Cajon. Box drum. Call it what you will. These versatile little drums have been making quite a big splash on the music scene lately!
A great Cajon (Spanish for box or crate) is able to replace a drum kit if played with style and sophistication. The best Cajon drums have deep bass tones with luscious reverberations and snappy, cracking snare-like tones too. It’s all about where you strike it.
So how do you choose from the hundreds of Cajons out there? Well, simply read on, and discover which drum is the best for you!
Top 12 Best Cajon Drums You Should Buy 2020 Reviews
1 Headliner Series String Cajon
Dimensions: 18″ tall x 11 ¾” wide x 12 ¼” deep
Let’s start with this Cajon from German percussion instrument maker Meinl. This brand has an astounding range of box drums, and you’re going to see quite a few on our list.
Why start with the Headliner Series String Cajon?
We can essentially use this box drum to define what a Cajon is and as a baseline to measure the other instruments against.
As the name says, this is a “string Cajon”, so you’re going to expect, and find, a really pronounced snappy snare sound. That’s up at the top of this box, especially near the corners. Rim shots get you a slightly duller, tappy sound. The snare note here is loud and strong, so it might not be ideal for all music, especially softer, mellower styles.
Then there’s the all-important bass…
The soundboard (or playing surface) of the Cajon contributes both to the snare sound and to the bass. This box is made of siam oak plywood, bringing a dense and, therefore, deep warm tone to the bass notes.
Now let’s talk quality. We can easily say that all of the Meinl Cajon we tried out are built well and clearly put together with care. The Headliner has slightly curved shoulders for hand comfort and thick, durable rubber feet to protect the box and raise it up for even more boom.
- Nice looking and well-built percussion instrument.
- A mid-range price, making it a good all-round box for the money.
- Solid range of sounds: deep bass tone, and strong attack on snare note.
- Snare could be a bit too aggressive for some musical styles.
2 Subwoofer Cajon
Dimensions: 19″ tall x 13″ wide x 13″ deep
Next, we have a totally different instrument to look at. And trust us, the Subwoofer ain’t your grandma’s Cajon!
It’s obvious that this is a modified instrument. Not only is it a monster at 3211 cubic inches, but it also has two large sound ports coming out of the bottom of the front panel. Most Cajons have their sound ports at the back so that the soundboard is one large uninterrupted board. So this guy is weird.
But how does that design translate into sound?
This Subwoofer does exactly what its name claims – it woofs! The bass note is deep, resonant, warm, and full like a hot coffee on a snowy day. Unlike any of the other box drums we tried, this one sounds like a real bass drum. You can even feel it in your ribcage.
The medium-density fiberboard (MDF) construction combined with a really hard walnut soundboard creates that booming sound. That sound is amplified inside and driven out through the sound ports to blast your audience.
MDF construction is essential to that bass sound, but be aware that it will be less durable in the long-run, so extra care is needed. Never, ever get this drum wet as the MDF could swell and start to disintegrate!
The snare note is delivered by two sets of internal wire snares and has a nice moderate sizzle. The attack is definitely different from a string Cajon sound. This drum is less aggressive and very bass-focused.
- Full-bodied sound – the biggest drum and the biggest bass we had the pleasure of trying.
- The seat is textured so that it’s non-slip.
- The price – from the Headliner, you’re basically doubling the price to get that bass.
- MDF construction is weaker than other woods.
3 Birch Café Cajon
Dimensions: 17 ¼” tall x 12” wide x 12” deep
Here’s another Meinl instrument that’s really comparable to the Headliner Series. So, let’s take a look at how they’re similar and how they’re different.
The two instruments are essentially the same size, both being what we can call full-size Cajons. Both are nicely crafted, look great, and smack of quality.
However, there are lots of subtle differences to take note of.
First, this box drum uses a wire snare system instead of the Headliner’s string system. This gives the snare noticeably less snap and more crackle. Though you can still find striking zones on the soundboard that will really make the snare pop, in general, it hangs back, and blends in more than the Headliner does.
