Remo is a veritable juggernaut of new ideas. From the first weather-resistant heads (“Thank youuuuuu,” said cows everywhere) right on up to the newest addition in the venerable pantheon of historic heads: Black Suede. Okay, so it sounds like a Richard Roundtree character from some ’70s B movie, but that’s part of the new line’s appeal. Black Suede — it has a certain smoothness, a ring to it (but not the kind you don’t want in a head — more on that later). And even if I was a little nervous about the package from Remo turning out to be some big dude kicking down my door and shouting, “I’m gonna git you, sucka,” I was intrigued to see what Black Suede was all about.
Remo sent me three styles of head for review: Black Suede drumheads, Powerstroke 3 Black Suede bass drumheads, and Black X, a super-duty snare head. The first are ideally designed for toms, but are suited for various uses; the Powerstroke 3 bass drumheads are for added mids, not rings; and the Black X is a reinforced snare head ready to take on the heavy hitters of the world. The company claims that all the Black Suede heads, though they’re designed for different purposes, bring out the mid-range warmth of a drum.
Over the years, and especially in the late 1960s through the 1970s, drummers, sound engineers, and producers have tried various methods to reduce the ring in drums: cigarette packs, tea towels, blankets, you name it. And the resulting sound took on a life of its own — “The ’70s sound” — and was used extensively. Go listen to any record — er excuse me, go download — anything by Badfinger, The Eagles, and the like and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Lo and behold, Remo’s new Black Suede heads give you that sound right out of the box. And can I just mention at this point that I love the fact that the heads are named after a fabric that really saw its fashion heyday in the ’70s? Coincidence? I hope not.
This is not to say that the sound is limited to throw-back lounge acts — quite the contrary. This focused, mid-range-heavy sound could be incorporated into just about any genre you can imagine (neo-Polka grit-hop anyone?). The Black Suede heads come in Ambassador and Emperor weights. For those raised in a cave, these have been traditional measures of Remo heads for lo, many a decade — the Ambassador being a single-ply head and the Emperor being a double-ply. Specifically, the Black Suede Ambassador drumheads feature one ply of textured Ebony 10mil film and the Black Suede Emperor heads feature two plies of textured Ebony 7.5mil film. Remo claims that both weights are ideal for all playing applications. Let’s look into that.
The first thing you notice about the Black Suede heads is, well … they’re blackness. This is not the shiny black that you might expect on a drumhead, but a subdued, appropriately suede-like look. So now that I’ve established that the Black Suede heads are indeed black and look like suede, let me point out that the surface is not suede-like to the touch — it’s much smoother. Not as smooth as a straight-up plastic head, but not something you’d consider as sustenance if you were trapped with the Donner party.
Out of the box, all the heads looked great. The metal hoops were completely flat when placed on a glass coffee table, and the crimps uniform. I received Black Suede heads in both Ambassador and Emperor weights in 12", 13", 16". I also got my hands on the new Powerstroke 3 Black Suede bass drumheads in 20" and 22". When tapped off the drum, the heads are rather lifeless. Of course, this isn’t a bodhrán I’m reviewing, so that’s all well and good. The only reason I bring it up is to emphasize that the heads are meant to focus sound, thus muting parts of the spectrum that may cause ringing.
I set up two kits: one tricked out with the Ambassadors and the other with the Emperors. I used the 22" bass drumhead with the Emperor setup. Both sets of heads tuned up pretty easily, but the Emperors more so. There is not a lot of fiddling and guesswork. Strap it on and tighten it down. Side-by-side, soundwise, the Emperors won the day. The Ambassadors sound good, with the mid-range coming on like gangbusters, but the Black Suede material better complemented the Emperor’s thickness.
This seems to follow since the Ambassador weight is known as a more open-sounding head, so I felt like I was missing something with the Black Suede in this weight. Hard-pressed to put it in words, the Ambassador weight offers a muted sound with a bite. It was the bite that was a bit hard to tune around. However, work with it and you will get a great sound. It’s like the drum has been muted externally — no rings, nice mids — without dampening the shell or the overall tone in the process. The Emperors produced an even tighter sound. They weren’t loud, but I could see them working very well for heavy music where articulation is a concern. The notes stood out on their own, really pronounced with each hit. You could run a Peart-ish fill around them and hear each rudimental hiccup. The sheer volume of the head is a bit lower than your standard Emperor (and Ambassador, for that matter), but the tone was golden — like buttah. It was the kind of tone that is so universally beautiful that I think Remo is right — it would work with almost any genre of music you may play. If you’re a jazzer, the low-volume tone-heavy sound will make your bandmates (all crammed into a space not quite large enough for a band, no doubt) smile. However, the flipside of this is that I would love to mike these babies up and run them through a PA at the local enormo-dome. The sound is killer!
The bass drumheads, both the 20" and the 22", felt sonically similar. The mids are very present and overtones are at a minimum — basically like a Powerstroke 3 with a bit more meat on it. It’s like you stuck a blanket in the drum without having to resort to such tactics, leaving the tone of your beautiful kick there for the world to hear.