Pearl has always offered more kit choices than just about anyone else.
With its Reference series, Pearl suggested that a small tom should maybe have a different shell construction from a bass drum; now Reference Pure is a lighter and thinner shelled Reference aimed more at the studio than the road.
The Reference ethos means optimised shell composition, shell thickness and bearing edges. Our review kit is 22"x16", 10"x7", 12"x8", 14"x12", 16"x14" and matching 14"x5" snare.
Following the Reference formula, different drums have different wood lay-ups. So the small toms have 6-ply shells that are 5.4mm thick, while the floor toms and bass drum are 8-ply and 7.2mm thick.
The 10" (and optional 8") tom blends outer maple and inner birch, the 12" tom is 100 percent maple and the floor toms and bass drums blend outer maple and inner African mahogany. The snare is six-ply with two inner plies of birch and four outer plies of maple with 45° bearing edges.
Peeping inside the snare you see creamy birch, while inside the large toms and bass drum is a ruddy brown mahogany. Pearl constructs its shells in a different manner from almost all other manufacturers - certainly the big names - overlapping the plies using scarf joints rather than butt-joining them.
Vintage drums were often made this way; the result is a little overlapping join inside each shell. Whether this is better or not, these shells are superb in every respect.
As for the outside, Pearl offers five stock lacquer finishes and 26 special-order lacquer finishes, plus two wraps - Polished Chrome and Vintage Marine Pearl, protected by clear lacquer. Four of the five stock lacquer finishes are exclusive to Europe.
The VMP of the review kit was our only real disappointment with the entire kit. Presumably the idea is to mimic the yellowed, smoke-stained look of old marine pearl, but in reality it just looks dowdy.
Thin shells might make this kit a little lighter, but you wouldn't know it - there is plenty of hardware to bulk it up. We were surprised at the weight of the floor toms, for example, although the small toms with their aluminium Opti-Mounts felt about normal. Other fittings are well up to the high standard you expect from Pearl. Most striking is the new twin-mount Swivel-Tube lug design.
Although these are mini-tubes, they actually include a swivel nut so there's little danger of cross-threading. Tuning the whole kit is a joy, owing also to the stainless steel bolts - which really glide in and out.
The kit had obviously been played when it arrived and so was already tuned. The toms, with their slightly rounded bearing edges had a warm attack and we particularly took to the 14"x12" tom.
Tuned right in the sweet spot around medium tension it was both rich and thunderous. You don't feel anything is cluttering the drum's sound. It seems that 16"x14" is now as popular as the more traditional 16"x16" and it makes perfect sense here.
With so much bottom coming from the African mahogany it sounded just as deep as most 16"x16" drums, but more focused. And the lack of those two inches makes the floors more playable, helping your stick bounce.
The snare is a sparkling little cracker. The 5" depth rather than the more common 5½" is enough to make it a little sharper - lively and edgy, it pops in a funky-jazzy manner. Played ½" in from the edge there is a fabulous ring, testament to the excellent 45° bearing edges. A half-square of Moongel is sufficient to control this.
There's a pinpoint quality that requires accuracy - such is its sensitivity and truthful response it shows up any unevenness in your fancy rolls.
Being 5", you can tune it down a little to get extra fatness when needed - but we reckon you'd have to consider the 6½" if you want a really meaty sound. We think this drum works best at medium to higher tension where its almost shrill tone, clarity and penetration are displayed to their full.
The Fat Tone hoops are lightweight and resonant at 1.6mm, but super-stable with the crimped upper flange bending over and in, presenting a welcoming rounded surface which is kind to your sticks and sweet to play.
A big plus about major manufacturers like Pearl is that they have the long-term resources to develop distinctive hardware totally their own - the SR-1000 Glide-Lock strainer, for example. Its solid lever turns through 180° and has a locking button so you can't accidentally knock it off.
Tension is effected on the opposite, butt end; here again the stocky design has a big knurled knob with a locking device. This time you have to push the knob down before you can change the snare tension. Once happy you release the knob which then springs back up into its locked position.
The snares themselves are attached by strings at a 45° pull-up angle so they lie good and flat. Wires are 20-strand steel coils with copper endplates. As a final refinement, if you want to change the bottom head, the throw-off and butt-plate can be taken right off the drum with the snare wires still attached, so you don't need to upset your snare tension setting.
The bass drum getting walloped in this space last month was Mapex's Retrosonic walnut, which was surprisingly mellow. And this month there was another eyebrow-raising moment when we applied the beater to the mahogany Pure and the note came back hard and rather dry.
With its thin mahogany shell we expected it to be more warm and reverberant. Part of the reason lies with the vintage-style rounded bearing edge, which thickens the attack and emphasises the dark mahogany timbre. So the Ref Pure had lots of top and lots of bottom and not so much in the middle. There was almost a metallic click on impact, recalling the sound when a kick is miked up in a large hall - like the middle has been rolled off to control reverberation and boom. In that sense 'pure' is probably the right adjective.
The standard issue is a 22"x18", but Pearl sent us a 22"x16" and that's fine by us. It's even harder and shorter (and it'll save you a whole 10 quid!).
The 4½" hole in the front head and twin sound air holes also help focus the sound. So a rather contained slam, tight and less reverberant than expected. Only when we went out front and listened did we hear the expected warmth.