When you think about Cuban, Afro-Cuban, or just about any type of Latin-influenced music these days, you surely have got to think about congas. These Cuban drums have spread out to the whole Caribbean region and beyond thanks to their great tones and excellent range.
Plus, they’re great fun to play, too!
But with so many different congas out there varying in size, sound, and quality, how do you know which ones to choose?
We’ll help you find the top congas with the best sound currently available in our rundown of the Best Congas. So let’s go through them and find the perfect congas for you…
Top 8 Best Congas of 2023
1 Meinl Headliner Series Congas – Most Durable Conga
Sizes: 11” & 12” diameters
Finishes: High-gloss Maple, Natural, Wine Red Burst, Vintage Sunburst, or Pearl White
German drum maker Meinl offers up the first congas in our list with its Headliner Series drums.
These 11” and 12” diameter drums are made of durable rubberwood staves. Also known as “Siam oak,” rubberwood is a medium-strength and medium-density wood. It comes from old trees on rubber plantations that no longer produce latex.
Staves are the long, thick blocks that are glued together to form a tubular drum body. Then they are lathed to the perfect shape.
These two drums stand 28” tall for excellent tone, the 12” drum getting exceptionally bassy overtones. Standard buffalo-skin heads give a great traditional feel and the right amount of tension for perfect popping rimshots. The black powder-coated hardware and chrome tuning lugs are tough while making the drums look sharp.
What else do they offer?
While these Headliners may be a bit pricier than some other great drums, they’re still very affordable. That’s especially true because they come with steel and rubber basket stands. The stands hold the drums quite securely from the bottom and are adjustable with about an 8” range to get your playing height just right.
How do they sound?
We felt that these drums had pretty much everything you’d want to hear in good congas. The bass notes are deep and rich. You get a great open tone from these drums playing near the rims, and they can really pop when slapping out rimshots.
Our only complaint is that the rims are a bit high, which can limit your movement when playing.
- Solid construction.
- Great range of tones and nice bass.
- Rims a bit high for our liking.
2 Latin Percussion City Wood Congas – Best Value for Your Money Congas
Sizes: 10″ & 11″ diameters
Finishes: Natural Wood, Dark Wood, Vintage Sunburst lacquers or Carved Mango Wood
Being as how LP, or Latin Percussion, is a company focused on instruments for Latin music, it’s no wonder that we have four of their congas on our list.
The first is the City Wood set with 10” and 11” diameters. These slightly smaller sizes represent requinto and quinto drums, respectively. They have higher voices than the Meinl Headliners we just saw.
A lot of similarities…
This set of congas is also made of rubberwood staves and also stands 28” tall. They, too, have black powder-coated hardware with chrome tuning lugs. As well as rubber bottom rings for added protection.
Likewise, they have natural buffalo hide heads similar to the Headliners.
There are some differences too…
The City Wood congas have a rounder shape, fattening out more than the Headliners, and then tapering in more towards the bottoms as well. This shape gives less of the booming sound of a tube and more of a complex, brighter sound instead.
They also have side mounting brackets and come with a height-adjustable double conga stand. In comparison to the basket stands we just saw, this “suspension stand” uses two bolts for each drum to mount them on. It’s a bit of a tight squeeze, and the distance between the drums is set, unlike the individual basket stands.
Unfortunately, the top rims are even a bit higher than on the Meinl Headliners. We felt this reduced the playability of these drums, which otherwise sounded great.
- Bright, punchy high-end sounds and decent lows.
- Comes with a durable double-stand.
- Even higher rims reduce playability.
- The stand is harder to adjust than basket stands, and the position is fixed.
3 Pearl Travel Conga – Best Outdoor Conga
Size: 11 3/4″ diameter, only 3 1/2″ tall
Finishes: Caramel Brown
Here we are, comparing traditional conga sets, and Pearl comes out of nowhere with this completely different contraption.
What exactly is it?
