Pearl Reference Series Drums Tested!

pearl reference

Tommy, Can You Hear Me?

The 10" x 8" and 12" x 9" toms were a snap to tune. Again, this is where the heavy MasterCast hoops and new BRL-300 swivel lugs come into play. The drum feels so solid that there is no threat of the drumhead seating poorly because of bending hoops or bad tension rod alignment. The sound of the mounted toms was excellent: the mixed birch/maple 10” tom performed perfectly and the 12" all-maple tom was warm and very responsive. Both rack toms had a wide tuning range and played surprisingly well at all volumes. They sounded best at mid-to-lower pitch tunings. I’d be interested to hear how they would react to having heavy gauge triple-flanged hoops instead of die-cast. Next time.

The 16" x 16" floor tom also had an exceptional tone. Instead of the whooshy pitch bend or hollow sound of many modern drums, the gorgeous mahogany inner plies, round bearing edges, and isolated “floating” legs give this drum a much fuller, more musical character. The real benchmark of a floor tom is how well it holds a note at lower pitches. The Reference tuned easily to a low pitch and didn’t waver in tone like some of its thinner shelled, sharper edged cousins. The three toms sounded like they belonged together, and each drum did what it was asked to do without limitations.

Kick Me

My pet peeve raises its ugly head again with the bass drum. I’ve never had to carry a heavier bass drum before — not even a Sonor! It’s not just the shell that weighs so much, but also the hardware, which is admittedly thoughtfully designed, but adds some real pounds to the drum’s overall weight. While I tend to gravitate towards thicker shells on toms and snare drums, I usually like a thinner bass drum.

At first, it was difficult to get a handle on tuning the 22" x 18" Reference Series bass drum. Trying different heads didn’t help, but when I tightened both heads considerably, the drum suddenly came alive. I wasn’t knocked off my feet by the kick’s sound, but was really impressed when it was used on the Chili Peppers recording. It held up favorably against both a vintage Ludwig and a Gretsch kick drum. With Smith’s powerful right foot behind it, the drum sprang to life. It was more punchy than resonant, but definitely had plenty of power. Ideally, I’d like to see drum companies offer a 14" depth on bass drums, like the classic American drums of the 1950s and ’60s. To my ear, shallower shells, while lacking in huge punch, make up for it with a more musical tonal character.

Hardware And Finishes

Pearl hardware has always represented the pinnacle of function and form, and their new generation of stands and pedals is no exception. One shining example of ingenuity is the WingLoc — a cymbal stand topper so radically different, it all but makes the standard wing nut obsolete. Other little changes such as the adjustable arm on the snare stand are clear evidence that there are no flies resting on Pearl’s product designers.

The kits I tested had two different finishes. One kit sported a gorgeous deep-sprayed finish called Purple Craze, which was a burst type, with the purple darker towards the top and bottom head. This lacquer was absolutely flawless. The other kit came in what the company calls Root Beer Fade, which was actually an almost amber color at the top fading into a darker burnt amber. This finish was also close to perfection, save for one dark blemish in the maple outer ply. The gloss of the shells combined with the ample amount of chromed metal give these drums a classic, upscale look.

The Verdict

In less competent hands, Pearl’s concept of individually engineered drums might make for a conflict of sound between the various elements of the kit. I was surprised to find that, although the drums had different wood and ply structure, the kit had a balanced and organic sound. No single component stood out or was weaker than the other, although I might prefer to try to a thinner, shallower bass drum.

Still, there’s no question that these are about as upscale as drums get. With a hefty price tag of $4,399 they represent the very top of Pearl’s product line. I imagine lots of drummers have better backs than I do, so weight shouldn’t be a deterrent to buying these kits. But I’d be willing to risk a sore back if I could own a Reference Series set. For now they are at the front of the pack and they reconfirm Pearl’s commitment to the future of drum making.


Model: Pearl Reference Series Drums
Price: $4,399
Finishes: Purple Craze, Root Beer Fade
10" x 8" Tom: 2 inner plies birch, 4 outer plies maple, rounded 45-degree bearing edge
12" x 9" Tom: 6 plies maple, rounded 45-degree bearing edge
16" x 16" Floor Tom: 2 inner plies mahogany, 4 outer plies maple, fully rounded bearing edge
22" x 18" Bass Drum: 6 inner plies mahogany, 2 outer plies maple, fully rounded bearing edge
14" x 6.5" Snare drum: 6 inner plies birch, 14 outer plies maple, 45-degree bearing edge
Features: Pearl OptiMount tom mounts, LB-200 bridge leg brackets, MasterCast hoops, BRL-55 swivel lugs, and Eliminator BD pedal and hi-hat stands
Contact: Pearl, 549 Metroplex Dr., Nashville, TN 37211. 615-833-4477.

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