How do You Make an Electronic Drum Kit Sound Real?

Wish your electronic drums sounded more real? Find out how by using a VST drum library, making even the cheapest of eDrums sound like a real acoustic kit!

The easiest way to make your electronic drums sound real is to connect your eDrums to a computer and use a VST drum library. With drum software, you can use your electronic drums to trigger real drum sound files, achieving sounds that sound like a real acoustic drum recording. Read on to learn more!

How do you trigger drum software using MIDI?

To put it simply, using a USB or MIDI connection either directly to your PC or via an audio interface, you can use your electronic drums to trigger real drum sounds via software. Your electronic drum module is still used, but now the sound generation is offloaded to the VST drum library software on your PC or Mac – the notes are determined by what pads you strike on your eKit, while the drum software determines how this sounds.

What are VST drum libraries and who uses them?

VST drum libraries first emerged in the late 90s and are basically software synthesisers but for drum sounds. However, the difference between a drum library and a regular synthesiser is that real recordings (or ‘samples’) of actual drum hits are played back when the software is given a note.

Each drum and cymbal hit is sampled many times, which helps to make the drums sound very natural, so much so that it can be very difficult to tell the difference between a sampled drum kit vs a real one on a recording. In fact, it is very common for commercially recorded songs – even with the most natural-sounding drum tracks – to use sampled drums, to add extra oomph to the track.

Originally, VST drum libraries were often used in recording settings, for example, the infamous Drumkit From Hell became a mainstay in the metal community. VST instruments are controlled by MIDI within Digital Audio Workstations, making it easy to program drum tracks on a computer. VST drum libraries could then be used to make a real-sounding drum track in a matter of minutes.

MIDI is also used for controlling VST instruments live – which is where electronic drum kits come in. Because MIDI is an industry-standard, almost every electronic drum module supports it, either via a MIDI connector or via USB. That offers the ability to connect an electronic drumkit to a PC with a DAW and VST drum library, and you can trigger the sounds on the VST instrument live – replacing the onboard sounds with ‘real’ ones.

Recommended VST drum libraries

The following four drum libraries are some of the most popular and widely used on the market:

Read more about using EZdrummer 3 with your eDrums, or how to hook up Superior Drummer 3 with your drums here.

Related: We compare EZdrummer 3 with Superior Drummer 3

What you need

Here’s what you’ll need to use your eDrums to trigger drum library software:

  • An electronic drum kit with a USB or MIDI interface
  • An audio interface with MIDI, if your module doesn’t have a USB interface
  • A USB or MIDI cable
  • A drum library (check out our recommendations below!)
  • A DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) such as Garageband, Reaper, Kontakt Player, or by using your VST drum library’s built-in DAW if it has one

Our recommendation is to opt for using a USB cable since this is much simpler, and the vast majority of electronic drum modules made in the last 10 years or more will include a USB interface.

Set up your VST drum library

To set up, all you need to do is install the drivers from your eDrum manufacturer’s website, plug in your kit, and you should be able to select your drum module as the computer’s audio device and send its drum triggering to your computer via MIDI.

By setting your drum module as the audio output device, you will also be able to hear your VST drum library sounds via the module’s master-out and/or headphone port. If you do this, be sure to turn off the module’s onboard sounds within the settings screen.

Upgrading your electronic drum kit

With a VST drum library, even the cheapest electronic drum kit can sound like a pro-level kit or be made to sound like the drums from a specific recording with the right mix presets. A VST drum library can be had for between $60 and $300, which even at the higher end is significantly cheaper than buying a new drum module for its onboard sounds – and even then can sound much better and more realistic.

As a result, VST drum software is a cost-effective way to get more out of your existing kit or save money on a new kit, as you can safely spec a cheaper drum module if you’re not using the onboard sounds. Learn more about the best drum modules for VST instruments here if you’re in the market for a new eDrum kit!

Match the sound with the look

Now that you’ve made your electronic kit sound real, why not make it look real too? Check out our guide on converting acoustic drums to electronic, or check out our roundup of electronic drums that look just like acoustic drums!

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.