The Birch Café Cajon is made from, yes, you guessed it, Baltic birch wood. Birch is used a lot in drum shells for its durability and warm sound. Here, the bass does sound softer and warmer than on the Headliner.
There are two other important things to note. One is that the soundboard is stained wine red, which looks classy but is also useful. If you play a lot, a really pale soundboard will need frequent cleaning and will eventually show stains and discoloration. Not a worry here.
This drum also comes with a padded Cajon carrying bag. Again, this is perfect if you’re going to be gigging all over town.
- Nice balanced tones – warm bass and more-subtle snare.
- Comes with a convenient carrying case.
- Less aggressive-sounding, so not as suited to harder styles of music.
4 Jam Series Cajon
Dimensions: 15″ tall x 10 ¼” wide x 10 ¼” deep
Another Meinl product, the Jam Series Cajon, is similar to the Birch Café’s understudy.
Firstly, the construction is very similar. Both box drums are constructed from Baltic birch, giving the same sound quality to the snare and bass notes.
The relative dimensions are also very similar, but at only 15 inches tall, the Jam Series is a “compact” Cajon. This does make it lighter and easier to transport between gigs. The size is also reflected in the price, so you’re basically getting the same quality of Cajon for a smaller size and price tag.
But how does its stature affect the Jam Series’ sound?
As you might have expected, the bass is where the biggest sacrifice in sound lays. This smaller soundboard and less room for echo inside the box drum means the size of your bass boom is quite diminished. And you’ll for sure need to use a mic at even small gigs.
The tone sounds less warm, and you also get a lot of the snare sound “bleeding” into the bass note.
The snare, on the other hand, sounds bright and perky. Two sets of internal snares provide that sizzle, and the small size actually brings more pop to this tone than on the larger boxes.
So, in the end, it’s a bit of a toss-up!
- Smaller and cheaper means easier to transport and easier on your bank account.
- For a cheaper instrument, the sound is still really nice.
- The construction is solid.
- Bass is sacrificed, as well as overall volume for the whole instrument.
5 C-10 EL Cajon Electronic Layered Cajon
Dimensions: 19 ½” tall x 11 ¾” wide x 11 ¾” deep
And now it’s time for something completely different…
Roland, the world-renowned instrument maker, has been branching out into hybrid electronic percussion instruments for a while now. And considering the quality of their electronic drum kits, the El Cajon is definitely worth a look!
Let’s start by saying that the hardwood and wrapped MDF construction is solid and produces a decent Cajon sound. However, it really is only decent. Obviously, there are also a lot of electronics inside, and that means the actual resonance chamber is much smaller than the other models we’ve looked at.
But there’s a lot that’s unique about this instrument.
This is not just an acoustic Cajon, it’s also an electronic instrument and amplifier. You can run it off AC power or AA batteries. When you turn on the system, you can choose from one of 30 sound pairs. So suddenly, when you play the note on the face of the drum and then the edge, you can get two different percussion sounds.
These include sounds like bongos, congas, djembe, and lots more. So while a normal Cajon can give about 3-4 really different tones, this instrument provides 60+.
Remember, this is a hybrid, and the price of all that electronic wizardry is reflected in the more than hefty price tag. But this has got to be the most innovative and versatile Cajon on the market!
- Self-amplifying, with 30 different sets of electronic sounds.
- Solid, durable, and well-constructed.
- The price is definitely in the luxury category.
- The sound of the acoustic Cajon is only passable.
6 Headliner Stained American White Ash
Dimensions: 18″ tall x 11 ¾” wide x 12 ¼” deep
Back in the Meinl instrument world, here’s another version of their Headliner to compare. With the same dimensions and same builder, you might not expect much difference in sound with the regular Headliner. Actually, you’d be surprised.
First of all, the construction is quite different. Even though both are string cajons with two sets of internal guitar-like strings, the rest of the build is very different. This box is made of MDF with a non-slip wrap. The soundboard is stained white ash as opposed to siam oak.
How does this change the sound?
