BY DAVID LIBMAN
Drum manufacturers typically make wood shell drums from a variety of usual suspects: maple, birch, mahogany, poplar, basswood, bubinga, oak, or combinations of those woods. In recent years, Ddrum has experimented with unconventional drum shell materials such as its ash-shell Dios kits. For the 2011 model year, Ddrum introduced something that, to my knowledge, is a first: its Reflex series made from 100 percent alder shells. Guitar manufacturers often use alder, as it is a tone wood that’s reasonably priced. Therefore, I was very curious to see how alder would adapt for drums.
I received the Player configuration of Ddrum’s Reflex series: a 5-piece shell pack consisting of a 22″ x 20″ bass drum, 14″ x 5.5″ snare drum, 10″ x 7″ and 12″ x 8″ toms, and 16″ x 14″ floor tom. (Ddrum also offers individual add-on Reflex drums, including 20″, 22″, and 24″ bass drums, 8″ and 13″ toms, and 14″ and 18″ floor toms.) The bass drum comes as a virgin shell with no mounting hardware. To mount the toms, Ddrum includes two ball-style tom arms with clamps that are mountable on any cymbal stand (including, not surprisingly, those made by Ddrum), and three floor tom legs.
ICE SPARKLE IS COOL
The Reflex series is offered in four lacquer finishes: three satin and one high-gloss with red alder outer ply, as well as nine different wrap finishes: Grey Bubble, White Bubble, Copper, Black, White, Ice Blue Brushed, Pewter Brushed, Chrome, and Ice Sparkle. I received an Ice Sparkle wrap kit. If this isn’t the best color of the bunch, then the other finishes must be incredible. Here’s why. The Ice Sparkle is consistent from top to bottom — not a fade, thank you very much. It has a blue/grayish hue with several glass (or glass-like) sparkles intermixed that make these drums twinkle in even dim lighting. This finish would be beautiful at any price.
THE MANY FACES OF FACE-OFF LUGS
Each of the Reflex drums receives Ddrum’s face-off lugs, a unique Ddrum design that it uses to great effect. The circular face-off lugs incorporate a threaded receptacle that allows for multiple uses. Most of the face-off lugs on the Reflex kit receive a screw-on removable cap. The face portions of those caps are covered with the same Ice Sparkle wrap as the shell. This, however, is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the face-off lugs’ possibilities. For example, Ddrum offers a spiked cap for the face-off lugs if you’re a heavy metal player — or a drummer who’s afraid of being attacked while you play.
The same receptacle on the face-off lug that receives a cap cover doubles as the point of attachment for Ddrum’s new suspension mount. On each tom, the suspension mount attaches to two lugs via a drum-key-adjustable tension rod. This suspension mount has a minimalist design that uses just enough metal to hold the tom sturdily in place, but not so much that it unnecessarily covers the shell. The mount accomplishes the goal of avoiding extra holes drilled into the shell, but it has very little give when the drum is struck. I question whether this mount potentially risks stifling the vibration of the shell.
Ddrum came up with yet another clever use for the face-off lugs on the bass drum. The four floor-facing lugs on the bass drum’s bottom receive rubberized caps. This allows you to lay the bass drum on the floor during setup (before unfolding the legs) without the risk of scratching the lugs or otherwise blemishing the drum shell. Moreover, if you play your bass drum virtually flat to the floor, I imagine the rubberized caps would help hold the drum in place. Ddrum outfits the bass drum with two very sturdy adjustable-length bass drum legs. My only complaint is that these legs have no preset or line markers on their circular angle adjustment. Therefore, once you’ve folded up the legs and packed the drum away, you have to eyeball the legs again the next time you set up to get the same angle.
The Reflex series is a semi-professional kit that I believe is very affordably priced — a $972.50 list price (no doubt less at the store). Despite this pricing, the Reflex series comes with many fully professional specs. The snare and toms receive strong 2.5mm triple-flanged hoops. The bass drum receives all-wood hoops that are nicely lacquered on the inside and covered with a wrap finish on the outside. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the bedded snare comes with a Dunnet snare strainer and butt — a favorite of custom drum makers. If you’re unfamiliar with it, this nifty all-chrome strainer engages the snare with a quiet lever that swivels 180 degrees.
The Reflex series also has some semi-professional specs that are obvious concessions to cost. The most glaring example is that these drums came outfitted, top and bottom, with cheaper Taiwanese-made heads. These are decent heads, but they do not sound as good as professional heads. However, Ddrum later indicated that as of January 2012 all Reflex kits will come outfitted with Ddrum By Evans heads, which should make a big difference. Also, the Ddrum badges on each of these drums have an embossed design with black lettering that, at least to me, does not look nearly as elegant as some of the engraved badges that adorn other more expensive drums.
