BY DAVID LIBMAN
German-based Sonor boasts more than 135 years of drum-making history, which means Sonor was making drums before drum sets were invented. But rest assured, Sonor makes drum sets – lots of them – and in the last few decades, has made many of its more affordable drum set options in Asia. Still, the company continues to make its highest end kits in Germany. For example, Sonor’s German-made SQ2 line is a totally custom series where purchasers may individually configure their kit from a multitude of shell, finish, and hardware options.
In 2012, a German-made high-end kit from Sonor does not have to be custom, now that the company has introduced a top-of-the-line production series: the ProLite drums, which are “handcrafted in Germany.” Of course, we have an international economy (at least for now), so “handcrafted in Germany” means the shells are made and kits are assembled in Germany. Otherwise, shell hardware parts and components are mainly from Germany, America, Eastern Europe, and China.
SMOOTH EDGES, FLAWLESS FINISH, AND SLICK BADGES
ProLite is an apt name because these kits use Sonor’s very thin and very lightweight Vintage Maple shells, which are also a shell option on the SQ2 series. If you think a “production” series means few options, think again. The ProLite comes in nine available finishes, bass drum sizes ranging from 18″ to 24″; snares in 12″, 13″, and 14″ diameters; and pretty much any tom size you could ever want. I received the Studio 1 Shell Set: a 20″ x 17.5″ bass drum; 10″ x 8″ and 12″ x 9″ toms; and a 14″ x 14″ floor tom. A few weeks later, Sonor sent me a ProLite 14″ x 5″ snare drum.
The first box I unpacked included the bass drum without the heads installed. As reviewers do, I ran my finger along the circumference of the bearing edge. I’ve done this with many drums over the years, and this drum’s bearing edge was one of smoothest and silkiest I’ve ever felt. This level of quality seems to be a theme for the ProLites. Sonor’s Vintage Maple shells feature cross-lamination where vertical and horizontal plies alternate between each other. The inner ply shows a vertical grain. I could see no gaps between plies or where ply joints meet. Overall, the shells seem flawless.
The bass drum and toms I received came in the Walnut Brown Burst finish, a high-gloss lacquer exotic veneer. Sonor is known for its exotic veneers. (I can remember drooling over the bubinga finish on the early ’80s Signature series.) This lustrous Walnut Brown Burst finish does a nice job of honoring that legacy. Burst finishes are the rage lately, but I still prefer non-burst finishes. If I were buying, I’d go for the Ebony White Stripes veneer, which looks amazing. The lacquer on my review kit’s toms and bass drum was smooth as glass with no visible waves. The Creme White snare, although called a “semi gloss” by Sonor, feels and looks more “satin” to me. I actually loved the Creme White finish for its subtlety.
Sometimes, a company ruins the look of a perfectly good drum kit with ugly badges. Fortunately, Sonor resisted that temptation with the ProLites. It forewent the traditional silver, gold, or bronze badge options in favor of black textured badges with chrome-colored logos that have a truly elegant look. Each ProLite drum includes an air vent encompassed by a classy laser-engraved metal washer – again, with Sonor’s logo.
The toms and snare receive 2.3mm Power Hoops, although Sonor also makes die-cast hoops an option for ProLite snares. Die-cast hoops might choke toms with shells this thin, so in this case, 2.3mm flanged hoops make sense. I feel compelled to say that the bass drum comes with wood hoops, but what else would Sonor use? All ProLites feature Sonor’s mallet-shaped Tune Safe lugs. The chrome on these lugs (and all components) is impeccable. These lugs include an internal proprietary safeguard designed to keep tension rods from loosening. Although Sonor is known for its slotted tension rods, the ProLites come with the square-head tension rods that are ubiquitous on all other brands. If you’re a Sonor purist, this may be a bummer, but for the rest of us (me included), the square head rods are a welcome change.
The 20″ bass drum has eight lugs per side with die-cast claws for the tension rods. The claws include rubber (or some hardened black substance) between claw and hoop – and also between tension rod and claw. This latter feature gives a bit more resistance when turning the tension rod, which allowed me to tune the bass drum looser while still avoiding any unwanted rattles.
