BY DAVID LIBMAN
Up until a few years ago, DW manufactured only custom kits in its Oxnard, California facility, while less expensive PDP production model kits were manufactured offshore. This changed in late 2010 when DW began manufacturing a production kit domestically: the Performance Series. DW uses the same American Hard Rock maple for the Performance Series that it uses for its higher end maple kits – and the same True-Pitch tuning rods, MAG snare throw-offs – we could go on. But Collector’s Series kits sell for at least 30 percent more (as a starting point) because of their unlimited customizable options.
That is, with the Collector’s Series, your only limitation is your imagination. Dream up a size, color, configuration, whatever; DW will probably make it for you, and John Good will timbre match the kit’s shells to blend with each other. With the Performance Series, DW keeps prices down through various means: shells are not timbre matched; the Quarter Turret lugs are smaller than DW’s larger turret lugs; limited sizes and finishes are available; and the drums are typically sold as individual components or shell packs, not complete sets. For example, the Performance Series offers a 22″ bass drum in an 18″ depth, but not a 16″ or 14″ depth.
Not every drummer wants a 22″ bass drum. For those who march to the beat of – here it comes – a different drummer, the Performance Series now allows for a traditional 4-piece bop configuration. The review kit I received consisted of three components that can be separately purchased: an 18″ x 14″ bass drum; a tom pack consisting of 12″ x 8″ and 14″ x 14″ drums; and a matching 14″ x 5.5″ maple snare. If you don’t like this combo, check out other available sizes on DW’s website, dwdrums.com.
In recent years, most new bop kits I’ve seen consist of either entry level offerings priced in the $500-$800 range or super custom getups that start at $2,400 or more. The 4-piece Performance Series bop kit I received sells for approximately $1,740 (street price, not list), so I was very intrigued to see how it would compare.
Out of the box, the shells’ flawless Tobacco Satin Oil finish immediately impressed me. It has no fading or blotchy spots, and its matte texture is silky smooth. Because a Satin Oil Finish requires less labor, it has the same lower price as the Performance Series FinishPly options (lacquer finish options cost more). The seemingly perfect oil-based finish on the inner maple veneer of each drum equally impressed me. In terms of the aesthetics, my only minor gripe is that shell interiors also receive a rather large grey colored paper badge that looks like a mini-certificate. To my eyes, grey does not match with maple. Although I like the “authenticity” that an inner paper badge gives a drum, I would prefer DW to choose a color that complements maple (e.g., ivory, beige, or white).
DW’s larger turret lugs are an iconic holdover that remained after DW bought the Camco Drum Company’s tooling years ago.
For the Performance Series, DW designed a smaller Quarter Turret lug. These smaller lugs are probably less expensive to manufacture than their larger siblings, but regardless of cost, I slightly prefer the look of the Quarter Turret lugs. With impeccable chroming, these lugs have the same basic look and quality as the larger lugs. But they’re small enough to avoid obfuscating the lovely finish on the shells. Furthermore, the STM tom mount on the Performance Series looks less bulky because the four lugs that it encompasses are smaller.
Earlier version Performance Series snares had the same Dual-Turret lug found on the less-expensive PDP Concept series snares. The Performance Series 14″ x 5.5″ snare I received has the newer single Quarter Turret lug (ten in total), which looks much better to me.
TUNING CAN ACTUALLY BE FUN
Tuning these drums was about as easy at it gets. I attribute this to several factors. First, the flanged hoops are obviously high quality. Not only were they perfectly round, but they were finished impeccably with no rough spots along their edges or undersides. Secondly, the 45-degree back-cut bearing edges were expertly cut, which allowed me to quickly arrive at the same pitch at every lug. Third, the threading on the True-Pitch tuning rods is approximately 20 percent denser than standard rods. DW claims this allows for “more exacting” tuning. Maybe so, but frankly, standard tension rods provide me with as much exactitude as I need. Still, what I love about the True-Pitch rods is that they do a phenomenal job of holding the pitch of the head, even under heavy hitting.
EXCELLENT TUNING RANGE
The Performance Series features DW’s proprietary HVX shells, which combine alternating horizontal and vertical 1/36″ plies with an inner diagonal ply veneer. In theory, bending a maple sheet against the grain on a horizontal ply creates more tension (and a higher pitch) than bending maple parallel to its grain on a vertical ply (a lower pitch). A diagonal ply, not surprisingly, splits the difference. An HVX 8-ply shell goes from outside to inside as follows: (1) horizontal; (2) vertical; (3) vertical; (4) horizontal; (5) vertical; (6) vertical; (7) horizontal; and (8) diagonal. Incidentally, driver’s training with my 16-year-old son involves a similar pattern, but I digress.
