Pearl Reference Series Kit review

With fantastic build, sounds and looks, there's no denying that Pearl has delivered a world-class kit with this Reference Series set-up

  • £2730
  • $5529
Minimum contact lugs are used all over the kit.

MusicRadar Verdict

This is a fantastic example of sophisticated drum kit construction and it sounds wonderful. Whether the mixed wood/bearing edges concept is deserving of the hike in price is open to debate - any Reference Series rig will make a big hole in your bank balance. If ever there was a case for booking into your local friendly drum store and spending some quality time A/B-ing kits before spending, the Reference Series is it.


  • +

    Fantastic build quality, utterly impressive sound, beautiful looks.


  • -

    The slight sense of hype that surrounds the range.

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The premise of the Reference Series line is that different woods are used for the construction of various shell types. In other words, instead of bass drums, snares and toms all being made from 100 percent maple, birch, or what-have-you, the Reference drums sport different materials depending on application.

This situation arises from what Pearl describe as an understanding that "the desired tonal characteristics of a 10" tom are completely different than those of a 22" bass drum". As such, all Reference Series 12" toms are crafted from six-ply maple (and are the only single-wood shell in the line-up), while 8" and 10" toms have four plies of maple teamed with two inner plies of birch.

And it's not just the shell material that varies from drum to drum - bearing edges are different too, with rounded 45-degree edges used for toms smaller than 13" and fully rounded bearing edges used for drums 14" or more in diameter. It all sounds terribly intriguing on paper, but the proof of the approach will be in the playing...

Recipe for success?

The kit for review here comprises a 22"x18" bass drum, 10"x8", 12"x9" and 14"x14" toms (all hanging), and a 14"x5" snare. The construction of the 10" and 12" toms has already been mentioned, and as far as the rest of the kit is concerned, things run as follows; the 22" kick has six inner mahogany plies and two outer plies of maple, while the 14" tom is also a mahogany/maple mix.

However, it's the snare that's the most interesting of all the Reference drums here.

Available in 14"x61/2" and 13"x61/2" as well as the 14"x5" that we have here, each of the snares features a thick, 20-ply shell comprising six inner birch plies and 14 maple plies. The snares also have a 45-degree bearing edge and Pearl reckons the combo of thick shell and edge promotes "response and crack" with "all energy focused on making sound waves". The thickness of the snare shell means it's a hefty instrument - something that it has in common with the rest of the kit.

Pearl has gone to town on the engineering of the Reference Series and features such as the Optimount tom mounts, die-cast rims (which appear on everything except the bass drum), muscular bass drum legs and clever snare throw-off and snare tensioner all add up to a heavyweight kit, in all senses of the word. But it's all good stuff, not just metalwork for metalwork's sake.

The Optimounts are well proven as super-solid and easy to live with, while the snare lever/ tensioner are great additions. These two conspire to ensure that both snare on/off selection and tension remain locked once set - the throw-off has a little button at one end of the lever that clicks into place to secure the 'snare on' position and the locking tension wheel requires you to press down on a locking collar to increase/ decrease the strain on the snare wires.

These are little details, but add a distinct air of professionalism to proceedings.

Delightful details

The same can be said of the sumptuous Purple Craze sparkle finish. Pearl finishes are among the best of the major manufacturers, and we've always admired their 'metalflake' style sparkles. As ever, this one is deeply textured and will look ridiculously fabulous under stagelights - it's just gorgeous.

And then there are the finishing touches such as the minimum contact lugs used all over the kit, the rubber-lined bass drum claws and recessed bolt heads - none of which are revolutionary, but all of which are appreciated on a top-end kit of this nature. Set up with the complement of Pearl's excellent 1000 Series hardware, there's a real sense of occasion when you sit behind the Reference for the first time.

It's an incredibly polished, sophisticated kit and one that flies the Pearl flag high in terms of design and execution. And then there's the way it sounds...

Proving ground

Despite the differences in shell material between the Reference drums, there is a real 'family feel' to this kit. Each component part feels linked to the next in terms of the way things sound - that's to say there's a lovely balance of depth, power and clarity to be found in the response from the kick, snare and toms.

The bass drum is typical of the whole kit. Played softly - and allowing the beater to rebound quickly from the head after each stroke - the drum sends out a wonderful, blooming boom with a sustaining low frequency content. As you increase velocity, a mid-range punch makes itself felt which makes the kick far more assertive and aggressive.

As such the instrument is remarkably versatile - and the same kind of statements can be made about the toms. The supplied coated Ambassador batters lend a dry, papery edge to the tone, but there's lots of warmth to be had, balanced by a natural articulation that's great for fast fills.

And the snare is a drum of real character - that thick shell makes for a loud, dry and 'produced' backbeat sound, while the quality of construction means that the snare responds beautifully no matter how softly or hard it's struck. It's not a snare for everyone though. It'll suit funksters and drummers playing r'n'b and pop, but for heavier styles you'll want the deeper 61/2" (as expected) and the 13"x61/2" is worth investigating if you're after something fat but not flabby.

This is a truly superb-sounding drum kit, and one whose acoustic properties are complemented by construction and finishing quality that's hard to fault. In short, it looks, sounds and feels every inch the top-of-the-line drum set that it is.

There's no doubt, however, that the concept of the mixed shell types - and in particular the premium price charged for the Reference Series - will raise questions amongst the drumming community. Is it appreciably better than any other top-end, single-wood acoustic kit (Masters, Absolute, Designer, Collector's, etc)? Does the arrival of the Reference Series immediately render such previous Kings Of The Hill obsolete? Is this the future of flagship drum kit design?

Only time will tell as far as the last two questions are concerned, while the first is a tough call. Given the nature of acoustic drums, the potential for massive improvements in tone at these elevated levels are limited - throw in the 'subjectivity factor' and black-or-white judgements are near impossible to make.

Music Radar Team

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