9 Best Portable Drum Kits (2021) – Compact Drum Sets

Author: Brett Clur | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

Portable kits have become increasingly popular for drummers over the years. Whether you’re a drummer who plays a lot of gigs or is tight on space in the practice room, a compact drum set will provide a serious amount of value.

Most of the big drum companies have some sort of portable drum set in their product line. With all the different shell types and sizes available, it can be hard to decide on which one to choose. So, read through this list and decide which one may be best for you.

9 Compact Drum Sets Worth Considering

The Pearl Midtown kit is small, yet very punchy. The small toms and bass drum have a thick sound that rivals many larger kits. This is thanks to the 6-ply poplar wood that is used for the shells. While the toms sound full and responsive, the bass drum sounds very warm.

The 13” snare drum is the weakest point of the kit. Although it has a tight crack and cutting response, it doesn’t have a lot of depth in the tone. So, it won’t feel like it’s giving back to you when playing like a thicker snare drum would. It’s quite tricky to tune as well.

The rack tom is 10”, the floor tom is 13”, and the bass drum is 16”. These small sizes allow you to fit this kit in the tiniest space on any stage as well as the tightest corner in your house.

In terms of musicality, you could use this kit for any style, thanks to its large sound. It can be tuned high for jazz and low for rock. You may just need to get a thicker drum head to get a beefier bass drum sound.

The kit has two color options - cherry and black. Both have a bright sparkle wrap that looks great under lights.

The Pearl Midtown has two bags to fit the whole kit in. However, you need to buy those separately.

PROS

  • Big sound for such a small kit
  • Warm and responsive tone
  • Versatile enough to play any style of music

CONS

  • Snare drum tone doesn’t have much depth

The Ludwig Breakbeats kit was designed by Ludwig with the help of famous drummer, Questlove. Questlove is a busy drummer who plays gigs all over New York.

When traveling to venues in New York, you need to be able to take your kit with you on public transport. So, Ludwig and Questlove designed this kit with that in mind.

It’s undoubtedly one of the lightest portable kits on the market. It’s so light that you can carry the whole thing in a few bags over your shoulders with no problem. The shells are made from hardwood and cause the drums to project surprisingly well.

The shell sizes are the same as the Pearl Midtown, excluding the snare which is 14”. However, the snare is very similar in that it lacks the depth of tone that you’d typically need from a snare drum.

These drums sound best when tuned medium to high, producing a cutting tone that works well on those frequency levels.

The kit comes in 3 finishes which are Azure Sparkle, Black Sparkle, and Sahara Swirl. Each finish has a distinct color that looks fantastic.

Included with the shell pack is a set of nylon bags that make transporting it very light and easy. Pair these drums up with some light hardware and cymbals and you’ll be ready to take on the streets of New York or any other major gigging city.

PROS

  • Extremely light and easy to transport around
  • Includes a set of nylon carry bags
  • The drums work sound great when tuned medium to high

CONS

  • The snare drum is weak

The Tama Club Jam is Tama’s take on a standard compact kit. It has everything you’d expect from a small kit such as small drums and lightweight hardware. However, it has some unique qualities that aren’t seen in many other compact kits.

The shells are made from a combination of poplar and mersawa woods. They have a quick tone that is very lively, making this kit a great option for live gigging as it will give off a lot of energy on a stage.

The snare drum is 13”, the rack tom is 10”, and the bass drum is 18”. The most unique drum is the 14” floor tom. It has a depth of 7”, making it one of the most shallow floor toms on the market. Although is shallow, it’s still able to produce a deep and beefy tone.

The other unique part of this kit is that the ride cymbal arm mounts onto the bass drum, saving a lot more space from not having to place a ride cymbal stand. The cymbal arm is quite thick and will be able to hold ride cymbals up to 24”.

The kit comes in several colors with the Aqua Blue finish being the most popular amongst drummers. If you need a compact kit with a seriously small footprint, the Tama Club Jam is a great one to go with.

