BY AJ DONAHUE | FROM THE WINTER 2018 ISSUE OF DRUM!
In the past decade, working drummers interested in upgrading to something swankier have seen a boom in excellent and reasonably priced options. There are so many choices that a beginning drummer could easily jump into playing a nice mid-level kit without making a lifetime investment — and the trend shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.
Case in point: Ludwig’s recently released NeuSonic drum set, which offers blended cherry/maple shells with appointments designed to handle lots of heavy-duty use. With shells made entirely in the company’s Concord, North Carolina factory, the NeuSonic line becomes the first ever US-made shell pack with a street price under $1,000. That’s a lot of value to pack into a “mid-level” drum line.
How did Ludwig pull that off? And does the NeuSonic series live up to its aspirations? Let’s find out.
When the team at Ludwig began work on what eventually became the NeuSonic line, they wanted a sound not yet available in the Ludwig catalog. The goal, says Ludwig marketing and artist relations manager Uli Salazar, was to create something balanced that would be equally suitable for “classic and contemporary settings.”
After experimenting with a wide selection of woods and combinations, the company’s R&D crew landed on a blended 4.5mm shell featuring three thin interior plies of cherry and three thicker exterior plies of maple. Forty-five-degree interior edge cuts with a slight outside roundover facilitate a quick response and some overtone control.
To complement those shells, Ludwig opted for Mini Classic-type lugs, 2.3mm steel triple-flange hoops, steel foldout spurs, and the redesigned Atlas mounted tom and floor tom leg mounts, all of which are bolted directly to the shell. Rubber gaskets protect shells from all drilled components. Toms come equipped with Remo coated, single-ply batter and clear, single-ply resonant-side heads. Bass drums ship with Remo Powerstroke-style clear batter and coated resonant heads, both with tone-controlling underlay rings on the inside.
NeuSonic kits are available in two configurations; the 20″ x 14″, 12″ x 8″, 14″ x 14″ pack we received for this review, and a larger 22″ x 16″, 12″ x 8″, 16″ x 16″ set. Individual 10″ x 7″, 13″ x 9″, and 14″ x 14″ toms can be purchased a la carte. There are four ultra-durable Formica wrap finishes to round out your options.
For this review, Ludwig shipped over one of the smaller-sized shell packs in a Sugar Maple finish. Unlike the majority of plastic-based drum wraps in circulation today, the NeuSonic’s Formica wraps are included in the shell molding process in the same way an exterior ply would be, resulting in a smooth and flawless fit. Of the four NeuSonic wraps available, Sugar Maple is the only finish to show
any wood grain (although it’s printed wood grain — more on that later), as the Skyline Blue, Black Cortex, and Aspen White options are all flat colors.
Overall, the NeuSonic drums are simply designed with clean looks. Mini Classic lugs are in line with Ludwig’s aesthetic, but small enough to let the finish serve as the main attraction. Small, solid claws add a bit of a modern touch, while that iconic keystone badge still looks right at home.
In hand, these are substantial drums. They’re not particularly heavy, but definitely heftier than I expected considering the smaller cast lugs. I imagine that’s in part due to the included Atlas mounts. While they look and operate well, I’m not sure what purpose they serve. The original Atlas mounts replaced lugs to minimize the number of components bolted to the shell, and they also added some modular flexibility. These Atlas mounts — which only touch the shell in two small places — don’t replace lugs, and they appear to operate as normal mounts with extra weight.
The NeuSonic drums are a joy to play. They came out of the box tuned to a medium-ish tension, and were immediately playable, offering up full notes with a warm middle and great projection. The included Remo heads and triple-flange hoops blend with those cherry interiors to deliver a quick, popping attack and slightly abbreviated finish.
I’ve played a bunch of cherry drums recently, and to me, these sound like 100 percent cherry shells. Each note has a big midrange presence, controlled bottom end, and a rounded finish. There’s a really satisfying punch up top that I think has more to do with the edge cut than the maple exterior plies.
Initially, I had some trouble dialing in the tuning of the toms. But after letting the heads settle for a couple days, the drums tuned up beautifully. I barely had to do any fine-tuning when moving the tension from low to high or back again, and I really enjoyed that.
The NeuSonics sounded best in the medium range, maybe three-quarters of a turn up from finger-tight. That tuning really brings out the warm sweetness of the cherry and allows each drum to sing broadly. Notes get shorter and sweeter as tension goes up into a bop range, but the drums’ full, resonant response doesn’t sound choked at all. They’re beautifully bright and punchy with high tones that sing very well together. At the other end of the spectrum, they’re pleasingly fat with lots of growl down low.
Interestingly, NeuSonic mounted toms come with two vented and grommeted badges to suit righty or lefty setups, but floor toms and bass drums feature only one badge. Visually, that makes sense, but I suspected that doubling the air release of the set’s smallest drums might create additional separation between mounted and floor toms. After playing the kit for a while, though, I’m not sure it makes much difference. The 12” mounted tom does have a somewhat abbreviated finish that might be the result of the dryness coming from that extra vent, but overall, it didn’t sound out of place next to the single-vented floor tom.
The NeuSonic’s tuning range was especially impressive. They’re not overly modern or overly beholden to general notions of “vintage” tones, and they sound great everywhere. Even with the stock heads, the kit’s range and versatility is a huge positive; with the right head combinations, in fact, this 20″, 12″, 14″ configuration feels capable of comfortably handling almost any situation.
Although the NeuSonic drums feel like they’re punching above their price point, there are a couple minor cost-saving concessions. First, the spurs can only be locked into two positions: open or closed. They are not angle- or height-adjustable, which might be an issue for players who get prickly about bass-drum lift. Second, the bass-drum hoop edges are not rounded at all. The sharp, 90-degree corner looks unfinished, and I found that a little bothersome.
Finally, while the Formica wrap is super-durable and flawlessly fitted to the shell, it lacks some visual depth. The faux woodgrain of the Sugar Maple seems fine from ten feet away, but up close, it’s a little too unnatural; the solid colors look a bit better.
Ludwig’s NeuSonic shell packs represent a rare combination of thoughtfully implemented features, outstanding tone, and American-made appeal for an impressive price. The cherry/maple shells are warm and punching with a versatile sound that doesn’t lean too hard into any specific style. The few small reminders that these are mid-level drums are more than reasonable for the price. There’s a whole lot of value in the NeuSonic series.