Drums & Percussion

The Best Drum Heads

Drums

Drum heads take a serious amount of abuse, but is that not exactly what they are made to do?

Depending on the type of drummer you are, and the style of music that you play, your drum heads may get more of a beating than normal. Replacing heads tends to be a pretty common occurrence, so it’s important to know which drum heads work the best for you and your kit.

Whether you need heads to stand up to constant hard hits and loud dynamics, or you want heads that will give a consistent sound response, you probably know that some brands and models do a better job than others.

I have been a drummer for over thirty years, and I definitely have my preferences in kits, hardware, and drum heads. Over the years, I have spent much time testing out various heads to see which heads will give me clear tones, attack, and just the right amount of sustain.

Credit: Remo Inc

Top Pick: Remo Ambassador

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Versatile with crisp attack and warm tones. Ideal for orchestral playing because of its responsiveness, and also durable enough for a rock band.

Choosing a Drum Head

Finding heads that give you a good balance between durability and the tones you are looking for isn’t always easy, especially if you are on a budget. Here are a few tips on what to look for when you are researching new drum heads, and a list of reviews to help you with your search.

Snare Heads vs. Tom Heads

Even though a lot of heads are sold specifically for a certain type of drum, whether it is a snare, bass, or tom, sometimes the heads can be pretty versatile and can be switched out between a few drums.

Bass drums usually have different requirements in a drum head since it has a different beater, but both the tom and snare are hit by brushes and sticks. If the head fits your shell, there is no reason you can’t use it on either type of drum.

One of the reasons that brands have specific heads for either the snare or tom is because a drummer may be looking for a specific sound from their snare than they may want to hear from their tom, as in a bright, snap type of sound.

Even though most of the sound you hear comes from how the shell is made, the head can contribute with a bright snap if it is made specifically for the snare drum. Heads for toms may often have more sustain with a warmer tone.

Keep in mind that if you have a tom that is too muddled or has darker tones, you can brighten it up with a head made for a snare drum. And if you want more tonal depth from your snare, a head made for a tom may do the trick.

Single Ply

A single ply head is made from one sheet of Mylar, and are the most commonly seen drum heads. It is usually available in thicknesses of 7, 75, and 10 mil (one mil equals one thousandth of an inch), with a few 12 mil occasionally obtainable.

Single-ply heads are usually very sensitive, but they are not very durable. The thinner they are, the more brightness, or high-end ring, and overtones you will hear. Single-ply heads are great for light rock and jazz, but if you have a more ambient location, you can also create large, booming sounds.

Double Ply

Double ply heads will usually have a more controlled sound that is deeper, plus it will have fewer overtones and a shorter sustained punch. They are usually made with two layered 7 mil plies, although some brands will use two different ply thicknesses to create a distinct tone.

Some two ply heads will use a thinner material on one side and then a thicker ply behind it, so the strike on the material will give the full tone and durability of the thicker ply. Some bass drum heads have an extra circle material in the center of the head which makes it more durable and able to freely resonate.

In comparison, single-ply drum heads with the center dot will have the same dark tone as the double ply but it will have a longer sustain.

Double ply heads are also more durable, and are used for heavier and louder music styles such as R&B, fusion, and metal. You can definitely play a two ply head for a longer period without damaging it.

Coated

Drum heads are sprayed with a translucent coating that can also be used to add some color or an etched effect to make a textured surface. There are several different types of coatings used on drum heads which will give the drum a more of a dampened sound that has a warmer tone compared to non-sprayed heads.

Heads that are not coated will have a less controlled, but brighter sound. Any change that you make to a drum head will affect its tonal characteristics by affecting the sound waves that are created.

Clear heads are mostly used as bottom heads, but when used on the top they give you more definition. They, unfortunately, can create a lot more unwanted overtones, and can sound too bright for some drummers. If you prefer warmer and more rounded sound, then you will need to stick to the frosted or coated heads.

Pre-Muffled

A pre-muffled head is most commonly used on bass drums. Covering your drum head will help to stop unwanted overtones, so many drummers will get creative in muffling their drum heads with substances like duct tape.

