Sonor SQ2 kit
(Its not often you start a kit review and just have to mention the shipping containers, but well, there you go).
Lets get things straight from the top. This kit is not cheap. It is not a starter kit, or a mid range kit either, it is firmly in the serious pro, top end area, and as such everything about it is serious and top end. For shipping for instance, each drum is wrapped in heavy-duty grey cardboard, or inserted into a perfectly sized tube of cardboard. Then, a specially formed octagonal grey cardboard lid (complete with Sonor logo, shipping info and serial number) is placed on each end. These are secured with two heavy-duty nylon straps with quick release catches that lock into indentations on the lids. Each drum therefore comes in its own specially formed case that suspends it in a protective shell, which (and I’m not suggesting you should do this) could double as basic cases, giving probably more protection than a soft case. Having said that, you are unlikely to put a £3800 drum kit in soft cases, but you get the idea.
A quick word about the SQ2 range, which is at the top of Sonor’s ranges having replaced the Designer range. If you are near a computer (and you must be as you are reading this), try going to the Sonor website and going to the SQ2 online Configurator at www.sq2-drumsystem.com/ and have a look at what is on offer.
While there probably are some ‘standard’ sets, the whole point of SQ2 is that it is a completely custom kit within the rather wide option range. Every drum is ordered separately and it is completely up to the customer as to what they want. If you want to mix a thin birch bass drum with thick maple toms and an Acrylic X-Ray snare, then great, go for it. If you want them all in different colours, that’s fine too. However, most drummers will go for a nice cohesive kit in one colour, and the options are still impressive if not mind blowingly different.
The SQ2 shells are available in beech, birch, maple and acrylic, and the wood options come in a choice of vintage (6 ply/4mm with 3ply/2mm reinforcing hoops), thin (9ply/5mm), medium (9ply/6mm) or heavy (12ply/8mm). Snares come in 10" – 14" diameter with a depth of 4.25" – 8", toms from 8x7" to 16x16", floor toms from 14x12" to 18x18" and bass drums from 16x14" to 26x22".
Finish wise, the options are again pretty massive, with options for semi or high gloss veneers, fades over the veneer in high gloss or semi gloss, high gloss solid colours (with or without a fade), the same for sparkles (with or without a fade) or a choice of wraps. On the Configurator are something called RAL colours which seem to be all the solid colours that Sonor offer, of which there are around 200. These are the colours you choose to give you exactly the solid or fade you desire.
However, what makes it all a little different is that you can select either a clear lacquer on the inside of the bass drum shell or you can select a piece of prime veneer in around 20 different woods. I’m assuming this is so the kit still looks good when clear heads are mounted front and back. I can only imagine what a drum looks like with say a nice simple solid fade on the outside and a gorgeous piece of ebony of Bubinga on the inside. You can also, on the bass drum, select different finishes for the inside and outside of the bass drum hoop, and they don’t have to be related to the shell finish. Even better, you can treat each bass drum hoop as a separate entity and have different finishes, inside and out on both of them.
Hardware wise, you have the option of chrome, gold or black chrome lugs, tension rods, spurs, tom mounts and hardware can be different for either end of the shell too. You even have the option not to have an SQ2 badge if it were to offend you aesthetically. Lastly are the head options, with a variety of Sonor branded Remo heads, which can have the Sonor logo or the SQ2 logo or any combination on the bass drum heads and the standard Sonor badge on the tom and snare heads.
Well that pretty much sums up the SQ2 series ordering system. I know other manufacturers have online configuration programs but the Sonor one does seem to be nicely lacking in hype. You can even find out the full details of existing SQ2 kits. If you go to the Configurator and find the ‘Find Unique Print ID (UPID)’ and put in 116108945586-1, you’ll find the exact kit I was sent for review, which you will see was ordered in the UK on 17/10/2006 and at the retail price then was £3825.55.
This kit being a 'one-off' is the reason that we aren't using nice glossy stock Sonor photos for this review, quite simply, there aren't any.