The bass note is definitely boomier. Is that a word? It has more oomph, though certainly not nearly as much as the Subwoofer has. There’s also less bleed from the snare sound into the bass note on this drum. On the other hand, the snare tone has less attack than it does on the siam oak Headliner.
Thinking about durability, this drum is wrapped MDF, so again be aware of the danger of water. Wood will take dings and dents, but in the long-term will stand up better than MDF will to lots of gigging and bumps in the van.
- Good balanced sound, with strong bass and appropriate snare tone.
- Very nice-looking instrument.
- A little pricier than the siam oak Headliner with no apparent justification.
- MDF construction adds to bass boom but also raises long-term durability concerns.
7 2-in-1 Black Edition Cajon
Dimensions: 19 ¾” tall x 11 ¾” wide x 11 ¾” deep
Schlagwerk throws their hat into the German percussion maker’s competition with a name that actually means “percussion” (or blow factory, literally). This 2-in-1 Cajon drum looks well-made and boldly designed.
How does it compare to our other instruments?
This is a large, bold instrument. And features a cool industrial look, echoing the Cajon’s crate origins. As the tallest of the box drums, we can add that it’s more comfortable for larger players to play without stooping too much.
The sound is also high-quality. The drum is made of birch, giving it a warm sound very much like a normal drum kit. The bass is rich, though not as loud as you’d find with the Meinl Headliner.
The snare tone on this box drum is controlled by a 40-wire snare system. This gives it a characteristic sizzle with less attack and a more blended sound.
However, the 2-in-1 in the name refers to the possibility of easily removing the snares. This allows for a traditional sound where the loosely fixed soundboard being smacked into the box body is what creates the snare-like tone. In this respect, the 2-in-1 produces a greater range of sounds and therefore fits with a greater range of musical styles.
Not sure about the feet…
One thing that we didn’t like so much was the feet. Though they’re rubber coated, the feet are made of felt, much like the felts on cymbal stands. Since you’re likely to be moving and grooving while sitting on this box, we’re worried about the felt tearing.
- Solid construction and cool design.
- Great, even tone with or without snares on.
- A bit pricey when compared to competitors.
- Felt feet might not be durable long-term.
Dimensions: 14 ¼” tall x 18 ½” wide x 9½” deep
One last Meinl, we promise! But this one is definitely worth a look.
Well, to start with, is the Slapbox really even a Cajon drum? The answer is yes, and no. It starts out like a Cajon from the bottom, but the wide slappable top pops out and changes the game.
This thing is like the tabletop that we all grew up practicing on, so it seems like a natural step from the Cajon. After all, with a Cajon drum, you have to slump over, which isn’t all that comfortable. Here you squeeze the box between your knees and set the top to a nice slap-friendly angle.
The bass note is very different on the Slaptop…
On other cajons, you hit against the depth of the box, but here you’re hitting against the height. This translates to a long wave, deep sound that’s very much like a djembe.
In fact, the snare notes are also very pingy and djembe-like as well. On the other hand, the snare lacks the crack and sizzle of the other boxes we’ve seen so far.
An interesting alternative…
So overall, the sound of this box drum probably couldn’t fool anyone into thinking it’s a drum kit. But the sound is nice and different, and the Slaptop is much more comfortable to play for longer periods.
- Nice sound with great bass tone and pingy snare tone.
- Very comfortable to hold and play.
- Not really the authentic Cajon sound that you might be looking for.
- You can’t sit on it, so you’ll need to lug this big box drum around plus a stool.
9 Americana Groove Wire Cajon
Brand: LP (Latin Percussion)
Dimensions: 18 ½” tall x 11″ wide x 10 ¼” deep
Crossing continents to an American manufacturer, let’s take a look at how LP’s Cajons stack up. After all, the Cajon is originally from the Americas.
The American Groove Wire Cajon gets up there in price, comparable to the Subwoofer and the 2-in-1, so let’s compare the sound.
Surprisingly, the bass on the American Groove sounds almost identical to the 2-in-1. They’re both made of birch; however, the American Groove is a smaller, narrower box. There must be something else at play here, but we can’t really see what that is.
