Electronic drum kits are a heavily debated topic in the drum world. They’ve been around for decades, but the best sounding kits have always been too expensive and inaccessible. Modern technology has made it easier to get better sounds for better prices. At the peak of that modern technology are Roland and Yamaha. These two companies are at the top electronic drum kit market and continually produce high-quality products.
The question then would be what the difference between the two is? Which company is better and why? Let’s find out.
Both companies specialize in electronic instruments and both were founded in Japan. Those are the main similarities between them. However, their origins differ significantly. Roland was founded in 1972 and their goal was to provide affordable electronic instruments to hobbyist musicians. Their rivals at the time only provided expensive professional equipment. So, Roland was made to fill a gap in the market. Roland continued to create drum machines and synthesizers and started to gain a lot of popularity. To this day they have continued to produce high-quality electronics and samples for all categories of musicians.
The biggest thing that differs Yamaha from Roland is that they produce a broad range of acoustic instruments as well as electronic. The company started in 1897 with the production of pianos. This evolved over time to the sale of synthesizers, drum kits, keyboards, wind instruments, and everything else you can think of. They also had a separate engine and vehicle division, but that’s a story for another time.
Both Roland and Yamaha have got years of manufacturing experience that they put into creating their electronic drum kits. There are some notable differences in design choices with the biggest one being their choice of sampling methods.
Sampling refers to how the sounds are created and put into the drum machines. These sounds are expertly mixed and mastered to get the best possible sound from the electronic drums. The big difference between the two manufacturers is that Roland creates their samples from scratch whereas Yamaha records them from their range of acoustic drums.
Yamaha has a wide range of acoustic drums that feature many sounds and qualities. They have kits for beginners such as the Rydeen and kits for pros like the Recording Custom. Every Yamaha drum module has sounds that have been recorded directly from these acoustic drums. They get a drummer to play these kits at all volumes and intensities in order to capture a wide array of sound possibilities. These are then put into the electronic drum modules. If a drummer plays a soft note on the electronic kit, the soft note that was recorded from the acoustic kit will come out.
Since Roland has no acoustic drum products to sample from, they instead choose to create their samples from scratch. Instead of recording drums in a studio, they make their drum sounds on a computer. The benefit of this is that the sounds aren’t limited to acoustic drums and what they produce. It gives the drummer more editing options over the sounds on the module.
Mesh Heads vs Silicone Heads
Not all electronic drum sets feature mesh heads. Mesh heads provide a more authentic feel from the drums. They have more flexibility and can be tightened or loosened according to the drummer’s preference, similar to tuning acoustic drums. This a feature that is typically reserved for the more expensive models. Cheaper e-kits will use rubber pads. Roland uses mesh heads in a lot of their drum kits. Some of their more affordable kits will have a mesh head snare drum and rubber pads for toms while other more expensive options have mesh heads all around.
Yamaha don’t use mesh heads on any of their electronic drum kits. They instead make use of silicone pads. Silicone pads also provide an authentic feel that is easier on the wrists than rubber pads. Some drummers prefer silicone heads while others prefer mesh heads. It comes down to personal preference, but both silicone heads and mesh pads provide that natural drum feel.
Every electronic drum kit is paired with a sound module. Without the module, you’d get no sounds coming from the pads. Most of the time you’re actually paying for what you get in the module rather than the quality of the drum pads. With that being said, Roland and Yamaha actually feature many of the same options in their sound modules.
The first feature would be the number of preset kits. Typically, an entry-level kit will have about 15 to 20 preset kits while a professional electronic kit will have up to 50 presets. Both Roland and Yamaha stick to these trends.
The next feature would be the ability to modify the sounds. The most common sound editing tool would be reverb control. Most drum modules have this. The more expensive the module, the more features you will get.
Overall, not much differs when it comes to the drum modules of each company. The reason for this is that electronic drum kits have developed a standard that they stick to over the years and every company follows these standards.
Both companies produce drum kits at varying price points for varying levels of players. All these kits feature certain qualities that make them suitable for their price. When you compare the drum kits from each company head-to-head, you’ll find that sometimes one company will have more value in the kit at that price.
For example, Roland’s TD1K and Yamaha’s DTX400K cost around the same amount of money. They feature the same qualities as each other. However, the TD1K offers a bit more in that it has an accompanying app, making it a better product.
Roland’s TD-11KV and Yamaha’s DTX562K cost the same and feature many similar qualities. However, the Yamaha kit comes with a separate hi-hat stand and feels a bit more comfortable, making it the better product.
Comparisons like this can go on with all their competing products. You’ll find that there’s always something small that makes one or the other a better choice.
Following on the comparison train, let’s have a deeper and more detailed look at some of Roland and Yamaha’s most popular electronic drum kits.
Electronic drum kits can get really expensive when they’re loaded with features. However, there are a few things that pro drummers will want from their e-kits and everything after that will just be a luxury. These things would be a bigger snare drum and a separate hi-hat stand. The TD-17KVX features these qualities as well as a few more for a relatively decent price.
The TD-17 sound module has 50 preset kits along with 310 available sounds. All these sounds can be edited with tuning, muffling, compression, EQ, and reverb. This gives you a serious amount of sound capabilities to work with, making this kit a versatile tool.
