Drums: Top 5 Best Portable Drum Kits
Are you tired of lugging a full-sized drum kit all over town? Sick of the extra hassle of getting your whole set packed up onto a plane for a short hop flight? Or maybe you have only access to the tiniest of tiny practice spaces.
We get you! And that’s exactly why we’ve compiled this list of the Best Portable Drum Kits. But don’t worry, we haven’t gone extreme. You won’t see any kid-sized kits or suitcase drum sets here. Just down-sized quality drums with big kit sound.
So come on – let’s get into it…
Table of contents [Show] [Hide]
Top 5 Best Portable Drum Kits On The Market Reviews
- 1. 1 1 Gretsch Catalina Club (4PC) – Best Mahogany Portable Drum Kit
- 1. 2 2 Pearl Midtown (4PC) – Most Durable Portable Drum Kit
- 1. 3 3 Traps A400 Portable Acoustic Set (5PC) – Lightest Portable Drum Kit
- 1. 4 4 DW Design Series Frequent Flyer (4PC) – Best Quality Portable Drum Kit
- 1. 5 5 Tama Cocktail Jam (4PC) – Best Small Portable Drum Kit
- 2 Best Portable Drum Kits Buyer’s Guide
- 3 Looking For Something Else?
- 4 What Are The Best Portable Drum Kits?
Top 5 Best Portable Drum Kits On The Market Reviews
1 Gretsch Catalina Club (4PC) – Best Mahogany Portable Drum Kit
What you get:
- Bass drum 18”x14”, snare drum 14”x5”, tom 12”x8”, floor tom 14”x14”
- Tom arm suspension system with single cymbal mount, bass drum riser
- Gloss Crimson Burst, Satin Antique Fade, or Satin Walnut Glaze lacquers and Blue Satin Flame, Yellow Satin Flame, or Piano Black wrap
In the drum world, Gretsch is no slouch, so we were really hoping their reduced-sized kit would be a real contender.
Well, we weren’t let down!
The Catalina Club is based around an 18-inch bass drum raised off the ground to get to proper striking height. This drum looks small and is only 14 inches deep, but the sound it puts out is anything but small. There’s a big boom here, with a ton of reverb, so you might need a pillow to control it!
These drums are 7-ply mahogany, which is dense and heavy. You might think that’s a strange idea for a so-called portable drum set, but we think Gretsch was forced to go this route. To get solid, warm, and deep tones out of reduced-sized drums, tropical wood was probably their only option.
But how reduced are they?
The fact is, you’re still getting a slightly shallow but still full-sized snare, and a small but still regulation-sized floor tom. The tom is small, but not out of the ordinary. The tom arm has a built-in cymbal stand holder. The only sacrifice here, really, is the bass drum.
So this wouldn’t be the most portable of drum kits, but it is reduced in size yet still sounds amazing!
- Big, warm booming sounds for a smaller kit.
- Great look and quality Gretsch construction.
- Aside from the bass drum, this is only a slightly-reduced kit.
- Mahogany shells look and sound fantastic, but are a bit heavy.
2 Pearl Midtown (4PC) – Most Durable Portable Drum Kit
What you get:
- Bass drum 16”x14”, snare drum 13”x5.5”, tom 10”x6”, floor tom 13”x13”
- Tom arm suspension system, bass drum riser
- Black Gold Sparkle and Black Cherry Glitter wrap
For years, Pearl has been destroying the competition in low priced quality drums. So how about their portable kit offer? How will it stack up against the others, or in the van, for that matter?
The first thing you’ll notice about this set is the kick drum. While most kits sport a 20” bass, the Midtown offers just 16 inches. This drum is up on legs and a riser so that your beater will still hit the sweet spot. This drum doesn’t exactly boom, though. It just doesn’t move as much air as a bigger drum.
Everything else is slightly reduced, too. All the shells are 7-ply poplar, including the matching snare. Except the snare here is 13” in diameter. It’s a bit smaller but still as deep (5.5”) as a regular snare.