Some manufacturers produce drum heads that have a degree of built-in muffling to focus the overall tone of the drum, and to lessen overtones. This can be done by adding a layer of Mylar, or a similar material, to the underside or top of the outer edge of the drum head.

Specialty Heads

Specialty heads are made by every drum head manufacturer. They are created to serve different musical purposes, such as the center dot of the bass drum head.

Specialty heads can be made of different materials like Kevlar, or other aramid fibers, which are some of the strongest drum heads you can purchase. The first type of specialty drum head that was produced was made of calfskin which has a warm and dark sound.

Unfortunately, the tone and tuning of a calfskin head is directly affected by the weather conditions. Synthetic versions of the calfskin head have been developed that are not affected by weather conditions like the real thing.

Resonant

You get more sustain and a deeper tone with a thicker resonant head, and a brighter tone with sustain from the thinner ones.

A resonant head most commonly has a 7 and 10 mil thickness with bottom snare heads ranging from a 2 to 5 mil layer. Resonant heads require more tuning, as they rapidly vibrate and are not as rigid as thicker heads.

If you purchase a coated resonant head, you will have a significantly warmer tone, and you can also purchase resonant heads with a dampening ring to give you lower overtones and more of a focus on the overall tone.

The Competition

After hours of testing and research, here's the final competition.

InstrumentRatingCurrent Pricing
Remo Ambassador Coated Drum Head
Ideal for orchestral playing because of its responsiveness, and also durable enough for a rock band$12.95
Aquarian VEL14
Perfect drumhead for heavy hitters$23.48
Evans Onyx
Give you greater consistency and durability so that you can play for longer periods of time$33.51
Remo Powerstroke 3
Exceptionally durable drum head that gives drummers a fatter and fuller sound than most heads$43.99
Aquarian Drum heads SKII
Resonate better due to the superb quality of their construction$44.95
Evans EQ2
Includes an internal overtone control ring that provides you with more sound depth, plus a more defined attack$137.65
Evans EMAD
Comes with removable dampening rings so that you can change your sound depending on the venue you are playing at that night, or the style you are performing at that event$46.99
Evans ST Dry Drum Head
Comes with a textured white coating that gives it the perfect sound to work with any style of music, and it gives a nice pop for those rim-shots$14.95
EC2 SST Clear Batter Drum Head
Gives you a pure tone that mixes in well with all the other drums in your kitOut of stock
Evans EMAD2 Bass Drum Head
System has dampening pads that can easily be changed to give you more of or less of a muted sound$46.99
Remo Controlled Sound
The center provides you with a focused but forceful tone that is needed for hard-hitting rock, plus the versatility of the head makes it perfect to use on either toms or snares$13.73
Evans REMAD Resonant Bass Drum Head
Has a resonant head that is a smooth black that includes a four-inch hole allowing for simple placement of a microphone$48.99
Evans G1 Coated Batter Drum Head
Gives off a classic, coated tom sound that also maintains a focused toneOut of stock
Remo Emperor Coated Drum Head
An easy to tune head that lets you easily change your playing styles$14.75

Our Top Pick: Remo Ambassador Coated

Credit: Remo Inc

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The Remo Ambassador Coated Drum Head is one of the more versatile drum heads due to its crisp attack and warm tones. It is ideal for orchestral playing because of its responsiveness, and also durable enough for a rock band.

Since it has a sound that is adaptable to pretty much an audible setting, it can be used for any music genre. It is a single-ply 10 mil head, although when pushed to its limits, it may feel like a double ply head.

It has a white textured coating that is extremely durable, and it sounds great when you are using the brushes. It does not require a lot of muting but lets the nice overtones and the drum’s natural tones shine.

The Coated Ambassador heads are a medium-weight head that creates bright, warm, and resonant sounds with a warm attack. You will find that they are an industry standard when it comes to playing live and have the focus and control that you need when you are recording in the studio.

One of the most popular drum heads in the world, the Remo Coated Ambassador truly sets a standard for all other drum heads. They also provide a unique feel that gives you better stick rebound.

