When you play electronic drums, there are several ways in which you can hear the audio that the drum module is producing. One of the easiest ways is to use a set of headphones. It’s what most people start with when they get an e-kit.
While playing with a set of headphones can seem fairly straightforward, new drummers often feel overwhelmed by all the cables and components that go into setting up an electronic set.
This guide will break down all the basics of playing e-drums with headphones. We’ll include a step-by-step guide, and we’ll suggest a few other listening options to consider as well.
- 1 Steps to Playing Electronic Drums with Headphones
- 2 How to Choose Good Headphones for Electronic Drums
- 3 Options to Use Instead of Headphones
- 4 Electronic Drums and Bluetooth Functionality
- 5 What’s the Best Option for Band Practices and Gigs?
- 6 Final Thoughts on How to Play Electronic Drums with Headphones
Steps to Playing Electronic Drums with Headphones
Find a Good Pair of Headphones
The first thing you need is the headphones themselves. You can easily use any type of earphones or headphones for electronic drums, so there’s nothing wrong with using the inexpensive earphones that came with your smartphone at first.
However, you’re going to have the best playing experience when you use a professional set of headphones that are designed to sound great when playing all the frequencies that come from a drum set.
These should be over-the-ear headphones that are comfortable to wear for extended periods. We’ll break down what else you should look for a bit later. But once you have a pair of headphones to use, you can move on to the next step.
Plug the Headphones into the Audio Input on the Drum Module
You’ll now need to plug the cable from the headphones into your electronic drum set. Every electronic kit has a drum module. This is where you have the interface to control all the features.
The drum module will have an audio input on the back, and that’s where you need to connect your headphones.
The type of input on the module will depend on what model it is, but most of them have normal 3.5mm inputs. If the input slot is a bit bigger, it means that you’ll need to plug in a ¼ inch jack. If your headphones don’t have one, you can use an adapter that attaches to a 3.5mm jack.
Once you’ve plugged the headphones in, you’ll be good to go. However, there are a few other potential things that you can do to improve your playing experience.
Control Your Mix on the Drum Module
If you have an entry-level electronic drum kit, you won’t be able to control sound settings on the module. You’ll have set sounds with a few preset drum kits.
If your drum module is a higher-quality one, you’ll be able to use a multitude of sound editing tools to change what you hear in your headphones.
It’s a good idea to play around with these sound editing tools, as they can make your electronic drum kit sound a lot better. Some will let you alter things like room reverb, while others will let you choose how close the virtual microphones are positioned.
Use an Aux Input on the Module
All drum modules have an aux input that is often positioned near the headphone input. This input will allow you to plug a device in that can play audio.
You can plug your phone in to play music, and the music will come through the headphones along with the drum sounds.
This is a great way of playing along to music while wearing headphones for your electronic drums.
Some electronic drum modules allow you to control the audio settings on the aux input as well, but you only find that with the very high-end ones.
Get a Mixer If You Want More Sound Control
If you want to have a more elaborate audio setup, you should consider getting a mixer for your electronic drums. You’ll be able to plug an amp into the mixer, and then you can connect headphones to it as well.
This will allow you to play drums out loud while still monitoring them in your ears. This will also give you more control over the audio quality, even with affordable electronic kits that don’t have any audio editing tools.
You can also only use headphones with the mixer, and that will simply give you more sound editing options.
Try Out Bluetooth Headphones If You Have Them
If you have a set of Bluetooth headphones, you may be wondering if those will work with your electronic drum kit. They will, but it’s not as easy with some sets as it is with others.
Some electronic drum modules have Bluetooth features. You can easily connect your wireless headphones to those, along with your phone to play music.
If a drum module doesn’t have Bluetooth, you’ll need to purchase a Bluetooth adapter to plug into the headphone input.
While this may feel very comfortable, it’s not the greatest idea to use Bluetooth headphones with electronic drums, but we’ll expand more on that later.
How to Choose Good Headphones for Electronic Drums
If you’re going to be using headphones often when playing electronic drums, it’s very important that you get a good pair of them. They don’t need to be very expensive, as most audio brands have some good budget options. They just need to nail all the necessary aspects to make them work well for drum kits.
Here’s what to look for.
Quality is the most important aspect to look for when getting headphones for drums. Make sure to get headphones that cover a wide frequency range.
Electronic drums have deep low frequencies from bass drums and floor toms, and they have piercing high frequencies from cymbals. They also cover all the middle frequencies with the rest of the set.
So, your headphones should be clear in all those frequencies. Buying a treble-heavy set of headphones will give you the impression that the headphones sound bad when drumming, and the same can be said for very bass-heavy headphones.
The safest thing to do is to buy dedicated drum headphones from Roland or Alesis.
The amount of sound isolation you need won’t be as much as if you were to get headphones for acoustic drums. However, you should still have a fair amount for an immersive experience.
If the headphones don’t block any sound at all, you’ll hear your sticks tapping the rubber and mesh pads.