The module can connect to your phone via Bluetooth and let you stream songs through it. This is great for practicing as you would have the tracks come out of the module along with the drums that you’re playing. Overall, the sound module is a workhorse that will get every job you can think of done.
The real value in this kit is in the hardware and pads. The first notable piece of equipment is the PDX-12 snare drum pad. It’s a dual-trigger pad that imitates an acoustic snare extraordinarily well. It produces life-like rimshots, ghost notes, and buzz rolls. This two-ply head allows you to tune it to be extremely tight or relatively loose, giving you a lot of versatility in how you play.
The next notable part of the kit is the KD-10 kick drum pad. Bass drum pads are always a bit of a weak point in electronic kits. Drummers get accustomed to playing large and beefy bass drums, so playing on a small pad is often underwhelming. This pad has a soft and authentic feel to it, emulating the response of an acoustic bass drum.
The biggest feature that makes this kit worth the price is the fact that the VH-10 hi-hat mounts onto a real hi-hat stand. Most electronic kits don’t have this feature. Instead, they have a hi-hat pad and a foot pedal that is disconnected from it. With the hi-hat stand, you come closer to getting the feel of an acoustic drum set.
All the other pads on this kit exhibit a sense of high quality and feel. The CY-13R ride cymbal pad has 3 trigger zones, giving you the ability to play the bell, the bow, and to crash on the ride. The CY-12C crash pads have two trigger zones and the PDX-8 tom pads are all tuneable mesh heads.
Overall, the TD-17KVX is a fantastic kit that everyone including the pros will love.
The Yamaha DTX6K3-X is a fairly new product from Yamaha that directly competes against the TD-17KVX. It has a comfortable setup with an easy-to-use drum module along with some great customization options.
The module features 40 preset kits that have been sampled from Yamaha’s highest-quality acoustic drum sets. It also has 400 onboard sounds and the ability to create 200 custom kits. When looking at the module, you’ll see it has a kit modifier that is plainly laid out and extremely easy to use.
The 3 sound editing options are ambiance, compression, and effects. Ambiance controls how wet or dry the virtual room sounds, similar to reverb. Compression controls the strength of the drums. The effects knob offers a wide array of unique effects when you twist it. All these features give you some unique playing options.
The Yamaha company is really big on education. So, most of their kits come packed with educational tools. The DTX6K3-X has 10 onboard training functions as well as 37 training songs. Pair these with Yamaha’s app and you have a wonderful educational tool. This makes the kit great for teaching drum students.
All the pads have silicone heads that provide an authentic feel. The TCS snare pad has 3 trigger zones that allow you to play rimhots, cross-sticks, and buzz rolls. The tom pads only have 1 trigger zone, meaning they only produce single sounds. However, each pad is highly sensitive to dynamics.
The real value in this kit is in the cymbals. Each cymbal has 3 trigger zones, allowing you to play crashes, bells, and on the bows. They can also be choked, something that many electronic cymbals don’t offer.
Similar to the TD-17KVX, the hi-hat pad on this kit can be mounted onto a real hi-hat stand. This creates a better overall feel from the kit that is resemblant of an acoustic set.
The kick pad tower is lacking compared to the Roland kit. However, it can be replaced if you want to upgrade it. Both this kit and the TD-17KVX are very similar to each other. It actually comes down to personal preference over which one is better.
Are There Other Good Electronic Drum Kit Brands?
Although Roland and Yamaha are at the top of the industry, there is one other company that has a huge presence with their electronic drums. That company would be Alesis. They started in 1984 and have been producing high-quality electronic products ever since.
In terms of electronic drum sets, Alesis is known for producing extremely affordable e-kits that are great for beginners and anyone on a tight budget. Products like their Alesis Nitro and Alesis Command have gone down very well in the drum community. They also produce a high-end kit in the form of the Alesis Strike Pro. It has features that directly compete with the Roland and Yamaha models.
How Loud Are Electronic Kits?
The whole drawcard of electronic drums is that they’re low-volume solutions to acoustic drum sets. While acoustic drums make a huge noise, electronic drums only make the small noise that comes from hitting the rubber pads. You then have the option to either plug headphones into the module and hear the drums from there, or you could connect the module to an amplifier and play the drums through that. The drums could then get pretty loud through the amp.
It would be beneficial to all drummers to have an electronic drum set. It would allow you to practice at all times of the day without bothering anyone in the neighborhood.
How Can I Record Electronic Drums?
Every electronic kit has a USB port somewhere on the module. In order to record the drums, you need to connect the module to a computer via a MIDI cable that connects to that USB port. You’d then need to open up digital audio workstation software on the computer that can take the input from the drum module. Applications like GarageBand or Pro Tools are great for this.
The benefit of having a DAW to record is that you can even use some of the sounds from the software. This gives you an almost unlimited amount of sound options for your e-kit. You’ll find that many drummers prefer to buy cheaper e-kits and then just connect them to their computers so that they can get better-quality sounds.
Roland and Yamaha are synonymous with electronic drum sets. You’ll see these names on every single review list on the web. The question of which company is better comes down to personal preference. Some drummers like Roland while others like Yamaha. If you want to know which kit is better to get in a certain price range, just compare the features and decide which will work best for you.
In summary, Roland uses mesh pads and samples from scratch while Yamaha uses silicone pads and samples from their existing lines of acoustic drums.