Dixon Steel and Bubinga Artisan Snares
Dixon Artisan Snare Drums Review 2011
Dixon drums have been around for quite some time and are probably best known for their budget hardware and instruments which are often found in schools and the like. They seem to be associated (like many Taiwanese companies) with being cheap but not too cheap to do the job, and so have been largely overlooked by many seasoned drummers. But Dixon has always had plenty to offer – especially for those with a smaller budget.
It seems a couple of years ago that they moved into more professional territory with a new range of higher quality snare drums and kits. Indeed there are even recent collaborations with Australian drum manufacturer Chris Brady, but those are for another review. Here we will be looking at two deep, pro quality snare drums from their Artisan range.
Dixon Artisan 14x6.5” Steel Snare (PDS9654PST)
This is a big, shiny, drum that looks like it means business. Fresh from the box there is a good, solid and well made feel to the construction and all the chroming and hardware looks pretty good. There seems to be nothing too flashy about this drum and at a glance this could be any other well made, big name product. The spec includes 10 double ended chrome lugs, 1mm beaded chromed steel shell, 2.3mm triple flanged hoops, 20 strand snappy snare wire, a generic but functional snare throw, Evans G1 coated and clear reso heads, a single basic air hole assembly and a large round badge. On closer inspection all the bits are in the right places, well aligned and secured and its all generally well made and assembled. The chrome finish was especially good – reminding me of the legendary metal work on drums from the British drumming heyday.
In use, this has a deep, round and fat biting sound with a bit of zing from the metal but nicely beefed up by the body size. The tuning, from low and flabby to tight and high, was easy to achieve and held very well through a couple of gigs. Indeed the tuning rods and nuts were smooth and clean when tensioning the head and felt pretty darn solid and reliable. The snare lever, while simple in design, was just right for quick access and the action was easy to operate and not too big or small for quick changes.
My only gripe (as it would be with any drum!) is the Evans ‘Dixon’ branded heads (likely from the Far East rather than the main Evans factory I would guess) where the white coating was not as high quality as the usual Evans offering. Indeed, the brush coating started to wear through pretty swiftly (in the space of one gig!) and left white marks on the other drum heads and cymbals where the sticks had picked it up. This small niggle is easily fixed with a new head of your choice but I don’t have the time or inclination to clean my other gear, so this will be with me for a while to come. Otherwise I could find no obvious faults with it and was pretty happy all round with design, build and quality of sound.
Dixon Artisan 14x6.5” Bubinga Snare (PDS9654BBG)
Compared to the steel 14x6.5 Dixon Artisan snare, this straight away appears to be a more classy drum with its long, retro tube lugs and a glossy wood finish. The 7.2mm Bubinga ply shell has a dark deep colour and the tubular lugs, die cast hoops and pressed steel badges are all good looking pieces of kit. Again these are all well made and put together – indeed to a better standard than some big name drums that shall remain nameless here. Again there is a 20 strand Snappy snare wire and basic air hole, but of note (compared to the 14x6.5” steel snare) are the proper Evans G1 heads and better strainer. The strainer is their PDSM-62 model which is less generic looking and just as functional.
There are some nice touches including the neat grommets under the tube lug feet, black lug bolts inside the shell and the quality glossy lacquer finish. So, this drum is, by all accounts, a very good instrument and again has all the hallmarks of a pro drum.
It was also a pleasure to play. I love 14x6.5” drums and this offers all the best bits of this shell size. Sticks produced a fat, rounded and warm tone and there is a hint of a dark character to the sound, likely from the Bubinga wood. Rim shots stayed focussed and loud thanks to the die cast hoops, and there were no bad undertones from super quiet to as loud as you can bear! Deeper snares generally have less snare response then I would like, but with a little tweaking this drum was almost perfect and offered a good all round buzz and rattle for sticks and brushes.
After a few gigs it really settled into a groove for me and I got a feel for the soul of this drum. As with any new drum with a new head, once things had bedded in, I found what for me was the ideal tuning of quite tight top head and a lowish reso head with slightly loose wires. It also sounded pretty good dropped down low but I felt there was less definition and, with a need to cut through to compete with (or sonically complement?!) a guitarist or two, the cranked up top head worked better. I was also impressed with the tuning rods. Once set they hardly budged in several gigs so it was easy to just setup and play with good consistency, and again the tuning was easy and precise.
I actually also got the chance to hear the bubinga snare played by a very capable drummer in a show band through a pretty decent PA. Having got the approval of the MD (he thought it sounded ‘fat’ after a quick knock), he went on to play some pretty tasty stuff and I was able to sit back and listen. The slight metallic ring was still just about noticeable but the main body of sound was well rounded, warm and none too quiet (he likes to hit ‘em!). Despite it being miked from below there was not quite enough snare buzz for my tastes, although the overall timbre was still modern and funky, perhaps a little hip hop – it almost sounded like a deep 13” snare. The other drummer liked it too and sonically it sat very well with his kit, which just so happened to also be a Japanese birch/bubinga kit!
Dixon Artisan Snare Conclusions
Dixon have certainly pulled off a neat bit of upgrading from the very budget world here and produced two good quality drums. I could find no issues with these at all and I had to get in really close to find any distinction between these and much more costly drums by other big brands.
If I were to be really fussy (and I usually am!) these drums would benefit from better heads (on the steel snare) and nicer snare mechanism, but these should not detract from what are otherwise great bits of kit. The tiny details such as basic air hole and low cost badges do keep some separation between these and other brands but bear in mind also that the steel snare is likely to be selling in the UK for around £150 and the Bubinga for around £300 and you have yourselves some very reasonably priced drums with good spec and build quality. So, you could pay half of what other brands might offer and still have yourself a nice snare drum that I am sure will stand up to the rigours of the gig and sound good too.
See the Dixon website at www.playdixon.com
Also see other Artisan Snare reviews here on MD.com by Dave Bateman in 2009 at http://www.mikedolbear.co.uk/story.asp?StoryID=1918
[Many thanks to Dan Hudson of Quantum for playing the Bubinga snare and showing me how it should be done!]
Chris Dennis, 2011
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