Your headphones should isolate sounds slightly so that you just hear what’s coming from the drum module. Having an immersive playing environment also makes you concentrate better when practicing and jamming on the kit.
The final thing to consider is cable length. This may not make sense to anyone who hasn’t played drums before, but having a long cable is vital when sitting behind a drum kit.
Your arms and legs will constantly be moving when playing the drums, and you don’t want to have a short cable that could be caught up in that. There’s no worse feeling than having headphones ripped off your head because the cable caught on your arm.
Always make sure to get headphones with a very long cable. If the cable on your current pair of headphones is short, consider getting a cable extender.
Options to Use Instead of Headphones
While headphones are the easiest way of hearing what’s coming out of your electronic drum kit module, there are a few other options to consider as well.
Electronic Drum Amp
Electronic drum amps are the best option to go with after using headphones. There are a few audio brands that sell dedicated drum amps, and they’re designed to sound fantastic when used with drum kits.
The ones from Roland and Alesis are excellent, but you can find a few other good ones from brands like KAT Percussion and ddrum.
We highly suggest that you get an electronic drum kit amp. You may get a better sound from headphones, but it’s great to play drums without wearing anything over your head sometimes.
If you do get an electronic drum kit amp, make sure to get one with a few EQ knobs to control the sounds with.
If you can’t get your hands on a dedicated electronic drum kit amp, a keyboard amp will be your next best option. Keyboard amps are also designed to handle wide frequency ranges, so they tend to work well with electronic kits.
The benefit of using a keyboard amp is that you can use a keyboard with it as well. If you’re someone who plays multiple instruments, it’s better to get a keyboard amp than it is to get a drum kit amp.
Bass amps are the other types of amps that tend to work well with electronic drum sets. While they don’t have frequency ranges that are as high, they do very well with all the low-end sounds that come from a drum kit.
When playing drums with a bass amp, your kick drums and deep toms will sound very powerful and impactful.
Bass amps aren’t as ideal as keyboard or drum kit amps, but it’s still usable if you have one. We just wouldn’t suggest using a standard guitar amp, as the drum kit frequencies don’t work well with those.
A PA setup is the ultimate audio setup to have with an electronic drum kit. This is when you connect two large monitors to a mixer, giving you a surround sound effect that is very powerful.
When you play drums with headphones on, you’ll get incredibly clear drum tones. Using a big PA setup is the easiest way of matching that quality while having an outward setup.
The benefit of a PA system is that you can still connect headphones to the mixer whenever you want to. You’ll hear the drums through the headphones, and everyone else will hear them through the monitors.
Small speakers are something that many people have lying around the house. These are the least ideal option to go with, but they’re perfectly usable before you spend money to get something better.
You just need to connect the 3.5mm jack from the small speakers to the headphone input on the drum module.
The sound quality you get will depend on the speakers, but it generally sounds quite thin. Just make sure not to raise the volume too high. Otherwise, you may blow the speakers.
USB Cable and a DAW
If you have a DAW on your computer, you can connect a USB cable from the drum module to a slot in your computer. The DAW will then read all the MIDI input notes from the electronic drum kit.
You can then plug your headphones into your computer to hear what you’re playing, or you can play the audio through speakers or monitors that are also connected to your computer.
A lot of electronic drum kit players do this, and they download VST programs that give them better drum kit sounds. This is also how you record drum parts with an electronic set.
Electronic Drums and Bluetooth Functionality
Earlier, we mentioned that Bluetooth functionality isn’t the greatest feature when it comes to electronic drums. While using wireless headphones can be useful, we wouldn’t recommend them as your main option for drumming.
The biggest reason is that there will always be a slight delay. Things are always a bit slower when you’re not using cables, and this can become quite noticeable after a while.
It’s even more of an issue if you want to record yourself playing on your electronic drums. Having wireless headphones will often lead your drumming and the music you’re playing to be out of sync.
So, it’s better to use wireless headphones for casual practice sessions, but then use your wired headphones for more serious work.
Wireless headphones are often more expensive, so we also wouldn’t suggest putting money into something that may let you down.
What’s the Best Option for Band Practices and Gigs?
The best option for playing music with others is to have an elaborate PA setup. You’ll be able to plug your headphones into a mixer, and your bandmates will be able to do the same thing.
You also get a lot more power from a PA, as well as more control over how your drums sound when coming through the speakers.
If you’re planning on using your electronic drum kit to play with other people, getting a PA system should be your goal. You should still get high-quality drumming headphones to use along with it, though.
Final Thoughts on How to Play Electronic Drums with Headphones
Playing electronic drums with headphones is incredibly straightforward, but there are more aspects to it than you may have originally thought about.
Every drummer who has an electronic kit should have a decent pair of headphones that has great audio quality, a good amount of sound isolation, and a very long cable.
When you want other people to hear what you’re playing, you should then consider getting a drum kit amp or setting up a PA system.