Does The Type Of Wood Used Actually Affect The Sound Of A DW Collectors Series Drum Set?
DW (Drum Workshop) offers a lot of options when it comes to drum shells. This is great, in that there's an endless amount of options in the DW Collectors series. For someone who's looking to get a drum set, however, it can seem a little daunting – especially when it comes to selecting a wood type. Maple, Birch, Cherry, Oak, Spruce, Mahogany…which choice is right for you? Does the type of wood you choose even have an effect on what it will sound like? If you browse your favorite drum forum, you’ll find many differing opinions on this particular subject.
Here at the Drum Center of Portsmouth, we were fortunate enough to be able to conduct a pretty cool experiment to determine what (if any) impact wood type has on a drum’s overall sound. We took three identically (and exceptionally) finished Collectors Series kits with three completely different shell compositions. DW “Pure Cherry”, DW “Cherry/Mahogany”, and DW “Pure Purpleheart.” It’s these moments where we truly love our job. Seriously…who else gets to do this kind of stuff?
Before we get into detail, here's an overview of what happened:
- Sizes and Finish. A list of what we were working with.
- Drum Head Selection. Remo's specially made heads designed for DW Collectors series drum kits.
- Tune Bot. The great tuning equalizer.
- Microphones Used. A list of what was used to obtain the sound.
- Detailed Impressions. C'mon, tell us how you really feel.
- The Verdict. The jury concludes after some intense deliberation.
The Drum Sizes and Finish
The exotic shells are finished in what DW calls, “Exotic Tangerine Burst over Candy Stripe Padouk” with nickel hardware. We were absolutely blown away by the quality of the finish. These are really gorgeous drums – something we’ve all come to expect from DW. Once we composed ourselves, we were able to focus on the task at hand – the sound.
The three kits we tested are shell packs that share the exact same sizes: a 22x18 bass drum, 10x8 and 12x9 mounted rack toms, a 14x12 floor tom, a 16x14 floor tom, and a 14x6.5 matching snare with triple flanged True Hoops and True Tone Snare Wires. It’s worth mentioning that the attention to detail and consistency of production techniques make these three kits nearly indistinguishable from a distance. DW does an amazing job when it comes to their aesthetics and tightness of tolerance. You probably already knew this.
Something else about these kits – no reinforcement rings. These are different than your traditional DW Collector’s Series Maple shells in that they are a little thicker, as well.
Drum Heads on DW Collectors Series Drum Sets
For the tom heads we used DW’s Smooth AA that are made by Remo USA and came standard on 2 of the 3 kits. These AA heads are manufactured solely for DW, and are not a normal offering from Remo. We decided to leave the stock, industry standard Remo single-ply resonant heads on the toms. Additionally, we used DW’s stock snare drum heads – a Coated AA batter and Standard Snare Side resonant. We replaced the bass drum heads to a Smooth White Power Stroke 3 on the batter side, and an Ebony Power Stroke 3 on the resonant side. This was merely out of personal preference. If you haven’t tried out Remo PS3’s, we highly recommend it. We added a 4” port for a more convenient kick drum mic setup.
The Tune Bot put to the Test!
Regarding the tuning of the drums, we wanted to keep it as scientific and objective as possible, so we used the TuneBot Gig version. This gave us complete control and consistency from kit to kit. With these controls in place, any noticeable difference in sound between the different kits could only be attributed to their shell composition. On a side note, we highly recommend the TuneBot for ease and consistency of tuning your drums. This made the process MUCH more efficient for our purposes. In case you’re curious of the EXACT TuneBot settings for this experiment (we know you’re out there), you can find them in our In-Depth Video Review here.
Miking the Drum Set
For the video of the recording, we used the following microphone setup:
Kick drum – Audix D6 microphone through the 4” port and a Shure KSM 32 about 6” in front of the resonant head.
Snare drum – Earthworks SR20LS, which is a great all-around microphone.
