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Congas are iconic tall drums that originated in Cuba, and add the low-end sound to a percussion setup. They produce deep tones and textures, and they add excellent rhythmic depth to music.
They typically come in pairs, with one being 10” and the other being 11”, but the sizes vary. You can also buy congas individually.
If you want to create a percussion rig, getting a set of congas will be an excellent addition to it. They’re easy to learn and a lot of fun to play.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at the best congas for Afro-Cuban rhythms. I’ve compared design, build quality, sound, and cost to give you my top recommendations.
- In a Rush’ Round-Up
- How I Tested and Selected the Best Congas
- Conga Drum Reviews
- Conga Buying Guide
- Things to Consider When Buying Congas
- What Features to Look for in Congas
- Congas FAQs
In a Rush’ Round-Up
How I Tested and Selected the Best Congas
I’ve been playing party gigs for several years. I regularly use a percussion setup that includes bongos or congas, along with an electronic sampling pad.
I’ve played plenty of corporate and wedding events where a sound company has provided congas for our set, so I’ve been able to play dozens of different conga options with my band.
I used that experience to review and compile a list of good conga drums. When I tested them, I checked for sound and build quality, the overall design, and the value compared to all the competition.
I also looked at what materials were used, as that always affects the performance of a conga set.
Conga Drum Reviews
The Meinl Headliner Series Congas are my top recommended product as the best conga drums for the money, as they produce a range of expressive, warm, and authentic sounds.
These congas are designed to offer professional-level sounds for their price range. I truly think they offer fantastic value for money without compromising on quality.
Meinl has equipped these 10” and 11” inch congas with professional-level features including a solid rubber-wood shell construction and hand-selected buffalo heads.
Meinl’s tuning brackets, rounded rims, and tuning lugs are all excellent quality.
Not only is the build quality fantastic, but these congas are also visually stunning – with a selection of high gloss finishes to choose from and black powder coated hardware to help you make a great impression on stage!
These Meinl Headliner congas produce a fantastic range of sounds. They have a wonderful tone and they brilliantly suit a range of musical applications such as live performances, drum circles, and recording sessions.
I loved the included basket stands. They were high quality and easy to assemble, and more importantly, they held the congas securely in place.
Overall the Meinl Percussion Headliner Series Congas are a clear winner as the best congas on the market as they possess superb acoustic properties and the build quality is outstanding.
Meinl has truly succeeded with the design of these congas, as they offer professional sounds and looks at a fraction of the price.
- Professional quality features
- Fantastic build quality
- Warm and musical sounds
- Most expensive congas within this list
The LP City Siam Oak Congas are another brilliant set of sustainably sourced congas that produce warm and open-sounding tones.
I felt the construction quality of these congas was excellent, and the siam oak hardwood shells projected vibrant and musical sounds.
Included in the set is a pair of congas that are sized 10” and 11” inches respectively, plus a height-adjustable double conga stand that is robust and durable.
These Latin Percussion City congas (much like the Meinl Headliner congas) are equipped with high-quality features throughout; including authentic rawhide heads, hardwood shells and substantial black powder coated hardware.
The siam oak shells are of standout quality and have excellent acoustic properties.
I loved the performance quality I got out of these congas, and I think they are some of the best congas on the market for the money. They produce a range of musical and colorful sounds that are perfect for musical performances and group drumming circles.
LP is one of the world leaders in producing high-quality percussion instruments. These are some of the best congas that offer fantastic value for money – with a sound and quality that exceeds their entry-level price point.
- Excellent value for money
- Superb tone projection
- Premium sian oak hardwood shells
- Experienced some small tuning issues
The LP Aspire Siam Oak Congas are the best congas for working musicians looking to play the congas either in the studio or for professional-level performances.
These conga drums are perfectly suited for all manners of musical performances and they deliver consistently great sounds.
I found the rawhide heads combined with the siam oak shells to be a perfect marriage. I also found these congas have excellent tuning lugs that are very easy to get in tune.
Not only do these congas look fantastic, but they deliver professional-quality sounds that only need a touch of reverb and EQ for live gigs.
From a warm and boomy low end to a lively high-end pop, these congas produce a full spectrum of sound when I play them for an extended period.
This makes these some of the best conga drums to buy at a good price.
The vintage sunburst finish adorned on these congas is visually impressive and will look amazing both on stage and also at home. The EZ curved rims feel great to play on and do not hurt your hands after long sessions.
The construction quality overall is very good, but not much better than the LP City Series congas, which begs the question of whether they are worth the upgrade.
Whilst these are some of the best congas on the market, and LP makes fantastic percussion products, the Latin Percussion City Series congas offer better value for money.
- EZ curved rims feel great to play on
- Wide range of professional sounds
- Perfect for both the stage and studio
- Similar construction quality to LP City Congas
- Rawhide heads take a while to seat in
The Cosmic Percussion Congas makes an excellent value set of quality conga drums that are some of the best congas for beginners and those on a budget.
These 9” and 10” inch congas feature natural rawhide drumheads and a strong siam oak shell construction that proves to be a killer combination; delivering rich and authentic sounds.
I thought that the build quality of the Cosmic Percussion congas was fantastic despite their affordable price point.
These congas are well built, look beautiful, and produce warm and musical tones. They were very easy to tune and felt great to play.
