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Can You Use Acoustic Cymbals With Electronic Drums?

Want to find out if you can combine real cymbals with electronic drums? We take a look at why you might want to use acoustic cymbals on your eKit and how to do it.

Despite all the realism that the latest breed of electronic drum kits provide, some drummers just prefer the feel of real acoustic cymbals or are dissatisfied with how cymbals sound on some electronic drum modules. In this article, we look at how to use acoustic cymbals with electronic drums, why you might want to do it, and what alternatives to consider.

Is it possible to mix electronic drums with real cymbals?

It is definitely possible to use acoustic cymbals with electronic drums, however, you would give up one of the main reasons for using an electronic drum kit – low volume.

That said, there’s no reason why you couldn’t mount a set of acoustic cymbals and play with your drum pad sounds routed through to a pair of headphones, or if you don’t mind a bit more volume, by using an amplifier or PA.

One difficulty that might arise is being able to balance the volume of your electronic drums vs the acoustic cymbals. Using an amp or PA, you’ll need speakers that are powerful enough to overcome the sound of your cymbals so your drums are heard.

If you’re using headphones, you may need a pair of isolation headphones or drumming reference headphones that block out some of the noise from your cymbals. At the very least, you should choose a pair of closed-back headphones to isolate at least some of the cymbal sound. Closed-back means the headphone cups do not let air pass through, therefore muffling the outside sound somewhat.

The result of this is you don’t need your headphone volume quite as high, but your acoustic cymbals might sound slightly muffled compared to your drums being played back through the headphones.

Why might you want to use acoustic cymbals with electronic drums?

For an electronic drum purist, it might seem odd why you might want to use acoustic cymbals. Often, it comes down to three reasons – you don’t like the sound of your electronic cymbals, you don’t like how rubber pads feel, or you don’t like the way they look.

While it is certainly possible to use acoustic cymbals with your electronic drums, there are other options to consider. Below are some alternatives to using acoustic cymbals with your eDrums that you might want to consider.

Using a drum VST

If it’s the sound of your electronic cymbals you dislike, then a drum VST may be the answer. VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology, and VST plugins are pieces of software that act like real instruments inside a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) such as GarageBand or Reaper.

Drum VSTs, or drum libraries, are pieces of software that trigger real acoustic drum samples using MIDI. In short, by connecting your electronic drums to a computer running a drum VST, you can make your drums sound real, by replacing your module drum sounds with real ones triggered by your drum kit and a MIDI connection over USB.

Examples of VST drum software include EZdrummer, Superior Drummer, Steven Slate Drums and Get Good Drums. Learn more about how to make your eDrums sound real using VSTs.

Using low-volume cymbals

Some drummers prefer the feel of metal cymbals vs the rubber cymbal pads that come with the vast majority of electronic drums. If you still want some of the low-volume benefits of electronic drums but prefer metal cymbals, then low-volume cymbals may be a solution.

Low-volume cymbals have hundreds of holes drilled into them which reduces the volume dramatically compared to standard acoustic cymbals. Low-volume cymbals sound close to normal cymbals, though typically have a shorter decay and are usually a bit more high-pitched.

Despite being a relatively recent innovation, there are now a wide range of low-volume cymbals on the market, from brand name products such as the Zildjian L80 range or Sabian Quiet Tone, as well as a whole host of non-brand versions.

Metal electronic cymbals

While almost all of the mainstream electronic drum brands make rubber cymbal pads, some smaller manufacturers make metal electronic cymbals. These may provide some drummers with a compromise between cymbals that feel more realistic, while still being able to trigger cymbal sounds via a drum module or a VST drum library.

Typically, these metal electronic cymbals are based on low-volume cymbals with triggers mounted to their undersides. Some are also muted further with a rubber rim around the edge of the cymbal. Small manufacturers like Jobeky or Diamond Drums produce eCymbals like this.

Other metal electronic cymbals are based on standard acoustic cymbals and are muted from beneath. Field is one such manufacturer with a range of eCymbals like this.

So what are the downsides?

Metal cymbals are still louder than rubber pads, especially those based on “standard” acoustic cymbals instead of low-volume ones. These cymbals have a more high-pitched acoustic sound when hit compared to rubber cymbals, which cuts through your headphone mix a bit more prominently. Watch the video below where different types of electronic cymbals are compared.

Of course, this matters less if you’re primarily after acoustic-style cymbals for stage use and need the flexibility of changing your cymbal sounds for different songs.

Related: Can you play live with electronic drums?

Wrapping up

While there is absolutely no problem with using acoustic cymbals with electronic drums, there are alternatives if you’re after a more acoustic-like look to your electronic drum kit but still want to benefit from the low-volume advantages of eDrums. Do you use acoustic cymbals with your electronic kit? Have we missed any of the benefits of using acoustic cymbals with electronics, or left out any alternatives? Let us know in the comments below!

Featured image credit: Marco Bicca

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By Seb Atkinson

Seb has been a drummer since 2004 and an eDrummer since 2008. He founded eDrumHub to provide information on electronic drums for other drummers who can't justify an acoustic drum kit for practice at home.