Pearl's long-standing and popular SensiTone snares have received a major rejuvenation, with 13 new SensiTone Classic and Premium snares launched at the 2014 NAMM show. Today we're reviewing the metal snares, with wood versions to follow in a later issue.
All the metal drums come in 14"x5" and 14"x61⁄2" variants and we have here Classic models in steel and aluminium and a Premium model in phosphor bronze. There are also Classic versions in black nickel-over-brass and Premium versions in patina finished brass, but these are not reviewed.
All the drums have strengthening centre beads, but the 1mm gauge phosphor bronze and steel shells have inner welds while the aluminium is seamless. The steel and bronze drums are significantly weightier than the aluminium models.
The Classic chrome-plated steel and matt aluminium drums have chrome-plated steel tube lugs, while the Premium bronze models have the snazzy new ARL Arch-Tube lugs, which replace the previous less striking square bridge lugs.
These ARLs have a three-part construction incorporating two separate brass tubes held in place by a chromed, minimal-shell-contact cast arch. With the two tubes being separated in the middle they are essentially self-aligning and there is less chance of cross-threading than with the single, double-ended tubes of the Classic models. The ARL is a smart design and gives the Premium drums a distinctive new image.
Also new is the SR-150 strainer/throw-off which Pearl calls Click-Lock. This is a compact pull-away design and the click-lock in the title refers to a 'C' shaped clip that hugs the tension knob when the 'up' or 'on' position is engaged. This prevents both the lever and the snare tension from slipping under heavy playing.
Both the strainer and butt-ends have block clamps set at 45° to the shell for attaching the snare cords (or alternative tapes), ensuring the excellent snare wires are pulled up flat against the bottom head. And there is no loud and embarrassing clack as you engage the snares.
The smooth piston and polymer bearing of the axle mean the operation of the strainer lever is wonderfully smooth. Full marks for a simple, unobtrusive design that works well.
All the drums came with Remo Ambassador Coated batters and Clear resonants. Fine by us, although these are all drums which might find their way into loud bands where heavier twin-ply heads might be preferred. No problem, since these are such simple and well-designed drums, by which we mean they are capable and un-gimmicky.
Pearl is a wily old company and while always looking to improve, every design feature here is for a purpose and does its job.
The Classic Aluminium drums can be compared with Ludwig's timeless Ludalloy (aluminium) SupraPhonics - the lightweight shells producing a lively but focused tone, ie: not too much sustain; good for recording; a fairly dry bark; crisp when tuned mid to high, less so when tuned down when they lose their spark.
The steel drums are slightly ringier, more expansive, naturally higher-pitched, steel being a heavier metal. Easily achieving a loud sound, but also sensitive and adaptable. Both 5" and 61⁄2" versions offer great value for money. If you're struggling with the cheap metal snare that came with your budget kit and are gagging for a classier backbeat, look no further. Easy to tune, reliable, with a great snare action.
The Premium phosphor bronze drums look more expensive and they are - over twice the price of the steel Classics. This does not mean that they sound twice as good - they don't, just a bit different.
Bronze is generally thought of as darker in timbre than steel, with more complex overtones, often described as 'musical'. Where the steel is ultra-bright and responsive, and the aluminium a little more taut, the bronze is fractionally deeper and warmer, maybe a little less clinical and powerful, but always engaging. Dark chocolate versus milk chocolate.
Performance-wise all the drums have Pearl's 2.3mm Super-Hoops for accurate tuning, and a meaty feel under rim-shots and cross-sticks. The Premium bronze drums have the upper hand in looks and new lugs which offer a bit more leeway and promise of longevity.