Sonor slightly undersizes its Vintage Maple shells so there is a bit more space between shell edge and hoop than on conventional drums. In theory, this allows the head to resonate more freely (not unlike a tympani where there is also some distance between edge and hoop). In reality, the theory holds true. I had no difficulty tuning the ProLites. Once unpacked, I was able to tune and get a very good sound from all of the drums in less than ten minutes – with no dead spots or weird aberrations at particular lugs.
ProLite toms come with a redesigned Total Acoustic Resonance mounting system. Unlike the older system that had rubber grommets around two top lugs and a third point of contact nearer the bottom of the shell, the redesigned T.A.R. system utilizes rubber grommets around four lugs (two top and two bottom). The redesign is an improvement because it’s stable and does not involve any direct shell contact. Furthermore, the T.A.R. system achieves a good balance between stability and wobble when toms are struck.
THE UNIQUE SONOR SOUND AND FEEL
To my ears, Sonor’s thin-shell toms, including the ProLites, have a unique, definitive sound. When struck with sticks, the ProLite toms begin with a pronounced attack followed by a clear, focused, open tone that resonates just long enough but then quickly decays. I think these toms sound best when tuned at a medium tension. At looser tensions, they lose the woody sound of the shell; at tighter tensions, they can start to choke. The feel of these toms is somewhat spongy with a lot of give – no doubt the result of undersized shells, flanged hoops, and thin shells. Still, the Tune Safe lugs do a remarkably fine job of holding these drums in tune. I often practice with 2Bs, and even with those clubs, these toms held their pitch under hours of playing.
Lately, I like to play my bass drum wide open, but I resort to muffling with a kick drum that sounds overly boomy or unruly. With a 6mm primary shell supported by a 2mm reinforcement ring, the ProLite bass drum is 2mm thicker than any other shell on the kit. That extra thickness gave this kick just enough controllability to allow me to play it wide open while still achieving a pleasant, focused boom.
The ProLite bass drum legs are a sort of rounded triangular shape that fold into or out from the shell. To me, they are hard to get used to on initial setup because when folding them out, I had to eyeball whether each leg was equidistant from the shell (yes, I know, that’s anal). Once in place, I set the legs’ included memory locks so I would never have to engage in that process again. That knit aside, these legs look very stylish, and they do an incredible job of holding this lightweight 20″ virgin bass drum in place. I used the ProLites as my main practice kit for a month while diligently working through Virgil Donati’s Double Bass Drum Freedom book (I wish I could play like Virgil). Even under that relentless pounding, this kick never budged.
The ProLite snare is, in two words, “a gem.” It produces a comforting woody sound that’s live, open, not harsh, and quite musical. Sonor has outfitted the ProLite snare with its Dual Glide System strainer. This is a drop-lever mechanism with swivel knobs on both strainer and butt sides that click into place and, hence, lock snare wire tension. The coolest feature here, however, is that both strainer and butt have a spring-loaded quick-release mechanism for the snare wires. If you want to change your bottom head, you simply push buttons on each end to detach the snare wires without having to undo any strings.
While in my possession, I’ll admit that the ProLites were played, not just by me, but by my wife and the drummer in my son’s rock band. All three drummers (me included) thoroughly enjoyed this kit. The ProLites are fully professional drums that seem to be made with just the right combination of precision and love. Plus, they have a sound and feel that is uniquely Sonor. Interestingly, Sonor did not disclose the price, explaining that ProLites are sold exclusively at its Certified Plus dealers where potential customers are encouraged to call for price. Therefore, I can’t comment on whether the ProLites are a good deal. I can say, however, that if you can find yourself an acceptable deal, this is the kind of kit that you would probably buy and never sell.
Configuration (Studio 1 Shell Pack) 20″ x 17.5″ bass drum, 10″ x 8″ and 12″ x 9″ toms, 14″ x 14″ floor tom, and 14″ x 5″ snare.
Shells Vintage Maple shells (North American Maple) with Dynamic Edge reinforcement rings and 45 degree bearing edges. Toms and snare: nine plies – 4mm shell/2mm reinforcement ring; bass drum: 12 plies – 6mm shell/2mm reinforcement ring.
Features Shells are slightly undersized compared to the hoop for optimal resonance; Tune Safe lugs; toms outfitted with redesigned Total Acoustic Resonance system; vent holes have circular laser-engraved metal washer underneath; 2.3mm Sonor Power Hoops (die-cast hoops available on snare; wooden hoops on bass drum).
+49 2759 790