Roland TD-15K Review

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, so this is a long review in three parts. First, we’ll start off with a brief background on me. This will be followed by a review of all the components of the TD-15K and a conclusion comparing the drumset to the other options you’ll likely be considering.


I grew up the son of a piano teacher, and thus grew up a pianist. When I was in fifth grade, inspired by my particular interest in rhythm, I think, my parents began looking into band, and in sixth I joined my junior high’s beginner band as a keyboard percussionist.

I continued with marching band, concert band, and winter drumline every year until my first year of college, when classes suddenly got hard and band took more of my time than I was willing to give.

Sometime in late junior high, I think, my parents bought me a used CB drumset from a local drum dealership. We put muffling pads on it, but still the noise was loud enough that I would disturb my mom’s lessons, and more importantly, I was embarrassed to play - after all, everyone would hear me as I made constant mistakes! (Being over-confident was never one of my faults.) I finally did get some experience on a set when a good friend and fellow bandie taught me some lessons on the church drumset, as he was starting a band and wanted to lead on guitar. We practiced a bit, played in church a few times, and had a lot of fun, but things quickly fell apart.

Back in college, a beautiful girl asked me to join a small church band, and while that was again short-lived, it rekindled my desire to drum. After a few years and some full-time paychecks, a bit over a year ago I bought a TD-15K so I could practice in my room without annoying roommates. I enjoyed it so much I played a pretty constant 10-15 hours a week for several months, and though I now have slowed to a few hours a week, the girl (now my fiancee) and I are in another band, and I expect to be playing in some way or another for the forseeable future.

The TD-15K

The Drums

The mesh heads you’ll find on the TD-15K are surprisingly realistic feeling. There was no period of adjustment for me with them - I just played them and they felt like drums.

The one thing that occasionally bothers me is that there’s no sensing of the different parts of the head, so the sound at the center of the drum is exactly the same as on the edge. Minor, but noteworthy.

One interesting thing about electronic drumheads is that the pitch and head tightness are no longer linked. This means that if you accept your electronic kit as your primary drumming platform, rather than practice for “a real drumset”, it’s completely valid to tune up the heads quite a bit - you gain extra bounce, but it doesn’t affect the sound. Some may view it as cheating, but hey - the only reason we don’t do that on physical drums more is because of physical limitations, so I see no need to handicap myself. Bam! instant better drummer. :)

The rims don’t interact with the head in the same way an acoustic drum would. Basically, the TD-15K offers two modes - always rimshot, or rimshot when hitting the rim (configurably) hard, and cross-stick otherwise. With a little bit of preference tuning and some practice, it’s not too difficult to be able to consistently do one or the other in the latter mode.

If you play a lot of jazz, you will probably be disappointed in the lack of brush ability; you have to select drum sounds that have brush samples (which means no switching back and forth rapidly), and, as far as I can tell, there’s no way to perform the standard circular swish-swish.

The Cymbals

I wasn’t very worried about the drums on an electronic kit, as those are fairly easy to replicate. The cymbals, however, were a major concern.

They’re… reasonable. They definitely feel different than acoustic cymbals, but after a month or two of playing (mostly with my eyes closed!), they feel natural to me. The swing is fine, but you’re playing on rubber, and rubber bounces very differently than metal.

It’s possible to do swells on the TD-15K’s cymbals, which was a major concern for me. They have a minimum volume before the brain realizes what you’re trying to do, however, so the control isn’t quite up to what I want.

The bell on the ride takes a bit more force to trigger than I expected. You pretty much have to hit it with the trunk of the stick; no quick jazz-like accents with the tip here.

Although the crash and ride are both full-sensor (that is, you can play on any part of them as they naturally rotate), I’ve noticed they seem to pick up sounds much better on the side Roland expects to you play (as oriented by the logo).

The cymbals support choking, which is nice (and something you’re likely to forget to check on other kits). It takes more force than an actual cymbal, since you’re triggering a squeeze sensor, rather than stopping vibrations, but I can do it pretty reliably. In-store display kits may have a bit more trouble here, given the abuse they tend to get.

The hi-hat varies in texture, with the edge being very soft and rubbery, while the inside is thin rubber on top of a plastic base. This provides an option for getting in diddles when necessary, although it’s still not as easy as on a metal cymbal.

The Hi-Hat Pedal

The hi-hat pedal works reasonably well. There is a gradient from open to close (unlike some other kits, where you have only two or three levels), although it can be a bit hard to tell where you’re at without the visual guide of the two cymbals moving.

Unfortunately, the TD-15K provides no way to adjust the clutch of the hi-hat. There is no physical movement to clutch, and while I’d expected a setting buried somewhere in the brain, there is none. There is a fellow online who has modified his pedals to add an additional knob for this; while he has provided circuit diagrams, I think the only people who would undertake that process are those comfortable with eletronics wiring. The other suggestions given online are all along the lines of “just put a book on it while playing double-bass”.

Every now and then my hi-hat gets stuck open, and I have to stomp repeatedly on it to get it to trigger a close. I haven’t determined if this is a failure for which I should return it, a failure inherent in the system, or a result of playing on too squishy of a carpet floor.

One major advantage of the TD-15K’s hi-hat system, as opposed to one that mirrors a physical hi-hat, is that it’s a remote pedal. I didn’t consider this at all when purchasing, but when I started experimenting with non-traditional kit layouts a few months later, I found it extremely helpful. I now play with a centered hi-hat, something that on an acoustic kit would require a remote system to even try out, but with the TD-15K the placement of my hi-hat and hi-hat pedal are completely free from each other.

