Drum kits of the year
The year 2009 has been one of innovation in the world of drum gear. The clever use of new materials alone (combinations of bubinga and birch, acrylic shells, oak, mahogany and, er… NiNjA skateboard bearings) is cause enough for celebration. Not to mention the magnitude of bronze, wires and cow hide in our percussion and electronic categories...
Following the best guitar and hi-tech gear of the year, the drum awards are based both on the reviews from our sister of drumming knowledge and prowess, Rhythm magazine, and MusicRadar’s own experiences. Let’s kick things off with a big one: the best acoustic kits of 2009.
With high-end manufacturers Spaun and DW entering the world of production drums with the TL Series and Eco-X Project kits respectively, 2009’s best sets category has been a stellar yet highly-competitive battlefield. But it’s the MIA Award-winning Tama Starclassic Performer (with its clever combination of Bubinga and Birch woods) and Yamaha Oak X Kit (with its frankly genius use of Oak!) that’ll be sharing the honours this year.
Both pro-level, offering bang up-to-the-minute configurations and finishes and exploding with character.
Budget drum kits (under 1000) of the year
Pearl's Vision series is the massively anticipated successor to its legendary Export series. Replacing what’s as close to a household name as a drum kit can be was never going to be easy. But Pearl did it… in style. Amazingly well-built with excellent supplied hardware, versatile and musical. And with plenty of change left from £1000, it’s really a no-brainer in its category.
Synthetic kit of the year
The return to favour of synthetic drums has been slow but relentless (Tempus’s latest trio of Fibreglass and Carbon-Fibre Snares are testament to the cause’s determination) so it’s only fair we include a category to recognise the success.
Where HighWood's Acrylic Shell Kit scores so highly is that unlike most others, including vintage Vistalites, the shells are cast, which means there are no seams to come undone or to cause a break in the acoustic purity of the sound. Watch your back, wood…
Electronic drum kit of the year
Boringly predictable or reassuringly consistent depending on your viewpoint (not that the former is particularly valid), Roland has done it yet again with the TD-4K. And while the functional focus is on practise, rather than heavy-duty editing of sounds or production capabilities, the kit is a million miles from a sterile learning tool.
On the other, budget end of the edrum market, MusicRadar would like to send a well-deserved nod in the direction of the Techtonic DD502(J). While it didn’t do quite enough to take the crown, it may well be this year’s affordable (sub £500) set-up of choice.
Cymbal series of the year
Such was the magnitude of shiny new bronze introduced in 2009, this award is a three-way split. First-up: the third generation of Zildjian’s rock staple, the Z3 Series (their impressive launch at LIMS was enough to keep us talking until Christmas). Next: the classily modern TRX (short for Turks - yep, they’re expertly crafted in Turkey) LTD Series. And finally, the refreshingly affordable Turkish option: Istanbul Agop Xist Cymbals.
See? Magnitude. Of. Bronze.
Cymbal additions of the year
If Sabian’s original Vault Artisan rides are excellent, the Hi-Hat and Crash additions are the icing on the big cymbal-shaped cake. Combining vintage softness with modern, complex yet harmonious overtones, they really are as close to perfection as they come.
Meinl’s Signature Rides deserve equal recognition for offering, if nothing else, wonderful insights into the inspiration and style of the signatory (from Chris Adler to Jason Bittner). All exceptional instruments that perfectly showcase Meinl's air.
Snare drums of the year
From signature cymbals to a signature snare, Tool sticksman Danny Carey’s Sonor ‘bronze beastie’ impressed us from its first arrival at Rhythm HQ to its shining four-star verdict: “bristling with more character (both sonic and aesthetic) than any do-it-all-rounder.”
High-praise indeed. And there’s more from this year’s metal snare inductees: Tama’s second entry, the Starphonic Series. High-end snares devised in the wake of the success of Tama's Warlord collection, equally uncompromising on quality (just without the Lord Of The Rings finish!).
