Pearl's Ice Queen kit
John Clarke braved the multiple roundabouts of Milton Keynes to test Pearl's latest kit — The Ice Queen.
Sometimes reviewing products at the manufacturer's or distributor's premises has its advantages; sometimes not. But (despite the hazards of negotiating the thousands of roundabouts which seem to make up Milton Keynes' road system!) the decision to look at the new Pearl Ice Queen kit chez Pearl turned out to have been a good one. Firstly, it gave me the opportunity to meet up with Pearl's Artist Relations/Product Manager, Andy Brook-Mellor; secondly it enabled me to meet Pearl's UK resident director, Mr. Takeo Shimizu; and thirdly I was able to get an early look at several new Pearl features which I wouldn't otherwise have seen. The first of these was a selection of the new finishes for the WLX range which included a very nice looking 'antique ivory' lacquer. This should be available by the time you read this article, incidentally.
Both Andy and Mr. Shimizu gave me the impression that they were really rather pleased with these new kits, feeling that Pearl have pulled off a considerable coup in securing a high grade kit made to fully professional specifications with hand lacquered shells, for the very tasty price of just £817 RRP. And that figure includes hardware from their 800 range, by the way. Taiwanese manufacturing costs strike again, I gather! As a shell sample was all that was available for me to see at the time, I'll have to reserve final judgement on this series, but I will say that if the finish on the production examples of these drums is as good as it was on the samples, then they'll certainly be worth looking at — something which I hope to be able to do in the not too distant future. I also learned that the DLX 'Deep Force' series is undergoing some updates, with chrome and piano lacquer finishes. Particularly tasty is a silver-grey metallic look which is very much the sort of thing you see on expensive cars.
This brief update on Pearl over, Andy and I made our way to the corner of Pearl's extensive warehouse which is set aside for 'kit thrashing'. There, ready set up, stood the object of my visit — the Ice Queen kit.
The chrome finished Ice Queen setup gives you the immediate impression of a loud, highly visual kit — and this certainly turned out to be the case. Chrome seems to be returning to fashion these days, following its first appearance back in the 1970s before eventually succumbing to the 'wood look' which followed it in popularity. What I wasn't aware of is that, unlike a lot of other 'chrome finish' kits, the Ice Queen is covered in genuine metal — not '100% guaranteed plastic', which you'll find on a lot of other kits trying to give this highly polished appearance. Pearl's proud boast (and in these high-cost days it's not unjustified) is that this chrome finish costs exactly the same to buy as any of the other colours in the range; not a bad feature when you remember that an extra 10% was often par for the course when specifying any other than bare colour finishes.
Having said that, whether this use of metal affects the Ice Queen's sound is a matter for some debate, and I wouldn't like to voice an opinion either way. Try it for yourself, and see what you reckon. Getting down to specifics, I won't go right through the boring routine of sizing what are, these days, pretty standard power drums. Suffice it to say that what you get here is a seven shell set with an 8" deep metal snare. One feature that really does demand attention, though, is Pearl's use of their Super Hoops throughout. Whilst not quite up to the top standards of die-cast types, these certainly give an improvement over the normal 'cooking' type of hoops fitted to most drums as standard. The benefits of these are quite easy to hear — rim shots on the snare sounding cleaner, and the top hoop on that drum being able to take a real hammering. With their thicker (2.3mm) depth and greater strength, the Pearl Super Hoops are less liable to bending problems than conventional types, and produce a definite improvement in sound projection. Again, I feel that this is most evident on the snare. Incidentally, these Pearl hoops are available on their own, for drummers wishing to improve the sound and strength of their standard drums. Worth looking at, I'd suggest.
Moving on, Andy drew my attention to another feature of the Ice Queen. Apparently, all the lugs on this kit are now springless. To be quite honest, though, I'm not too sure about the real reasons for this change. It could well be a case of follow-my-leader (like the fitting of black front bass drum heads) because, although my own experience in the studio certainly bears out the rattle produced by non sound insulated springs, I do wonder if the real reason for this trend towards the fixed insert principle is more to do with keeping costs down. Personally, I'm not concerned whether lugs have springs or not. All I'll say is that, once upon a time, they were essential to ensure self-aligning of the tension bolts.
