What do you hear in a higher quality snare drum that you don't hear in one of lower quality?

Old Drummer

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I've spent the last 10 days or so off and on comparing a DW Performance snare drum with a Gretsch Catalina snare drum and am having a devil of a time hearing much difference between them.

Both drums are maple 14" x 5.5", and in the interest of do-it-yourself science, I've put the same heads and wires on each while tuning them the same with Tune Bot.

It's obvious from looking that the DW drum is higher quality. The shell is constructed better and is lacquered inside, while it's 10 lugs compared to Gretsch's 8. DW says it uses the coveted North American maple while Gretsch is evasive about the likely mixture of Asian maple and whatever it uses. The DW also costs about twice as much or more than the Gretsch.

But the sound differences are mostly eluding me. I think the DW is a tiny bit brighter (if you like brighter) and has less of a ring. One small piece of tape on the head of the DW tames it while the Gretsch needs a muffled head. Also, although both snares play nicely at low volumes, a hard whack on the Gretsch elicits some annoying overtones while the DW still sounds clean during hard whacks. But these differences are very slight, and I honestly think that the two drums are interchangeable for most practical purposes.

Of course, these are just at-home comparisons and I wonder how I'd feel if I were regularly gigging these snares. The only other time I replaced a snare was some 45+ years ago when I changed from a wooden Ludwig snare to a Premier 2000. I forget what bothered me about the Ludwig, and I'm sure it wasn't much, but I was gigging regularly then and the Ludwig just started to annoy me. I never fell in love with the Premier 2000, but it didn't annoy me and remained my snare for the remainder of my career, until I bought the Gretsch a few years ago. Maybe if I were out gigging now or just playing in different settings, the small differences between the Gretsch and the DW would be important to me, but as it is I'm having a hard time mustering much enthusiasm for the upgrade.

Anyway, these days drummers have become super persnickety about their snare drums, and I'm wondering what differences you hear among them. In my at-home experiment comparing a higher quality DW with a lower quality Gretsch, I'm not hearing dramatic differences. What do you hear when you compare snare drums?
 

bassanddrum84

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It’s really hard to say the differences. Even gigging certain snare drums sound different room to room even day to day. The things you mention about the two could be opposites in a different room. Sometimes dw brass sounds amazing and then next gig not so great. Consistency is hard I can only imagine trying to decipher two snare drums.

Factor in is the dw one of those ones when every ply the grain is a different way? Are the plies that make up the shell the same thickness? Not the shell itself but the single plys. The hardware is different I’m sure dw takes up more real estate dampening the shell more then the gretsch a lot of factors other then wood type and size. It would be better to a/b two dw snare drums or two gretsch.
 

hsosdrum

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Questions to ask yourself when directly comparing snare drums:

• How does each drum feel when you play it? Do you get the same physical response through your sticks with each one, or does one drum feel better?

• Is it easier to play a smooth closed roll or soft, delicate passages on one snare than on the other?

• Do both drums sound equally good at different tunings, or does one turn to mush at low tunings or choke at high tunings?

• When you play them near the edges does one have overtones that sound a bit more musical (blend a bit better, no "off" overtones) than the other?

• Do both throw-offs work equally smoothly? Do the snare tension knobs work equally smoothly?

• Does one drum choke more at higher snare tensioning?

• Is it easier to quickly change the tuning on one than the other?

• Do both drums seem to be built to the same construction standards (fit-and-finish)?
 

Seb77

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I find hard to pick snares in a shop; once tuned the same, they often sound rather similar to me. I think I need to spend more time with it to get an idea of what a drum can do.

My first steps improving my snare drum sound came from tuning and setting up the wires. Sensitivity/crispness at low volume, fullness of tone at higher volume can improve a lot if you spend some time with a drum. On the other hand, even with a high-end drum if the setup/tuning was not right, I probably wouldn't like the sound and maybe wouldn't recognize a supposedly great drum.

