Most drum kits are big and a chore to move around. As drummers, we are constantly fitting our drums into cars like luggage, then getting to the gig and realizing that we are cramped for space. We are also playing at different venues constantly and having to repeat the set up and pack up process.
What would make this process easier? A portable drum kit!
Many drum companies sell kits specifically designed for the purpose of easy portability. As a gigging drummer, it has made my life much easier to have a small kit that I use for gigs where I need to bring my own kit.
9 Best Compact Drum Sets - My Favorite Portable Kits
In this article, I’ll talk about some of the best portable drum kits on the market and help you find a suitable option.
Table of Contents
- 9 Best Compact Drum Sets - My Favorite Portable Kits
- Why Compact Kits are Cheaper
- Shell Packs
- Shell Material
- Number of Drums
- Stock Drum Heads
- Drum Sizes
The Ludwig Breakbeats is a kit that was designed with the help of the drummer Questlove. His band, The Roots, perform throughout New York. Gigging in a cramped city was the idea behind this kit.
The kit comes as a 4-piece shell pack. A 14” snare, 10’ mounted tom, 13” floor tom and 16’ kick drum. These shell sizes help give the feel of a full-sized kit, yet are very compact.
The kick drum has a riser to connect to it. The riser lifts the kick drum up so that the beater hits the centre of the drum head. This allows the kick to produce the best tone.
The kit comes with Remo Pinstripe drum heads. It works and sounds great in a wide array of tuning options. From high pitched bebop and pop to rock. However, this kit is not the best option for metal players. So, if that’s the genre you play the most, this kit might not be what you’re looking for.
It’s not an exaggeration when I say that I have seen at least one of these kits at every single Jazz Festival that I have attended. They are a favorite of jazz drummers. The mahogany shells give the drums a vintage sound that fits well within that style of music. However, the kit is not limited to jazz only.
There is often a debate over the 18” kick drum. It tends to sound very boomy if not filled with anything inside it. And if you do put something inside to muffle the boom, it loses its volume. If you’re not a fan of a boomy kick drum, this kit might not be for you.
The kit comes with stock 1 ply drum heads which work well for jazz. They resonate a lot. So if you get this kit for other styles of music, I’d suggest swapping out the 1 ply heads with 2 ply heads.
Because the Gretsch Catalina Club Jazz kit is so popular, Gretsch has a wide selection of colors to choose from - which is always a bonus when looking to buy a kit!
Pearl is one of the giant companies of drum manufacturing. Their kits come with an expected high quality and the Midtown is no different. The Midtown was first released in 2016 as Pearl’s approach to a compact kit.
The poplar shells give the kit a lively tone. The rack tom is 10” and the floor tom is 13”. These toms only sound really good when tuned medium to high. I struggled to get a decent sound from a low tuning when I used one of these kits. However, the 16” kick drum is more than capable of giving a low and tight thump.
The 13” snare drum of this kit did not impress me. It was light and sounded cheap. The only decent sound I got was when I tuned it as high as I possibly could. Which means it’s not versatile.
Pearl designed specific drum bags for the Midtown kit. Two bags to carry over your shoulder that the whole kit fits into. Fitting a whole kit into two bags is definitely a huge draw card when looking for a portable drum kit.
The kit has two color options: black and cherry sparkle red. Not much to choose from but they both would look incredibly aesthetic on a stage!
It’s obviously not a surprise when I say this, but this kit is small. Very small. So small that it may not be effective in certain situations, yet very effective in others. The Tama Club-Jam Flyer is Tama’s take on a seriously compact kit.
The snare drum is 10”. The size of a hi tom on a standard kit. The toms of this kit are 8” and 10”. Though the most surprising is the kick drum, which is 14”. Imagine taking your kick drum pedal and using it against a standard snare drum. That’s what this tiny kick drum feels like.
Because of the small sizes, the kit only has the options of high tunings. This would work for pop, jazz, reggae and electro gigs, but wouldn’t cut it in a rock setup. The kick drum, especially, is just too small to make an impact on a stage. Your band mates generally want to feel it when you play a kick drum. They won’t with this one.