This is the ideal head for a controlled, warm sound that also features a heightened attack in the wider midrange tones, plus gives you increased durability and natural controlled sustain.

Pros

Very warm with nice overtones
Stays in tune and isn’t affected by temperatures
Great sticking control

Cons

Coating does not last very long

Runner Up: Aquarian VEL14

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Aquarian VEL 14s are some of the thickest drum heads you will find on the market. Depending on your music style, drum heads can get quite a workout.

However, if you have some of the best drum heads available, you will not have to worry about wearing them out too quickly. Aquaran Vel 14’s are made for exactly that.

They are a 2 ply head with two 7 mil layers, a coated head, plus a power dot that is found just under the surface that gives you additional strength. All that extra thickness can also give you more power and volume that creates a warm tone, as well as a sharp attack. This is the perfect drumhead for heavy hitters.

The Aquarium VEL 14 is best used on a snare, but it can also help to brighten up a dark or muffled sounding tom. Like the Remo Ambassador, it also works in almost all musical genres. It is available in 13″ and 14″ diameters and can be purchased in either white texture coating or black texture coating.

The Safe-T-Loc Hoop keeps the hoop from slipping inside, so the head will not become untuned while you are playing. Plus, an exclusive Sound Curve Collar Design lets the head sit perfectly on the bearing edge, and it will conform instantly to your shell design.

An extra-Warm Drumhead Film creates a warm and rich full to mid-range sound on your toms, and more of a low-end on your bass drums. It also gets rid of any pings or plastic sounds that you will hear with other brand heads.

There is a very thin texture coating that gives you a responsive surface for either sticks or brushes that does not chip off easily and outlasts all other coated drum heads.

Pros

Great drum head that can take a beating
Very durable, won’t break
Coating does not come off quickly like other brands

Cons

Little expensive

Other Products To Consider:

Evans Onyx

Credit: Amazon.com

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The Evans Onyx was created to be used on a tom, but it can work just as well with a snare drum. It has a 2 ply batter, plus a frost coating that makes it appear very elegant with a matte black exterior.

The coating does have a purpose, and it will give your drum a more resonance sound with a cleaner attack, which will increase its response in the lower range.

The Evans Onyx features a drum head with two plies of 7.5 mil film each that give you greater consistency and durability so that you can play for longer periods of time.

The double ply, plus the coating, creates an extremely durable drum head, no matter what type of drum you use it on. The superb projection and deeper sound make this a popular choice with rock drummers of all types.

Pros

Easy to install, great quality
Great low, muted tone
Perfect attack with minimal sustain

Cons

Hard to tune

Remo Powerstroke 3

Credit: Amazon.com

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The Remo Powerstroke is a popular choice among drummers for a very good reason. It is an exceptionally durable drum head that gives drummers a fatter and fuller sound than most heads, plus the outer edge has an underlay that gives you an extra layer of dampening.

The Remo can subtly filter out unwanted overtones, and the extra five mils from the center black dot give the head an additional depth on the low end so that you get a punchier attack.

It has an almost ideal balance of ton control and response making it one of Remo’s most sought after resonant bass drum heads. Your playing will go to the next level from the power you’ll get from your bass drum once you start to use the Remo Powerstroke.

Pros

Well-made head and a perfect addition to any kit
Nice boom and great attack
Can withstand a double-kick pedal on a daily basis

Cons

Dot miscolors the beater head

Aquarian SKII

Credit: Amazon.com

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The Aquarium Drum heads SKII has a floated muffling system that defines the sound you will get from this drum head. Soft felt encompasses the narrow ring on the outer edge, so you will not need any additional muffling material to hear that deep and punchy drum tone.

It is a 2 ply head for the most durability and volume you can get from a bass drum head. The Aquarian brand heads last longer than their competitors, and they resonate better due to the superb quality of their construction.

They work well with any type of music style, but they are ideal for those styles that drive the low-end like hard rock and metal. Aquarian Drum Heads SKII are made of two 7 mil plies, and they are among some of the very best bass drum heads you can get for the money.