When I upgraded from various beginner/intermediate snares to a Supra, it was through recommendation. I found a used one, I gave it a few taps, fortunately it was tuned nicely, and bought it. I don't think I would have been able to pick it blidnfolded if it hadn't been tuned to my liking, and even then it was partly a matter of trust in that recommendation. When I had time to compare it to my other drums, I noticed the sound had more cohesion or unity of sound, the various elements of the sound, wires, tone, rimshot crack etc. fit together. I also liked the midrange presence ove my other drums, the drum seemed to "speak" more, had more articulation, a clearer voice.
 

Carlos McSnurf

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Good snare gives a freedom of sound creation, not forcing you to apply "this and that" to make it sounding good.
 
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swarfrat

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Don't pay for clothes you can't see. Maybe someday you'll hear the difference. Maybe then you won't like the difference. At any rate you'll enjoy the pursuit more if you feel you're getting something you want. It's not like these guys hang on to drums forever.
 

mtarrani

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Questions to ask yourself when directly comparing snare drums:

• How does each drum feel when you play it? Do you get the same physical response through your sticks with each one, or does one drum feel better?

• Is it easier to play a smooth closed roll or soft, delicate passages on one snare than on the other?

• Do both drums sound equally good at different tunings, or does one turn to mush at low tunings or choke at high tunings?

• When you play them near the edges does one have overtones that sound a bit more musical (blend a bit better, no "off" overtones) than the other?

• Do both throw-offs work equally smoothly? Do the snare tension knobs work equally smoothly?

• Does one drum choke more at higher snare tensioning?

• Is it easier to quickly change the tuning on one than the other?

• Do both drums seem to be built to the same construction standards (fit-and-finish)?
Good list. Now, repeat the same checklist while other instruments are playing. Even the feel [to me] is less discernible because there are myriad other things to distract your attention.
 

Rock Salad

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I'm hoping to learn something from the answers here. I adore my generic steel "student" snare drum that others here have referred to as "scrap metal."
But so far it is ticking all the boxes: tunes high or low easily, nice coherent sound at low or high volumes, hardware is functional. Only thing I have noticed with it is that flams need more precision targeting for where my sticks strike the head because certain distances apart make the two strikes cancel each other out. But aiming well, even the flam sound great.
 

Whitten

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This comes up A LOT.
There is no hard and fast answer. Mid-priced snare drums are excellent. A drum like the Supraphonc or Acrolite is also excellent.
The biggest difference for me is delivering a great sound every time. An average snare might or might not struggle in a bad sounding room, or in adverse conditions. I find the higher priced snares suffer less.
Very cheap snare drums can sound great with exactly the right head, with the perfect sweet spot in tuning, but a more expensive snare drum may sound great with multiple head choices and tunings.
All of these factors become more noticeable when recording. Played by ear, or at a gig, less noticeable.
I figure a really high end N&C or Craviotto might give me 10% more. It's my job so that's worth it to me
 

JimmySticks

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I'm not a snare afficianado myself.

I have a hard time hearing differences in them as well. It could be my tinnitus ridden ears, I don't know. But that's why I don't see a need to have a collection of 20+ snares like some guys do. Not knocking anyone that does, but I'm really not hearing enough differences to make me want to go out and buy a bunch.

I do have 3 snares, one being a piccolo, a maple 13x3", and there I can certainly hear a difference, but my other two 14x5.5" snares really sound so similar even though one is maple and the other luan. The luan is from my MIJ kit and since I had the edges and snare beds re-done, I'd put it up against some high end stuff now without hesitation.

