Whether you're starting your drumming journey, have reached the intermediate uplands or broken into the world of professional playing, securing the absolute best drum kit for your ability and individual playing style is crucial to your development and, most importantly, the amount of fun you can have behind your drum set.
If you’re a beginner, you should be hunting for a reliable, moderately-priced drum set that will last the first few years of your drumming life, at the very least. Then, as you improve your next step is to work out whether you need a drum kit for recording, gigging, or both, and then go shopping with this specific goal - and a definite budget - in mind.
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If you do hit pro drummer territory a) well done and b) you'll probably have a pretty clear idea of the drum tone, shell sizes and kit configuration you’re now looking for. At this level you'll be choosing between premium quality drum shells, properly resilient, road-worthy hardware and maybe even a range of custom options to really make the drum kit of your choice your own.
With sales season now in full swing, now's your chance to get a great deal on a new drum kit. We'll be covering the best Black Friday drum deals and Cyber Monday drum deals here on MusicRadar, so you won't miss out on the action.
What are the best drum sets you can buy?
Within this definitive buyer's guide, we aim to feature some of the most common and biggest-selling sets on the market, with the top options for every budget.
Overall, we really have to give high marks to the Natal Arcadia and Pearl Export for sheer value for money, while Yamaha’s long-esteemed Stage Custom drum kit is a leading contender for both build quality and tone. Each and every one of these kits coms with all the hardware you need to get started, without feeling like you’ll need to upgrade quickly. In fact, we'd be happy to deploy any of these kits on the stage or in the studio, too.
Tama's Starclassic Walnut/Birch is a great new entry in the mid-range, offering top-notch sounds, a massive array of configurations and some fresh finish options for drummers who want to stand out.
Best drum sets: buying advice
New drummers just starting out usually start with a five-piece kit: bass drum, two rack toms, a floor tom and snare drum. Often, you'll need to allow budget for cymbals too – hi-hats, a ride cymbal and at least one crash – and stands (also known as hardware), too.
However, many brands and retailers offer packages for complete kits, which include drums, cymbals, hardware – even drumsticks and stools – to ensure you have everything you need to start playing.
For more insight at this level, take a look at our dedicated guide to the best beginner drum sets.
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What are drum shells made of?
Budget kits will feature cheaper, unfussy shell material such as poplar, while spending more money will get you shells constructed from one or two ‘tone woods’. Common choices are birch, maple, walnut, bubinga or a combination of shells selected to deliver a complimentary sonic palette.
Moving up to an intermediate or pro level drum set
At the mid-to-professional level and above, there's a strong chance that your tastes will have become more refined - and defined. You’ll already own one or two snares, a set of cymbals and hardware. So at this stage you’ll most likely be shopping for ‘shell packs’: your personal configuration of bass drums and toms, with matching snare drums usually available as an additional option.
While many entry and mid-level drum sets feature great quality fittings, as you progress through the price ranges you’ll be paying extra for more durable hardware, designed to live up to the rigors of being set-up and packed down repeatedly. Bass drum spurs, tom mounts, legs and tension lugs are all common moving parts that will wear over time, so it’s worth investing in the best quality you can afford.
Likewise, a great kit can be hindered by cheap, factory-supplied drum heads (or skins), while an affordable drum set can be vastly improved by changing the heads for a quality brand (popular brands include Remo, Evans and Aquarian), designed to deliver the type of sound you’re going for once your ears have become more finely-tuned.
These are the best drum sets available to buy
This small drum set has been considered by many as the king of mini kits for portability, small stages and even for younger players since its launch in 2013. It comprises a 16"x14" bass drum, 10"x7" rack tom and a 13"x13" floor tom, with a standard 14"x5" snare. The chromed shell hardware feels solid, with a weighty tom-holder, smooth hoops and a sturdy bass drum riser.
The standout piece is the bass drum. It's unlikely to replace a larger kick in a conventional rock set-up, but given the shell construction and size, it’s capable of acting like a small cannon. The Breakbeats snare holds a lot of character too – a slight trashy, grittiness, and even at lower tunings it finds a good combination of crisp response and full-bodied overtones. Cranking it results in a distinctly vintage funk sound.
The small tom diameters don't really lend them a 'power-tom' sound, but it’s possible to coax a fat, clean, sustained note from them at the mid-tension sweet-spot. Originally offered in the Azure Blue Sparkle finish pictured, Ludwig has since introduced Black, White and Red sparkle finishes, as well as the all-new Sahara Swirl. For the money, the Breakbeats is a hard kit to fault.
