Can you use Bluetooth headphones with electronic drums?

Want to play your electronic drums with Bluetooth headphones? Learn why that might not be such a great idea…

Do you have a great-sounding pair of Bluetooth headphones, and want to use them with your electronic drums? While they will work by using a Bluetooth transmitter, it’s not a great idea, and that’s all because of latency. Read on to find out more!

Why you shouldn’t use Bluetooth headphones with eDrums

Latency is another word for delay. With electronic drums, latency describes the time it takes between striking a drum pad and the time it takes to hear the sound through your headphones or speakers.

Electronic drums are designed to ensure the latency is as minimal as possible. Latency becomes noticeable when it goes above 12 milliseconds (ms). As a result, eDrums have a latency under 10ms, but typically between 3 and 6 ms.

The problem with Bluetooth headphones is that they introduce additional latency on top of the latency generated by the drum module.

Bluetooth headphones introduce at least 32ms, but that is only in ideal circumstances. Typically, the latency of wireless headphones tends to be around 100 to 300 ms.

That’s usually fine for watching movies, where at worst you might notice speech does not 100% match up with the actors’ mouth movements. But it is terrible for playing the drums when your own body movements need to match up with the audio you’re playing.

What’s it like playing the drums with Bluetooth headphones?

Because of the high input delay of 100ms or more of Bluetooth headphones, when you strike the drum pads, the resulting sound does not feel instant. It’s not really possible to preempt the delay and simply hit the pads earlier – the latency, even though it’s slight, is enough to throw you off.

Things get even worse if you try to play along to a backing track. You might hit the pads in time with the music, but the delay will make each stroke sound out of time when played back in your ears. In just a few bars, that delay can make it very difficult to even know if you’re in time or not, and your drumming can quickly fall apart.

Can you play along to a Bluetooth device with eDrums?

You might be thinking why some drum modules like the Roland TD17 include a Bluetooth interface if Bluetooth headphones are so bad with eDrums. The key difference is that the Bluetooth interface is only for backing track audio input, not for audio output.

This means you can connect a Bluetooth device such as your smartphone and stream audio to your drum module to play along to. Latency is not an issue here provided you plug in a set of wired headphones or speakers to your drums. That’s because the backing track is played via your drum module and in line with the sub-10ms latency of the module itself. The result is that the backing track and your playing will be in time (provided your timekeeping is solid, of course).

Can you play eDrums without headphones?

If you only have a set of Bluetooth headphones and need another way to hear your electronic drums, there are different types of speakers you can use. You can play eDrums with various types of amps, even using a guitar amp at a pinch, though we wouldn’t recommend it if you have other options. Meanwhile, a bass amp can be a good option for eDrums if you have one, or even PC speakers.

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.

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