Electronic drum kits require either a monitor amp or headphones in order to be able to listen to them while playing. Each can have their advantages depending on your drumming situation and personal preferences. Let’s take a look at some of the positives and negatives to consider for each option.
Why Use Headphones With Electronic Drum Kits?
Most drummers will likely find headphones to be the ideal option. What advantages does a pair of headphones offer over a monitor amp for electronic drumming?
Headphones Are More Affordable
The first advantage is that a good pair of headphones won’t be as expensive as a good monitor amp. A good pair of headphones can cost somewhere between $50-$200 depending on the level of comfort and sound quality you are looking for. Of course, you can spend more, but you can find excellent headphones for under $200 or even under $150. As a comparison, a decent monitor amp will start at around $200 and only get more expensive from there.
Headphones Can Isolate Sound and Provide Noise Reduction
Another advantage for headphones is that a good pair of closed back, over ear headphones can provide some noise isolation. Some headphones are better at this than others, but you can find good sounding headphones with strong passive noise reduction for less than $150.
Good noise isolation from your headphones will help you focus more on the sounds of the drum module rather than the sounds of your sticks hitting the pads. This can create better immersion while playing your electronic drums since you’ll focus more on the actual drum sounds than the pad tapping sounds.
Headphones Will Offer a Stereo Sound Field
Headphones let you hear your drum kit in stereo, and you’ll hear the positioning of the drums from left to right as you play around the pads of the kit. Once again, this can help greatly with immersion.
Unless you’re using two monitor amps to create a left/right stereo effect, your drum sound will be played back as a mono sound signal over a monitor amp. When using just one monitor amp there is no way to get stereo sound. So this goes back to the cost factor, once again. If you want stereo effects from monitor amps, you’ll need two of them. This doubles the cost, and two monitor amps is going to cost a lot more than a pair of headphones.
Headphones Are Better for Silent Drumming
If one of your goals with electronic drumming is keeping the noise down, headphones are going to be the way to go. Headphones keep the sound to yourself, while using a monitor amp will be like cranking up a stereo for all to hear.
Why Use a Monitor Amp With Electronic Drum Kits?
There are some good reasons to potentially turn to a monitor amp over headphones when it comes to electronic drumming. Headphones have a lot of advantages, but they don’t satisfy all the use case scenarios.
Monitor Amps Will Project Sound and Can Get Quite Loud
If you’re in a scenarios where you want to jam with friends while using your electronic drum kit, amplification will be an immediate need. Having a sufficiently loud yet portable monitor amp is great for these scenarios. Some of the more powerful monitor amps have enough volume and sound projection capability to play right along side guitar and bass amps. Some of the smaller, more portable amps have good volume as well while still being easy to transport.
Monitor Amps Are Useful For Live Gigs
If you plan on gigging with your electronic drum kit, having at least one good monitor amp can be quite useful. In some gig scenarios there might be a sound system that you can plug in to, much like if you were micing up an acoustic drum kit. If the venue has a good enough sound system you might not need to provide your own live amplification.
If you have a monitor amp, you can potentially get by with playing gigs without a full sound system, especially in smaller venues like coffee shops, churches or house shows. You can just plug in your drum kit to the amp, crank up the volume like you would on any other amp and get on with playing your gig.
Having a monitor amp can also be useful for providing yourself with some monitoring on stage while also taking advantage of the venue sound system. You could point your monitor at yourself for better on-stage monitoring, and then output to the venue sound system as well for amplification for the crowd.
Some People Just Don’t Like Wearing Headphones While Playing Drums
Some people would just prefer to not wear headphones while playing drums. There’s nothing wrong with that. They might find it uncomfortable, or maybe they don’t like dealing with cables draped over the shoulder or behind the head while playing. There’s plenty of good reasons here.
For those types of drummers, plugging into a drum amp can be an easy and satisfying way to practice or play drums, even in lower volume scenarios if you turn the volume down.
What’s My Preference When it Comes to Headphones vs. Monitor Amps?
Personally, I tend to use headphones much more than monitor amps with my electronic drums. I prefer having the sound of the drum module right on my ears along with the immersion that provides. I like to hear more of the drums and less of myself hitting drum pads.
I use monitor amps for more situational purposes, like if I want to jam with some friends or stuff like that. So I usually have one on hand for those purposes.
But at the end of the day, if I had to pick one or the other, I’d go with headphones. I’m usually using electronic drums in situations where I need to keep the volume down, such as in my apartment, and headphones are the best option for that.