Toms – Earthworks DM20
Overhead – Single Earthworks SR25
For the purposes of this experiment, we wanted to make sure that the mixing of the audio was quick and clean. We used no EQ’ing on the individual channels. We only applied a high-pass filter on the toms to get rid of some of the low-end rumble. Then we adjusted the L/R balance…and BOOM. Done.
Which Drum Workshop Kit is the best?
Kit #1 –Cherry/Mahogany
These gorgeous shells consist of a Cherry-ply base, sandwiched between an inner and outer ply of Mahogany. We know cherry to be very bright wood, with a lot of attack and really pronounce mids, whereas Mahogany is going to give you some extra low end with lots of boom. This DW Cherry/Mahogany kit gave us both of those properties in spades. This was especially apparent with the 12-inch tom. Playing that particular drum was like dribbling a 90-pound basketball…just a big, fat booming sound! The snare drum fit right in with the kit. We can't say that there was anything about it that that made it different from the kit, which is good. It seemed to blend well.
Overall, this was a big sounding kit with substantial complexity to the tone. We feel this is a kit well suited for the “big note” type drummer…you know, the “Pat Boone Debbie Boone” type fills that have that real big sound.
Kit #2 - Purpleheart
Next up…Pure Purpleheart. This was our first experience with a 100% Purpleheart-shelled kit. We were aware that the wood was very dense, so we expected them to be somewhat vibrant.
The first thought that comes to you when sitting behind this kit is, “Wow, these drums are ALIVE!” All the drums projected. Substantially. This was a significantly different experience than driving the Cherry Mahogany kit. The Purpleheart shells have a sharper note, which we found very appealing. They deliver that fundamentally low note, along with clean stick articulation.
Before offering Pure Purpleheart as an entire kit, DW offered it as a base for snare drums, and now we can see why. The Purpleheart snare drum checked all the boxes we look for in a snare and was hands-down the winner of the day. Sharp, loud articulate punch with plenty of sensitivity. The bass drum also had a nice blend of low end thump and attack that stood out.
Kit #3 - Pure Cherry
Last up was the 100% Pure Cherry DW Collectors series kit. We were especially excited to play this kit, as we’ve had other DW Cherry kits in the shop in the past that did not disappoint. Cherry makes a great shell material for drums, although it’s not all that commonly used. In our experience, Cherry is not far off from that of birch in tonal characteristics – big attack with pronounced mids and lows. This particular kit, however, had a smoother, more balanced vibe to it – which really impressed us! It was like the difference between a 12-year and 18-year old scotch; both are delicious, but one is a little smoother in finish. That was this Pure Cherry kit.
So, does the type of wood used in a drum shell influence what the drum will sound like? After conducting a relatively controlled experiment on 3 extremely high-end drum sets, our answer is a resounding, “yes!”
The degree to which the sound will differ, of course, varies on many factors. Choice of heads, your ability to properly tune a drum, bearing edge quality, the thickness of the shell, environment, etc. All of these factors being equal, we feel like you will have a different experience based on the shell material you choose.
And which DW Collectors kit sounded the best? If you ask 3 different people at the Drum Center of Portsmouth, you’ll probably get 3 different answers. If you’re looking for deep, boomy thud, you may favor the Cherry/Mahogany shells. Want to project loud, sharp articulation? Maybe Purpleheart is the way to go. If you are looking for total tonal balance, the Pure Cherry is an excellent option.
Each one of these ultra-high-end kits exceeded expectation and opened the eyes of a few people here who never really considered DW to be “their sound”. Be sure to check out our video to hear the results for yourself and let us know what you think!
Looking For Your Own DW Collectors Series Kit?
At Drum Center of Portsmouth, we specialize in helping you achieve YOUR perfect drum sound. Give us a call at (603) 319-8109 to speak with a professional about that sound you hear in your head. We are legit sound freaks and look forward to helping you navigate your way to the DW kit of your dreams. We carry a huge selection of DW Drums and DW Hardware in stock. If DW isn’t your thing, we can help with many other fine manufacturers as well.
Keep your eyes peeled to our YouTube Page for more exciting and slightly eccentric drum-related content!