Today I am going to take you through some of the best electronic drum pads currently on the market. These are extremely versatile electronic instruments that can in musical situations replace a drum set.
Years ago I was an avid acoustic ‘purist’ when it came to drums. However, it was actually electronic drum pads that first got me into the world of electronic drumming.
There are many electronic pads on the market today, but personally, I think it boils down to these main models, and I am going to explain and compare them for you now!
The Best Drum and Percussion Pads
I am going to tell you the strengths, weaknesses, and purposes of each. I will also do my best to compare important features across models.
Do percussion pads look cool live? Yes! Especially if you are a DJ or producer, some spectators can get a little bored if you’re standing behind a laptop or standard sampler. Smacking electronic pads with drum sticks on stage can really spice things up, and add a whole new dynamic of sounds to your performances.
Most percussion pads can also communicate via midi to other digital instruments or DAWs (Digital audio workstations) such as Ableton Live. This opens up a world of possibilities!
Roland Octapad (SPD-30)
The Roland Octapad is one of my most loved electronic instruments. In addition to playing my hybrid kit for bigger shows, the Octapad allowed me to tour around Europe playing electronic music on the street and in small venues with very little hassle. The drum sounds are really excellent in this.
A big plus for me is the extensibility of the SPD-30. You can connect up to 5 external sources (including hi-hat controller). So I would regularly make a mini-electronic kit out of this with a kick pedal, hi-hat pedal, and snare mesh head. A ride or crash cymbal pad would also be a great option.
The phrase looping is excellent on the Octapad. You can loop 3 separate instruments (kits, synth sounds, percussion instruments, etc) with options to delete, mute, pause, etc. Although you are limited to 3 instruments, you can swap them out on the fly. I started using it a surprising amount of times in my shows! Like many electronic instruments, the starting and stopping of these phrase loops can be midi triggered. Therefore you can use it in conjunction with other samplers and devices.
With months of daily playing on this, I never once experienced any crosstalk issues. With a few surprise rain-showers, this device got covered with rain on me a few times. No problems what so ever.
The main drawback, you cannot load your own samples on this device. However, there is such a variety of sounds and professional effects, that you can do without it as a drummer.
So that’s my love affair with the Roland Octapad SPD-30. What a great piece of kit. If it had the ability to load samples and add more kits to phrase looping, I think it would be almost perfect.
The Octapad SPD-30 is a percussion pad. It is built for drummers and percussionists that want to go digital or add electronic sounds to their acoustic set-ups. It is an investment and costs much more than the Alesis SamplePad pro for example. However, the Octapad is leagues ahead of these cheaper options.
Check out the video below to see Craig Blundell demonstrate the Roland Octapad SPD-30 in action:
The Roland SPD-SX is another very popular model. The main difference is that this is a sampling pad rather than a percussion pad. So it is more built for drummers that want to play custom samples, expand their own set-up, and for DJs and producers adding more triggered sounds into their performances.
The SPD-SX is an excellent instrument. The main advantage that this has over the Octapad is its sampling ability. You can load your own samples onto the SPD-SX. The best way to do this is to prepare your wav files on your computer using audio software (like audacity or more featured options) and then transfer them.
The main reason I choose the SPD-SX over cheaper options is that of its build quality and pad triggering technology.
With cheaper alternative products you can get crazy cross-talk between pads. An example of this is hitting one pad and another one triggers. This can be a problem for drum sounds, but it is much worse if a wrong sample is triggered in the middle of a performance. If you are serious about incorporating a sampling pad into your setup. You definitely need to invest in a quality model like the Roland SPD-SX.
This device has 4GBs of internal memory, allowing for 720 minutes of samples. You can also expand the memory using USB storage. Therefore the total storage here should definitely be sufficient for your needs. Limited storage can be a problem with some samplers, I ran into this with the Korg Electribe sampler, which has a surprisingly limited amount of custom sample storage.
One disadvantage is that you cannot create phrase loops on the fly with the SPD-SX like you can with the Octapad.
So, buy the SPD-SX or the SPD-30 Octapad? I personally choose both. They are both built for different purposes and perform them beautifully. As a drummer, I prefer the Octapad. If you need custom sampling or use it as more of a secondary instrument then the SPD-SX may be the way to go.