Before playing the Performance Series, I wondered whether all this horizontal/vertical business was simply marketing hype. Having now played the drums, I’m convinced it’s much more than that. The alternating ply pattern of the HVX shells does an amazing job of opening up these drums’ tuning range. With the 12″ x 8″ mounted tom, for example, the drum would sing regardless of whether I tuned it low, medium, or high. The floor tom was equally versatile. In fact, both toms sounded incredibly full and rich regardless
of whether they were tuned loose, medium, or tight. Similarly, the 14″ x 5.5″ snare drum responded with a satisfying combination of crack, depth, and snare sensitivity regardless of head tension. In sum, pitches changed with different tuning tensions, but sound quality remained impressive at all tensions.
If there was one slightly finicky member of the family in terms of tuning, it was the 18″ x 14″ bass drum. At first, it sounded completely dead, but I quickly realized this was because DW includes pre-installed bass drum muffling pillows that rest against the batter and resonant heads. Bass drum pillows might be a nice extra for some, but I generally tune my bass drums without muffling. After removing the pillows, I tuned the 18″ kick to loose, medium, and tight tensions. To me, the medium tension sounded the best because it facilitated a focused, round boom that sounded genre-appropriate for jazz.
After I had this kit for a few weeks, I attached a bass drum lifter that raised the drum enough to allow my beater to hit the batter head closer to its center. This minor alteration made the bass drum sound even better – actually, fantastic. My lifter is another brand, but DW’s hardware options include either a bass drum lifter or riser (part nos. DWCP9908 or DWCP9909), both of which accomplish the same basic goal.
If you are a purist, you might be frustrated that, unlike with many bop kits, the Performance Series 18″ x 14″ bass drum is virgin with no tom mount. In my experience, however, mounting a tom on an 18″ kick often results in a tom that doesn’t position high enough (especially with a rail mount) or a bass drum that sounds choked. The wide open sound I was able to coax from this 18″ Performance Series kick (without muffling) convinces me DW made the right choice in ditching the tom mount. Plus, I’d highly recommend the 3000 series double tom stand DW included to mount the rack tom. It’s sturdy, not particularly heavy, and it has an extra receptacle for a cymbal arm.
PERFORMANCE OF THE PERFORMANCE SERIES
DW will have to replace the heads on my review kit before any resale because I put these drums through far more playing time than is necessary for any review. Frankly, I did so because their sound and feel made them a joy to play. Aside from the alone time I had with this kit (on multiple practice sessions), I was able to play it with a piano trio, and then later with a Latin quartet. The feedback I received from my fellow musicians is best described as “gushing.” My piano player friend told me that if I didn’t buy this kit, he would. He thought it sounded that good. Similarly, the bass player in the quartet thinks he can play drums (don’t they always?) and therefore practiced on the kit for ten minutes. He concluded his practice session by professing his love for the kit.
I’m near my word limit and have neglected to mention several other premium features on the Performance Series bop kit that are also available on DW’s higher-priced custom kits. These include lacquer on the snare’s interior (which brightens the sound); floor tom legs specially designed to enhance sustain; DW badges with identifying serial numbers; and DW/Remo USA heads on batter and resonant sides. This kit may not be cheap, but considering the quality and sound you get for the price, it’s a steal.
Features: Quarter Turret lugs, True-Pitch tuning rods, STM (suspension tom mounts), MAG snare throw-off, DW heads by Remo USA, graduated steel triple flanged hoops (3.0mm for the snare and 2.3mm for the 12″ and 14″ toms), wood bass drum hoops with heads tensioned by low mass die-cast claw hooks.
Shells: North American Hard Rock Maple HVX shells with 45-degree back-cut bearing edges and no reinforcement hoops. Toms and bass drum = eight plies; snare drum = ten plies.
Configuration: 18″ x 14″ bass drum, 12″ x 8″ rack tom with STM mount, 14″ x 14″ floor tom with floor tom legs; 14″ x 5.5″ matching maple snare.
Finish: Tobacco Satin Oil finish (review kit), but the bop configuration is available in any Performance Series finish.
List Price: 18″ x 14″ bass drum = $1,121.99 list/$672.99 MAP; tom pack (12″ x 8″ and 14″ x 14″) = $1,261.99 list/$756 MAP; 14″ x 5.5″ snare = $518.99 list/$310.99 MAP. Prices listed are for Finish-Ply or Satin Oil finishes. Lacquer finishes cost more.