Even the best beginner kits often come with low-quality skins which struggle to stay in tune for long or survive a beating. Of course, a premium drum kit with excellent skins is going to cost a small fortune, so one solution is to upgrade just the skins (known as ‘heads’). This way you get a better sound without having to fork out for an entirely new kit.
Here we review the best options available and help you decide which is the right one for you.
At a Glance: Our Pick of The Best Drum Heads
- Remo Emperor X Coated Snare
- Evans G2 Standard Tom
- Aquarian Super-Kick II
- Evans EMAD2
- Remo PP-1470-PS Pinstripe Clear Tom
- Remo Powerstroke P3 Clear Bass
- Evans Power Center Reverse Dot
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.
- Why Do I Need New Heads?
- Types (Plies)
- Buying Guide – Key Considerations
- Product Round-up & Mini Reviews – Best Drum Heads
- So, Which Should I Buy?
Why Do I Need New Heads?
As we mentioned in the introduction when your drum heads start sounding tired, flat or just plain worn out it’s time for a set of new skins. Even if you don’t need new ones, getting a different set can completely change your sound and inspire you to play new songs, so it can be a worthy choice either way.
How often should you change them? Well, even the highest quality heads will eventually need replacing, but generally, a standard set will last through 3 or 4 months of reasonably intense use before needing to be replaced. Resonant heads can last up to 9 months; however, it’s recommended you change them somewhere before this time to ensure the sound they produce is up to scratch and projects well.
Heads are categorized by the thickness of the ply layer, the number of ply layers and the skin’s overall finish, all of which vary significantly between manufacturer.
Single ply drum heads are used in pretty much every style of music for their bright, crisp and highly responsive sound. As you’ve probably gathered, single ply skins consist of a single sheet of polymer between 7 – 10 mm thick. It’s possible to find some single ply ones that are between 3-5 mm thick, but these are usually designed to use with snare drums.
Most artists and manufacturers opt for single ply skins for their resonance and punch, although they can’t stand as much of a beating. Medium weighted single ply skins will give you much more sonic diversity when you tune your drum differently.
Double ply skins consist of two sheets of material with each polymer being around 7mm thick. So, yes, they can take much more force than their single ply brothers. Tone-wise, double plies tend to produce a more meaty, focused sound, so are often used in rock and meta, and less so for genres like jazz. Evans’ G2 series and Remo’s Emperors, are a couple of excellent examples.
Buying Guide – Key Considerations
The type of skin dramatically changes the overall sonic experience from your kit. For example, some can lean towards brighter or warmer tones. The thickness and coating of the skin can also change the overall sound the drum kit produces.
The coating refers to the layer of polymer material on the ply surface. If your skins do have the extra finish, the head is said to be coated, if not it’s known as a clear skin.
The type of coat influences tone too. Extra coatings dampen the sound, making the sound warmer with less attack and punch in comparison to clear ones, which produce a brighter sound. Clear ones project well in contrast to coated versions too. The finish also influences which drum the skin fits on to, i.e., whether it fits on toms, snare or kick.
So, how does thickness influence your tone? Well, the layers that make up two-ply drums heads will vibrate against each other, thus reducing the sustain rapidly. Double ply skins are also thicker than a single version, which means the head vibrates at a lower frequency. This, in turn, leads to a low pitch being produced with fewer overtones coming into the mix. In the opposite way, single ply heads allow your drums to sustain for longer at a higher pitch while producing more overtones.
Some manufacturers even produce a hydraulic variety, which are made up of two layers of ply with a layer of oil placed between both. These things make for a really heavy low end and are far easier to tune than the rest thanks to the oil acting as a lubricant. As a consequence, hydraulic ones can be great for beginners as they are easier to set up and tune.
Pre-muffled heads are an excellent option for all you overtone lovers out there. But why are they called pre-muffled? Well, due to their muffling ring, which is built-in to the underside of the polymer material. Just be careful when using one of these things, as your tone can get pretty muddy, pretty quickly if you overuse them and getting the right mix may take some fine tuning. If you’re certain pre-muffled skins are what you need, check out Remo’s pre-muffled Powerstroke series or Evans’ “EC” series, both are pretty killer!