Does size make a difference…
Yes, there’s a slight sound difference, with a perkier high end. Likewise, won’t it be annoying trying to find 13” replacement heads when everything is made for 14”?
The hardware and construction here are your standard Pearl tough quality, if a bit lighter-weight.
But what about the sound?
Poplar shells are relatively light (at least compared to mahogany) and brighter with more attack and less deep resonance. Well, this is a significantly cheaper kit, and the sound shows it. But all around, the tones are decent, and the drum sizes are well-distributed for a smooth sound profile.
- Smaller and more portable.
- Solid, dependable sound and great durability for a really affordable price.
- Odd-sized (13”) heads will be difficult to replace in a hurry.
- Bass drum needs more oomph.
3 Traps A400 Portable Acoustic Set (5PC) – Lightest Portable Drum Kit
What you get:
- Bass drum20″, snare drum12″, toms 10″ and 12″, floor tom 14″
- Steel tubing mounting rack with two cymbal stands; hi-hat stand; bass pedal
- NO SHELLS! Black ABS plastic rings with steel rims, chromed hardware
You wanted portable? You got portable!
Traps has thrown us a curveball with their A400 shell-less drum set. Except for the hi-hat, the whole kit is mounted on a sturdy steel rack with cymbal stands as the uprights. You’ve probably seen this system with electronic drum kits.
But the Traps kit is acoustic!
They’ve achieved a reasonable sound with single head toms and double-headed snare and bass drum. The initial assembly was a bit tricky. But once it’s where you want it, you can easily mark off where your clamps should go and then basically fold the whole thing down for easy transport.
This kit plays well – we really had a tough bang around on it, and everything stays put. The downside of the rack system, though, is that all the heads are clamped on and can’t be extended in any way. Sure, you can rotate them any way you want, but the placement of the “floor tom” might mean you have to adjust your playing to the kit.
And the sound?
Surprisingly good. No one is going to suggest that a shell-less kit could have the same voicing as shells. But for some styles, like hip-hop and electronic fusion, this drum set sounds decent. The bass and floor tom, though, are not nearly as deep as you’d want for many other styles.
- Light (only about 60 lbs) and easy to transport.
- Sturdy and very playable.
- Limited range of positioning.
- Sound is inferior to a shelled kit.
- Pricey for a shell-less kit.
4 DW Design Series Frequent Flyer (4PC) – Best Quality Portable Drum Kit
What you get:
- Bass drum 20″x12″, snare drum 14″x5″, tom 12″x8″, floor tom 14″x11″
- Tom arm suspension system
- Cherry Stain or Tobacco Burst lacquer, and Gloss White or Black Satin wrap
Next in our Best Portable Drum Kits review, we have DW, a legendary builder of high-end kits, who weighs in with a reduced, more-portable drum set. The Frequent Flyer is designed to be smaller and lighter without sacrificing that great DW sound.
Does it work?
Well, much like the Gretsch Catalina Club, this isn’t a hugely reduced set-up. The bass drum is still a near-standard 20 inches, though only 12 inches deep. It still woofs a very respectable deep sound, however.
The same can’t be said for the floor tom, unfortunately. At 14” x 11”, this drum is essentially a rack tom on legs. Yes, it sounds great, but it really isn’t deep enough to be a floor tom. The single rack tom, though, sounds nice and provides a decent contrast with the floor tom if tuned a bit high.
Decent, but could be better…
Overall, this kit sounds great, with its 8-ply maple shells providing smooth and warm tones. It just sounds like something is missing.
This is the priciest set in our list by far. So, we expected DW to provide some pieces that would provide a full range of sounds and ease of portability.
Unfortunately, we’re feeling a bit let down, DW.
- Construction and look are of the highest quality.
- Excellent, warm sounding drums with nice reverb.
- The best bass drum sound on this list.
- The range of sounds is sacrificed here.