There’s no real competition, though, between the American Groove and the Subwoofer when it comes to bass. Both the richness of the tone and the volume of the subwoofer are simply in a class of their own!
The snare sound is very different, though. As this is a wire Cajon, it has a snappier, more aggressive snare tone than the 2-in-1’s or the Subwoofer’s snares. The snare sound here is really comparable to the Meinl Headliner.
One other feature to point out is the nicely rounded shoulders on this box drum. That makes it a lot more comfortable to play, though it does take away from the sharp tappy tones that corners usually produce.
- Nice all-around sound, with impressive bass for a slightly smaller box.
- Solid construction and comfortable shape.
- Sharp snare tone may be too aggressive for some musical styles.
- Price – starting to get up there.
10 Americana Black Box String Cajon
Brand: LP (Latin Percussion)
Dimensions: 19″ tall x 11″ wide x 10″ deep
This is hands-down the coolest looking Cajon drum we tried out, but is it the best?
The black box is exactly that – a black box with some mystery inside. First off, what’s it made of? It’s a black-stained and distressed Baltic birch soundboard on top of a black MDF body. As usual, the MDF construction does help to fill out the bass sound, but we’re as wary as always about durability.
Inside, you’ll find a guitar-like string system instead of snares. Just like the Meinl Headliner Series, this Cajon packs some serious punch with that snappy snare sound. It attacks strongly and clearly, different from the sizzle of snares.
That said, the sound is still well-balanced thought this instrument. It sounds good and looks really cool. With that MDF body, though, you’ll want to take extra care of it if you’re gigging a lot around town or going on the road. That means you’re probably going to need a carrying case, which will push the moderate price into the high price category.
- It’s got the look. If you’re going to be on stage a lot, this box drum will definitely draw some attention.
- The sound is well-balanced, strong, and versatile.
- The whole soundboard is very sensitive.
- The price is getting a bit high, especially if you have to add a padded carrying case.
- MDF construction – fine for playing at home, but maybe not great if you’re going to be moving it around a lot.
11 ST-CJ120B Cajon
Dimensions: 20″ tall x 12″ wide x 12″ deep
Now to really put things to the test. The Sawtooth ST-CJ120B (needs a better model name!) is the cheapest Cajon drum we looked at, and it comes with a padded carrying case on top of that.
How does it compare to pricier models?
Well, the carrying case with shoulder straps is great for lugging this box around, but where would you take it? Hopefully, not on stage.
This Cajon simply doesn’t measure up. Yes, it’s made from birch like many other models, but the construction doesn’t compare. The soundboard should be exactly flush with the body on all sides, but on the one we tried, there was some uncomfortable overlap. This also means your hands may hit the box rather than the face.
Sound-wise, there’s one word to describe it – flat. We should note that if you’re just going to play around at home or with a small group of friends, the sound is adequate.
But if you’re going to perform..?
The bass tone is really dull and dampened for reasons we can’t quite work out. The snare tone, produced by an internal guitar-like string system, is prominent. There’s a fair amount of attack, but on the downside, the snare tone bleeds heavily into the bass tone. This muddles the sounds and reduces clarity.
Overall, it’ll be fine – just don’t mic it.
- Cheap and relatively durable.
- Comes with a well-padded carry bag and a padded seat cover.
- With tones that are dull and muddled, this Cajon lacks character.
12 String Jam Cajon
Dimensions: 18″ tall x 12″ wide x 12″ deep
The last box drum on our list is the Pyle String Jam Cajon. It’s on the lower end of the price range, so let’s see where it lands for quality and sound.
The String Jam features two sets of guitar-like strings that are adjustable from the bottom of the box. These and the soundboard screws allow you to set the exact snare tone that you want. Well, that’s really the case for all of our string cajons.
So what else does this one have to show?
Well, it looks pretty. Pyle have at least constructed a smooth, strong box drum in this instrument. The sound, however, leaves a little to be desired. The snare system, adjustable as it is, produces a decent sharp, snappy sound. There’s a lot of attack there and resonance.