Product Round-up & Mini Reviews – Best Drum Heads
Remo Emperor X Coated for Snare
This one by Remo is the most affordable skin we review here, but considering the price, you still get some pretty cool material and technology for your buck. We feel that the best aspect here has to be its durability. It’s made from two free-floating pieces of tough, 10mm coated Mylar film, which can take a battering. There’s also a built-in 5mm reverse black dot, which produces warm, mid to low frequency tones, making it perfect for rock and heavy metal playing styles.
The overall sound the Emperor X skins kick out is loud and powerful when you really go for it, but also capable of creating a light, ghostly punch when struck lightly. Also, there’s also way less overtone interference in comparison to other brands, so for these reasons, these are a great option for use both in the studio and live. Saying that seeing as the Emperor X is imported, it’ll need to be cleaned, waxed and tuned by the time it reaches your door. This means that the only downside here is that tuning may take some time, but with that in mind, one advantage of this model over the rest is that it can be tuned high, even up to a C, for that John Bonham style. So overall, we recommend this skin to anyone who hits hard in a heavy rock or metal band. With that in mind, Emperor X heads are affordable too, so you won’t end up breaking the bank by buying some.
- Durable – The Emperor X can take a beating and will last for months.
- Versatile – This item works well in upper-middle to low-end tones.
- Needs a setup – After all that traveling, you’ll need to clean and wax this skin.
- Coating – The coating in the center tends to wear away after a couple of practices; this can reduce the quality of tone slightly.
Evans G2 Standard Tom (Pack)
The G2 Standard Tompack by Evans is currently selling at a similar price to both the Aquarian and Remo sets we’re going to mention later, but what exactly do you get for the money here? Well, Evans have included a set of 12”, 13” and 16” drum heads, all of which are made from two 7mm polymer sheets. So, in a similar way to the Emperor X skin we mentioned above, the two-ply design makes them very tough and will withstand hard hits no problem. A set of G2s will probably save you some money in the long run too, as you’re less likely to have to replace them as often as a set of single plies.
But the best thing about these heads has to be the versatility of their application. They are coated with a layer of set liquid polymer, which means they produce a focused, warm sound with good depth. With that in mind, all this tone can be tailored to meet your specific taste, as the G2s can be tuned both low and high while keeping the full resonance that everyone loves. Versatility is also achieved here thanks to Evans’ 360 tuning technology, which means that their G2s have an optimized angled collar for easy assembly and tuning. Overall, we feel that this pack is best suited to people that like to play a variety of styles of music. Thanks to the 360 tuning system and the two-ply coated skins, you’ll be able to get fantastic sustain from both rack and floor toms alike, and you’ll be able to adjust them to exactly how you like your set up.
- Versatility – The unique 360 tuning system means adjusting the pitch will be easier than ever before.
- Tone – These G2s give you a nice, warmth and depth whilst retaining full resonance.
- A lot of sustain – These things ring out forever, which is nice but can becoming an interfering noise at times.
- Quality – Although Evans’ kit sounds good for the price, there are better quality versions out there which will last longer.
Aquarian Super-Kick II (Pack)
This pack is a couple of dollars cheaper than Evans’ set we just talked about, so what’s the difference here? Well, both manufacturers are offering 7mm two-ply skins; however, the skins in the Super Kick II Pack feature something called Nu-Brite film, which makes for a fuller low end. There’s also a handy felt muffle ring, so there’ll be no extra dampening required. Overall, Aquarian has designed these things for low end and less interference, rather than versatility and sustain like Evans’ pack.
In terms of tone, the Super Kick II pack is still pretty clear and focused, which works well at controlling that big, deep bass drum tone. Arguably the best thing about these skins is the ‘floating muffling system,’ which basically acts as a pre-dampener to allow the skins to produce a more natural sound. This saves you a lot of time and hassle stuffing blankets and pillows inside the drum cavity.