Which leads us on nicely to the kit in question. I was sent a 14x6" snare in a medium maple shell, 12x8", 14x14" and 15x15" toms in a Vintage maple shell and a 22x18" medium maple bass drum. All the drums were finished in a lacquer called ‘Solid Black-White-Black’ that resembled an old ‘Duco’ finish in that it was black at the top and bottom with a white band around the middle of the shells. There was a slight graduation between the bands, and it was nicely hand done, in that it didn’t look like a robot had done it. Having said that, it was still perfect, and the lacquer was deep and glass like. All the hardware was chrome with triple flange hoops on the toms and a massive die cast hoop on the snare. The bass drum had Sonor’s Easy-Grip tension rods that have a round hand knob to tension the drum rather than needing a drum key. It should be pointed out to those who haven’t looked at a Sonor for a while, that these drums do have conventional square head tension rods, rather than the old slotted kind, but the drum keys provided were all capable of working with both styles.
Along with the drums I was also sent a snare stand and a tom/cymbal stand to mount the 12" tom. The Sonor tom mount on the 12" has a built in resonance gate, which by tightening the round, bottom knob, makes the tom mount more rigid, thereby shortening the sustain. The mount drops onto the ‘L’ shaped arm on the holder and tightens securely.
The snare stand has a quick release lever that allows it to be set once and then loosened or tightened simply by lifting the lever rather than turning a fiddly knob. It was when I was setting the stands up I noticed that one of the legs on both stands was able to swivel either way to allow for closer set ups. It was a very simple mechanism, which locked solid when the wing bolt was tightened. Nice.
So, what were the drums like? Well, we all have our ‘perfect’ drum sound stored in our heads somewhere, and I’ve got to say that these drums will probably come as close as humanely possible to many drummers idea of what great drums should sound like. Personally, I’m not taken with the ‘incredibly thin shell/as low pitched as possible’ philosophy, and I like my drums to have a thicker shell and therefore more projection. Therefore these drums were right up my street. Even though the toms had a (relatively) thin Vintage shell, they were still thick enough to sound great, as we will see.
The snare was brilliant with a really nice ‘crack’ that never choked and a nice little musical after ring. Everything from the quietest grace note at the edge of the head to the loudest rimshot was perfectly reproduced. Sonor snares have always been good at the top end and this one really didn’t disappoint. Then at £650, it really shouldn’t! The drum sounded like it had a shell which was much thicker than 6mm – it had loads of presence but was still flexible and sensitive unlike many very thick shells which sound a little one dimensional. This had character coming out of its ears… if it had them.
The toms sounded like I was rimshotting them, even when I wasn’t, they had so much attack to them when hit hard, the 12" and 15" toms being particularly good. Although I messed around with taking them up and down a bit, to my ears they just sounded great with a medium tuning, with loads of sustain and all that attack. They were fat and throaty when played hard and jazzier when played lightly. The clear Ambassador equivalent heads top and bottom helped on this.
The bass drum, which was mount free and unported, sounded big, fat and rounded with a nice low rumble even though it came with a Falam Slam patch on it which wouldn’t have been my choice. It was supplied with Power Stroke 3 equivalents on front and back. ALL the drums sounded nicely ‘woody’ which I know is an obvious statement, but they really did sound nice and warm.
Obviously I didn’t order this kit, so the sizes aren’t my choice, as I found the two floor toms a little close in pitch for my liking, a 16" rather than a 15" would have things a little more even to my ears. Despite this, the toms sounded suitably thunderous and I’m sure (no, I’m certain) they would record fantastically. Unfortunately I didn’t get time to put the kit under the mics, but with a kit of this quality, you aren’t going to get a kit that doesn’t do all jobs very well.
It’s not even worth pointing out that the build quality was perfect on this kit. Everything from the smallest airhole to the bearing edges was solid and perfect. I can only equate this kit to the car world. Years ago, Sonor advertised as ‘the Rolls Royce of drums’ and back then, they weren’t wrong – they were expensive, but solid and reliable and very desirable. However, every other manufacturer who used to build at a Ford level (good, honest, reliable but hardly exclusive) has developed their kits up to the Mercedes Benz level – formally exclusive, but now everyone has one. Sonor has also developed and this SQ2 kit is in the Maybach league, the range of luxury saloons aimed at Russian football bosses and oilfield owners. I’m not saying that the Sonor kits are better than anyone else’s, they just have that certain desirability and quality to them and you know that you’ll spend hours playing with the drumming equivalent of the massaging seats and the voice activated windows. Very impressive.
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