DOES GUITAR WOOD WORK FOR DRUMS?
Yes. All Reflex drum shells are 100 percent alder. Toms are 6-ply; snares and bass drums are 8-ply. Plies are staggered horizontally and vertically for strength. On sight, I noticed the plies appear to have slightly different colors. Ddrum explained that Alder comes in red and white varieties. The visible interiors of the Reflex shells are an attractive red alder. Other, less visible core plies may include white alder plies.
I checked bearing edges on the floor tom and bass drum. The edges look to be 45 degrees and Ddrum cuts the edges quite evenly. However, these edges are not silky smooth to the touch. They have some roughness that could be easily eliminated with some fine-grade sandpaper (though this came with another assurance from Ddrum that the rough-edge issue has since been addressed). Still, I prefer a slightly rough edge that’s evenly cut to an uneven smooth edge. I was able to easily and quickly tune each of these drums.
In terms of sound, according to a few sources on the Internet (and we all know how reliable that is), alder is a member of the birch family. As a drum wood, birch is known to emphasize highs and lows (not as many mids), give a pronounced attack, and offer shorter sustain and slightly more pitched tonality than, say, maple. For these reasons, drummers often choose birch for recording.
The Reflex alder shells reminded me of birch because of their attack and short sustain, but they did not offer quite the same richness of tonality that I have experienced with birch. The mounted toms and floor tom each bark with defined attack, short sustain, and a not-as-pitchy-as-birch tonality that I would describe as focused. When in tune, these toms have a nice bounciness that makes them gratifying to play, despite the cheaper drumhead choice on this review kit. Good thing future models will come equiped with the Ddrum By Evans heads. I experimented with the floor tom by replacing the Taiwanese heads with two professional-quality (but admittedly used) Remo Ambassador clear heads. This minor change made the floor tom sound better.
The bass drum sounds a bit flub-y went tuned loose. At medium or tighter tensions, it produces a nice round boom that remains remarkably controlled given its 22″ x 20″ size. The drum has enough control (perhaps due to the alder) that I felt no need to add any muffling to the shell. Instead, I played it wide open. This bass drum sounds best when played medium to loud. At soft volumes, it feels as though the batter head produces sound on impact, but that the resonant head fails to fully vibrate. This could be a consequence of the rather enormous 20″ distance between both heads, but I wonder whether professional heads might rectify this issue.
The snare drum is the gem of the Reflex series. This eight-lug snare produced plenty of crack and crispiness, and a pleasant full tone that focuses primarily on the mid- and high-pitch frequencies. Without any muffling, this snare still manages to avoid annoying extraneous overtones. It also provides excellent snare response from soft to loud.
Still, I do have one nit. Ddrum did not perfectly align the butt side of the Dunnet snare strainer system. The butt was at a slight angle that made it not quite parallel to the bottom bearing edge. When this happens, the snare wires are slightly misaligned with the bottom head. Correspondingly, this causes the snare wires to sometimes give extra, unwanted sympathetic vibration. I assume this was a small oversight in terms of quality control. However, in choosing this, or for that matter any snare drum, it’s always good to check whether the snare strainer is lined up correctly. Even with this minor defect, this snare drum was still quite impressive.
Despite a few semi-professional specs and price point, I was impressed enough with the Reflex drums to take them to my fully professional gig. Under the lights, these drums looked stunning; they received compliments from both band and audience members. The quartet I played with performed jazz and funk tunes at medium to loud volumes. The drums allowed me to play musically and dynamically in both styles — and they even responded well to brushes. With the first-run issues of cheap heads and rough edges addressed, I imagine these drums will sound very good. Reflex offers the opportunity to own a kit at an affordable price that looks great and sounds unique and musical. These drums definitely warrant consideration for the gigging drummer on a tight budget.
Shells Alder-shell drum kit with 6-ply toms and 8-ply snares and bass drums.
Features The Reflex drums come with 2.3mm triple-flange hoops on the toms and snare, a new suspension mount for the toms, three-leg floor toms, face-off lugs, professional wrap and lacquer finishes, and lovely wooden bass drum hoops.
Configuration Player 5-piece configurations come with 22″ x 20″ bass drum, 14″ x 5.5″ snare drum, 10″ x 7″ and 12″ x 8″ toms, and 16″ x 14″ floor tom. Tom arms with ball-style clamps and three floor tom legs are included.
List Price $972.50