BY BRAD SCHLUETER
QUALITY DRUMS AT CRIMINALLY LOW PRICES
The name Dixon has long been associated with inexpensive hardware perfect for drummers who are on a budget. Now a new association can be attached to the Dixon name: quality drum sets and snare drums that are ready to compete with better known brands with more-established reputations. The company’s goal is to offer professional and competitively priced drums for drummers of all levels. Given Dixon’s previous rep, I was eager to put these drums to the ultimate test.
OUT OF THE BOX
Dixon has three separate drum lines called — in ascending price order — Chaos, Demon, and Outlaw. I received a 5-piece high-end Dixon Outlaw kit in one of two common configurations (though add-on drums are available in a variety of sizes to expand your kit), as well as a complete set of hardware. The kit consisted of a 22″ x 18″ bass drum, 10″ x 8″ and 12″ x 9″ rack toms, a 14″ x 14″ floor tom, and a 14″ x 5.5″ snare drum. This is a good configuration for most rock and pop though a “one up, two down” kit with larger drums is also available for heavier styles of music.
Right away, it was clear the Outlaw boasts plenty of nice features, including 7-ply maple shells with 45-degree bearing edges, suspension-band tom mounting, 2.3mm triple-flanged hoops, professional Evans drumheads, and a range of high-gloss finishes. The drums have gasket-lined die-cast bass drum hoop claws, lugs, die-cast snare strainer and butt plate, vent-hole grommets, and floor tom memory locks, all of which add to the kit’s overall impression of quality. The floor tom has thick legs with air pocket feet to add sustain to the floor toms — a very nice feature normally found on much pricier kits. The lugs are also mounted on thin gaskets to help isolate them from the shells. The bass drum is “virgin” style (sans tom-mounting plate) so I had to mount the toms from two of the cymbal stands.
As of now, Dixon offers a limited range of finishes with just three choices in the Outlaw line, though all are appealing. In ascending order of price, the finishes are Tobacco Burst, Black Burst, and Blue Burst Sparkle. I was sent a kit in Black Burst finish, which has silver on the top and bottom of each shell that “bursts” into a black area in the center. It was very nicely done with no defects in the finish. The hoops were finished in the same silver color and everything had a nice smooth glossy finish without any streaking. From the web site and brochures the other two finishes looked very nice as well. I’ve also checked out and played a Black Satin finish kit from Dixon’s birch/mahogany Demon line at the shop I teach at, and it too had a flawless finish. However, I’d like to see the company offer a few more finishes for a wider palette of choices, especially for the high-end level Outlaw kits.
The Dixon badge is a large ten-pointed star that references an image of the Sun, in part because of its gold-colored finish. The gold badge complements the Tobacco Burst finish very nicely, although I think a silver-colored badge (as is found on the Demon kits) would be more aesthetically appealing with the Black Burst and Blue Burst Sparkle finishes.
The kit came with Dixon’s 900 series hardware package. All the hardware is double-braced for extra strength and includes memory locks where needed. While sturdy, the hardware isn’t needlessly heavy. The package included a single bass drum pedal, hi-hat stand, snare stand, and one each of straight and boom cymbal stands.
The double-chain cam-drive bass drum pedal has a dual surface beater (felt and rubber). The felt side is standard-sized but the rubber side seems a bit small, so heavy hitters might put a depression in the head if they don’t use the included beater patch for added head protection. The pedal has a stabilizer plate under the footboard, lending a reassuring feeling of stability. The pedal was easily adjustable and felt great straight out of the box. The only thing I wasn’t crazy about was the necessity of having to use a drum key to clamp the pedal to the hoop. Might I suggest a wing screw in its place? Other than that, the pedal was completely professional.
The hi-hat pedal offers a hinged height adjustment clamp (as do all the stands) that I like because it’s not likely to dent and damage the tubing. There’s also adjustable tension and rotating legs to accommodate double bass drum pedals. The footboards of the hi-hat pedal and bass drum pedal were a bit boring looking, though that didn’t affect their performance in the least, which felt smooth and solid.
