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See-Through Sound

by Rick Van Horn, photo by Jim Esposito


Say what you will about exotic woods and custom paint jobs, there's just something cool about the look of a clear drumset. And forget about "retro." That coolness knows no time period. When you (and your audience) can see through the drums, it adds a whole new dimension to the performance.


Sonor's X-Ray acrylic drumkit—a new offering within the high-end Designer series—takes special advantage of this added visual dimension. The linear design of the Designer series lugs gives the kit an absolutely skeletal appearance. The shells seem to disappear entirely, leaving you sitting behind a metallic framework that seems magically suspended in the shape of a drumkit. Like I said...really cool.



You may have seen photos of Thomas Lang doing clinics on a massive multi-piece X-Ray kit. Our review kit was a bit more modest. It featured an 18x22 bass drum, 9x10 and 10x12 rack toms, a 14x14 floor tom, and a 5x14 snare drum. All of the drumshells featured bearing edges that were cut very precisely.


The toms had steel hoops, while the snare drum was fitted with a die-cast hoop. The hoops on the bass drum were made of the same acrylic material as the shells.


The toms were equipped with Sonor's own Clear Medium single-ply heads top and bottom. The snare had the same head for its batter. The bass drum was fitted (front and back) with Sonor's Clear Power heads, which are single-ply medium heads with edge rings for control.


The kit came with a 600 series high-end hardware package that included two combination cymbal/tom stands, a hi-hat, a snare stand, and a bass drum pedal.


As much as I gushed about the cool look of clear drums, all the coolness in the world doesn't matter if those drums don't sound good. With that in mind, let me first say that acrylic shells have gotten a bad rap over the years. Because they're made of a hard, clear material, many drummers automatically assume that they will produce an ultra-bright and "brittle" sound. But this has proved not to be true with acrylic drums we've reviewed in the past, and it's certainly not true with the


X-Ray drums

The density and reflective nature of the acrylic shells certainly do make the drums very resonant, and also gives them excellent projection. But far from sounding brittle, our review drums sounded warm and full—much closer to a wood-shell sound than one might imagine.


We were particularly impressed with the tom sound, which was bigger and more powerful than the sizes of the drums might indicate. The 14x14 floor tom particularly stood out in this regard.

The bass drum had an interesting idiosyncrasy. When played at a low volume, it had a very pleasing low-end boom that would sound great in an acoustic situation. But the sound seem to be "trapped" when we really laid into the drum—as though the sound waves were being reflected back within the shell and canceling each other out. As a result, the drum didn't generate the sonic output that we thought it should. So we tried an experiment.


Cutting a hole in a bass drum's front head usually reduces overall resonance somewhat (even while adding punch). But in this case, replacing the solid head on the X-Ray bass drum with a ported model let the resonance, depth, and power of the drum escape, to excellent effect.


The X-Ray snare drum bore more sonic resemblance to a high-quality metal-shelled drum than to a wood model. It had plenty of crack and loads of volume potential, but it also had a pretty substantial amount of overring. A large part of this might be attributable to the clear batter head, which, while it makes the look of the snare consistent with that of the other drums, really doesn't serve well as a snare batter. Unless you want to pile on the muffling rings, a switch to a coated batter will likely be necessary.


The "bigness" of the toms was also reflected in the snare. Even when the head was cranked up, the drum sounded deeper than its 5" actual depth.


If the X-Ray kit has any acoustic limitation, it might be one of excess. One of my editorial colleagues said that it just had too much volume to be used in an acoustic jazz setting. But he couldn't wait to try it on his next rock gig.

Drum Hardware

While the X-Ray kit's acrylic shells are new for Sonor, the Designer series drum hardware isn't. But for those who may not be familiar with it, let me say that it's undoubtedly the most engineered drum hardware on the market. It's simply unlike anybody else's...which could be interpreted as good or bad.


To begin with, Designer series snare and tom tension rods feature the slotted-head design that has set Sonor apart (to the aggravation of some) for many years. The bass drum rods are fitted with small round knobs instead of key heads. All lug-mounting screws are isolated from the shells by special insulators, in what Sonor calls the APS Advanced Projection System. All of the lugs are fitted with Tune-Safe tension-rod locking devices that squeeze the threads of the rods. That's good for maintaining established tuning, but annoying when it comes time to adjust that tuning or change heads.


The APS system is also used on the floor-tom leg holders. These holders have large, easy-grip round knobs rather than traditional wing bolts. They're also spring-loaded and rotatable, to hold the legs (even when the knob is loosened) and allow them to be folded up on the drum for transport. Very convenient. But this system requires the legs to be shorter than some drummers would like. And the gripping nature of the leg holders makes quick leg-height adjustments very difficult, since the legs won't slide through the loosened holders.


The Designer bass drum spurs also feature the APS system and large round knobs. Plus they offer an angle adjustment gauge with a memory lock, push-button adjustment of spur length, and a slick-looking rubber sleeve over the extension portion of the spur. It all seems pretty sophisticated just to hold a bass drum in place, but it does work very well.


There was no tom mount on the bass drum of our review kit. Instead, the two rack toms were "flown" from combination cymbal/tom stands on either side. They were mounted on Sonor's Designer tom holders, which feature ball-shaped four-piece Segment-Clamps for infinite angle adjustment. The L-shaped arms fit into TAR (Total Acoustic Resonance) suspension mounts on the toms. These feature a small knob below the tom fitting that applies tension to the mount, thereby reducing or increasing the overall resonance of the drum. This, not surprisingly, is called the AcoustiGate Resonance Fine Adjustment.


All of these innovations are intended to provide the maximum in sonic and functional performance. Whether or not they appeal to you would be a personal choice. However, one thing is certain: Sonor's hardware tends toward the heavy side. And when it's mounted on shells made of acrylic (which is denser and heavier than wood), it makes for some heavy drums. The bass drum, for example, weighs 37 lbs., as opposed to 23 lbs. for a birch bass drum of similar size that we compared it to.

Stand Package

The various 600 series stands that accompanied the kit are Sonor's top models. They're all heavy-duty, double-braced models that would stand up to anything. They also have one nifty feature that I really appreciate: one leg of the tripod can be rotated independently from the other two. This makes it possible to pull the stands in closer to the bass drum than standard tripods can go, and also allows for easier arrangement of multiple stands.


The P 693 bass drum pedal is a high-performance model based on Sonor's Giant Step design. It comes with Sonor's unique Docking Station, which is a mount that permanently attaches to the bass drum hoop. Instead of clamping to the hoop itself, the pedal is fitted with a Smart Connect System that attaches to the Docking Station. This makes attaching and detaching the pedal a very simple operation.


First and foremost, you'd need to dig the look of the X-Ray kit before even considering it. Not everybody will. But if you do, you need have no reservations about its quality or its acoustic potential. It meets Sonor's reputation for outstanding construction and engineering detail, and it has a full and powerful sound. The weight of the drums might be daunting to some, and the purchase price will be daunting to many. But for those to whom these drums appeal, I say again: really cool.



  • 18x22 bass drum $2,999
  • 9x10 tom $1,099
  • 10x12 tom $1,199
  • 5x14 snare $1,199
  • 14x14 floor tom $1,699
  • CTS 659AX-4 cymbal/tom stand $319
  • P 693 bass drum pedal $319
  • HH 654 hi-hat stand $379
  • SS 657 snare drum stand $259


(804) 515-1900, www.hohnerusa.com

© 2006 MODERN DRUMMER Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction without the permission of the publisher is prohibited.
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