Music Industry How To is supported by readers. When you buy via a link on our site, we’ll possibly earn an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you.
If you’re looking for a high-quality drum set but you want to find something relatively affordable, you should consider getting an intermediate set.
Intermediate kits can be used in professional settings, and they’ll sound like professional kits when used with top-tier cymbals.
This guide will show you some of the best intermediate kits available on the market. Read through our options and decide which one you like the most.
Yamaha Stage Custom Birch – Best Overall
The Yamaha Stage Custom Birch (compare price on Sweetwater and Amazon) is an incredible bargain of a drum set. It doesn’t cost much more than most entry-level drum sets, but it’s got some of the best tones out of any drum set that costs under $1000.
It has birch drum shells that make it sound incredibly lively when you play. The toms are punchy and loud, and the snare drum has a significant crack when you play rimshots.
This is one of the best kits to get if you want to save as much money as possible but still get high-quality drums.
The YESS mounting system makes the rack toms a dream to position. No matter how you like to angle your rack toms, you’ll be able to do it easily with these.
The only downside of this kit is that the lugs on the snare drum can be faulty at times. However, the rest of the kit is amazing.
Shell Material: Birch
Shell Sizes: 14” snare, 10” & 12” rack toms, 16” floor tom, 22” kick drum
Finish Options: Cranberry Red, Honey Amber, Natural, Pure White, Raven Black
Tama Starclassic Performer – Premium Option
The Tama Starclassic Performer (compare price on Sweetwater and Amazon) is a good option to consider if you want a professional kit that you’ll never need to upgrade. I’ve put it here as the premium option, as this shell pack costs slightly above what the best intermediate kits cost.
It can be classified as an intermediate kit due to it being a more affordable version of Tama’s famous Starclassic drum set.
The shells are a mixture between birch and maple, giving you the mellow tones of maple mixed with the punchy tones of birch.
Every shell is equipped with zinc die-cast hoops, giving the entire kit a luxurious touch and also making the tones a bit punchier.
One of the best aspects of these Starclassic Performer kits is all the finish options. They all look like eye candy.
Unfortunately, this shell pack doesn’t come with a snare drum, so you’ll need to buy one of those separately to have a full setup.
Shell Material: Maple/Birch
Shell Sizes: 10” & 12” rack toms, 16” floor tom, 22” kick drum
Finish Options: Caramel Aurora, Dark Cherry Fade, Molten Steel Blue Burst, Piano Black, Sky Blue Aurora
Pearl Midtown – Best Budget Option
The Pearl Midtown (compare price on Sweetwater and Amazon) is a popular option in the compact drum kit range. This kit has smaller shells than a typical kit, so it’s a good pick to get as a second kit to use for gigging. It’s also a decent option to get a young child who needs a smaller set to learn on.
You’d be surprised at the amount of volume that you can get from these small shells. With a bit of tuning magic, you can get the bass drum to sound almost as beefy as a larger 20-inch one. It will be even easier to get that tone when putting a mic on it.
The toms have quick tones that allow for articulate playing, while the snare drum has good crack to it. However, the snare drum is the weakest part of the kit when it comes to tonal quality. You may want to swap that out for something better when getting the kit.
Shell Material: Poplar
Shell Sizes: 13” snare drum, 10” rack tom, 13” floor tom, 16” kick drum
Finish Options: Black Cherry Glitter, Black Gold Sparkle, Pure White
Tama Superstar Classic
The Tama Superstar Classic (compare price on Sweetwater and Amazon) is another option from Tama that thousands of drummers love. It’s a maple drum set that has warm and powerful tones, along with a very boomy bass drum.
The Tama Superstar kits have been around for decades, and they’re mostly used by rock and metal drummers. However, this modern version of the set can be used for any musical style.
The low mass lugs are an iconic hardware feature, and they’re usually what makes the kit instantly recognizable.
The other interesting hardware feature is the floating tom mounts. They allow the toms to ring out without the sustain being halted in any way.
My favorite thing about this set is the sheer number of finishes available. There are 12 official finishes, and they all look incredible.
Shell Material: Maple
Shell Sizes: 14” snare drum, 10” & 12” rack toms, 16” floor tom, 22” kick drum
Finish Options: 12 finish options with various colors and patterns
Mapex Armory Fusion
The Mapex Armory Fusion (compare price on Sweetwater and Amazon) is one of the most affordable kits available on the market that has mixed drum shells. This makes it a highly sought-after kit by many drummers who are looking for a good intermediate option.
The drum shells all have a mixture of maple plies surrounded by birch inner and outer plies. The maple gives the drums warmth and power, while the birch dries the tones up a bit and boosts the attack.