Pros

Extremely durable, material holds up well
It will completely transform the sound of your kit
Doesn’t need muffling

Cons

Way too muffled for some drummers

Evans EQ2

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The Evans EQ2 is a durable 2 ply head that is worth the money for its durability. It includes an internal overtone control ring that provides you with more sound depth, plus a more defined attack. You can either add or remove the muffle ring to change the low-end response depending on your preferences. Live performances are where these heads excel in powerful projection and focused sustain.

They are also great in the studio giving the recording mics a warm and rounded sound. The Evans EQ2 will give you snappy attacks and a low boom for those high energy songs. They are made with two plies of film including an inner ply of 10mil and an outer ply of 6.5 mil ply. The internal overtone control ring and the removable muffle ring mixed with the dry vents work very well with or without microphones. This is one of those really versatile drum heads that is great with any type of music style, and it can be purchased in either the frosted or unfrosted versions.

Pros

Gives a distinctively punchy attack from the pedals
Has a warm response while playing
Two-ply makes it great for heavier kicks

Cons

Need to put a beater pad on the head to make it more durable

Evans EMAD

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The Evans EMAD is great for the drummers that are out there gigging night after night. This is an affordable bass drum head that you can get for the price of a tom or snare head.

It comes with removable dampening rings so that you can change your sound depending on the venue you are playing at that night, or the style you are performing at that event.

You can use the wider ring for more power on the low end, or the thinner ring for a more focused sound. It is a single ply head that is made of a thick 10 mil film, so it is durable enough for the most aggressive player.

This is a popular choice for the budget-minded drummer that still wants a quality head when he is playing out. It is also available in a coated version.

Pros

Works well, fits perfectly
Great for beginners
Great combination of punch and low-end boom

Cons

Does not hold up well

Evans ST Dry

Credit: Amazon.com

 

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The Evans ST Dry Drum Head includes specifically drilled holes on the edges of the drum head giving it a crisp and dry sound. The small vent holes get rid of any stray harmonics that may occur, and they help to tighten the sound.

The holes do not interfere at all with brush playing, and it acts just like a single play head that has a lot of tone. It does not sound clipped or cheated in any way.

It also comes with a textured white coating that gives it the perfect sound to work with any style of music, and it gives a nice pop for those rim-shots.

The Evans ST has two layers of 7.5 mil film making it extremely durable and strong. The ST stands for Super Tough because these heads very rarely break, even if you gig with them constantly.

This drum head gives you all the volume you need, plus the durability you need to play for longer periods of time.

Pros

Surprisingly sensitive for its thickness
Nice sounding head with less ring
Nice tonality and no overtones

Cons

Not the best feel and response

EC2 SST Clear Batter

Credit: Amazon.com

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The Evans’ EC2S drum heads are known as the standard in the industry for superb sounding tom heads. The Evans’ EC2S gives you a pure tone that mixes in well with all the other drums in your kit.

They include a pre-EQ’d sound control ring that is mounted onto the underside of the head that is part of the Sound Shaping Technology. The Sound Shaping Technology rings regulate the vibration of the head, and assist in creating a focused sound.

This technology also dampens any high overtones and enhances your low-end attack while supporting a broader tuning range.

The Evans’ EC2S drum heads are extremely durable as they are made from two 7 mil film layers. They also have an incredibly strong attack, and your fills will sound great with their controlled decay.

They are perfect with any type of music style, and they have the ability to mix in well with other instruments. These tom heads work well in almost any setting.

Pros

Ring is almost nonexistent
Right balance of tone, attack, and sustain
Great sound, good value

Cons

High spots and low spots in the heads prevent them from being tensioned evenly

Evans EMAD2 Bass

Credit: Amazon.com

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The Evans’ EMAD2 Bass drum heads quickly rose to the head of the list of the best Bass drum heads on the market. They include the Externally Mounted Adjustable Dampening (EMAD) which is a built in dampening system.

This system has dampening pads that can easily be changed to give you more of or less of a muted sound. Those drummers that switch back and forth between jazz and rock gigs with same kits will appreciate this feature.