Not only do these congas sound great, but they look stunning on stage too. These congas work great for performances and recordings, and they are lightweight too which makes them easy to transport.
In addition to the durable double-braced stand included with the set, you also receive a pair of siam oak bongos, completely free.
This was the selling point for me, as it’s one of the cheapest full bongo and conga sets that I know.
These sport the same attractive red fade finish with black powder-coated hardware as well as natural rawhide heads.
All in all, these are undoubtedly some of the best congas for the money!
- Free set of matching wood bongos!
- Rich and authentic sounds
- Lightweight construction for easy transport
- Build quality isn't to the same standard as premium bongos
Conga Buying Guide
Congas add the low-end to a percussion setup. They allow you to play Afro-Cuban rhythms that add rhythmic depth to many styles of music.
When buying conga drums, you should also look to buy high-quality bags to keep them safe when you transport them or store them away.
Here are a few more things that you need to consider.
Things to Consider When Buying Congas
Congas come individually and in pairs
Most conga drums come in pairs, but you have the option of buying them individually. If you get a conga on its own, you may also need to purchase a stand for it.
Congas range from 9” to 14”. The best and most versatile size pairings to get are 10” and 11”, or 11” and 12”. Congas that are smaller or larger than those are good to get as extra drums for your setup.
Conga drums will either have a natural wood finish or they’ll have a colorful design. Choose which one of those you’d prefer to get, and it will narrow down your buying decision.
Consider your budget
The more you spend on congas, the better they will sound and the higher their build quality will be.
What Features to Look for in Congas
Most congas have warm tones. Higher-quality congas will have more depth and higher ranges of tones and will be more expressive with different playing techniques.
Inexpensive congas are limited by the tones they produce. They’re not as rich or expressive. However, inexpensive congas are great for players just needing the rhythmic aspect or players looking to learn.
If you’re a bit more experienced or using congas for live performances, you should spend a bit more to get ones with excellent tonal quality.
Build quality can be difficult to distinguish as most congas share the same design. Higher-priced congas have much better build quality, and you can feel it when you play them.
Congas that are heavier are generally superior in almost all aspects. They stay in tune for longer, they’re more durable, and they look a lot better.
Inexpensive congas are lightweight, which makes them great for transporting, but they don’t share the same premium build features as better-quality congas.
The build quality also affects the tone, where heavier congas sound richer than light ones.
While congas with premium build quality cost more, you’ll get more out of them in the long run, making them a better investment.
Congas need to rest on stands to resonate fully. If they rest on the ground, a lot of the resonance will be blocked. So, congas typically come with a stand when you buy them in a pair.
The two options for conga stands are single and double stands. Single stands support one conga, while a double stand holds two simultaneously.
Single stands, also known as baskets, are easier to manage, allowing you to add more congas to your setup after you already have a pair.
Double stands are more common, and they have both congas attached at opposite sides on top of a tripod base. Quality double stands have double-braced legs, while cheaper ones have single-braced legs that aren’t as sturdy.
When getting congas, make sure that the stands they come with are height adjustable. If they’re not, you won’t be able to set the congas up comfortably for yourself.
The original Cuban Congas were made from olive barrels or steam-bent pieces of wood that were then glued together.
Congas are built with a stave design, which means manufacturers use smaller pieces of wood or fiberglass to create a round shell.
Nowadays, most affordable congas are made from Siam Oak. Others are made from hardwood, fiberglass, and Ash wood.
The most premium congas are made from fiberglass. They have much higher build quality and durability.
Ash is another wood that is used for premium congas shells, and the tones that come from those are very musical and rich.
Hardwood can be found in both premium and affordable congas.
Congas will either have synthetic skins or animal hide skins.
Animal hide drumheads have warmer tones that sound excellent. However, they get affected by particular weather conditions, making them high-maintenance options.
Rawhide heads expand and contract, causing their tone to change. You need to keep them moisturized by rubbing them with a damp cloth regularly.
Synthetic skins don’t sound as good, but they’re much more reliable. You’ll find synthetic heads on most affordable congas, whereas all the expensive pro congas have rawhide heads.
You can change the heads on congas quite easily, so you won’t be stuck with the heads on the congas you buy forever if you’re looking to upgrade.
What’s the Difference Between Congas and Bongos?
Congas are much larger than bongos when it comes to depth and diameter. Both originated in Cuba, so they’re often played together in a percussion setup.
Bongos are always designed to be in pairs, and they’re connected by a metal bridge, whereas congas can be played and purchased individually.
Bongos can be played in your lap or on a stand, whereas congas must be set up on stands to get the best tones. Lastly, congas have much lower pitches than bongos.
How Many Congas Do You Need?
If you’re playing percussion alone, it’s ideal to have two congas in a setup. One with a low pitch and the other with a slightly higher pitch.
If there are many percussionists in a group, each player could use a single conga. That’s how the Cuban percussion groups used to do it when the congas first became popular.
A large percussion rig could have several congas with different sizes and tones.
How Do You Tune Congas?
All congas should come with a tuning wrench when you buy them. This wrench is used to tighten and loosen the lugs that are holding the drumhead on the surface of the congas.
The tighter you make the lugs, the higher the conga’s pitch will be. Each lug needs to be tightened evenly so that the conga resonates as much as possible. You can test this by tapping the skin near the lugs and ensuring that you hear the same tone all around.