You’ll just need to upgrade the drum heads soon as the stock heads aren’t of the highest quality.

PROS

  • Short and lively tone
  • Beefy shallow floor tom
  • Ride cymbal mounts to the bass drum

CONS

  • The stock drum heads aren’t very good

DW kits are notorious for being very expensive. The Design Series drums are DW’s most affordable line, offering high-quality DW manufacturing to most drummers.

Although the DW Design Series kits aren’t as customizable as the higher-tier DW kits, the company does offer the kit in a compact setup with their Frequent Flyer design.

This is the biggest kit on the list so far with its 14” snare drum, 12” rack tom, 14” floor tom, and 20” bass drum. These full-sized shells are relatively shallow, adding to the compactness of the kit.

They’re made of maple wood that gives them a warm and round tone suitable for many different playing situations.

The hardware of the shells is what makes the kit very light to transport around. Although the hardware is light, it still feels like you’re playing on heavy-duty hardware.

The standout feature of the kit is the snare drum. It’s a standard DW Design Series snare drum and it sounds immaculate in every situation. You can tune it low to sound boomy or high to sound cracking.

The kit is one of the cheapest kits on offer by DW. However, it’s still a lot more expensive than most of the compact kits on this list. So, it’ll be a big buy if you decide to get one.

PROS

  • Wonderful DW manufacturing qualities
  • Compact kit with full-sized shells
  • Fantastic snare drum tone 

CONS

  • More expensive than the other kits on this list

The Yamaha Stage Custom Hip is a relatively new product from Yamaha that is made for the modern drummer. It takes the same design qualities of the standard Stage Custom and adds a bit more spice to it in a compact form.

The first thing you’ll notice is how shallow the drum shells are. With the snare being 13”, the toms being 10” and 13”, and the bass drum being 20”, the depth of the drums really stands out to the eyes.

Although the drums are shallow, they produce a very punchy tone that works wonders in jazz, hip-hop, and electro settings.

The standout feature of the kit is the floor tom that doubles as a snare drum. It has become a popular trend amongst drummers to have a secondary “fat” snare drum.

So, Yamaha has jumped on board and provided a snare drum/floor tom with this kit. It sounds thick and beefy when turned on as well as off.

You can’t review a Yamaha kit without mentioning the Y.E.S.S. mounting system. It’s part of most of Yamaha’s kits and it sits right at home with this one as well. It makes positioning the rack tom extremely easy while it also helps to keep the tone of it.

Some drummers may want a deeper bass drum. However, this one is great if you enjoy its tone.

PROS

  • Includes a floor tom that doubles up as a snare drum
  • YESS mounting system makes positioning the rack tom very easy
  • Great kit for jazz, hip-hop, and electronic music

CONS

  • Not every drummer will be a fan of the shallow bass drum

If you’re looking for a kit that is completely unique from a standard drum kit, the Tama Cocktail Jam is one to look into. Cocktail kits were a lot more popular in the 20th century.

However, this kit has gained a lot of popularity, thanks to drummers such as Robert ‘Sput’ Searight and Michael Schack.

Although it looks different from a standard drum kit, it fundamentally works the same. The biggest difference is that you can stand up to play it if you wanted to. It has a 12” snare, a 10” rack tom, 14” floor tom, and 16” bass drum.

The toms don’t have resonant heads, meaning they have a very short sustain. The bass drum has a soft pad that acts as a reso head which you can take off if you want to. The snare drum is pretty standard.

This is the perfect kit for busking on the streets or playing in tight clubs. It may not be the best option for a gig with a large crowd though.

PROS

  • Great for busking
  • The whole kit fits into two carry bags
  • You can stand while playing it

CONS

  • Short tones aren’t great for large venues

Sonor was one of the first companies to have a popular compact kit with their Sonor Safari. There were so many drummers playing that kit, thanks to its light weight and small size.