The Kick Pad

The same thing applies to the kick pad, although it’s not as accentuated. More importantly, having only a small target pad instead of a large bass drum saves a lot of space, allowing you to place other drums in the same space. I’ve found this helpful in lowering my toms to a position that would normally be physically impossible.

There’s not terribly much feel in a kick drum to start with, but the TD-15K feels right. I don’t really have anything more to say about that.

There is enough room for a double-bass pedal. Since the kit doesn’t come with a pedal, I decided I might as well get a double-bass, and I’ve been pretty happy with my GP Percussion DP778TN. I’ve read of some electronic kit drummers getting patches to protect their kickpad, but mine has stood up well to the hard plastic beaters on my pedal.

The Brain

One of the most important parts of an electronic drumset is the brain; it controls how many sensors you can have, how they act, and the entire sound of the kit. They also tend to be expensive, so upgrading the brain later is a major investment.

The TD-15 brain comes with a reasonable set of 50 pre-loaded kits. Many of them are esoteric, designed to show off some feature of the brain, or just to provide special effects. Nonetheless, there are enough choices of sounds to keep you satisfied for a while, and when you’re not you can purchase third-party kit packs for a reasonable price.

Editing kits is fairly easy, at least as easy as you can get without a touchpad or keyboard. However, some things are strangely limiting, like the hi-hat clutch problem mentioned above. It seems Roland has spent more time on their software than most hardware companies, but not as much as I’d like.

There are 1/4” jacks for headphones, L out and R out, and an 1/8” aux in. The headphones have a separate volume control on the side; I’d much rather have that on the large volume wheel on the front, since the non-headphone out generally goes to a soundboard balanced by someone else. There are a few additional ports that you can see from the specs, but I haven’t yet had need of them.

There are a variety of extra features that come baked-in. There’s a metronome, although it’s pretty basic for someone used to a Dr. Beat. There is some sort of instructional software that I haven’t played around with. And there are 50ish loops to practice jamming with, varying from a few bars to about a minute. All of these have a lot of room for improvement, but it’s nice that they’re there.

The Rack

This is my first experience using a rack to mount drums. It’s pretty much as I heard: easier to set up after moving, but harder to get things exactly where you want in the first place.

This rack isn’t particularly flexible. There are a few components that move up or down, or side to side, but the range is limited, and you can’t move mounts from one arm of the rack to another. This is a shame, because it seems optimized for an uncomfortable setup.

Let me digress for a moment onto the topic of drumset arrangement. With all instruments, there is a personal touch, but it’s far more important for a drummer than most musicians; while one piano will feel different than another, the keys are all the same size and in the same locations. This is not the case for drumsets, where two drummers may choose a different set of instruments, tune them very differently, position them in quite different ways, and in general make it annoying for the other to play their set. However, there is a certain setup that all beginners seem to use: a cross-over right-handed set with large spaces between all instruments. My guess is that this is partly due to the lack of precision in a beginner’s drumsticks - to avoid hitting the sticks against each other, they place everything far apart. The TD-15K’s rack is optimized for this setup, and getting it to something more reasonable can take some creativity; I was suffering from back pain for several weeks until I twisted all the components in strange enough ways to make them natural to my legs and arms. However, I was able to do it.

A few months into playing I switched to a centered hi-hat setup, and had to adjust the whole set all over again. Again, with enough coercion, the rack subsided to my demands.

It seems quite sufficiently stable, but is also fairly light and able to be carried with one arm while folded.


I’ve been quite happy with my purchase. A large part of it is being able to play regularly despite living in a shared apartment, but the sound of the kit (kits!) is also significantly better than my entry-level acoustic.

Aside from being able to practice, it has made it significantly easier to be part of a band. I can pack up the entire set, minus rack and throne, in one plastic moving box. We can practice in a fairly small room without needing earplugs. When we get around to performing, the sound guys will be able to balance from a position more accurate to the audience, and any recording can be done without needing to set up a whole bunch of mics.

It’s really nice having a full drumset that’s only a little less portable than a cajon. :)

I think the TD-15K is an excellent choice for most drummers.


The TD-11KV

The cymbals are horrible. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who had ever played an acoustic kit, or will ever play one in the future. It’s like trying to learn how to play piano on a keyboard - the feel is just wrong, and you’re better off with a cheap acoustic.

The TD-15KV

The TD-15KV is the next step up from the TD-15K; it uses the same brain, but has slightly better pads.

You get better pads than the -15K, but I don’t really have any problems with the lesser ones.

The other change is a “real” hi-hat: there are two cymbals stacked on each other, and you mount it to a stand like an acoustic hi-hat. The feel of the TD-15K’s FD-8 is actually pretty good, and if you want to try out a centered hi-hat setup (which you should, because it’s awesome), you’ll need to buy an expensive remote pedal system.

In short, the benefits are minimal, and not worth the price jump.

The TD-30K

If you really want an upgrade, you should bump to the next family in Roland’s line, the TD-30K. The primary benefit is a better brain, which unfortunately I haven’t had too much of a chance to play with. The price jump is significant, however, and I’m happy enough with my TD-15K I don’t see myself getting an upgrade unless my drumming becomes a part of my career. Roland has a series of videos where they’ve taken professional drummers (including Omar Hakim, an idol of mine) into the studio to play a TD-30K, and they all say it feels incredibly natural. Worth looking into if you have cash to burn.

Other Manufacturers

Yamaha, Alesis, and 2box all make e-kits I’ve heard recommended. You’ll have to see what’s available near you.

Acoustic Kit with Triggers

Don’t do this unless what you really want is an acoustic kit that’s occasionally recorded. You’ll lose the portability, compact size, acoustic flexibility, controlled sound, and metronome/etc. features of an electronic kit, while gaining very little.