This is a very durable head with an inner 10 mil ply layer and an outer 6.5 mil ply layer. No matter what style of music you are playing, these heads will adjust with you to make any sound.

This head will never sound dead like other heads that use a dampening system. They will always give you a nice tone, even with that are completely dampened. The Evans’ EMAD2 have the right mix of punch thud and great tone.

Pros

You have the option of three levels of sustain
Muffle ring does a great job
Great balanced sound

Cons

Feels almost like a 3 ply

Remo Controlled Sound

Credit: Remo Inc

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The Remo Controlled Sound drum head gives you a mix of the brighter, crisp sound that you get from a thinner head with the durability of a thicker 2 ply head.

This head is a one ply Ambassador-weight head with a center 5 mil thick dot that gives it additional durability, plus it controls the brightness of the attack which gets rid of some of the overtones.

When you use the outer area, you will get the attack sensitivity and the tone that you would normally find in a medium-weight head, plus it gives you additional mid-range tones.

The black dot is coated on the bottom of the head, and it gives you tonal focus. The center provides you with a focused but forceful tone that is needed for hard-hitting rock, plus the versatility of the head makes it perfect to use on either toms or snares.

No wonder the Remo Controlled Sound heads are one of the more popular Remo snare drum heads on the market.

Pros

Open sound and wide range of tuning
The reverse dot muffles overtones and gives this head character
Nice quality, heavy duty head

Cons

If you hit the snare outside the gray center area, it does not sound that great

Evans REMAD Resonant Bass

Credit: Amazon.com

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The Evans’ EMAD Reso Bass drum heads can often be found paired with the EMAD Batter head as a set. They work very well together to create the perfect Bass Drum sound as this head will control the tone while allowing a nice punch.

This is a single ply head with a 7.5 mil layer, and the black color and black sleeve give it a modern and professional appearance.

The Evans’ EMAD Reso also has a resonant head that is a smooth black that includes a four-inch hole allowing for simple placement of a microphone.

This microphone hole is enclosed with a noise-free plastic sleeve that holds a foam dampening ring in position, and also helps to focus pitch while providing protection for the port.

Pros

Great product for a great price
Solid thuds muffled in after-tones but still have resonance
Good vibration, short, and powerful

Cons

Not very durable for the price

Evans G1 Coated Batter

Credit: Amazon.com

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The Evans G1 Coated Batter drum heads have a unique sound thanks to a textured white coating that works well for certain musical styles. This head gives off a classic, coated tom sound that also maintains a focused tone.

The Evans G1 creates a very warm sound that mixes well with lighter musical styles, such as jazz, that seems to work well with coated heads. The Evans G1 heads are made of a single ply of 10 mils that makes it very durable, and it also includes a dampening ring.

Pros

Great range with tuning from high’s to low’s
Great as snare heads
Sounds very clean, real nice and deep

Cons

Coating comes off easily and leaves spots on your sticks

Remo Emperor Coated

Credit: Remo Inc

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The Remo Emperor Coated Drum Head is a common choice among studio musicians. It has an ideal combination of versatility, durability, and affordability. It is a well-known head that can be used for either a tom or a snare, and it can give a constant warm and rounded sound.

It is made of a two-ply that includes two 7 mil layers, plus a coating that gives it an additional layer of protection, and extra tone depth. It is an easy to tune head that lets you easily change your playing styles.

And it’s intonation is also extremely forgiving, giving you an open sound at either low or tight tension. The warm open tones of the head make it a popular choice among R&B, Rock, and Pop drummers.

Pros

Doesn’t need any dampening to get a nice full warm sound without the annoying ring
The snare does not get buried in the mix
Brings out the pop you want in a snare

Cons

Coating comes off easily

Sources

  • http://www.evansdrumheads.com/Resources/JDCEVA/Videos/Selecting_Perfect_Tom_Head.pdf
  • http://www.tunadrum.com/resonant-heads
  • http://www.explorersdrums.com/Specialty-Heads_c_78.html
  • http://www.soundonsound.com/techniques/engineers-guide-tuning-and-damping-drums
  • http://www.dwdrums.com/heads/singleply.asp

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