From the December 2016 issue of DRUM! | By AJ Donahue
Ten years ago, the team at Pearl set out to design a drum series that redefined the balance between performance and value. The result? A brand-spanking new line of affordably priced, well-crafted drums appropriately dubbed the Decade Maple series. The company went all in on delivering high-end sound, durability, and looks, while keeping street tags below a grand. This is a real value play.
Sounds like some heavy marketing lingo, right? Well, after spending a couple months with the Decade drums, I get it. While the list price of the shell pack featured in this review comes in over $1,000, the actual shelf price is $699, and quite frankly, that’s bonkers. Let me tell you why.
By The Numbers
Pearl sent over one of the new Decade Maple kits in a standard 5-piece configuration, the sizes of which are detailed in the graphic on the facing page. Additional configurations are available, including shell packs with extra toms, or 20″ to 24″ diameter bass drums. Pearl by Remo single-ply heads came installed all around.
Look With Your Special Eyes
Man, you really can’t go wrong with black drums. The look is as timeless as a grand piano in a great hall or a monocle on a cigar-smoking dog. There’s just something classy about it.
The Decade Maple kit I received for review landed bearing the Black Ice finish — a crisp, deep black lacquer expertly applied across each shell, which would look at home in a five-star hotel ballroom. (More finish options are available, including a selection of beautiful gloss and matte lacquer bursts.)
That sleek, evening wear finish was bolstered by Pearl’s low-mass NDL lugs, which are small enough to stay out of the way and let the gaping maw of endless night swallow the eye further. Fully lacquered bass drum hoops completed the appearance, but were balanced by a coated white resonant-side kick head with a preinstalled port. I feel like I’m just circling now, but this is a classy set of drums.
L – R: Solid Yellow, White Satin Pearl, Black Ice, Satin Brown Burst, Gloss Deep Red Burst, Satin Black Burst
Whenever I looked at the Decade Maple kit’s construction, I was struck by the care invested in each component. Its all-maple, 6-ply, 5.4mm shells are silky smooth inside and perfectly round between each pair of lugs.
Staggered seams help maintain shell strength and shape, and every shell edge comes to a finely cut 45-degree interior grade with a slightly rounded over outside bevel. Even without regard for the price point, these are very well crafted shells.
Those diminutive NDL lugs were light but felt strong in hand, and slim plastic gaskets held each lug firmly while preventing rattling. Slim, telescoping bass drum spurs looked a bit small on the kick, but held firm throughout the review.
Both rack toms came equipped with Pearl’s Opti-loc suspension-style mounting system, which was a nice surprise. The mounts do in fact penetrate the shell at one contact point, but distribute downward pressure more evenly by bracing against two batter-side tension rods. This enables the shell to vibrate more freely than it would with a fully tapped bracket, while limiting bounce and wobble. Similarly, floating Air Suspension feet on the floor tom legs gave the jumbo drum extra room to breathe without the need for a cradle.
The supplied 7/8″ Unilock tom arms were sturdy and effective, with mating memory locks and a gearless single-bolt tilter for increased positioning range. The upper tube of each arm was a bit long, and could even touch the opposite side of the shell when fully inserted. But this didn’t pose any problem during our review, since I was able to position the mounted toms for comfortable play by backing each out a fraction of an inch.
It’s a balancing act, folks. Compromises must be made in order to deliver a good sounding kit at a low price range, which means potential buyers need to ask themselves if the choices made by Pearl’s R&D team match their own priorities. Skip back a few paragraphs, and take another look at the solidity of Decade Maple shells, and you can surmise that the designers traded a couple minor hardware quirks for professional sound and playability. We think they made the right decision.
Bing, Bang, Boom
Sonically, the Decade Maples were exactly what I was hoping for in a second-stage or performance-level kit like this. Those thin maple shells and low-mass lugs let the drums resonate with broad, open tones that move among low, medium, and high tuning ranges with ease. Rather than offer a narrow, specialized performance application, these drums have a standard kind of sound that can quickly be tailored to suit just about any setting.
I thought the included 14″ x 5.5″ matching maple snare drum was a great value-add for this kit. Matching snare drums often feel like placeholder throw-ins that won’t be around for long, but that isn’t the case here. The Decade snare was a crisp, lively unit with a lot to say. It would make an excellent jazz or fusion drum at medium tunings and above. The slim but sturdy throw-off and chrome-over-steel wires felt most comfortable when tensioned on the snug side, offering a fast, dry snap under each note. The snare lost a little energy when tuned below medium, so you might want to swap it out for a big backbeat gig, but it was otherwise a useful addition.
The bass drum is the real star for me, though. Pearl ships each Decade kit with a specially designed muffling pillow that mounts to a preinstalled Velcro strip inside the drum. Coupled with the internal tone-control rings on each single-ply bass drumhead, it helps produce a super-solid, fat bump with lots of slapping attack up front. With just under medium tension on both heads, I got that classic, punching Dennis Chambers sound. It went lower and higher with no problem, but felt most comfortable in the medium range. I think the fact that the toms mount onto the bass drum helps control the sound even more without compromising power or fullness.
Both rack toms sound clean and full, with a subtle brightness that was probably enhanced by the quick snap of clear, single-ply heads. I think the thinner 1.6mm hoops really make a difference here, enabling the drums to sing just a bit more freely than a heavier hoop would allow. I enjoyed them no matter how they were tuned, but they hit a definite sweet spot when tensioned just below medium. They were big but controlled, and very powerful.
The floor tom sounded great once I got it dialed in — rich, low, and rumbling. However, it required more tuning time than the other drums, presumably because of the tension spread of six lugs per head. If I purchased this set, I’d consider replacing the floor tom’s 1.6mm hoops with 2.3mm hoops, to distribute downward force a bit more evenly around the head. Again, despite all that, I loved the tone.
Pearl put ten full years into designing new Decade Maple drums, and it shows. These are great instruments, and the price makes them an unbelievable value. I found the shell construction quality to be top-notch, and the sound exceptional. There are a couple minor hardware concessions to maintain its price point, and yet the entire rig feels strong and sturdy. And I should add that all Decade shell packs include a lifetime warranty from Pearl, something totally unprecedented in this price range. As an upgrade kit for the developing drummer or a gigging rig for a working pro, this is a hard buy to beat.