If you’re a drummer, you’ll be familiar with the problem of getting your instrument back and forth between gigs, recording studios and rehearsal rooms.
Even at home, a full-size drum kit can be a problem if you’re short on space. And not only are they bulky, but they also take a long time to dismantle – your typical kit will contain anywhere from four to a dozen pieces of equipment – these can include shells, cymbals, and foot pedals. That’s a lot of messing about taking things apart and setting up again.
Ready for the good news? Advancements in technology mean there are highly transportable, light and compact alternatives available. The portable drum set has become a decent alternative to full-size rigs.
At a Glance – Our Choice of the Best Portable Drum Sets Available
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.
In this article, we’ll cover all the essentials about buying one of these kits; we’ll look at the different types of equipment, what to look for when purchasing one, different models to consider and we’ll recommend a few for you to check out.
Table of Contents
Our Pick of the Best Compact Drum Sets
Sonor AQ2 Safari
German manufacturer Sonor’s AQ2 line of drums offers five standard configurations that are all made from 7-ply all maple shell construction.
The minimalistic yet functional design is classy and sturdy and benefits from small, compact shells.
The smallest kit in the range best suited for portability is the Martini set (with a 14” inch bass drum).
The next size up is the Sonor Safari (16” inch), the Bop (18” inch), and the Fusion (20” inch).
While the Martini is the smallest, I recommend the slightly larger Safari with the 16” inch bass drum (the 16” inch is ideal for portability – not too big, not too small).
Also with the slightly bigger drum, you get a better low frequency.
- Maple shells sound warm, resonant, and bassy.
- ‘Smart-Mount’ tom mounting system offers optimal sustain with minimal hardware.
- Available in five different colors.
- Cymbals aren’t included
- Kick pedal isn’t included
Gretsch Catalina Club
Gretsch is an iconic American brand from Ridgeland, South Carolina. The Catalina Club is another tour de force from them.
The 4-piece configuration is built around a 14″ inch bass drum that gives a warm and punchy vintage tone, perfect for just about any style of music.
Coming in 5 color tones: Blue Satin Flame, Gloss Crimson Burst, Piano Black, and two shades of Satin, their size makes them relatively easy to transport.
This pack comes all the components you need too (cymbals, pedals, etc.)
- Mahogany shells have a strong low end, offering a warm, rich tone.
- Bass drum opens up, giving the option of a deeper sound.
- There’s a cymbal arm on the bass drum, keeping the kit compact.
- It comes with all the components you need.
- The positioning of the cymbal can feel a bit odd.
- Only available in two sparkle finishes.
Ludwig Breakbeats by Questlove
The Ludwig Breakbeat by Questlove is another great little portable kit that’s designed for the gigging drummer in tight spaces: coffeehouses, subways, that corner in your apartment.
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson is an American percussionist and producer – known mostly as the drummer and joint frontman in The Roots – and this set is endorsed by him.
This 4-piece kit was designed to be “break-able” for a gritty, raw downbeat. The kit is positioned on a riser for optimum reach, and it’s compact 14×16″ bass, 7×10″ tom, and 13×13″ floor tom creates a set-up for sculpting grooves in tight spaces.
Coming in three dope colors: White Sparkle, Black Sparkle, and Red Sparkle, this is one to consider. You’ll need to buy some of the components yourself though (cymbals, etc.).
- Extremely lightweight.
- There’s a cymbal arm on the bass drum, keeping the kit compact.
- Soft cases included.
- Shells are basswood, which is of lower quality than mahogany or maple.
- There’s no kick pedal, stool, hardware or cymbals included.
Pearl’s ultra-portable Midtown Kit is another lightweight, highly portable kit that’s superb for gigging.
You get the choice of two covered finishes, 6 Ply (7.5mm) poplar shells and a matching 13×5.5 wood snare drum.
This kit comes with Pearl’s OptiLoc Suspension System for easy setup and some of the best drum heads for the price available (coated front Remo heads).
- Poplar shells bring out higher frequencies as well as low ones and offer a resonance similar to birch or mahogany.
- Only available in two finishes.
- It’s a bit quieter than some other compact kits
Tama Club – JAM Flyer
If you want really small, then this one is worth some serious consideration. In fact its the smallest kit we have on the list. A 10” snare drum, 8” and 10” toms, and a tiny 14” kick drum. As it’s so small, it won’t cut the mustard as a rock set, but for styles like pop, jazz, even electro, it will do just fine.
It’s USP is undoubtedly it’s size. As such, it will fit in tiny spaces with no problem but it equally works well as a junior drum set.
- Tiny, great for tight spaces
- Compact, easy to transport
- Won’t cut it as a rock set
DW Design Series Frequent Flyer
The Frequent Flyer is the compact version of their awesome Design Series kit.
It ships with a shallow depth 14” snare drum, 12” and 14” floor toms, and a 20” kick drum. Because of the quality, the wood tends to weigh a bit more than budget travel sets.
This is a great set if you want DW build quality in a compact size.
- Superb quality for a compact set
- Can be tuned low for rock, or high for pop
- Quite heavy
Tama Cocktail Jam
The original transportable drum set, we thought it was worth including a cocktail set. They’re made to be played standing up, but most people just play them perched on a throne or high stool.
As well as their height, their sound is slightly limiting. As they don’t have resonant heads, they produce a short and snappy sound (with almost no sustain) which pretty much rules them out for many types of music. Don’t try them with metal or hard rock music, for example. A little pop or reggae will sound great, though.
- Great for ‘light’ genres e.g. pop
- Won’t cut the mustard for hard rock or metal
Things to Consider When Buying a Portable Drum Kit
For other members of a band – guitar, keyboard, bass, vocals, etc. – the gear can be carried easily enough. However, drum sets are a total pain in the neck to move about.
Sure, guitar amps are a pain to move too, but nowhere near as big a deal as lugging a full-size kit about. Portable kits are designed for transportation and convenience, and the parts used in them are the lightest they can possibly be.
They weigh considerably less than full-size kits too. Remember full-size sets are designed with quality in mind, not size or weight. Materials used for shells such as mahogany are chosen for tone, not for ease of transporting.
An excellent portable kit will be designed to be as lightweight as humanly possible without compromising on sound.
When it comes to sound, it’s tempting to dismiss compact drums as the weaker sibling of the full-size kit – you’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how good some of these sound. Portable sets such as the Sonor Safari sound comparable with larger, more expensive models.
Portable sets are often much cheaper than full-size ones. Adults just starting may not want to drop a small fortune on a full-size kit either. You’ll find some travel kits are smaller and cheaper to suit a wide range of budgets.
As well as regularly gigging or jamming with friends, practice is the key to improving. The big issue with drums is they’re so incredibly loud (admittedly there are ways to make them quieter). Electronic sets have headphone sockets so you plug in and play at any hour of the day and not bother anyone. That’s super convenient if you live near others.