Simply put, this is a really short conga drum. Although the diameter is a quite standard 11 ¾”, the drum is only 3 ½” deep! That’s shallow enough to sit right on your lap and let you bang away.
But of course, you can always put it up on a stand. Unfortunately, a stand is not included.
The drum is made out of short little rubberwood staves, and the bottom is closed with a panel rather than being left open as normal congas are. Steel rims sandwich the shell and are held together by tuning lugs which, unlike our other congas, tune from the top using a hex-wrench.
Pearl has topped off this travel-friendly drum with a Remo FiberSkyn 3 synthetic head. We found this had a brighter and more responsive tone than traditional buffalo hide heads.
Of course, it will keep in tune better as well since the synthetic head won’t be affected by temperature and humidity changes like hide heads are.
What about the sound?
As for sound and playability, there’s a bit to be desired here. The tuning lugs really jut out from the rims, and if you’re playing this drum on your lap, they can get in the way and be uncomfortable on your thighs.
The high and slap tones here are really tight and bright and sound great. But as you might expect, the bass is basically nowhere to be found.
- Very portable.
- Great high-end sounds.
- Very little bass tone.
- Rims can be uncomfortable when playing on your lap.
- As expensive as a full-sized set of 2 regular congas.
4 Latin Percussion Mini Puerto Rican Tunable Conga – Best Mini Conga
Size: 4 ½” diameter, 11” tall
Finishes: Hand Painted Puerto Rican Flag design
Since we’ve just seen something weird and wonderful from Pearl, let’s stay with strange and give LP’s mini conga a look.
At first glance, this thing looks great…
The rubberwood (aka Siam oak) stave shell is hand-painted in a Puerto Rican flag design. And the red, white, and blue colors really pop.
The all-chrome hardware sets the paint job off perfectly, turning this into a very beautiful little instrument.
A truly tiny instrument…
At 4 ½” in diameter and 11” tall, this shrunk-down model is less than half the size of a normal conga drum. However, for its size, this drum has a relatively loud voice and a strong personality. But of course, it’s much, much higher in pitch than a normal conga.
What makes this drum unique?
Because it’s built exactly like a conga, this little drum still offers a range of notes. Either when struck open, near the rim, or slapped. It doesn’t exactly have what you’d call bass, but the tone range is wide enough. And of course, the high end really pops.
The long and short of it is that this is a very unique-sounding drum. It’s not really big enough to call it a conga, but it sounds and plays very differently to a bongo as well. This would be a nice little jamming instrument or a great accompaniment to acoustic Latin music in an intimate setting.
- Inexpensive, beautiful, and well-built.
- Tones are bright and snappy.
- Too small to be called a conga, really.
- Harder to play than a conga as there’s far less room for your two hands to access different parts of the skin in quick succession.
5 Tycoon Percussion 10 Inch & 11 Inch Congas – Best Budget Conga
Sizes: 10” and 11” diameters
Finishes: Red High-Gloss
Next in our Best Congas review and coming in slightly cheaper than the Latin Percussion City Wood congas, this set by Typhoon is also tremendously similar. And because the diameters of the requinto (10″) and the quinto (11″) are the same, and they’re all 28” tall, we can compare these two sets directly.
Both are made of the same materials.
We have rubberwood staves, black powder-coated hardware, and chrome tuning lugs. Both sets are topped by water buffalo hide skins. Both sets come with a height-adjustable double conga stand.
Are there any differences at all?
First, the Typhoon stand is not as high in quality as the LP stand. It’s made of smaller diameter steel piping, and the wingnuts aren’t nearly as easy to grasp and adjust. The body support for the congas is also much better-reinforced on the LP stand.
But we’re really more interested in sound and playability here, aren’t we?
How do they sound?
The rims on the Typhoon congas are lower, and for us, this makes them more comfortable to play. They get points for that.
On the other hand, we really found the sound of these congas inferior. We can attribute that to the shape of the drums themselves. The Typhoon congas fatten out a lot close to the top of the drums, while the LPs are fattest towards the middle, but still not as fat altogether.