Now cymbals...well that's a whole different story! :)
 

notINtheband

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I’m still on my snare journey after 38+ years.
My current “collection” of 31 snares is about to be trimmed significantly. Originally the idea was to collect as many voices as possible and change them out occasionally for inspiration or recording flexibility.
However what I have found is I have 3 go-to snares and 28 shelf riders collecting dust. Those voices I was coveting just haven’t been as useful or inspirational as I had envisioned when I began seeking them out.
I can see my little collection of players snares being sent back out into the world to find their place under the stick of someone who appreciates their personality. Curiously, 2 of my 3 go-to’s have turned out to be metal, while the majority of my snares are high quality hardwood of various species. Didn’t see that coming.
 

multijd

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In your description you said you couldn’t hear the difference and then went on to describe a few sound differences. To some people these may be significant, to you maybe not.
Most “cheap” snare drums sound cheap to me. The overtones are inconsistent, they have limited tuning range, limited dynamic range and they are focused on producing a particular sound of the day with specific heads. Im looking for a snare with sensitive snare response at soft dynamics that doesn’t choke when you hit it hard. I should be able to play brushes and a backbeat and have excellent snare response. I want a drum that has pleasing overtones that will blend well with the rest of the drums but that will still sound good with a moongel on it. I have to be able to tune it high or low (although I do that less frequently). Most of my regular gigging snares have natural rawhide on them which improves the sound immensely but they all sound good with Mylar also. Metal is great for a more ringing sound and wood is naturally mellower. Both are useful to me. Brass is punchy. As stated above they sound different on different nights and in different rooms. Even with Mylar the humidity in the air affects the sound. In the end having a versatile snare, or two or three, that you can rely on to produce “your” sound, that is flexible and musical, are the key factors. That being said I don’t own any $1000+ drums so maybe that would change some observations.
 
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Polska

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For me the difference has been sensitivity. That could be in part due to the snare wires, but my mid-range snares have good wires and heads and sound great in most settings. The one slightly higher end snare I own (not outrageously expensive) is very sensitive at all volumes, and I notice it most at low volume. My one gig is a quieter, more acoustic band and notes in the middle of the drum still bring out a snare sound without hitting a flat or "dead" note. I'm not really stating it the best, but I do notice a consistent snare sound regardless of where on the drum I play or how loud. To me, that's my noticeable difference.
 

swarfrat

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It still comes down to "Don't let strangers on the internet (particularly ones who admittedly have a problem) spend YOUR money. If you can tell the difference, buy what you want. If you can't, enjoy what you have.

I used to joke about internet forums being full of bots designed to make us want to buy stuff. The joke is getting less funny as we see more and more evidence of market manipulation. (Maybe not here. But news site and retailer's reviews are so full of it that it's tough to swing a dead cat and hit a live person rather than a bot.)
 

JDA

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snare drums?
I just use what the old dudes used..
ya know Mario Andretti. Jimmy Clarke, Stirling Moss.
Whatever they drove
get close and be good
pre- emission control pre-73 pre-globalization usually a sweet spot.
(more local grown-the better) (whether that be Tokyo or Toledo.)

can't say (as my reason) what I really want to say.
I just like what the old dudes used.
Puts my (the snare) sound in that time frame.
Whether anyone cares or notices; I do..

what do I hear? I hear Duke Ellington I hear Count Basie I hear Miles Davis and John Coltrane and all the drummers that imitated those
I hear (want to hear) around 1955- 1970 in a snare (if it's there) pretty much 50s WFL and 60s Gretsch.
Nothing Space X. and ime room -or no room- acoustics, don't change/ alter/ budge the old soldiers
 
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FlowTom

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My approach to drum gear was shaped by my brother's experience training for triathlons.
He said that there's no feeling in the world quite like cranking away on a primo Italian racing bicycle in your hi tech shoes, shorts and top, and this guy in a white T shirt, baggy plaid shorts and Converse sneakers blows past you on an old Schwinn.
 

BennyK

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Pearl Free Floater equipped with the bottom 4 inches of a 5-ply Slingy concert tom .

Rogers Dayton gold sparkle Powertone

Beat up 400 Supra with a Rogers rail mount wire assembly .
These drums spoke and breathed at almost any tuning or head combo and dynamic level . A joy to sit behind . Silly me, I shouldn't have let them go .

I've owned really high end snares and none had THE MAGIC of those three . I don't why , maybe I'm not meant to know . It just is .
 
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