Just be aware that these skins are really muted, so may not meet the specific tastes of some drumming styles. However, they sound great in really heavy styles that need faster kick drum sections with little interference, like say death metal or thrash. For this reason, we believe Aquarian’s skins are best for metal artists that want a specific muffled sound without having to lug around their duvet.
- Patented ‘muffling system’ – Gives you more control and reduces interference.
- Tone – The sound Aquarian’s skins produce is intense and vibrant, considering the pretty affordable price.
- Lacks sustain – If you like your bass drum to ring out, this is not the skin for you.
- Not so durable – Unfortunately, if you play hard, these things can rip apart in a few weeks.
The EMAD2 by Evans is the priciest skin we review in this article, in fact, it’s a fair chunk more dollar than the sets we’ve already mentioned, but we promise, for the price you do get some fantastic technology.
Evans’ design includes an EMAD system, which works in a similar way to the muffling system by Aquarian. However, unlike Aquarian’s technology, the EMAD system is fully adjustable, with a two-ring damping system, which means you get way more control over the attack. Choosing the thinner foam ring gives your bass drum extra power, focus, and resonance, while the wider ring will increase the bass frequencies and attack of your kick drum. So of course, we think that the adjustable dampening technology is the best aspect of the EMAD 2, as it allows for much more tonal versatility than any of the models we mention here.
It’s two-ply, with an outer sheet of 7mm polymer, and an inner 10mm version for extra durability. Just like Evan’s G2s we mentioned earlier, there’s, of course, the same Level 360 Technology included. This means the collar allows the bass drum head to be secured easily, and more easily tuned for a wider tonal range and maximum control.
Overall, the technology here makes this best suited to people that need to focus their tone. The EMAD dampening system along with the Level 360 tuning system means you’ll be able to recreate pretty much any bass drum sound you like. Just remember this is our premium choice, so it comes at a greater cost than all the other items we discuss.
- Fast tuning – Thanks to the Level 360 Technology here, tuning will never be a problem again.
- Versatile – The fully adjustable EMAD system means that you’ll be able to recreate a wide range of tones.
- Price – All this technology comes at a high cost.
- Heavily muted – Some folk don’t like the muffled sound, so may be better off with something that sustains for longer.
Remo PP-1470-PS (Pack)
Out of all the packs we’ve mentioned so far, Remo’s Pinstripe Toms set is the costliest. So, what exactly do you get for your dollar here? Well, these skins are made from a set of two-ply, 7mm polymer sheets, which feature a very rapid decay, making them great at recreating R&B and Pop tones. As well as this, these skins have a moderate attack and response, which is a bonus in that they work well in most styles of music that aren’t verging on the extreme.
The best thing about Remo’s Pinstripe Toms is that they feature an overtone reducing agent between the two plies, which means the drums have that extra control, to ensure your sound remains clear focused. Skins without overtone control can often sound muddy, and a little lost in the mix, so this is an advantage. Having two plies also means that this set of skins is likely to last you a fair while and will handle being hit hard.
So overall, we’d say this is a great option for anyone wanting a durable set of skins to work with pop, funk and rap styles of music. Saying that their tonal diversity makes them an excellent place for beginners. For the price, you get a decent tone, that will work with different styles and loads of overtone control.
- Clear tone – The overtone reducing agent and rapid decay technology here really brightens up the overall sound these skins produce.
- Great all round skins – The sound these kick out suits most styles of music, as long as it’s not extreme, so would be a good place for a beginner.
- Not easy to tune – You’ll need a drum dial to get a good sound from these.
- Doesn’t metal – If you want to play heavier genres, these skins won’t provide enough bass and warmth for that style.
