Aquarian Nu-Brite Heads Tested!

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Great can always get better. After decades of helping some of the world’s most iconic drummers achieve their sound, Aquarian was faced with a tough decision: stay the course or commit to a line-wide revamp that addressed endorser requests for a brighter, more tonally rich head. It chose the latter.

In an effort to create a drumhead better suited to modern microphones, electronics, and recording techniques, Aquarian changed its Mylar supplier and developed a completely new film. The resulting product received such an overwhelmingly positive response from endorsers and artists, Aquarian felt the new film warranted its own name: Nu-Brite.

Aquarian sent over a wide selection of these updated heads for this review. Let’s take a look at each set by application.

Bottoms Up

The good people at Aquarian were nice enough to ship a full set of Classic Clears for use as resonant heads. Before I did anything else, I put the single-ply, 10-mil CCs on tom and snare bottoms without changing my batter-side heads. The result was remarkable.

The Classic Clear resos immediately perked up my thin-shelled maple toms, adding loads of rich, robust tone. They sang just a little longer, and spoke clearly at all volumes. This was most noticeable on a particularly pesky 12" tom, which sounded more comfortable than ever across a full dynamic range after the switch.

Similarly, my maple and walnut snare drum that received the Classic Clear makeover was immediately more crisp and, well, clear. Quite the difference for having only replaced the bottom heads.

Tom Tom Club

In an attempt to showcase the wide tonal variety afforded by its Nu-Brite Mylar film, Aquarian sent three separate sets of tom heads for this review. First up, the company included a second pair of Classic Clears for use as tom batters. As soon as I got them tuned up, I was met with a quick, rich attack followed by lots of clean tone – the Nu-Brite name immediately made sense to me.

I spoke with legendary drummer and Aquarian founder Roy Burns about creating the Nu-Brite film. In that conversation, he told me about the company’s desire to design a head that produced the same musical tonality that helped establish Aquarian’s reputation, but with a modern, bright attack capable of cutting through heavily amplified instruments. The Classic Clears were the perfect embodiment of that goal, with each emitting an enormous, deep sound even at a medium tension.

Cranked up high, the CCs spoke with a sharp bark and a pointed sweetness that was begging for a nimble jazz combo. Then, with a medium tuning, they took on a whole new persona, producing an almost hyperbolic tom sound that was simultaneously punchy and round from top to bottom. For me, the Classic Clears simply nailed that perfectly even, iconic tom sound suitable for everything from fusion to pop to medium-volume rock.

With a slightly more focused and deeper sound, the clear Response 2’s made an excellent option for drummers in search of something a little more durable that doesn’t sacrifice too much tone. Featuring two 7-mil plies superbly sealed with Aquarian’s unique Vacuum Process, the Response 2’s had much of the same clarity and projection as the Classic Clears, but with a little extra low end and added warmth. Kind of splitting the difference between vintage roundness and popping attack, these heads would be perfect in modern rock or funk settings.

Finally, I slapped on the last set of heads from Aquarian’s tom spread: the Force 10s. With two 10-mil clear plies, the Force Tens just looked heavy on the drum. Fortunately, they didn’t play so thick, offering a comfortable feel that really worked best at a medium tension. The Force 10s had so much built-in low end that a middle tuning delivered that big, thumping heavy rock sound and more than enough body to back it up.

I used all the heads in this review on different rehearsals and gigs, but the Force 10s proved some of the most surprising. At a session that covered everything from jingling post-rock to sloppy funk to insanely loud sludge, they put up big tone with enough control to avoid stepping on other instruments. The extra weight cut down on the attack just a bit, and they couldn’t handle extremely low or high tunings as easily as their lighter cousins, but they just killed all throughout the middle range.

Kickin’ It

With my toms freshly reheaded, it was time to move on to the bass drum. First up, I received one of Aquarian’s black, 10-mil, single-ply Regulator heads for the resonant side. The head featured a 4.75" pre-cut hole at just a little past the 3 o’clock position, as well as the company’s patented Floating Muffling System in the middle.

The FMS proved one of the most intriguing elements of all the heads I checked out. Using a 2" wide, 10.5"-diameter foam ring centered on the inside of the head, the Regulator mostly eliminates the need for internal muffling. The foam ring really seemed to focus and highlight low frequencies without muddying up the tone or reducing attack. No matter which head I paired the Regulator with, I was treated to an ultra-bassy yet controlled note that was consistent at all volumes.