Another mechanical update was made by Pearl some time back and is featured on the Ice Queen — the increased angle of adjustment possible on the tom tom holder arm, enabling a tom tom to be tilted lower. Drummers who tend to sit 'bum on the floor' with multi drum kits will certainly benefit from this, as it enables you to get the tom tom at a more acute angle.
As you'd expect from a top range kit, both the bass and snare drums sport ten lugs per head, with the bottom two on either either side having the now standard 'drum key' head tensioning on the bass drum, which is the simplest of ideas to prevent a hernia caused by trying to lift and tune a conventional bass drum with a few mounted toms in position! Spurs are of the heavy fold-back variety, and work very well. I doubt that even the heaviest foot could move this bass drum — I tried, and only ended up exhausting myself.
In fact there was only one piece of the hardware fitted to this kit that I didn't get on with: the bass drum pedal. Mentioning this to Andy, however, he told me that it was an old one which he'd been messing around with, so I ended up feeling quite peeved that I hadn't, after all, finally found something to complain about! Really, it's a significant tribute to Pearl that I can't say too much about the hardware on this kit. They've made minor changes and updates when necessary, but most of it has been around for a while now and has proved itself to be sturdy and effective.
And so onto playing the Ice Queen, and the resulting sound. Starting with the 14"x8" steel snare, I'd anticipated it being loud; and loud it was! It was, nevertheless very musical, having a nice tone quality and without half of the unwanted overtones which are so often found in drums of this size. Throughout my review of this kit the snare kept on impressing me the most. In fact I'd say that any drummer wanting a steel snare of this depth really should add this to their list of ones to try. It's available separately (as part No. S714ED) at an RRP of £201. It's not expensive by any standards, especially for a big drum of such good quality and one which can hold its own in any company. Having said all that in favour of this snare, however, I must voice a pet hate of mine which featured on it. With its bridge style snare strainer and coated batter head it also had one of those infernal internal dampers. In my view this really could have been left out to advantage. Far better methods than this sound choking device have long since been discovered to muffle a drum, so if any manufacturer wants to save some money (and which of them wouldn't?) they'd do far better to leave it out and spend the money elsewhere on the kit, Pearl included. Sorry about that outburst, but I can't stand these devices!
Moving on to the other shells, these are all Maple and were extremely well finished internally, something you tend to expect from top makers but don't always get! Even better, no internal dampers — what joy!
Soundwise, the drums gave me what I expected to find from this sort of high quality kit: a full, rich, powerful tone that would satisfy even the most demanding of 'power players'. Fitted with Pinstripes on the top and with clear bottoms (would you care to re-phrase that, John? — Ed) the tom toms were deep, strident and very powerful. The bass drum maintained this character, having a really gutsy 'kick' to it. Overall the Pearl Ice Queen kit is very attractively presented and certainly counts as a top line drum kit, and it's definitely not overpriced at its RRP of £817 (which assumes that you buy it with Pearl's 800 series hardware, including bass and hi-hat pedals and one each of the straight and boom cymbal stands). Of course, you're not restricted to this hardware — I'm just quoting it to give you an example of what to expect a full kit to sell for, assuming you pay the full RRP, that is.
It may not be a revolutionary kit in terms of either looks or sound, but the Ice Queen offers both a construction and sound quality which is going to satisfy even the most discriminating drummer. It's a good value, professional quality kit, providing splendid visuals in its chrome finish (not to mention promising plenty of healthy exercise spent with the dusters and chrome cleaner for you or your drum roadie!) and fine sound.
All I have to do now is manage to persuade the Editor that an Ice Queen would look better over in my comer of the IT office than the present pile of empty cat food cans and upturned orange box/desk. Some chance. I'll bet you get an Ice Queen before I do!
RRP (5 drum kit with 800 range hardware) £817
More on Pearl from Pearl Music Ltd., (Contact Details).
Review by John Clarke
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