5 Tama Cocktail Jam (4PC) – Best Small Portable Drum Kit
What you get:
- Bass drum 16”x6”, snare drum 12”x5”, tom 10”x5”, floor tom 14”x5.5”
- Tom mounting arms, bass pedal with riser, two carrier bags, Sound Focus Pad
- Bright Orange Sparkle, Indigo Sparkle, or Midnight Gold Sparkle wrap
Now we’re talking…
Tama takes the idea of portability and space-saving to a whole other level with the Cocktail Jam kit. There’s no way to ignore it – this is a weird-looking unusual set-up. However, with just a bit of adjustment, we found it fun and easy to play on.
Take a 16”x6” bass drum, turn it horizontal, and stick it up on some legs and a riser. Use steel pipes to stack a floor tom on top and clamp a snare and tom on, and you’re done!
Does it sound good?
The bass beater bangs the drum from the bottom up, and this echoes back into the floor tom. Both are single-headed (all the drums are here but the snare), but the effect of them facing into each other makes for some big, surprising reverb.
The kit comes with a rubber-foam “sound focus pad,” which can be put over the bass drum to cut reverb and produced a more focused thump.
Clear and direct tones…
The shells here are made from 6-ply birch, which offers a decent attack. Being single-headed, the toms don’t echo a lot, especially with the focus pad on. Jazz players might find a lack of reverb here. However, the kit still provides very clear and direct tones.
- Very portable – easily packs into two small provided travel bags.
- For the size, a really great sounding kit.
- Floor tom positioning is limited.
- Clamp-on cymbal stands are sold separately, but you’ll probably want a free-standing hi-hat to make it feel more like a normal kit.
Best Portable Drum Kits Buyer’s Guide
If you need to move around fast and often, a portable drum kit might be a godsend. But what sets one portable drum set apart from another? Here are four factors you definitely need to consider:
Just how much smaller and easier to transport is the kit? If you need to squeeze a kit into a smaller car, maybe all you need is a reduced bass drum. But if you’re going to load up on planes, or even more restrictive forms of travel like the bus (or a motorcycle?), then you’ll need something really pared down.
How can you balance sound quality and portability? Anyone can make a small, portable drum set that sounds like garbage! Even though reduced size will always mean sacrifices in sound, just how much can you accept?
Think about your style and the music you play. Does it need big bass sound, or can you get away with less? Do you use lots of toms, or can you handle just a rack and floor tom combo?
Think about what you need and then decide what you can leave out or pare down.
Just because a kit is small and portable doesn’t mean it’s easy to play. Several unique designs restrict the flexibility in the positioning of your drum pieces.
Therefore, try to position your portable kit in the same way as the kit you normally play. If this is not possible, you might have to adjust your playing, so check if that’s going to be possible before you make your purchase.
If you’re looking at a main kit, you might have the bucks to invest in something extra-special. For most players, though, a portable drum set is a secondary drum kit. That’s one that you’re going to use when you have to be able to move quickly, easily, and affordably.
So you definitely don’t want a secondary kit to break the bank.
Looking For Something Else?
Are you an aspiring drummer? Do you have children who want to play the drums? Have a look at our reviews of the Best Beginners Drum Sets and the Best Drum Set For Kids you can buy.
Maybe a Jazz man? If so, stay cool and check out our reviews of the Best Jazz Drum Sets on the market.
In the market for a new snare or throne? Take a peek at our reviews of the Best Snare Drums and Best Drum Thrones currently available in 2021.
What Are The Best Portable Drum Kits?
Reduced kits are a great idea for easier movement and some of the ones we tried sound great. However, the call was for the best portable kit, and we feel it was best answered by the…
This affordable, snappy little 4-piece has the versatility and great sound you need but packed into a kinder-surprise-like package of engineering genius. It’s easy to move, easy to set up, and sounds great.
Whichever kit you choose, good luck, and may the road be good to you!