Pedal of the year
Yamaha’s kick pedal overhaul deserves an honorary mention in this category, but they were always going to be eclipsed by Pearl’s ‘benchmark in adaptability and precision’, the Demon Drive. A major departure from the Eliminator, and from the chain drive pedals that have ruled the roost since the 1980s, its direct, rigid-link drive is on a par with the well-established Axis pedal and its sheer versatility (there are eight basic settings) and use of NiNjA skateboard bearings has meant nothing else has even come close.
Hardware of the year
Yamaha’s sleek, revamped Hexrack system was a front-runner earlier this year, but it was pipped to the post by a late entry from Gibraltar and its even sleeker Stealth Rack. The clue is in the name: it takes little attention away from your kit (that’s exactly how it should be) and the modular design means you can invest in the bare minimum and still use your existing stands with it. And it’s easy to set-up and break down… almost stealth-like.
While it hasn't yet been put through its paces, Rhythm would also like to tip their hats to DW's 8000 Series Hardware. Watch this space...
Read the full Gibraltar Stealth Rack review (coming very soon!)
Electronic percussion of the year
If Remo’s Vintage Emperor heads are a masterful remake, with the second generation of the Wavedrum, Korg has written, re-written and torn-up the manual on taking a classic product and bettering it… in every way possible. Its ‘other-worldly’ tone will captivate you, the depths of its capabilities will astound you and it’s playability will leave you breathless. Oh, and it’s also a third of the price. Phenomenal.
Read the full Korg Wavedrum review (coming very soon!)
Acoustic percussion of the year
With sterling releases in the shape of Duende’s Cajons and Pearl’s Elite Series Mahogany Congas and Bongos (finally, a decent alternative to oak!), there’s rarely been a better time to bolster your percussive arsenal. Despite the rest, however, our top picks this year are Treeworks’s ‘fastidiously-built’ collection of chimes and Gon Bops’s Alexa Acuna Signature Cajon… possibly the only cajon you’ll ever need.
Heads of the year
The year’s best skins are a masterful remake of a classic: Remo’s Vintage Emperor collection. Rather than plunder their historical heritage for instant kudos, Remo has taken what musicians liked about its products from the '60s and '70s and applied modern manufacturing methods to give a vintage sound that has all the consistency and reliability of today's heads.
Drum software of the year
This year’s best software, by a funky mile, is the Funkmasters EZX expansion pack for Toontrack's popular virtual drum kit software. It puts at your disposal the kits and grooves of two of the funkiest drummers of all time: Clyde Stubbleeld and John "Jab'o" Starks (both appeared on James Brown’s seminal Sex Machine); and the sounds are superbly faithful to the originals. Five stars.
Drum accessories of the year
All the gear in this category joined Rhythm magazine’s five-star review elite. So, while they don’t have a title to call their own, they’re more than worthy of an inclusion in this accessory round-up.
First up is B-Band’s Ukko Contact mic set (they’re thin, so you can be phat - nice!), then DW’s Daniel De Los Reyes Practice Pro (a pad that’s so good, it actually makes you want to practice) and finally ACS’s ER Custom Hearing Protectors (hey, they’re in MusicRadar’s drumming gift guide for a reason).
Drum hero of the year
While almost tragically joining the list of legendary rockstars to die in a plane crash, Travis Barker recovered (from third-degree burns), reformed (Blink 182) and returned (triumphantly) in 2009. All this, despite losing long-term friend, collaborator and fellow-crash survivor DJ AM (check out TRV$DJAM’s final gig at Coachella).
Music-wise, the amazingly-tattooed sticksman still found time to back the likes of Eminem and The Game while finishing his debut solo record, Mr Barker’s. And if Blink 182’s first reunion tour wasn’t enough, our friends at Rhythm have it from a source very close to the band (erm, Travis Barker), that the trio are heading over to the UK next year!
Here’s to 2010, and to our hero of 2009, Travis Barker.