the other two’s bop-sized 18” bass drums, the Flyer’s kick is a teeny 14”x10”, and is paired with a 10”x5” snare, 8”x6” and 10”x9” floor toms (yes you read that correctly). 

Don’t be fooled though, as the Club-Jam Flyer comes out swinging for buskers, street performers and anyone else who needs a small kit with serious sound. Obviously the sizes are outside of the usual rock/fusion/bop staples, so this kit will exhibit some different tonal qualities, regardless of your tuning skills. 

The upshot is that you’re rewarded with a surprisingly tight punch from that baby bass drum, while the toms aren’t in ‘coffee can’ territory, despite their size. This kit is all about cutthroat attack in acoustic settings, but produces enough frequency range to keep up with a band. We wouldn’t suggest replacing your normal tubs, but for throw-and-go gigs, we think you might be able to finally beat the guitarist in the post-gig load out race.

Best compact drum kits: PDP New Yorker

(Image credit: PDP)

8. PDP New Yorker

A small slice of the Big Apple

Price: $399/£399/€432 | Shell material: Poplar | Configurations available: 16”x14”, 13”x12”, 10”x8”, 14”x5” | Finishes: Pale Rose, Electric Green, Black Onyx Sparkle

DW’s sister brand is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and one of the stand-out kits we’ve seen from Pacific Drums & Percussion in recent times is the New Yorker. It’s so good, in fact, that it stands up well against a similar (but more expensive) configuration from Dee-Dubs itself!

The New Yorker (are you spotting a theme with the names here?) echoes some of the features of the Pearl Midtown: all-poplar shells and cut-out wooden bass drum hoops, while the riser mounts externally.

The rack tom is mounted directly to the shell, which depending on your preference may or may not be an issue, and our review kit could have benefited from a better quality head on the bass drum (although this is a common first upgrade with many kits, regardless of size). It’s worth noting that the New Yorker varies considerably from the also-available Daru Jones signature New Yorker from PDP, which also costs more.

Overall, the PDP New Yorker is a great choice for street performers and buskers, and it is priced in line with the competition.