The best compact drum kit 2020: top acoustic drums for small spaces

The best small acoustic drum sets for learners, children, home practice and playing small venues

best compact acoustic drum kits 2020
(Image credit: Josh Sorenson | Pexels)

Welcome to T3's official ranking of the best compact mini drum sets for beginners, kids and pros. Most of the major drum manufacturers produce their own mini 'bop' kits for beginners, kids, band practice, small venues or anyone who's short on space and wants a drum kit with a really small footprint.

You can certainly buy much cheaper drum kits than this rosy roster but you’ll spend ages tuning them and they’ll still sound substandard. As any musician knows, playing an instrument that sounds dreadful does nothing for one’s inspiration; in fact, bad sound quality and poor workmanship are two of the main reasons why people give up learning a musical instrument. The drums in the list have been manufactured by five of the world’s best drum companies – Pearl, Sonor, Gretsch, Tama and Ludwig – so you can be sure they sound amazing and play well, and will remain that way in the long term. 

If drums aren’t your thing and you’d much rather be front of stage (or living room) with a guitar strapped around your neck, then take a look at our best electric guitars for beginners or the best acoustic guitar for beginners. We also have a dedicated guide to the best piano keyboard. 

Before we start our rundown of the best compact mini drum sets, a couple of things to note. As the bass drums on these kits are so small (16 inches on average), they all come equipped with a bass drum riser that raises the bass drum several inches off the ground so the pedal’s beater is able to strike the head in the centre. The bass drum riser gives the impression that the whole bass drum is floating. 

As is the case with most mid-range drum kits, none of these models come with hardware like pedals, stands or cymbals, so bear that in mind when ordering. Mind, you can easily snap up a complete set of hardware for under £120 and the same for a set of cymbals.

The best compact drums in order of preference

best compact drums 2020: Pearl Midtown

(Image credit: Pearl)

1. Pearl Midtown

The best compact drum kit pound for pound

Specifications
Bass drum: 16 inches
Wood: Poplar
Bass drum mounted cymbal stand: No
Reasons to buy
+Excellent build quality+Great sound+Easy to tune

Pearl is a premium drum manufacturer that’s also renowned for its excellent drum hardware. For the price, the Midtown is superbly crafted inside and out, from the perfectly round 6-ply poplar shells and smooth sparkle wrap to the high-quality tom holder and simple but very effective adjustable drum riser.

The Midtown’s 16-inch bass drum – replete with matching wooden hoops – delivers excellent low-end thump for such a tidy little package, and the same goes for the 10-inch rack tom and 13-inch floor tom which are both easy to tune down low for a lovely deep tone. As is the case with all of these mini kits, the 13 x 12-inch snare drum is the weak link (in the professional world, snare drums are always bought separately). That said, the sound and response improves immeasurably when both the batter and snare-side heads are changed and a bit of damping is applied using drum gels or a circular plastic muffler.

Available in three finishes – Black Gold Sparkle, Black Cherry Glitter and Grindstone Sparkle – the Pearl Midtown is an ideal drum set for beginners and kids from age five upwards and, if used with the optional bag set, a godsend for professional gigging drummers fed up with lugging large kits around. If you’re looking for a really well-made mini drum kit that sounds fantastic and tunes easily then this is the one to go for. Highly recommended.

best compact drums 2020: Sonor AQ2 Safari

(Image credit: Sonor)

2. Sonor AQ2 Safari

High-end mini kit from one of the world's best drum manufacturers

Specifications
Bass drum: 16 inch
Wood: Solid maple
Bass drum mounted cymbal stand: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Renowned Sonor build quality+Easy to tune+Fantastic resonance

The first thing you notice with this solid maple kit is the incredible build quality which is so typical of highly respected German brand Sonor. The Sonor SQ2 Safari is comprised of a 16-inch bass drum with integral drum riser, 10-inch rack tom, 13-inch floor tom and a 13x6-inch snare. As to be expected coming from Sonor, the shells are immaculate and the hardware is superb. The kit even comes with a cymbal arm that attaches to the included tom mount.

Sound quality is exemplary and all the drums are really easy to tune. Granted, the Ludwig Breakbeats' toms have a more appealingly deep tone straight out of the box but the build quality is nowhere near the high standard of the Safari. And where the Ludwig’s bass drum riser is a fiddly affair that is badly designed, the Sonor’s works perfectly.