The Roland SPD-SX supports up to 4 external pads (either 2 dual zone pads, or 4 single zone pads). You need to get a splitter if you intend to use more than 2 external inputs.
Check out the video below to see Craig Blundell demonstrate the Roland SPD-SX in action:
Yamaha DTX Multi-12
The Yamaha DTX Multi 12 is a Sampling pad that can most closely be compared to the Roland SPD-SX. It has 3 extra pads to the SPD-SX and it has a huge inventory of sounds to choose from. This model has the potential to replace your drum kit and allows you to load custom samples, this is well worth considering.
I think the biggest advantage of the DTX Multi-12 is the ultra sensitive pads. If you are into hand drums like djembes or congas, this is pretty much the only option amongst the percussion pads I am presenting to you. The pad surface can seem a little soft when playing with sticks. This is totally a matter of preference though.
You can also add up to 5 pads externally. There are 3 inputs but 2 of them are dual inputs, where you can input dual zone pads or split them out to two separate single zone pads each through the use of a splitter.
This can make for a compact electronic drum set. Make sure to do your research when choosing external pads. Kick pads and drum pads are pretty universal. But this is not always the case for hi-hat controllers.
The DTX-Multi has only 64MB Internal memory for loading custom samples. I see this as the biggest weakness as it is quite limiting. Compare this to the 4GBs of internal memory that you get in the Roland SPD-SX. Using user interface for this model can also take a lot of getting used to. The menu system is a little clunky and difficult to use. There are a lot of features, but it seems to come at the price of usability.
This is a solid contender as both a sample pad and percussion pads. As a preference, I prefer the feel and features of the Roland Octapad SPD-30 for my own use, or the Roland SPD-SX for onboard sampling. However, this can serve as a great alternative.
Check out the video below to see the Yamaha DX-Multi 12 in action:
Alesis SamplePad Pro
This product promises so much at a much lower price point, making digital drum pads a lot more accessible to people with a lower budget. It is packed with features and it can be a great entry-level model. Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed with this as a drummer who expects excellent playability and reliability from his drum pads.
I bought this product for a few reasons. The first was because it allows for lots of extensibility with external pads. Therefore you can make your own mini electronic drum kit out of it. Secondly, you can load your own custom samples on it. It has some really desirable features that you would want from more expensive models. Lastly, the price point. This model is considerably cheaper than other options.
These are all very promising features. However, the Alesis can be let down by cross-talk issues. If you have the pads set to a high sensitivity, hitting the top pads can easily trigger other ones. A firmware update might have helped somewhat in this. However, the only real solution I could find was to lower the sensitivity on the pads.
I’m not totally blasting the Alesis SamplePad Pro. It can actually be a very decent option. You could load custom samples and have it as a secondary instrument on your kit. This would be at a much lower price point to the Roland and Yamaha models. I did try this out in live performances, and to be honest, it wasn’t too bad. However, it’s not as sensitive as the previous sample pads I’ve talked about. I didn’t really pick up the volume of my strokes as well as higher-end Roland or Yamaha percussion pads.
Verdict: This can be a great cheap option to get into electronic sample pads if you don’t have enough money to spend on the Roland or Yamaha Models. If you are picky about the sensitivity of your strokes, this could be an issue. Cross-talk can also be an issue, but you can decrease this a lot if you lower the sensitivity on one or two problematic pads.
Check out the video below to see the Alesis SamplePad Pro in action:
So those are the main percussion and sample pads that you should consider. Whether you want to add electronic elements to your acoustic playing or want a standalone instrument or sampler, electronic pads can be a great option to add to your performance.
If you have any comments on this article then please write a comment below. If you have any other percussion pads that you think I should include in this list then please let me know!
Thinking about buying a full Electronic Drum Set?
If you are also considering getting your hands on a fully featured electronic drum set, then be sure to check out our buyer’s guide and reviews for the top Electronic Drum Sets for 2017. Many popular models are very reasonably priced. They can help replicate the experience of playing an acoustic kit more than electronic percussion pads.
Thanks for reading,