Should I buy Drum Pads or a MIDI Keyboard?

Making music requires having the right tools. For aspiring music producers, drum pads and MIDI keyboards are two of the most popular pieces of equipment to consider purchasing. But how do you decide which one is the better investment for your home studio?

This comprehensive guide examines the pros and cons of both options to help you determine if drum pads or a MIDI keyboard better match your music production needs and budget.

What are Drum Pads and MIDI Keyboards?

Before diving into which option to choose, it’s important to understand what exactly drum pads and MIDI keyboards are and what they do.

Drum Pads

drum pad

Drum pads, also known as trigger pads or finger drumming pads, are panels with pressure-sensitive rubber surfaces that you strike with drumsticks or your fingers. When struck, the pad sends a MIDI trigger to external devices, most commonly a drum module that contains digitally recorded drum and percussion sounds. By hitting the pads, you can play virtual acoustic, electronic, and synthesized drum sounds.

MIDI Keyboards

MIDI Keyboard

A MIDI keyboard is typically a piano-style keyboard that also sends MIDI data. It allows you to play software instruments and virtual synthesizers by pressing the keys.

MIDI keyboards also usually come with knobs, faders, buttons, and other controls that can be mapped to control parameters in your digital audio workstation (DAW). This allows for hands-on control of various effect plugins, virtual instruments, and more while playing the keyboard.

Now that you know what each piece of equipment does, let’s explore the key factors to consider when deciding which is better suited for your home music studio setup and workflow.

Main Considerations

What do you want to accomplish?

Do you want to produce beats and electronic percussion patterns? Then drum pads will allow you to play rhythms more naturally with realistic finger drumming.

Do you wish to play melodic parts and chord progressions? A MIDI keyboard’s piano-style layout will suit those harmonic and melodic needs much better.

If your focus lies solely on programming drums and percussion, a set of pads would be the way to go. But for more versatile keyboard playing and instrumentation of software synthesizers, a MIDI keyboard is likely the better option. Most home studios benefit from having both options eventually.

What’s your budget?

Cost plays a significant role in deciding between drum pads and a MIDI keyboard when starting your home studio.

  • Entry-level drum pads start around $100-$150 for a basic 4-pad setup. 
  • MIDI keyboards can start as low as $70-$100 for 25 smaller, key models without extras like modulation wheels or pitch bend options.

The prices go up from there for additional features:

  • More drum pads
  • Larger keyboards with more keys
  • Semi-weighted or fully-weighted keyboard actions
  • Extra controls like faders, buttons, and touch strips

If budget is a concern when first purchasing gear, you can still get started with affordable options for both pieces of equipment. Just balance your needs with the prices when choosing entry-level models.

Do you need portability?

The third main consideration is portability and mobility.

Will you produce music only at home in a fixed studio setup?

Do you want gear you can easily transport for mobile setups?

Drum pads tend to be more portable since they take up less space.

Smaller 25-key MIDI keyboards can also be fairly compact. But larger 49-key and 88-key keyboards with sturdy housing quickly become heavy and more difficult to transport.

If you intend to travel to different locations and produce music on the go, more portable drum pads or a 25-key MIDI keyboard would be the smarter pick. For a permanent studio setup, larger keyboards with more features may make more sense.

Drum Pads vs. MIDI Keyboards

Now let’s directly compare the pros and cons of buying drum pads versus a MIDI keyboard:

FeatureDrum PadsMIDI Keyboard
Realistic finger drummingExcellentDecent with drum pads add-on
Keys for melodies & chordsNot availableExcellent
Onboard soundsRequire separate moduleUsually included
PortabilityExcellentGood for 25-key models
AffordabilityVery affordableAffordable for smaller keys
Software integrationModerateAdvanced integration possible

Drum Pads

Pros

  • Excellent for realistic finger drumming and playing electronic percussion
  • More affordable entry-level options
  • Smaller and more portable
  • Better simulate an acoustic drum kit feel

Cons

  • Limited melodic capabilities
  • Require an additional drum module or software
  • Playing complex rhythms can be challenging

MIDI Keyboards

Pros

  • Allow you to play melodies, chords, and basslines
  • Onboard sounds, synthesizers, and effects
  • Keys with velocities are very expressive
  • Larger keyboards have greater note range

Cons

  • Not as realistic for drum programming
  • Prices quickly rise for semi-weighted and weighted actions
  • Larger keyboards are heavy and hard to transport

As the pros and cons show, both options add excellent yet distinct functionality. The optimal gear comes down to matching features to your goals and budget when building your first studio.

Recommendations

Based on the key considerations outlined above, here are my top recommendations:

Best Drum Pads

For versatile finger drumming, the Akai Professional MPD218 combines a compact form factor with excellent responsiveness at a reasonable price point.

Best MIDI Keyboards

The Arturia MiniLab MkII 25 provides an affordable 25-key MIDI keyboard well-suited for mobile music production. The Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S49 offers a semi-weighted 49-key keyboard for expressive playing paired with deeper software integration.

Conclusion

Deciding between drum pads or a MIDI keyboard comes down to carefully analyzing your music production needs and budget constraints. Both can excel as additions for music-making at home or on the go. Just match the features to your goals, space, and budget.

If you’re still undecided, it may help to try each in person at a music equipment store. Getting hands-on experience playing with each device can provide clarity on which feels like a more natural fit. Some online retailers also allow returns within 30 days, providing a risk-free way to try both options before fully committing.

With the right considerations above, you should now feel better equipped to decide if drum pads or a MIDI keyboard are the best purchase to take your home music studio to the next level.

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