Available in four finishes, the Sonor Safari sounds amazing when tuned low and there’s evidence everywhere of Sonor’s fine attention to detail. Yes, they’re more expensive than most of the other models here but once tuned, these little drums sing.

best compact drums 2020: Gretsch Catalina Club

(Image credit: Gretsch)

3. Gretsch Catalina Club

Best compact model with larger bass drum

Specifications
bass drum: 18 inch
Wood: Mahogany
Bass drum mounted cymbal stand: No
Reasons to buy
+The jazz player's preference+Lovely warm sound+Amazing finishes
Reasons to avoid
-Larger diameter bass drum

Gretsch is justly famous for its jazz kits which have been played by most of the greats over the years. The Catalina Club comes with an 18-inch bass drum (two inches bigger in diameter than the others on this page) but since its depth is just 14 inches, its footprint is roughly the same. Believe us, that extra two inches counts for a lot when it comes to bass drums and, sure enough, this one sounds really deep and punchy and with a good deal of attack.

The Catalina’s rack tom (12”) and floor tom (14”) are also a little bigger and deeper than the other kits in this list and that also makes a difference to how low you can tune them for musical styles like rock and pop. The shells themselves are constructed out of mahogany which produces a warm and punchy tone reminiscent of vintage drums of the past.

Available in four gorgeous wood finishes (black, crimson burst, satin antique fade, satin walnut glaze) and two pearls wraps (yellow and blue), this is the kit to choose if you not only want a high quality practice kit at home but also something you can seriously gig with in larger venues.

best compact drums 2020: Ludwig Breakbeats

(Image credit: Ludwig)

4. Ludwig Breakbeats

Amazing sound straight out of the box

Specifications
Bass drum: 16 inches
Wood: Undisclosed hardwood
Bass drum mounted cymbal stand: No
Reasons to buy
+Superior tom sound+Beefy bass drum
Reasons to avoid
-Horrible bass drum riser-Poor snare drum

Ludwig’s Breakbeats is a dynamic sounding mini kit developed by Root’s drummer Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson (who has also played on Jimmy Fallon’s ‘Tonight Show’). The Breakbeats shell pack is comprised of a cute 16-inch bass drum, a small 10-inch rack tom, an equally petite 13-inch floor tom and a 14x5-inch wooden snare. It’s available in three sparkle options – black, red and silvery white.

Aside from some overly stiff lugs here and there, the only major issue with the kit is that the supplied bass drum riser’s pedal plate is too short to accommodate some bass drum pedals without their drive chains or belts scraping against the rear hoop. Mind, don’t let this put you off because the kit sounds amazing straight out of the box and there are ways to address the drum riser issue. The bass drum has massive depth and punch and the toms sound rich and woody. Indeed, the only let down is the snare drum which definitely benefits from having better drum heads fitted.

If you’re looking for a capable and superbly priced compact kit that really delivers on the sound front, then go forth and order a set of these right away. Despite some manufacturing anomalies, the Breakbeats is the perfect kit for bedroom or lounge use and a great starter kit for kids.

best compact drums 2020: Tama Club-JAM

(Image credit: Tama)

5. Tama Club-JAM

Oddly styled mini kit for superior portability

Specifications
Bass drum: 18 inches
Wood: Mersawa and poplar
Bass drum mounted cymbal stand: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Brilliantly portable+Really compact+Great Tama sound
Reasons to avoid
-Short floor tom not to everyone's taste

If space is a major issue or you just want a high quality name brand kit that’s a doddle to transport, then this is the one for you. The Club-JAM is crafted out of soft mersawa wood for warmth and hard poplar for resonance and sustain. The result is a kit that sounds round and lush and with excellent projection. 

The most noticeable difference between this kit and the others in this roundup is the shallowness of the floor tom. At just seven inches in depth, it looks far to shallow to produce a decent tone but you’d be wrong because this little floor tom sings when tuned correctly. Its tone is also deeper than you'd expect and this is mostly down to its slightly wider 14” diameter. The 10” rack-mounted tom is also a little cracker that has heaps of attack and focussed warmth, and the snare’s not too bad either, especially if the bottom head is cranked up tight.

Like the Gretsch above, this kit also comes with an 18-inch bass drum but since its depth is just 12 inches, the whole kit has one of the smallest footprints of any compact kit on the market. A cymbal holder is attached to the bass drum for added space-saving convenience. The Club-JAM is available as either a shell set (just the drums in other words) or complete with high-hat stand, bass drum pedal and stool.