June 2005

Pearl Reference Series Drums

Six years ago Pearl launched its Masterworks Series, which rethought drum acoustics. The Masterworks concept allowed drummers to custom-choose the wood and thickness for each drum's shell. Putting further research into the sonic properties of drum shells has led Pearl to its new Reference Series, which expands on the Masterworks concept to incorporate two different bearing edges and three different wood types that can be combined within a single shell to create sounds specific for each drum's range. For example-comparing two intermediate tom sizes-the 14-inch x 11-inch tom is built with two inner plies of mahogany and four outer plies of maple; the 16-inch x 13-inch tom has four inner plies of mahogany and two outer plies of maple, both with rounded 45-degree bearing edges. Building sets from drums of like woods and with uniform shell plies and bearing edges has officially been deemed an obsolete compromise.

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Pearl Reference Series Drums
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Pearl Reference Series Metal Snare Drums
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Pearl Reference Series Drums

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But the truth is in the pounding. I used the review set with both a septet and two quintets over the course of five gigs in environments ranging from a jazz club to auditoriums to concert halls. Once I found "my" bass drum sound (tuning the toms was easy), they were inspiring to hear and big fun to play. Each individual drum sang authoritatively with its own voice, yet together they blended as a harmonious choir.

The snare drum is heavy-about 14 pounds-because six inner plies of birch and 14 outer plies of maple forming an inch-thick, 45-degree bearing edge shell. Pearl also manufactures 14-inch x 5-inch and 13-inch x 6 1/2-inch Reference Series snare drums, employing the same incredibly thick shells, which lose no energy through vibration and focus the sound waves, with the birch providing the cracking attack and the maple shading the midrange warmth.

The six-ply, all-maple 12-inch x 9-inch tom is the only single-wood drum in the series, and it has a rounded, 45-degree bearing edge that accentuates mids and highs. Smaller toms are constructed of two inner plies of birch and four outer plies of maple for enhanced cutting power. The 14-inch x 14-inch and 16-inch x 16-inch floor toms add two inside plies of African mahogany to the four outer plies of maple, and utilize a fully rounded bearing edge for maximum shell contact and a boost in mids and lows. The fully rounded bearing edge is applied for the same sort of tonal effect on the 18-inch and 20-inch x 14-inch bass drums, with four inner plies of African mahogany and two outer plies of maple. As bass drum size increases, so does the ratio of mahogany used. For example, the 22-inch and 24-inch models offer six inner mahogany plies surrounded by two maple plies, to accentuate bass response. (The 18-inch x 16-inch tom has the same specs.)

As much as there is to appreciate in the amount of research Pearl devoted to developing these drum shells and the resultant sound they've achieved, the hardware introduced with the Reference Series is exciting too.

The 14-inch x 6 1/2-inch snare has spring-loaded locks on both the strainer and butt-plate adjustment knob to prevent accidental slippage, a welcome innovation. The floor-tom legs sport air-suspension floor-isolating rubber tips, another state-of-the-art feature. That's just the beginning.

The swivel lugs, designed for balanced tuning and improved drum-head seating, provide an extra benefit on the bass drum: You can loosen the T-rods enough to pivot them out of the way to clear the hoop when changing heads without removing them completely from the lugs. The bass drum also features oversized convertible spurs and a rubber-covered metal plate at the pedal point to protect the gorgeous "Copperfire" finish of the review kit. Of all sparkle finishes, I always preferred the classiest-"champagne" or "Bermuda sand"-and this is a slightly pinker variation. Three other sparkle finishes are available, as are three high-gloss "fades."

The H-2000 hi-hat, aka the PowerShifter Eliminator, is improved from an earlier version reviewed in the November 2001 issue of JazzTimes. There is now a new adjustment cup for the bottom cymbal, and that's combined with a new clutch that uses a drum-key nut for sure locking. It remains a pain, however, to use two drum-key adjustments to connect or disconnect the hi-hat's pedal frame from the support casting. In common with the S-2000 snare stand, the H-2000's legs feature spring-loaded spiked tips, which project or retract from the oversized rubber feet at the push of a button. That's a hi-hat necessity, but why a snare stand needs spurs, I can't surmise. But the snare stand also has a great new Gyro-Lock tilter for infinite angle adjustment, and double-braced basket arms that adjust to hold drums from 10 inches to 16 inches in diameter.

Along with newly designed ergonomic wingnuts, there are also die-cast joints where the stands meet their telescoping sections or upper tubes, with matching memory locks and black plastic sleeves, adding a graceful, sculpted look to the entire hardware line. But beauty has a price: The snare drum stand weighs 10 pounds, and the BC-2000 cymbal stand, with both main and Yamaha-like secondary booms, a removable counterweight and a tom holder attachment, comes in at 20 pounds. The cymbal stands' design makes them worth the extra weight, however. They're equipped with the elegant WingLoc quick-release nut, and a reversible seat cup with settings to either allow your cymbals to float freely, or to sit in a locked position that prevents rattling. The Gyro-Lock tilter provides even more cymbal-positioning versatility. These stands not only have vibration-reducing rubber plugs in the ends of their shafts, but the aforementioned plastic sleeves anywhere metal could contact metal, like above or below the memory locks.

Most would accuse me of being obsessive in my appreciation for little details. But I love that Pearl outfits the Reference Series drums with more molded rubber gaskets than I care to count. These gaskets are placed around each sound vent eyelet, behind every shell-contact snare strainer, lug, floor-tom leg and bass drum spur bracket, under the bass-drum claws and in back of the nameplates. Pearl even used tiny ones to isolate the T-rods from the Gretsch-looking MasterCast hoops.

The hardware is impressive, and the Reference Series drums even more so. Pearl's continued research into drum shell dynamics is time and money well spent. Makes me wonder what'll come out of Pearl HQ next.

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