Remo Vs Aquarian

Aquarian and Remo single ply heads, George 'Drumguru' Lawrence (c) 2000

a comparison and crow supper

Mike Carter, our favorite RMMP "rep for every drum related product in  the universe", came down hard on me a few months ago about dissing Aquarian heads. My teaching studio at Fork's Drum Closet here in Nashville has two drumsets supplied by Pearl, a set of cymbals provided by Paiste (I endorse Paiste), and the heads on the drums were provided by Aquarian via Steve Ebe, an Aquarian endorser with whom I share the teaching studio. Steve is great drummer, by the way, and has played with some top acts. My experience with Aquarian heads has been primarily with those heads in that teaching studio and with some snare heads that Roy Burns sent me in '93 to check out. The heads in the teaching studio were the ones that I was complaining about having too much attack sound and not tuning up well. They were Response 2 heads and were at least a year old when I wrote the post.

Mike and Roy Burns sent Fork's some new heads for the teaching studio and also a set for me to check out. I am not an Aquarian endorser and I have never endorsed a brand of heads at all. Though I am re-evaluating my relationships with drum equipment manufacturers, I feel I can give an objective review since I could care less about free equipment. I'm just interested in playing what sounds best to me. I also have a 35 year bias towards Remo, so keep that in mind.

  I decided to keep this simple by comparing just two types of heads; single ply clear and single ply coated. Remo calls theirs Ambassadors and Aquarian calls theirs Classic. All of both companies' mylar heads are variations of this basic head and single ply is what I normally use. I was also sent one of the new Aquarian Force I clear batter bass heads and a Force II black resonant bass head. I will review them at a later point.

  The testing areas were familiar to my ears; my small teaching studio, the repair shop at Fork's, my garage at home and my office/studio at home which is the bonus room above the garage. I eliminated the teaching studio at Fork's after discovering during this test that NO tom or head sounds good in that little 8 X 10 heavily draped room. It emphasizes the overtones of the heads, accounting for some of my opinion of the Aquarian response 2 heads. The kicks and snares sound great in there but not the toms.

  The drums I chose to use were very familiar to me; the Pearl Export 10 x 12 inch that I have listened to for years in my studio, My new Gretsch 8 x 10, 8 x12 and 14 x 14 toms, that I regularly play in my office and my 1985 Noble and Cooley 6.5 x 14.

  Saturday I changed the heads on the Pearl Export 8 x 12 tom in this order; Remo clear Ambassador, Aquarian Classic clear, Remo coated Ambassador, Remo Classic coated (they call it Satin Finish). The bottom head was a Remo clear ambassador. I tuned the drum to the same low and medium high pitches for each head combination. My opinion? They sounded the same. I couldn't tell the difference in sound. The clear and coated single ply heads from both companies sounded identical to me on this particular drum. I might mention that this drum was played by holding it at arms length by the in-shell tom clamp for maximum resonance and on it side while on the tuning table. The Aquarian did seem to tune quicker, come into focus easier after the initial tightening, and didn't stretch as much as the Remos. I also played the drum for several of the drummers that work for Fork's and they were in agreement with me about the heads sounding identical.  

Today I listened to my Gretsch toms that were already outfitted with fairly new Remo coated ambassadors on top and clear ambassadors on bottom in my garage where I rehead most of my drums. I then replaced them with the Aquarian equivalents. Anyone familiar with Gretsch drums know that they are very lively sounding drums and overtones on heads are very evident. Again I used two tunings with both sets of heads: low and medium high. I noticed that when I put the Aquarian heads on that they didn't stretch and crackle as much as the Remos. This may be due to the way the mylar is glued into the rim, the way the head is heated to form the collar, etc. Whatever, I don't care. How does it sound? That is the question. I had heard that Aquarians will not tune as low as Remos. I don't find this to be the case. When I put the Aquarian coated head on the Gretsch 14 x 14 floor tom I tuned it to just above wrinkle stage (1/4 turn)which I consider a very low tuning, and the drum sounded ultra low and sustaining; as low as the Remo head was able to be tuned.   Some notes I made while tuning these Gretsch drums in my garage;   -less "boinginess" than the Remos; more focused pitch. -same amount of sustain and tonal characteristics as the Remos. -tuned more evenly at every tension rod point than the Remos; perhaps from the head already having a pitch when off the drum.   

The Noble and Cooley and Snare drum: Had a coated Remo ambassador on top and a clear diplomat on bottom. It's the only drum I use a diplomat on. The snares are Puresounds. This is one sensitive, great sounding, once in a lifetime drum (Roger Hawkins wanted to buy it from me!). I replaced those heads with an Aquarian Classic Coated and Aquarian snare side head. I was not expecting this snare side head to sound as crisp as the diplomat and it didn't, but it does sound as crisp as an ambassador snare side head. The top head sounded identical to the Remo ambassador to my ears, if not just a little more clear in the fundamental pitch. This may be because the Aquarian texturecoating seems to be the tiniest bit thicker than the Remo, which I like. The drum responded and played as well with Aquarians as it did with similar Remos and was just as sensitive in the snare response. (I was informed later that the coating is actually thinner)  

The last thing I did just a few minutes was knock the stew out of my Gretsch toms with a 5B a number of times to see if they would detune. They didn't. I liked the definite pitch I got from these heads and the overtones seem to be more in harmony with the fundamental; less "boinginess and wangy". My predisposition was that the Aquarians would sound "plasticy'. This isn't true.  

Now I'm tuning these Gretsch toms up into the be bop range of tuning; very high. I like the way these heads focus in on a certain note at these pitches. Much clearer than the Remos. Not as many overtones to have to ignore. Very musical.  

Outside of this particular comparison test, I already knew from experience with the set in my teaching studio that the coating on the single ply Classic coated heads holds up. We've had the same Classic coated heads on the snare drums in that room for two years now and the coating has yet to wear off; maybe smoothed out a bit, but no clear.   I am also aware from this same experience that Aquarian Response 2 heads hold up and don't dent quickly; the finish on the single ply Aquarian coated heads did not sound too attacky as was my experience with older Aquarian heads. Perhaps this also had something to do with them being two ply heads. I can't remember off the top of my head if Mike Carter said this was a new coating or not; Mike? The snare drum heads in my studio have lasted through a lot of pounding and I might not even change them out for these new heads.  

I will also try the Aquarians in a recording studio situation as soon as one comes up that allows me time to do this kind of stuff (probably at Muscle Shoals Sound).

  Anyway, there you have it guys. I've tried to be objective or at least fair here. I was pleasantly surprised that all of my suspicions and prejudices about Aquarian were negated. My final thoughts are that Aquarian is running a good race and has improved their quality dramatically since my first encounter with their heads in the early 90's...........Hold on,........I've got a piece of crow stuck in my tooth.....Ugh...Ugh...there, got it,...... mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, loves to eat me sumathat crow! More reviews to come.      --

George Lawrence, Nashville TN Remo Vs Aquarian

 Drumset artist, teacher, author

"Just play dumb" - Jeff Porcaro

A PAUL NOTE:   George has asked me to state that since writing this article he has become an endorser for Aquarian products.

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