The shells also have Mapex’s SONIClear bearing edges, which are special bearing edges from Mapex that enhance tuning stability.
This is the only kit on this list that comes with a metal snare, and the Tomahawk steel snare drum has plenty of bite.
You get a fusion setup here, meaning the floor tom and kick drum are slightly smaller than usual. This also makes the kit a great option if you love a 20-inch bass drum.
Shell Material: Birch/Maple
Shell Sizes: 14” snare drum, 10” & 12” toms, 14” floor tom, 20” kick drum
Finish Options: Emerald Burst, Black Dawn, Rainforest Burst, Night Sky Burst, Ultramarine Desert Dune, Redwood Burst
PDP Concept Maple 7-Piece
The PDP Concept Maple 7-piece (compare price on Sweetwater and Amazon) is one of the most popular intermediate sets available. I’ve listed the 7-piece version here, as it’s a fantastic option for drummers who want a large kit setup.
This kit takes a lot of inspiration from higher-end DW kits, and it even uses a few of the same hardware components. This includes the True-Pitch tension rods and the MAG throw-off on the included snare drum.
Like the Tama Superstar, you also get an impressive number of finishes for this set. I’ve found that there is a wider variety of styles and patterns with this kit, though.
Metal and gospel drummers tend to favor this set, but it can be used for any musical style. The maple shells give the drums balanced overall tones, and they have a wide enough tuning range to suit any drummer’s tastes.
Shell Material: Maple
Shell Sizes: 14” snare drum, 8” & 10” & 12” rack toms, 14” & 16” floor toms, 22” kick drum
Finish Options: Satin Olive, Satin Black, Satin Pewter, Satin Seafoam, Twisted Ivory, Natural Lacquer, Pearlescent White, Red to Black Sparkle Fade, Satin Charcoal Burst, Silver to Black Sparkle Fade
Sonor AQ1 Studio
The Sonor AQ1 Studio (compare price on Sweetwater and Amazon) is a good competitor kit to the Yamaha Stage Custom. This kit also has punchy birch shells, but it comes with a full set of heavy-duty Sonor hardware.
The inclusion of hardware makes it quite a bit more expensive, but it’s a solid option for drummers who want a birch kit but also need hardware.
The construction quality is immaculate, and you get the same luxurious feel that you get with higher-end Sonor drum sets.
My favorite part of the kit is the snare drum, as I think it’s one of the best-sounding snare drums out of all the kits I’ve suggested for this list.
The Sonor 2000 Series hardware will make the kit feel incredibly solid, and it’s hardware that you can use for higher-end drums when you eventually upgrade.
Shell Material: Birch
Shell Sizes: 14” snare drum, 10” & 12” toms, 14” floor tom, 20” kick drum
Finish Options: Caribbean Blue, Piano Black, Piano White
The Ludwig NeuSonic (compare price on Sweetwater and Amazon) is another high-end kit with an intermediate price point. This set is only a 3-piece, meaning it comes with one rack tom and no snare drum, but it’s the perfect option for a drummer looking for top-tier tom tones.
It’s also an excellent option for rock drummers, considering that the large toms produce huge sounds.
The shells have a unique mixture of cherry and maple plies. The mixture gives the toms crisp tones with excellent projection.
If you love Ludwig drum sets but don’t want to pay the high price for the popular ones, the NeuSonic is an excellent pick.
Shell Material: Cherry, Maple
Shell Sizes: 13” rack tom, 16” floor tom, 22” bass drum
Finish Options: Skyline Blue, Satin Velvet, Black Velvet
Sonor AQ2 Bop
When it comes to compact drum sets, the AQ2 Bop is one of the best options available. It has musical maple shells, and it has the top-tier hardware that you can expect from Sonor.
A unique feature to mention is the die-cast lugs on all the shells. These enhance the tuning stability of the kit, allowing you to get amazing tonal quality. The SmartMount for the rack tom is also an amazing hardware feature.
Overall, this kit is a top-tier option for any drummer who needs a second kit for gigging. It’s also a popular main kit for jazz drummers who play in small combos.
Shell Material: Maple
Shell Sizes: 14” snare, 10” rack tom, 14” floor tom, 18” kick drum
Finish Options: Aqua Silver Burst, Titanium Quartz, White Marine Pearl
What To Look For In an Intermediate Drum Set
The type of wood used for the drum shells of a kit will mostly determine what they sound like. When it comes to intermediate drum sets, the most used wood types are poplar, maple, mahogany, and birch.
Poplar is mostly used with beginner kits as well, but intermediate kits with poplar shells will have better hardware.
Maple is the most common wood used for intermediate sets. It gives the drums balanced and warm tones. Birch gives the drums sharper attacking tones, making them sound more vibrant. Mahogany drums have boosted low-end tones.
