The CS Combo is the baby brother of the CS series. As an entry-level contender, we're faced with a set-up that does away with some of the niceties of the more expensive versions in the range, while retaining some of their characteristics and general vibe.
As such, the CS Combo features shells of 'select veneers', as opposed to the birch of the Custom, and has bog-standard OEM heads rather than Remos. The Vibra-Band suspension tom mounts of the other kits are notably absent, too. On the face of it, these are predictable, well-judged corners to cut, but how does the pocket-lovin' CS Combo fare in action?
While the Combo might be the budget CS offering, it's nice to learn that prospective purchasers aren't stuck with a like-it-or-lump it configuration. The CS Combo comes in what Ludwig refers to as either Power or Jazz set-ups. We've got our hands on the Power kit, which means a 22"x16" bass drum, 12"x10" and 13"x11" mounted toms, 16"x16" floor tom, and 14"x61/2" snare.
The Jazz version is 20"x16", 10"x8", 12"x8", 14"x14" and 14"x5".
The kick drum depth is 2" less than that of the pricier CS kits - which have the currently popular 18"-deep drums - but other than that, the shell dimensions are what we'd expect. As mentioned above, the 12" and 13" Combo toms aren't fitted with suspension mounts. Instead, the mounts themselves are fitted directly to the shell.
L-shaped, Pearl-style arms are used to position the toms and, although a fairly rudimentary set-up, the arrangement works as well as it's always done.
Savings have been made where the rest of the hardware is concerned, too. The Custom and 'standard' CS kits are partnered by Ludwig's 300 Series stands and bass drum pedal. Here, the Combo metalwork pack is from the cheaper, less chunky 200 Series.
There's certainly little wrong with the hardware used here (although there's only a straight, not a boom cymbal stand in the 200 line), but it will almost definitely need replacing once you're out gigging four nights a week. For rehearsals, practice and odd jaunts out for pub gigs though, it's certainly serviceable.
Set the CS Combo up, and it's clear that it's a no-frills affair that does exactly what it needs to do. It hangs together well, tunes up without any nasty surprises and gives the impression that it's not going to fall apart prematurely - but that's it. This isn't a flash rig with fancy fixtures and fittings. But at the price, it would be unreasonable to expect any more. It's an honest, straightforward proposition, and certainly one that fits the 'getting kids into drumming' bill perfectly.
In this price bracket we're obviously not going to get the gorgeous lacquer fade finishes, rubber-lined bass drum claws, beautifully sculpted lugs and die-cast hoops. Instead, the CS Combo comes across as solid, workmanlike and reasonably well finished.
It's hard for more experienced players to get excited about the aesthetics of a wrapped kit like the Combo, but allow for the fact that this is likely to be a first kit, and it's easy to give it its due. Let's face it, there's nothing quite as thrilling as your first kit, no matter how modestly it's appointed.
While the sound, rather than the looks, of a drum kit is generally judged to be the most important factor in any purchasing decision, with an entry-level sets things are rather different. Tone is obviously crucial, but whether or not a set-up is durable and well built is just as important to the first-timer.
Virgin ears aren't as fussy as those that have been around the block a few times anyway. The ultimate objective of the cheaper kits is to actively promote the fun of making beats. And where the CS Combo is concerned, the answer's a definite 'yes'.
Taking the best bit first, the snare drum is really very decent straight from the box. With a few turns of a drum key it provides a bright, fairly crisp backbeat, and is sensitive enough to allow ghost notes to be explored as technique allows. In common with the rest of the kit, there's not a huge amount of warmth and richness on offer, but the fact that the Combo snare is wood rather than steel certainly helps to inject a welcome dose of mid-range oomph.
The 12", 13" and 16" toms introduce themselves as a brash and clattery but endearing-enough trio, with a discernible top-and-bottom-favoured tonality. The high content is pronounced, and there's some walloping boom to be had (particularly from the larger drums), but not enough mid-frequency action to be described as 'muscular' or 'throaty'. Think raw, late '70s punk, rather than Steve Gadd-style plumminess, and you'll be close.
The kick drum is clearly related to the toms in as much as it's a really spiky, clicky affair when undampened. It's plenty loud enough and when tuned low displays a voice that's enough to anchor a rhythm section, but the sound itself seems to be coming mostly from beater-on-head, as opposed to the body of the drum itself. This isn't an uncommon phenomenon with drums of this ilk and cost, but it's worth pointing out.
If you're thinking at this point that the CS Combo is destined for also-ran status in terms of tone, don't be too hasty.
There's a simple and relatively affordable way of improving the appeal and longevity of the Combo's sonic prowess, and one that's often used on sets of its kind. A quick swap of heads is all that's required to create a rather more grown-up playing experience. This will set you back about £15 for the bass drum head, and £30 for all three toms. Most younger players could get away with just upgrading the bass drum batter head to start with anyway, while leaving everything else as is.
The posher CS kits are shipped with Remo heads, which goes some way to explaining their tonal edge over the Combo. A quick trip to your friendly dealer, though, and a few minutes of bolt slackening and re-installing, and you'll be much closer to the sound of the CS and CS Custom than you'd imagine.
Bear in mind too, that the bass drum supplied has no hole cut in the front head. Attend to that matter (so you can stick some dampening material inside), and you'll be able to tame some of the clickiness mentioned above, consequently creating an altogether more authoritative bass drum wallop.
The simple fact that the Accent CS Combo wears the Ludwig badge will be enough to get a good cross-section of budding drum heads breaking open their piggy banks. However, looking beyond the branding, it's fair to say that this is a commendable kit at an extremely reasonable price, and certainly warrants success in the entry-level sector.