Read the full Ludwig Breakbeats kit review
The Yamaha Stage Custom has been a staple mid-priced kit for over almost three decades, and the brand has continued to evolve the setup to maintain its relevance. Yamaha’s track record of building birch shells speaks for itself. The Stage Custom’s 6-ply shells are 6.6mm thick, straight-sided and butt jointed with Yamaha's distinctive diagonal seams, while bearing edges are carefully cut at 45°.
Wide open, the bass drum is right on the money, delivering a massive wallop of low-end. It's an unashamedly resonant kick with a breathy decay. The toms are equally full-on, delivering quick, fat notes at amp-beating volumes. Birch shells generally make for focused-sounding drums and the toms quickly tune to a point where this is achieved. The snare turns in a typically bright and birch-like performance – tuning variations are taken in its stride, whether tightening to a funky crack or relaxing to an expansive clonk.
Yamaha's credentials run through the Stage Custom Birch like the words in a stick of rock. It's beautifully made; solidly engineered to take the knocks of real life and produces a quality of sound that defies its price tag. This is a kit that you won’t outgrow in a hurry.
Read the full Yamaha Stage Custom Birch review
Natal’s Arcadia range offers incredible value for money, with The UFX Plus configuration (pictured) including six drums and even a full, great quality hardware pack with straight and boom cymbal stands, hi-hat stand, snare stand and kick drum pedal. Shells are Natal's own 100 percent birch construction and feature the same Natal 'Sun' design lugs as on the top-end 'Originals' series, but cast in a lower-mass form to reduce weight for the gigging drummer.
All of the drums feature a crisp 45° bearing edge with Remo UT heads and triple-flanged hoops. Remo heads do a good job of letting the drums sing cleanly and across a broad range of tunings. That means the bass drum punches through and articulates well, while the snare drum boasts a wide tuning range and copes with heavy hitting as well as light ghost notes.
Toms speak quickly with a strong fundamental tone and no unwanted overtones. With premium features from Natal's high-end lines, adapted for the working drummer, the Arcadia series sets a stunning standard for entry-to-mid-range drum sets.
Read the full Natal Arcadia review
The arrival of the Pearl Export in 1982 set a new benchmark and in 2007 the kit was revived with upgraded shells, new lugs, new tom bracket and a superb hardware package. The new, smaller sculpted lug with a reduced footprint allows the shells to breathe better. The supplied 830 series hardware pack and brushed silver and orange Demonator bass drum pedal are absolutely brilliant for the money.
Most budget kits at this price have poplar shells, however Pearl has reintroduced Asian mahogany into the mix and that inner lining of semi-hard red wood adds warmth and depth to the shell tone. The tom heads are Chinese-made transparent Remos and deliver the requisite blam with plenty of depth and authority.
As ever with budget drum kits, the snare is the slightly weak link. It’s lightweight and takes some judicious tuning before it will yield a decent sound. The rest of the kit, however, sounds little different from a kit three times the price.
Read the full Pearl Export review
Gretsch’s Renown series has been a staple for jobbing drummers since its introduction in the early noughties. Their classic Formula shells, 30° bearing edges and silver sealer interior are present and correct on the Renown, alongside resonance-promoting, double-flanged Gretsch 302 hoops. Flawless looks belie the price and the hardware - from the tapered T-wing thumbscrews to the Gretsch ‘G’ cast into the memory locks - adds a touch of class.
Supplied heads include a Remo P3 on the bass drum, clear Emperors on toms and a coated Ambassador on the snare drum. It’s easy to produce a controlled, thick rock tom sound with just a little tension on the batter heads, or a singing, ring-free clarity at medium tension. The floor tom follows suit with a controlled beefy thud at lower tunings, and clarity when pitched up. The undrilled bass drum sounds huge, too. Tuned low, it’s gutsy and sustained, while adding some tension reveals more of a funky punch.
Read full review: Gretsch Renown
The Saturn V centres around hybrid shells comprising plies of American Rock Maple and walnut. One of the most significant features of the kit is the Soniclear bearing edge. While the inner edges are trimmed to 45° for the rack toms and 60° for the kick and floor toms, instead of the usual sharp summit, the edge has a slightly rounded, flattened back-cut which extends out to the shell's outer edge. This allows greater contact between the head and shell which is designed to coax maximum depth out of the drums and help with tuning.
Tom batter heads are dual-ply Remo Emperors, partnered with single-ply Ambassadors on the resonant side. The combination of relatively shallow depths, decent twin-ply heads and the rounded bearing edge all contribute to a great sound. The Mapex Saturn V is a fantastic all-rounder kit which is equally happy on stage or in the studio – on a jazz gig or playing rock.