This kit will fit into the tiniest cramped spaces you can think of. The snare comes with a mount option, so you don’t even need a snare stand.
In summary, the Tama Club-JAM Flyer would work well with pop and experimental styles of music. It would also be a great kit for junior players.
DW kits tend to be extremely pricey. Their Design series of kits are catered to a more affordable market, while maintaining the high design quality that they’re known for. The Frequent Flyer is the compact version of a Design Series kit.
This kit actually has standard drum sizes. A 14” snare drum, 12” rack tom, 14” floor tom and 20” kick drum. But all the drums have shallow depths, which is what makes the kit compact.
The standard sizes allow the kit a wide array of tuning options. It sounds good when tuned low for rock or metal and it sounds good when tuned high for pop and R&B.
The snare drum is the biggest positive to this kit. Compact kit snare drums usually aren’t great. But the Frequent Flyer doesn’t follow that trend. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a bad DW snare drum. This Frequent Flyer snare is no different.
The solid hardware tends to make the kit heavy. So, although this kit is small, it is still a bit heavy. Keep that in mind when deciding what you need it for. It’s also not the cheapest portable drum kit. In the compact drum set market, the DW Frequent Flyer is one of the higher priced options.
Cocktail drum kits originated in the 1940s. They stack drums almost on top of each other to create portability and the drummer typically stands up when playing them. A strange sounding concept for a modern drummer! You don’t see many cocktail kits nowadays. But the Tama Cocktail Jam definitely deserves to make this list of the best portable drum kits.
Firstly, you can stand while playing this kit, but you’ll find that most drummers don’t. You can just sit on a throne like a normal kit and be perfectly comfortable. This kit will either look really unique and funky on stage, or it will look really odd, depending on your preferences.
The drums are all extremely shallow. The toms and bass drum also don’t have resonant heads. This causes the drums to sound short and snappy with no sustain. Similar to timbales. The kick drum points up instead of out. This means the sound projects up instead of out. This could cause potential problems in a gigging setup.
The kit comes with a pedal that has been uniquely designed for the upward facing kick drum. You can’t use a standard kick pedal. Luckily, the pedal that comes with the kit is sturdy and manageable.
The sounds that the kit produces won’t work well with heavy styles like rock or metal. The kit also won’t work well with jazz since the drums don’t resonate. This limits the kit to genres such as reggae and pop.
The Sonor Safari kit has been around for a while. Sonor recently relaunched the Safari kit through the AQ2 series. Improving on it in all areas. The AQ2 Safari is made from maple wood, which already tells you that this kit is high quality.
The maple wood makes the drums project further, which means they are louder than the average compact kit which is made from poplar wood. This will be a huge positive for when you take this kit to a gig. You won’t have to hit too hard to get an effective sound. And your sound engineer will become your best friend for that.
The heavy-duty hardware makes this kit quite heavy, but it also makes it extremely sturdy. The 16” kick drum won’t be moving around too much as long as you’re playing on a carpeted surface. The kick drum comes with a riser that is thick and doesn’t cater to all pedals due to the thickness. So be sure to check that out before deciding to get this kit.
The 10” rack tom and 13” floor tom allow for a wide range of tuning. Meaning the AQ2 Safari kit will be good for most styles of music. Because of the maple shells and heavy-duty hardware, this kit is higher priced than many other compact kits.
Yamaha has provided a highly unique product with their Stage Custom Hip. It takes the high-quality production of a Stage Custom and puts it into a portable drum kit that you can fit just about anywhere. It has standard compact drum kit shell sizes. However, the thing that stands out is the floor tom.
Included with this shell pack is a 13” snare, a 10” rack tom, a 13” floor tom, and a 20” kick drum. The shells are made from birch wood, giving them clear attack with warm overtones. These shells are pretty versatile, sounding great when tuned low or high.