You’ll also find intermediate kits that have mixtures of shells. These kits combine those qualities, depending on what woods are used for the different plies.
Hardware is another important aspect to consider when looking for an intermediate drum set. There are two sides to this. The first is the hardware that comes with the kit. Some kits come with cymbal stands and other stands to hold the drums together.
Other kits come as shell packs, which means that you don’t get any hardware stands with the purchase. You’ll need to buy those separately if you don’t have them already.
The other aspect of hardware is the hardware that comes on the drums. This refers to the types of lugs, tension rods, and counter hoops that are used.
When buying an intermediate kit, make sure to check out all the hardware details. Some hardware is superior to others, and some companies use special hardware construction techniques to make the drums feel and sound better.
Finish options aren’t as important as the other factors here, but they’ll still be important to many people. You want your drum kit to look awesome, right? You should always look at your color options to make sure it does.
Not every finish option will appeal to you, and it may even stop you from buying a certain kit. You shouldn’t feel bad if that’s the case. All of these intermediate kits are so similar in quality that you can easily find another one with a better finish option that you’ll end up loving just as much.
The great thing about intermediate kits is that they generally have much better finish options than beginner kits. You’ll find a combination of solid colors and mixed ones. Some of them even have vibrant patterns.
Tom Mounting Hardware
Tom mounting hardware will come with two main designs. You’ll get kits that have the toms mounted to the bass drum, and then you’ll get kits that have the toms mounted to clamps that attach to cymbal stands.
When the toms attach to cymbal stands, the bass drum is referred to as a virgin bass drum, and many drummers consider those as superior. However, the benefit of having more tone gets lost when you add muffling to the bass drum, which is what most drummers do anyway.
So, the actual benefits of both designs are the comfortability factors. Some drummers prefer having toms mounted to their bass drum, while others prefer having them mounted to the cymbal stands.
All the intermediate drum sets that you look at may have slightly different sizes for all the drums. You need to decide what shell sizes you like and then pick a kit accordingly.
Standard kits have 14-inch snare drums, 10-inch and 12-inch rack toms, 16-inch floor toms, and 22-inch bass drums. If you’re happy with those sizes, you’ll easily find a good intermediate kit.
Some kits have a 20-inch bass drum, and they’re often referred to as fusion drum sets. Other kits will have bass drums that are even smaller, and these are referred to as compact drum kits.
Just make sure to always check the drum shell sizes before buying a kit so that you know what you’re getting.
Pricing is the final thing to factor in when searching for an intermediate kit. The benefit of intermediate kits is that they provide amazing quality at attainable prices. However, you still get some that are a lot pricier than others.
When buying an intermediate kit, just know that you’re going to be spending between $500 and $2000. Most of them cost between $800 and $1500, but there are a few outliers.
Keep note that most of them also come as shell packs, so you’ll be spending more money on cymbals and hardware if you don’t already have those.
Best Intermediate Drum Set Brands
While there aren’t any drum set brands that solely specialize in creating intermediate drum sets, these are the brands that tend to have the best and most popular options.
Pearl is one of the biggest drum brands in the world. The brand offers several options in the intermediate range, so you’re spoiled for choice if you want to go with one of their kits.
The best thing about Pearl intermediate kits is their hardware. All the mounts and stands are incredibly solid, and that often makes Pearl’s drum sets feel more expensive than they actually are.
Tama is another popular drum brand. Like Pearl, Tama drum kits always have amazing hardware, so they’re good options to go within the intermediate range.
Tama drums always sound very musical, and they tend to be quite easy to tune. Tama’s best-selling kit is their professional Starclassic set, and many of the brand’s intermediate kits take inspiration from that set.
PDP is a relative company to DW Drums. All the kits use similar construction techniques to the professional DW kits, so you get amazing quality in affordable packages.
The PDP Concept Maple kits are very regularly used in professional music venues, showing you just how good they are.
Mapex isn’t as popular as the other brands I’ve mentioned, but they’re steadily growing and improving their reach.
The reason I’ve listed the brand here is that they arguably have the most impressive range of intermediate drum sets out of any drum brand.
They’re one of the few brands that offer relatively affordable kits that have mixed drum shells. This means you get highly unique tones from most Mapex drum sets.
Top Intermediate Drum Sets, Final Thoughts
If you have a set budget for a full drum set, you should spend more on cymbals than on the drums. That’s why getting an intermediate drum set is such a good idea. You’ll get amazing tones, but you won’t spend thousands of dollars on them.
You just need to decide whether you want a kit with cymbal-mounted toms or not, and then you can look through all your options.