This creates a muddier sound that keeps the higher-end sounds less bright and less explosive. The bass still sounds good here, but all together, the LP congas sound better.
- Price. This is the most affordable conga set we looked at.
- Durable construction and good hand feel when playing.
- High-end sounds aren’t as clear as they should be.
6 Latin Percussion LP Giovanni Compact Conga – Best Travel Conga
Size: 11 3/4″, 2 ½” tall
Finish: Aluminum Alloy (it’s all rim!)
If the Typhoon congas had to go head to head with LP’s City Wood set, then here’s a direct challenger for Pearl’s Travel Conga.
The LP Giovanni Compact Conga is a signature instrument by Grammy award-winning artist Giovanni Hidalgo. But does this thin little shell-less conga really sound like a real conga drum?
As you might expect, the answer is yes and no.
The entire drum is essentially an aluminum rim that holds a synthetic Remo Tri-Center head. It has four molded feet on the bottom and tuning lugs that can be adjusted with a hex key also on the underside.
With this durable synthetic skin, we found you can get some really cracking pops and slaps. It’s really responsive to the touch.
But the deeper tones really aren’t there. Earlier, we said the same about the Pearl Travel Conga, but in comparison, even that had more bass than this compact conga, which really has none. This is likely because Pearl used a plate to close the bottom of the drum and let whatever low end that was around resonate. However, LP has left this drum open on the bottom.
While it doesn’t have the range of sounds a normal conga has, this little drum does have a surprisingly loud voice. It plays well, much more comfortably than the Pearl drum. It’s a lot lighter than the Pearl, so it’s easier to carry around for practice or spontaneous jams. It’s also a lot cheaper.
For these reasons, we definitely prefer this travel conga to Pearl’s.
- Affordable price for a practice instrument.
- Decent sound, comfortable to play, and very responsive skin.
- No low end. Really. None at all.
7 Pearl Primero Field Percussion Fiberglass Conga Set – Most Versatile Conga
Sizes: 10″ & 11″ diameters
Finishes: Bistre Black
With this full-sized set of congas, Pearl gets to throw its hat back into the ring as a contender for the best conga drums.
Once again, we’re looking at a 10″ requinto and an 11″ quinto that stand a full 28” tall. These drums also sport the black powder-coated steel and chrome hardware that seems to be an industry standard. But aside from that, there’s very little that these drums have in common with their wooden cousins.
Fiberglass shell construction…
Now, before all the purists roll their eyes and gnash their teeth, hear us out. Although the sound of these drums differs considerably from wooden congas, we still think there is a time and place for them.
The fiberglass shells are topped with Remo Fiber Skin heads, and this makes the drums highly weather resistant. They can tackle humidity, temperature changes, even a bit of rain without any major issues.
But do they sound alright?
Certainly, the fiberglass shells have a huge effect on the sound of these drums in comparison to wooden shells. They’re very loud with lots of attack, and none of the softening effects of wood. So they’re very bright and punchy and not at all warm. However, they do pop really well and still provide a really solid low end.
This set would be great for field percussion, school bands, or anyone else who wants good reliable sound and a focus on durability.
We’d love it if they came with a stand, though.
- Loud and strong sound that carries in an outdoor setting.
- Durable and weather resistant.
- No stand provided but can fit with suspension or basket systems.
- Lacking the warm sound of wood.
8 Latin Percussion Giovanni Palladium Tumba – Best Premium Conga
Size: 12 1/2″, 32″ tall
Finishes: Natural Satin
We couldn’t complete our list of the Best Congas out there without including a top-of-the-line luxury item for comparison, now could we?
This big drum (also available in 11” quinto and 11 ¾” conga sizes) is an absolute work of art. As another Giovanni Hidalgo signature instrument, this conga drum really looks and feels the part.
All-chrome hardware, including belly bands, complements the natural stain American ash stave body perfectly to make this one beautiful drum.
Does it sound as good as it looks?