Remo Powerstroke P3
Remo’s Powerstroke 3 is selling for a slightly cheaper price than the Evans EMAD2, but what exactly is the difference? Well, first of all, the Powerstroke contains a single ply 10mm polymer sheet, with a 10mm inlay ring in its outer edge to dampen any unwanted overtones. So yes, we’d say the best aspect here has to be the Powerstroke’s tone control. But saying that, the sound this thing kicks out is nice too. The single ply polymer has been specifically chosen to produce focused mid-range and low frequencies, with a well-defined attack.
In comparison to Evans’ model however, this thing doesn’t have the convenient tuning technology or the two-ply build for extra durability, so just be careful not to hit it too hard! The Powerstroke P3, however, is capable of reaching a higher frequency range than the EMAD2 skins, which are slightly deeper and meatier. Just remember, there’s no right or wrong choice when it comes to your tone, rather it depends on what music style you’re going to be playing.
Overall, this would be a great option for those of you shopping on a budget and wanting to play blues or classic rock. Just remember, the Powerstroke P3 is probably not going to work well with very down-tuned heavy metal or drone doom as it’s built for more mid-range tones.
- Powerful Attack – The single ply sheet is very responsive and packs a punch.
- Dampener – The Powerstroke P3 has a built-in inlay that reduces the interference from overtones.
- Not much depth – Yes, this thing can do low, but it can’t do really low for more extreme styles of music.
- Not so durable – Even though the single ply sheet used here is pretty thick, it’s still not as durable as a two-ply option.
Evans Power Center Reverse Dot
Another one by Evans, this is the second most affordable item we take a look at in this article, and for the low price, you still get some cool features. We think that the best aspect here really has to be the power center patch, which offers a touch of extra durability and focus to the 10mm single ply sheet. The power center contains unique notches in its diameter, which allows the skin to flex by keeping the head open at the edges. The power center can even be reversed, to make room for brushes, handy eh?
Of course, being made by Evans, it comes with that convenient 360 tuning technology. This is an enhanced collar design that ensures the skin fits onto the drum body easily by extending the playing surface evenly, 360 degrees around the drum. So, you’ll be set up and ready to play in no time at all!
One thing to remember is that this skin is single ply, so it’s not going to take as much force for as long as a two-ply design. But saying that, the tone it produces thanks to the polymer used is excellent. This thing is super responsive and kicks out a snappy pop, with plenty of sustain. So, it cuts through a mix well enough to be heard.
We think this product will be an excellent choice for anyone looking for a super responsive snare skin on a budget. You really can’t go wrong here, this thing will pierce through your band’s mix without breaking a sweat and you’ll be able to tune it in a matter of seconds.
- Easy to tune – The 360 tuning technology Evans have thought up means you’ll have this skin tuned up in no time.
- Cuts through a mix – This thing is loud and has plenty of bite, so it’ll cut through your mix no problem.
- Not so durable – Because it’s only single ply, this skin won’t last as long as a two-ply version.
- Extremely resonant – Because Evans has included the reverse dot technology, this skin can end up sounding a little hollow at times and may need a touch of dampening.
So, Which Should I Buy?
If you’re shopping on a budget then Remo’s Emperor Snare Head may be a wise choice, this skin is very affordable and is two-ply, so will take a beating.
If you’re a complete novice and not entirely sure what sound you want to go for, then Remo’s Pinstripe set is a great option. These are perfect all-rounders and versatile enough to play different styles of pop, hip-hop, and rock. That said, Evans’ GR2s are also very versatile but made for slightly heavier styles, so they might be worth exploring too if you’re interested in metal and classic rock.
However, the ultimate heavy metal skins we’ve looked at today have to be Aquarian’s Superkick bass drumheads. These bad boys produce a booming, deep rich tone and are two-ply, so will last for ages. If the bright punch of single ply skins is more your thing, why not go for Remo’s Powerstroke 3 or Evans’ Reverse Dot Heads, both produce clear mid-range tones with plenty of attack.
Finally, if you’re looking to spend the extra bit of cash for the best that money can buy, then go for Evans’ EMAD 2 Bass head. This thing packs some serious technology that allows you to adjust the skin’s damping and tuning to exactly how you like it, and it sounds beastly!
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.