Judging by the quality of many budget kits, it is getting increasingly hard to justify the cost of top-level kits. One solution though, is to give the well-heeled drummer vastly increased individual choice.
Sonor showed the way with its Designer Series, but with unlimited variations it is possible for orders to go wrong. Somewhere between dealer and factory there's the danger of ending up with the SQ214W39X when you wanted the SQ212W39Y. Sonor's answer is to get drummers to do the ordering themselves online.
To this end, Sonor has revamped its top series with a new choice of shells, finishes and hardware.
Sonor calls the series SQ2 and the software for designing and ordering is called the SQ2 Configurator. You can find the configurator by logging on to Sonor's website, going to 'drums', then 'SQ2 drumsets', and then 'SQ2 Configurator'. A small screen pops up and you can start to plan your ideal kit from the myriad choices.
And believe us, the permutations are endless - in the tens of thousands at least. To start with, the range of sizes is broader than most. Bass drums go from a tiny 16"x14" all the way up to a monster 26"x22", for example.
You start by choosing your bass drum size. Then you select your shell material and type of shell construction, shell finish - both exterior and interior - and type of plating for your fittings.You work your way through mounted and floor toms, snare drums and gong toms. Since you can have any combination of features for any individual drum, the choice is unending.
Once you're happy with the drums you can add hardware from the revamped 600 range if you need it. The configurator tots up the cost, gives you a unique personal identifying number (UPID) and directs you to your nearest Sonor dealer. If you're feeling flush, the dealer will confirm your order and take your deposit. Then you'll have a three-month wait while Sonor builds the kit and ships it to you.
Before honing in on the review kit, let's look at some of those vast choices. There are four shell materials - maple, birch, beech and X-ray acrylic. The Designer Series only offered maple and birch. Each shell (other than the acrylic) can be constructed in four ways. These are Thin (5mm snare and toms, 6mm bass drums), Medium (6mm), Heavy (8mm) or Vintage (toms and snares 4mm plus 2mm reinforcing rings, bass drums 6mm plus 2mm rings).
There are no metal shell SQ2 snare drums available at present.
When it comes to finishes, the SQ2 again goes considerably further than the Designer, clarifying types of finish into seven categories. These include high glosses in solid colours, fades, sparkles and stains, plus exquisite hardwood veneers in natural satins. If this isn't exclusive enough, you can choose virtually any colour you like and Sonor will match it.
And talk about one-up-manship, if your shells are Thin, Medium or Heavy you can also choose from 20 premium veneer inners, although as this would add considerably to the end cost (an already expensive £500 tom can easily shoot beyond £600), we're not quite sure why you would. Metal shell fittings, lugs and hoops, etc, can be ordered in one of three plates - normal chrome, black chrome or gold.
Once you've finalised all of these details the configurator shows you a mock-up of a mounted tom in your exterior finish and plating.
Black and silver sparkle
The end result is a kit something like the one that is pictured in the gallery. It's finished in Silver-Black Sparkle Fade high gloss lacquer and sizes are 22"x18" kick, 12"x10" mounted tom, 14"x14" and 16"x16" floor toms and matching 14"x5" snare drum. The metal plating complements the twin colours, so the lugs and rims at the silver shell end are in black chrome while those at the dark end are normal chrome. You could have them the other way round, but this way looks cool.
The shells and flnish - inside and out - are superb. But it is when we come to the bulked-up fittings that Sonor is in a class of its own. Sonor's penchant for mega metalwork can seem excessive, but it still looks stylish. A good example is the tension system on the bass drum. Not for Sonor the usual discreet claws. These are rocket-proportioned monsters with 30mm diameter rubber grip discs.
The bass drum spurs are equally titanic, but more graceful than the dumpy calibrated spurs of the Designer Series that they replace.
All tension rods have Sonor's Tune-Safe feature, which means the rods won't loosen when the drums are played hard. We're in two minds about this - it makes it impossible to tension new heads by feel to finger tight. But the benefit is that low tunings are stable - so if you want your bass head flapping then this isn't a problem.
The excellent build quality translates into a great sounding kit. It's made from birch and the toms and snare have Thin 5mm shells. The bass drum needs more strength and so has a Medium 6mm shell. The bearing edges are perfection and tuning is almost foolproof. The birch shells give that extra deep, warm and resonant timbre - and so they should at this price.
The kick's slightly thicker shell gives it extra volume and bite to top off the dark rumbling thud.
The snare drum has 20 single ended and quite bulky, double-mounted lugs. That's a lot of hardware, and yet it doesn't seem to stifle the drum one jot. It has a beautifully thick sound - fat and crunchy in the middle, bright and delicate at the edges. Exactly what you want.
Cross-sticks on the die-cast rims are loud, but rim shots can be a bit stifled by those same heavy rims. The throw-off is smooth, and the snares are tensioned from both ends. The actual snare tension knobs though are small and not that easy to grasp, which is disappointing when everything else is over-sized. Where's the rubberised grip when you actually want one?
This is a luxurious kit. Further evolving the Designer concept, Sonor has added extra shell finishes, materials and construction options, and handed ordering over to the drummer. Sonor has always made the heftiest hardware but it still looks in proportion. The kits are beautiful, the sound commensurate with the superlative craftsmanship, and the choice is massive - all you need now is loadsa money.