The two double-tiered cymbal stands use fine-geared tilters and only differ in that one offers a nice long hideaway boom arm. Both were solid performers. The snare stand has a gearless tilter that is very useful for finding the perfect position for your drum. It has large rubber feet (like all the 900 hardware) and held the drum securely throughout the review.
The toms came with two ball-and-socket L-arm clamps that attached to each cymbal stand to support the smaller toms.
This hardware was all sturdy, reliable gear, though I’d like to see gearless tilters on the cymbal stands at this level. Dixon also offers three other levels of hardware starting at the very lightweight end of the scale and gradually beefing up to the 900 series gear I received.
The snare drum is a 7-ply 7mm shell (as is the bass drum). It came equipped with a coated G1 snare head perfect for brush playing, a sturdy die-cast throw-off and butt plate, plus a nice set of wires underneath the drum. After I tuned it up, I was pleased with the sound I was able to pull out of the snare. It had a nice wood drum sound, with enough crispness coupled with the underlying warmth that metal snares often lack. The 2.3mm hoops allowed for cutting and clear rim-clicks. The rubber-covered fine-tuning knob was easy to adjust with the wires engaged and allowed me to quickly vary the snare sound from wet and dark to dry and crisp. Rimshots had an average amount of ring and the drum had enough sensitivity for light playing. I liked the snare quite a bit.
The toms have 7-ply 6mm shells that are thin enough to make me expect a rich tone with a bit more lows than thicker shells can usually offer. They came with Evans G2 over G1 heads, which is a nice-sounding combination for rock, offering durability and a bit more low end. Both mounted toms have suspension mounts that remove the tom brackets from the shells and add sustain to the drums. They seemed to work well since the drums had just the right amount of sustain. The toms hung around long enough for slower fills but not so much that a soundman will reach for his gate or duct tape. The 14″ floor tom sounded deep and fat, while the other two toms sat with evenly spaced pitches above it. All three drums rang clearly and didn’t sound too tubby, even with these two-ply batter heads. The toms sounded very good indeed.
The bass drum came with an EMAD batter head and a single-ply resonant head. With the thinner muffling ring installed, the sound was excellent. It had lots of low end and attack, though I found the solid logo head to ring a bit too much for my taste. If I were going for a John Bonham-type sound with lots of decay, it’d be perfect, but since I usually prefer a more controlled sound, I’d port the head to let some of the air out of the drum and tame the ring. I recommend that Dixon consider either a ported head or a head with a muffling ring around the perimeter of the logo head to dampen the bass drum’s decay.
Lots of manufacturer’s sell their kits with midline or lower quality drumheads in an effort to keep the costs down. The downside of this is that cheaper heads may lack some durability and rarely do the drum’s sound justice. I applaud Dixon for including professional heads on this kit so drummers don’t have to replace them to get their drums to sound as good as they can, especially since it can cost $100–$200 to replace the heads on a kit.
The Dixon name may be a newby on the professional drum market, but the company’s drums are quite nice and worth a second look. If you’re searching for a new maple kit with the quality, sound, and features a professional requires, Dixon has one, but fortunately at more of a hobbyist’s price.
SHELLS 7-ply, 100-percent maple drum shells with 45-degree bearing edges.
CONFIGURATION 10″ x 8″, 12″ x 9″, and 14″ x 14″ toms, a 22″ x 18″ bass drum, and a 14″ x 5.5″ snare drum.
FINISH Black Burst
FEATURES 2.3mm triple-flanged hoops; suspension mounts; die-cast snare throw-off; three high-gloss finishes; a variety of add-on drum sizes; ultra-thin, lightweight shells; Evans heads.
PRICE Kit OL-522E BKB: $2,548. 900 Series Hardware Pack: $539.
CONTACT Dixon Drums Playdixon.com