Not surprisingly, yes! With a master player’s sign-off, this had to be a great-sounding instrument, and it is. Now, this is a big drum, with a tremendously deep, lush low end.
The rawhide head and ash body contribute to an overall very warm sound, which we love and which would sound excellent in an intimate setting or on recordings. It booms and reverberates deliciously.
At the same time, we’re curious about what a synthetic head might do for the response and higher end of this drum’s sound. The high end is good, solid, but not overly impressive, but this is a big tumba, and the low is what’s supposed to stand out.
As for playability, yes, this is it. The beautifully curved rims are placed lower on the drum to make it soft on the hands and versatile for striking positions.
This is a great drum to play, but for the price. It is nearly double what some of the other full sets with stands cost, and it really had better be!
- Beautiful deep, warm sound.
- Smooth and comfortable playability.
- Price. This single drum costs nearly double what most of the sets with stands we reviewed.
- No more, just the price!
Best Congas Buying Guide
With so many different conga drums on the market, you might need some help breaking down some of their features. Here’s our buyer’s guide to help you choose the best possible congas for your needs and your bankbook.
What are you in the market for? Schools or public groups should look to durability as a major factor in choosing a conga set. Musicians who travel a lot or who want to be very mobile and practice and play anywhere could look to a travel/compact style of drum.
If you’re just starting, focus on a great-sounding, affordable beginner set. There are some excellent conga sets out there for $400 or less, so great sounds really shouldn’t have to break the bank.
However, a real seasoned, professional conguero can look to lush, high-end instruments that should last a lifetime.
Tones and sizes…
Conga drums come in different sizes. Here we’re generally talking about diameters, as a standard depth is 28-30”, though deeper drums can sometimes be taller. A set of congas usually includes two drums or sometimes three drums. But there are up to five sizes on the market, so this can be a bit confusing.
The highest drum can be called a requinto and is usually 10” in diameter. It should be loud and very bright. Next is a quinto, normally 11”, and this drum should also be high and bright, but also gave some decent low end with open palms or fist strikes.
A tres golpes (also just called a conga) is often 11 ¾-12” in diameter and should have great mid-high rim tones and a deep center. A big tumba; generally, 12 ½” or bigger, should really boom, with a loud, deep warm voice. Some drums get even bigger, taller, and bassier and can be called super-tumbas.
So which do you need?
This choice is as personal as your music and playing style. If you’re going to stick to two drums, a requinto/quinto or a quinto/conga combination is probably the best bet.
This will give you that high, popping sound with enough lower contrast to produce a classic conga sound. For three drums, add a tumba to really round out the range of sounds you can produce.
Feel is so critical for any hand instrument, and congas drums are no exception. For us, it’s really all about the shape and height of the rims. Some rims are simple bands, but most you’ll find these days are higher in profile but curved.
These allow you to rest between strikes and are soft on the hands when playing the necessary slaps and rimshots that make the classic conga sound. The lower the rims, the more they’re out of the way to save your hands from unnecessary bashing.
Congas can be played sitting down, but these days they’re usually set up on stands. Make sure your stand is adjustable to the height you need and can take the beating it’s going to get!
Looking for Something Else?
We have lots of drum kits, drum accessories, and percussion instruments reviews on the site. So, take a look at our in-depth reviews of the Best Jazz Drum Sets, the Best Portable Drum Kit, the Best Snare Drums, the Best Tambourine, and the Best Kalimba currently on the market.
So, what are the Best Congas?
This part is never easy, but here goes…
Travel/compact congas are a bit of a niche item, as are mini congas and high-end luxury drums.
We had to give our #1 ranking to a conga set that sounds great, is comfortable to play, is well-built and durable, and comes at a very reasonable price. For these reasons, we chose the…
Latin Percussion knows what Latin music drums should sound like, and we think this set represents the best example out there at the best price.
Whew, that wasn’t so hard after all!
Until next time, may your beats be rhythmic and your music be merry.