But the bass tone really suffers in the Cajon. There is a ton of snare bleed because of the connections with the strings, leading to a snare sound in the background of just about every bass hit. And even if there was no bleed at all, the bass lacks the boom you might expect here. After all, it’s not a compact-sized drum.
Good construction, average sound…
So despite a durable birch construction, the String Jam really lacks the great sounds you want to bring on stage with you. But it does sound slightly better than the sawtooth we just reviewed, so we will award it the Best Budget Cajon award for that reason alone.
- Affordable price and quality construction.
- Decent snare sound.
- Muddy, weak bass tone.
- Overall sound quality is poorly blended.
Best Cajon Drums Buyer’s Guide
A Cajon is such a convenient instrument to play in tight spaces or quiet venues. A good one can have all the presence and rhythm of a drum set, without the insane volume and all that clutter. They’re great for gigging – there’s nothing to set up except your butt on the top.
But with so many out there, how do you know which are the best Cajon drums available?
Almost all cajons these days are made from plywood or MDF bodies, with plywood or solid wood soundboards. That’s the faceplate or striking surface – the part you hit. A great Cajon will be smoothly and securely put together.
MDF or medium-density fiberboard worries us. It’s not as robust and can’t withstand the knocks and impacts a percussion instrument often takes on the road. Therefore, you’ll want to get yourself a well-padded carrying case with an MDF drum.
Most Cajon drums are about 18-20 inches tall, and 12” x 12” square. Anything smaller than this is going to be a compact size model. Just like cars, compacts can be convenient – they’re lighter and smaller and easier to transport. However, remember that you’re going to be sitting on top to play them. Larger musicians will feel uncomfortable stooped over small box drums.
There are lots of boxes out there for low prices. In our experience, most of them are only good for practice and not performance instruments. Their tones are generally muddled or muffled.
For a mid-range price, you should expect solid construction and quality tones. You should be confident about bringing your Cajon up on stage.
As the price climbs, you should expect outstanding craftsmanship, superior sound, and/or some incredible extra features like electronics.
This is what it all comes down to. But what makes for superior sound quality?
First of all, construction is crucial. Poor design (like badly sized sound ports) kill sounds. Badly glued boards can rattle when they shouldn’t. And sharp corners or parts that aren’t flush can hurt to play or even cause missed beats.
The soundboard should be a nice thin but solid piece of hardwood or hardwood plywood. The density of the wood helps to reflect and amplify sounds inside the box, especially the bass tone. Surprisingly, MDF in the body can also help to amplify and warm bass tones. But you’re not going to see an MDF soundboard – it wouldn’t stand up to the beating!
As for the snare tone, two general systems are available. String cajons use sets of wound metal strings (like on a guitar) tensioned behind the soundboard. These provide a really punchy, snappy, sharp snare crack.
The other system uses actual snares, sets of spiraling wires partially touching the inside of the soundboard. What’s the difference in sound? Snare cajons have tones that are less cutting and aggressive, with more of a sizzle to them.
Now that you know what to look for, get out there and choose the perfect Cajon drum for you!
More Great Drumming Reviews
Looking for some other drumming accessories? If so, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Drum Practice Pads, the Best Snare Drums, the Best Electronic Drum Amps, the Best Drum Thrones, the Best Kick Drum Mic, or even the Best Hang Drum currently available.
So, What Are The Best Cajon Drums?
As usual, we got our hands on some fancy percussion equipment with these quality box drums, each with different characteristics to consider.
The Subwoofer brought the biggest bass to the party. The Roland El Cajon supplied acoustic-electronic hybrid pizazz. The Americana Black Box looked the sweetest.
But which was our overall favorite? Drumroll, please!
Considering its price, great sound, superb quality, and smooth look, we had to give it to the…Birch Café Cajon.
In this drum, Meinl has simply produced a professional instrument at an affordable price. And come on, there’s a free carrying case included!