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.
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.