Read the full Mapex Saturn V review
Since the 2003 addition of Tama’s flagship Star range, the once-top-of-the-Tama-tree Starclassic is still an extremely serious choice for gigging and touring professionals. 2019’s revision to the Starclassic series comes in the form of the Walnut/Birch, effectively ousting the Birch/Bubinga and sitting below the Starclassic Maple price-wise as Tama’s entry-point into the Starclassic family. Tonally, these drums pack the warm punch of walnut, combined with the cutting attack of birch for a modern drum sound that will work across genres from rock and metal to funk, pop and fusion.
The toms are six-ply: four birch and two walnut, while bass drums feature an extra ply of birch. Tama has included a range of features, trickled-down from the Star series, including a streamlined Star Cast mounting system, super-handy quick-release tom holders, suspended/cushioned floor tom legs to avoid resonance transferring to the ground.
The finishes are mostly lacquer, with Tama even managing to achieve some striking bursts, fades and oysters using paint rather than wraps, however there are currently five wrapped finishes available in the line-up, with an increasingly-expanding range of finishes still being added. The Starclassic Walnut/Birch represents a killer pro-level drum kit that is a must-try if you’re in the market for punchy, modern-sounding drums.
Sonor’s new Sound Sustainer mounts are backed up by science – the drum company has worked with the German automotive industry to create a system based around large rubber gaskets which isolate the toms and eliminate direct contact between wood and metal for greater resonance. Birch offers decent lows and highs with reduced middle frequencies that don’t muddy up the sound, so this drum set has a clean-cut sound with guts – it’s directed and business-like, controllable yet also brilliant.
The Remo Ambassador-topped toms produce a long and sweet sustain, while the bass drum has an archetypally modern, tough and present tone. The lower regions - with wrinkles just about tuned out of the batter - bring more depth into the blend. The snare drum is a bit of a contrast as it is deep with a slightly more open and unruly voice.
Read full Sonor SQ1 review
The Recording Custom - commonly called the Yamaha 9000 - started life in the mid-1970s with Steve Gadd, amongst many other drum session superstars, swearing by its focused, punchy, pre-EQ’d tone. In 2016, with input from Gadd, the Recording Custom was revitalised, updated with a fatter, weightier lug, thinner bass drum shells, sharper bearing edges and even greater manufacturing precision.
Shells are all six-ply, 6mm North American birch – Yamaha's Air Seal shell technology with angled seams ensure near-perfect shell construction. Most will be happy with the supplied, studio-friendly Ambassador Coated batters. Paired with the perfectly round shells, sharp, level edges, and standard 1.6mm steel hoops, tuning is easy as ever, and the tuning range as wide as it gets.
There are also seven new Recording Custom snare drums with stainless steel, aluminium and brass shells should you wish to go all-Yamaha in the studio. A masterful return from one of the most famous drum sets ever made.
Read the full Yamaha Recording Custom review
Drum Workshop's Collector's Series is all about custom drums built to the highest standard. You can choose from an array of shell materials and configurations, plus a huge palette of finishes and hardware options. Pictured is DW’s Cherry/Mahogany drum set. DW had previously used cherry as an outer veneer, but for the first time includes cherry as the sole wood in its Pure Wood series.
This is a precisely constructed kit. The shells are round and the bearing edges textbook. It sounds as good as a modern kit gets. Mahogany has a warm musicality and Cherry has a darker sound, so the two complement each other well. The drums are sensitive too – approach them softly and they still articulate clearly with the tone opening up immediately.
DW continues to refine its already awesome Collector's Series. This new hybrid of cherry and mahogany offers a subtle variation of warm, sensitive and concise tones. But if that doesn’t quite float your boat, there are plenty of other custom options to choose from.
Read the full Drum Workshop Collector’s Series Cherry Mahogany review
The primary goal with Tama’s Star was to enhance shell resonance, making it the ideal choice for both professional drum recording and top-end live work. Tama has opted for vintage-style extra-thin shells with Sound Focus (reinforcing) Rings. Another nod in the vintage direction sees Tama rounding off its bearing edges, allowing broader contact between the head and shell. The rounded edges allow the shell tone to make more impact, warming it, slightly subduing the attack and controlling the sustain.
The thin shells also promote resonance of the respective woody timbres and bring out the deeper fundamentals. Toms and bass drum have a new cast lug, a bridged design for minimal shell contact with an attractive curvy shape and four-faced ridges. Hoops are die-cast zinc, more consistent and structurally solid than triple-flangers. Aiding the hoops are Hold Tight washers, which have a stainless steel cup containing a rubber ring. This prevents de-tuning under modern heavy playing. Tama’s Star Series - also including Bubinga and Walnut options - is another step towards Drum Heaven... at an eye-watering price.
Read the full Tama Star Maple review