Now, onto the floor tom. Deep snare drums have become increasingly popular over the past few years with fusion drummers doubling up snares as floor toms. Yamaha has taken this into account and attached snare wires to the Stage Custom Hip floor tom. This allows you to use it as a floor tom as well as a secondary snare drum. This will open up your world when it comes to drumming creativity.
The Stage Custom Hip will fit well in any jazz, hip hop, and funk environments. It’s a great sounding kit with the famous Stage Custom build quality.
The one downside is that the bass drum hoops don’t match the metal hoops on the rest of the drums. This is a visual aspect to the kit that some people may not like. You can buy separate hoops to match though.
The DW Performance Series Low Pro is arguably one of the most portable drum kits around. It has shallow shells that allow the kit to be packed into one bag. It feels a bit weird to say that you can carry your drum kit to a gig in one case.
The shells are made from maple and have a fast tone that makes them great for styles like metal, EDM, and hip hop. The drums don’t have batter heads, adding to the short decay.
Included with the shell pack is a 12” snare, a 10” rack tom, a 13” floor tom, and a 20” kick drum.
The snare drum can convert to a tom, giving you flexibility with this kit. You could bring in a separate snare drum and use the provided snare drum to have a bigger kit if you need it.
It’s amazing how this shallow kit can produce such a big sound. It’s great for quiet venues and it won’t get in the way of any instruments when you play. The overall sound produced will sit within a mix instead of cutting through it.
This kit is meant to be a second kit that you own to play gigs or busk on the street. If you use it as your only drum kit, you may find some missing qualities.
Why Compact Kits are Cheaper
Compact drum kits are mostly cheaper than standard drum kits. There are a variety of reasons for this and each one can be seen as good or bad depending on how you view it. Small drum kits will never have the depth of tone that larger drum kits have, so keep that in mind when getting a compact kit.
Most of the compact kits on the above list are sold as shell packs. This means that you’re only getting drum shells and not any hardware or cymbals. Higher-quality kits are often sold as shell packs as they would be too expensive with all the added extras.
Compact kits are a bit different, though. Even the cheapest compact kit will come as a shell pack because the idea is that you already have a full-sized kit with hardware and cymbals to use. You can use the smaller drums along with the hardware from your larger kit.
Most of the compact kits on the list are made of poplar. It’s an inexpensive wood, leading drum manufacturers to use it fairly often. It’s also lighter, making the kits easier to carry.
All the compact kits that aren’t made of poplar will be slightly more expensive. For example, the Yamaha Stage Custom Hip and Sonor AQ2 Safari are two of the more expensive kits on the list because they’re made from birch and maple respectively.
Number of Drums
Most compact kit shell packs will come with four drums. Bringing a middle tom into the picture often defeats the point of saving space.
If you’re accustomed to playing with a middle tom and want to have one with your compact kit, you’ll need to buy one separately and mount it with a separate stand.
Some compact kits don’t even include a snare drum. Snare drums of compact kits have a reputation for not sounding too great. You’ll see many drummers using the compact kits that I’ve mentioned above with a different snare as a high-quality replacement.
Stock Drum Heads
Another common trend with compact kits is that they have weak stock drum heads. The best thing you can do to get the best sounds possible is to replace the heads with higher-quality ones.
Something like an Evans G2 head will sound a lot better on all the drums instead of the stock heads that are included.
Since compact kits have smaller drums, they won’t have versatile tuning ranges as standard drum kits do. Every compact drum set sits between medium to high ranges.
If you want deeper sounds from your drums, you’ll need to get a compact kit that has larger shell sizes.
The DW Design Series Frequent Flyer is a great kit to check out for deeper tones. The drum sizes are standard, but the depths are shallower to make the kit compact.
Compact drum kits make the gigging process so much easier for drummers. Most of them are affordable and and yet manage to produce (at least close to) the high quality sound that you would expect from a full-sized kit.
One of the best investments I’ve made in my drumming journey was buying a compact kit. It has been played in clubs, pubs, restaurants, schools and even on a lake once. If you play a lot of gigs, then you should definitely think about getting one for yourself!