Since then, Sonor has released it under their AQ2 line of drums. This massive upgrade has made the Safari one of the highest-quality compact kits on the market.

The shells are made from maple and every Safari kit has a wrap that makes the drums look very sleek and professional.

The standout features of the kit would be all the high-quality hardware that keeps it together. The die-cast lugs make tuning extremely easy while the SmartMount keeps the rack tom sounding pure and resonant.

It’s a great kit for playing jazz, hip-hop, and funk. You’d just need to replace the stock drum heads to get the best tones possible.

PROS

  • High-quality upgrade of the original Sonor Safari
  • All the finishes and wraps look immaculate
  • Die-cast lugs make tuning very easy

CONS

  • The stock drum heads aren’t great

The DW Performance Series Low Pro is another highly unique kit on this list. It has extremely shallow drums that don’t have any resonant heads. In turn, you get a very small kit that doesn’t make a huge noise.

The snare drum is 12”, the toms are 10” and 13”, and the bass drum is 20”. These sizes make it a great tool for practicing. If you use it for gigging, it would probably work best for busking or playing in small bars. It won’t make enough of an impact on a main stage.

The best part of the kit is that it folds up into one case. So, you’d only need to be carrying around a single case when going to play a gig. Overall, it’s a great kit with very specific uses.

PROS

  • Doesn’t make a huge noise
  • Fits into one carry case
  • Great for busking or playing in bars

CONS

  • Not great for playing on big stages

Let’s face it, the main drummers who use compact kits are the ones that play jazz. Jazz drumming requires high tones along with a lot of resonance and most compact kits work wonderfully in that situation.

The Gretsch Catalina Club Jazz kit is one of the most famous drum kits used for jazz in the world. You’ll most likely see one of these at every jazz festival you go to.

The toms are 12” and 14” while the bass drum is 18”. Each of these drums is packed with resonance, giving you a very musical drum kit. The 14” snare drum has a tight crack and is very sensitive to ghost notes. This is perfect for comping rhythms.

There are so many of these kits on the market that you have a huge selection of finishes to choose from. If you play jazz, this kit will be perfect for you. Drummers who play other styles may not like all the resonance.

PROS

  • Great kit for jazz drumming
  • Snare drum is very sensitive to ghost notes
  • Several finishes to choose from

CONS

  • Some drummers won’t like all the resonance from the toms and bass drum

Common Trends with Portable Drum Sets

The biggest similarity between most portable kits is that they don’t have good snare drums. This isn’t the case with all of them, but you’ll often see a drummer playing a portable drum set along with a snare drum that wasn’t part of the shell pack.

A big reason for this is that a smaller snare drum won’t provide the impact that a standard snare will. Since the snare won’t take up much space, a higher-quality snare will still fit the compact setup.

Another key part of most portable drum sets is that the bass will come with a riser if the size is 18” or less. If it doesn’t, the bass drum beater won’t be hitting the center of the head.

If you’re a drummer who wants the purest sound possible from the bass drum, you’ll need to buy a riser if the kit doesn’t come with one.

Importance of Good Drum Heads

The biggest determining factor of how good the sound of the kit is will be your choice of drum heads. Most portable kits don’t have high-quality heads to start with, meaning you’ll need to upgrade them to get the best sound possible.

Some thick two-ply heads on a small kit can sound really big. Single-ply heads work well with jazz and an open rock sound.

Conclusion

Having a portable drum set as well as a standard size kit can be really beneficial as a drummer. We’ve all had those moments when we feel like it would be such a chore to pack down our drum kits to use at a gig.

If you have a compact kit, you could use it just for gigging so that you never have to travel with your main practice studio kit.

About Brett Clur

Brett has been drumming for almost two decades. He also helps his students get better at drumming. He can be found on Instagram (@brettclurdrums), where you can regularly catch glimpses of his drumming.

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