Environmentalism and the music industry don't always make the easiest of bedfellows. The familiar sound of rock stars spouting environmental platitudes while touring the globe in private jets is a classic example of good intentions gone awry.
Away from such obvious ironies, drummers have had few opportunities to publicly display any green credentials. With concerns for the environment growing each year, an instrument that relies heavily on a natural raw material - wood - ought to be a prime candidate for an eco-friendly redesign.
"The core of any kit is always the shells and in the case of the Eco-X Project kit, that's doubly true because they're the main reason for its existence"
DW's Eco-X Project kit is just that: taking the environmental message and turning it into a marketing opportunity.
DW is primarily a custom drum maker, building kits to individual customers' specifications. What's impressive about the Eco-X Project kit - aside from its green credentials - is that it enables the company to enter the world of standard production kits.
It's a clever strategy that brings the DW brand into a new price territory (Eco-X drums are around 30 percent cheaper than Collector's Series equivalents), while making a virtue of its environmental responsibility.
As a fixed range, Eco-X Project drums don't feature anywhere near the number of options found in the Collector's Series, but they are bona fide US-built DW drums.
The core of any kit is always the shells and in the case of the Eco-X Project kit, that's doubly true because they're the main reason for its existence. They're made from equal amounts of birch and bamboo – eight-ply for the toms and 10-ply for the snare and bass drums.
Both woods are, of course, sourced from sustainable supplies. The birch comes from Michigan, while the bamboo is Chinese.
The drums are formed using DW's X Shell technique, whereby the plies are cross-laminated at 90 degrees to one another with the grain at 45 degrees to the vertical, creating the X-shaped layers referred to in the name. DW measures shell thicknesses in imperial rather than metric (this makes sense, because shell diameters and depths are universally quoted in inches).
By our rough conversions, each layer of ply measures approximately 0.7mm, making toms around 5.6mm thick, while the snare and bass drum come in at 7mm. DW is keen to point out that, because wood is a natural material, minute variations do occur, but all of the individual plies are the same thickness.
There are two angles of bearing edge used in the kit. While the toms are cut at a slightly rounded 45 degrees, the snare and bass drum share a wider 60 degree cut, again with a slight round over.
Bamboo is not without precedent in drum making and an all-bamboo block snare is available elsewhere in DW's catalogue. On its own, bamboo sits at the brighter end of the scale, so interspersing each ply with a ply of birch rolls off some of the brightness. In each shell, the crucial inner ply is birch.
"The Eco-X Project's obvious environmental aspects are commendable, as is the fact that it looks so desirable"
You're probably familiar with the thin bamboo poles found in gardens and used as poles for children's fishing nets, and probably imagine (as we did) that DW must be using some giant species of bamboo thick enough to cut into drum-sized plies. Surprisingly, the bamboo used is only marginally bigger than the domestic variety described above. Trunks are bound together en masse, flattened and then sliced into veneer.
The review kit is one of two available, consisting of a 22"x18" bass drum, 14"x5 1/2" snare, 10"x8" & 12"x9" rack toms and a 14"x12" floor tom. The other shell pack offered differs only in its smaller 20"x18" bass drum. Extra drums available as add-ons include both sizes of bass drum (for double kick set-ups), an 8"x7" tom and a 16"x14" floor tom.
There are only two finishes available, neither of which is glossy. Officially, this is for environmental reasons, but the fact that the satin finish gives what could be described as an organic look can't have gone unnoticed at DW.
The Desert Sand of the review kit is a beautiful finish on whatever criteria it's judged – delicately smooth to touch and with the grain of the wood showing in neatly stacked diagonal lines.
The shells are dressed in regular DW hardware, with the turret lugs, air holes and suspension mounts (toms only) giving them a familiar look. They're also timbre matched, with each drum's fundamental note printed inside the shell. A pair of round badges mounted on each shell denote the drums' provenance by featuring - you've guessed it - the colour green.
The badges are subtle enough to go relatively unnoticed and when we took the kit to a rehearsal, we didn't explain its eco-credentials until it was time to pack up. In other words, colleagues judged the kit in normal terms. They were unanimously impressed.
The bamboo and birch produce brightness and attack, while the X Shell technique plants reserves of bottom end. Together, they reproduce a full blend of tones.
The bass drum was fabulously deep and punchy, its low note focused by a sharp edge. A fitted internal pillow helped keep its response tight, but it still had a 'live' presence that made it impossible to lose track of.
The snare drum had a similar openness to it that gave a big sound, especially at lower tunings. At higher tunings the fatness was still discernible beneath its crisp response. Like the bass drum, it seemed able to conjure up a mix-cleaving attack with a commanding note. The 60 degree bearing edges undoubtedly influence the depth found in the bass drum and snare.
The toms, with their 45 degree bearing edges, sounded at home alongside the bass and snare drum, delivering powerful, rounded tones with ease. Response was quick and each note lingered just long enough to sound authoritative before decaying naturally.
Regardless of the laudable environmental benefits of the Eco-X Project kit, DW has found another formula for great-sounding drums.