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For the batter side, Aquarian included two models from its celebrated Superkick line. I threw on the clear Superkick II first, and with only a few turns of the key, it had my bass drum sounding studio ready. Finding a comfortable spot between 808 lows and arena-rock punch, the Superkick II took my maple bass drum to a place it had never been before. I was so impressed, I just didn’t want to stop playing the thing.

Once I finally separated myself from the SK II, I tuned up Aquarian’s Superkick 10 to the same tension and went to town. I was curious about how much noticeable difference there would be between the two heads, as they use the same construction with the only difference being the two 10-mil plies on the Superkick 10 (rather than the 7-mil plies of the SK II).

What a huge difference! The Superkick 10 had tons of punchy attack with tremendous focus and plenty of low end. The crazy lows weren’t quite as present as they were with the Superkick II, but I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed by the big, booming presence this head had to offer.

One last thing I want to mention about Aquarian’s sampling of rump-shaking skins: the combination of internal muffling included on both Superkick heads, as well as the Regulator, didn’t require any additional muffling. Each pairing was perfectly playable with no sluggishness and more than enough oomph. Even under a microphone, every note was big, fat, and clean without much errant overtone.

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Mr. Versatility

Last but not least, the big box from Aquarian included two very distinct coated snare drumheads. The first, a single-ply, 10-mil Texture Coated, was ready for just about anything I threw at it. On a deep maple/walnut snare, it gave me lightning-fast attack with crystal-clear highs and body to back it up. Tightened to the extreme, it let out a cracking smack that didn’t sound pingy in the slightest. Way down low, I got a ringing wallop with plenty of high-end bite that had me hacking away at New Orleans grooves until I couldn’t feel my hands.

The Texture Coated totally blew me away under a heavy-bristled brush, though. Wide open with a medium tension, even the slightest swipe brought out a world of round tone, white wash, and plenty of volume. With the right brush and a heavy hand, the TC probably wouldn’t have any trouble cutting through an electric guitar.

A Cure For The Curse

The other coated snare head Aquarian sent over for review was the 3-ply Triple Threat (that’s right, three plies). Despite being very impressed by all the double-ply models I’d already checked out, I was still a little wary of a triple-ply snare head. This thing was heavy. All I could imagine was one of those Kevlar marching heads that holds tension even after being shot with a rifle or whatever.

Well, again, I was totally wrong. Three 7-mil plies created a very tight unit capable of unbelievable sensitivity considering the weight. I tried the Triple Threat head on three different snare drums and got the same result every time – bright, cutting highs with an ocean of fat tone below. It got a little floppy at lower tunings, but from a medium tension on up, this was a truly remarkable head.

In another conversation with Roy Burns, I told him about putting the Triple Threat head on a steel snare that I’d never been able to dial in correctly. As soon as I tuned it up, I finally heard the sound I’d been after for so long. He chuckled, and said, “Yeah, it’ll definitely cure the curse all right.” A perfect summary of what a head like this is capable of doing. 

Verdict

In my opinion, Aquarian hit this one out of the park. Its updated Nu-Brite Mylar film fulfills the company’s desire to create a head that can handle the demands of modern mikes and electronics without sacrificing tone. The Nu-Brite heads were exceedingly playable, and really allowed the true richness and character of each drum to shine through. The improved film produced a series of heads that surprised me over and over again with their versatility and depth. If Aquarian can make a 3-ply head sound that good, it’s definitely doing something right.

Details

Model/Size & List Price
Classic Clear 12" $21
Classic Clear 14" $23
Snare Side 14" $21
Response 2 12" $27
Response 2 14" $31
Texture Coated 14" $26
Force 10 12" $30
Force 10 14" $34
Triple Threat 14" $42
Superkick II 22" $82
Superkick 10 22" $88
Regulator 22" $84

Features Aquarian’s updated Nu-Brite film allows for maximum clarity and sustain across all its drumhead lines. From single- to 3-ply heads, the company’s new Mylar film and proprietary Vacuum Process create a uniquely musical and playable head.
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Aquarian Drumheads
Aquariandrumheads.com