A Comprehensive Review of Yamaha Drum Sets
Drum Center of Portsmouth is the #1 Yamaha Drums Dealer in the USA, and we carry the Stage Custom Birch, Tour Custom Maple, Live Custom, Recording Custom, Absolute Hybrid, and PHX Drum Sets. These are six unique drum sets that vary in shell composition, sound and price point. Which Yamaha drum kit is right for you? What’s the difference in sound between a Stage Custom and a Recording Custom? We set up all six kits for a side-by-side comparison to help answer any questions you may have.
“But what about the Rydeen Series?” you ask? We didn’t forget about the entry-level offering from Yamaha drums. While Rydeen drums are a decent beginner’s kit, we decided to focus on the mid-level to professional-level Yamaha kits for the purposes of this comparison.
Yamaha drums offer a wide variety of configurations and component drums for each of the series we tested. To keep things consistent, we opted with standard sizes of a 22x17, 10x7, 12x8, 16x15 from each kit. Our lone constant was the snare drum, and she’s a real beauty –
For all the toms, we swapped out the stock heads for Remo USA Coated Ambassadors on the top, and Clear Ambassadors on the bottom. Bass drums were equipped with Remo Clear Power Stroke 3 Batter heads and a ported Smooth Power Stroke 3 on the resonant side.
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
Floor Tom – Audix D4
Overhead – Dual Earthworks SR25
We had considered leaving the Yamaha Stage Custom Birch series out of our comparison because of its relatively low price point. OK…it’s a seriously low price point. We are currently selling 5-piece configurations for under $650. Once we got these 100% birch shells set up, we were glad we included them.
This was the only kit that did not come stock with USA Remo heads, which is completely forgivable considering how budget friendly the Stage Customs are. Once we swapped out the stock heads, the shells tuned up quickly and produced a surprisingly powerful and smooth punch, something we expect from Yamaha drums. The toms cut with a focused tone, while the floor tom generated some serious boom. The 22-inch kick drum was solid in both attack and low-end delivery.
This kit punched way above its price-point in every possible way. The shell, finish, hardware and edges were all flawless and exceeded our expectations. Don’t just take our word for it, check out the video and audio for yourself from our demo.
The Yamaha drums Tour Custom Maple line is another value-minded offering that delivers in sound and build quality. Like the Stage Custom, it features the Absolute lug design and YESS mounts for the toms. Tour Custom Maples boast a North American and Asian Maple shell, and USA Remo Clear Ambassadors right out of the box.
The sound is exactly what you want to hear from an all-maple kit, with plenty of mid-range projection and warmth. This is the type of kit that screams versatility and will work in any situation you ask it to. At $1299 for a 4-piece configuration, this latest addition to the Yamaha lineup is as good as many higher-priced competitor’s 100% maple shell offerings. How do they keep the price so low? Finish options for the Tour Custom are somewhat limited, and there aren’t a ton of component add-ons.
The Live Customs were perhaps the most interesting drums we tested for the comparison. These replaced Yamaha’s Oak Custom Series drums which were known for their sharp, loud projection. Our experience with the Oak Custom line was that customers were often attracted to them for their volume, but eventually grew weary of their somewhat one-dimensional nature. The Live Customs share the dynamic punch of their predecessors, but deliver it with a smoother, more refined tone.
We were immediately impressed by the tom response. These drums project highs, mids and lows in spades with a well-controlled sustain. While they are a no-brainer for your live gigs, they also sound exceptional under the mics. We LOVE these kits in smaller sizes. Live Customs would absolutely kill when tuned up high for a Jazz gig. The quality of Live Custom finishes is amazing, especially the “Emerald Shadow Sunburst” tested in our video.
When moving on to the Absolute Hybrid Maple model, the attention to detail gets kicked up a notch. This series boasts higher quality everything. Practical quick release lugs, high quality, low mass Aluminum die cast hoops, and a gorgeous hybrid shell design make the Absolute Hybrids an absolute joy to play.
In a word, the sound of these drums is “aggressive.” We refer to them as “Angry Yamahas” around the shop. The Absolute Hybrid series features a slightly thicker maple shell with an inner core of ultra-dense Wenge that produces a sharply resonant tone. These drums are incredibly dynamic and open up immediately from the lightest touch. The toms sing, and the floor tom and kick drums produce a guttural, low end thump.
Yamaha claims their Recording Custom Series Drums are the most recorded drums in history. While we haven’t seen any empirical data to support this claim, we are inclined to believe them. Recording Custom drums are the industry standard for studio drummers because of their clean, crisp tone.
There have been a few iterations of the RC series over the years. A common gripe we’ve heard about the previous iterations was that they tended to be a little thinner sounding, especially with the bass drum. Where this was ideal in a mic’d setup, some would say they were slightly lacking in a live acoustic environment. These latest RCs we tested seem to address those complaints with stellar tone in all frequencies, and a massive sounding kick drum. Yes, they are now made in China, but these Recording Customs are the best sounding to our ears and the QC is as good as it’s ever been. We think you’ll agree when you hear the audio!
The PHX series has been surrounded by hype since Yamaha drums released the flagship line of ultra-high-end drums in 2009. Yamaha decided to take the “Ferrari” approach when developing these drums - where cost was no issue. Their only concern was to create the ultimate high-end professional drum set.
At the heart of the PHX is its luxuriously thick 11-ply Kapur-Maple-Jatoba hybrid shell. These exotic woods are progressively harder from the center ply to the outer plies. We were taken aback upon inspection of the interiors of these drums. The craftsmanship and attention to detail is of the finest quality. Put simply – more thought has gone into the R&D of the PHX than any other, and it shows.
But how do they sound? To get these magnificent looking toms to where they wanted to be, we definitely had to spend more time with the tuning than the other kits tested. This is due to the unique approach Yamaha drums took with the PHX bearing edges. All drums have a 30° bearing edge, but each "family" of drums uses a different profile. Bass drums have a sharper edge cut toward the outer plies. This gives the bass drums attack and shortens the decay. Floor toms have a slightly rounded edge to give them a balance of attack and sustain. Toms have an even more rounded profile for warmth and sustain. These rounded edges required a different relationship between the top and bottom heads, in that they preferred to be tuned closer together. Once we figured that out, the results were pure bliss. Check out the tone for yourself in the video!
If you’re shopping for your particular sound, Yamaha drums is going to have you covered at whatever price you can afford. Whether you want to spend $700 or $7,000 on your next kit, we can say with confidence that Yamaha will provide a quality-made instrument. Every kit that we tested was flawless in finish and construction. Shells were round, bearing edges were perfect, and hardware was rock solid. The tone we got out of the $650 Stage Custom was comparable (or exceeded) that of many more expensive kits we’ve tested in the past. We highly recommend giving Yamaha a shot.
At Drum Center of Portsmouth, we specialize in helping you achieve YOUR perfect drum sound, whether it's Yamaha Drums or others. 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 drums of your dreams. We carry a huge selection of Yamaha Drum Sets and Snare Drums in stock. If Yamaha isn’t your thing, we can help with many other fine manufacturers as well.
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