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Evans Level 360 Heads

Evans Level 360 Drum Heads Review

One of the new things that came out of the 2013 NAMM show was the announcement by Evans about the new Level 360 drum heads. Evans are obviously very confident about these new heads as their advertising campaign''s tag line is “This isn’t an introduction to a new kind of drumhead, its farewell to the rest”.

So what has happened and what do the heads do that other heads haven’t done before? Evans sent me a set of Level 360 Clear G1 heads to review which have been on my teaching kit since January 8th 2013, so hopefully I can give you my opinions of them. These aren''t new lines of heads, they are more a change in manufacturing processes and shape design. The edges of the heads have been changed so they have a steeper collar which supposedly allows the heads to sit better over the bearing edges all the way around (hence the ''360'' in the name) without rocking or needing the head to be tensioned unevenly to get it to sit properly.

Wood is a natural substance and so bearing edges (particularly on vintage drums) aren''t always perfectly even all the way around. The 360 heads should now sit evenly on the bearing edge, which should mean it’s easier to tune and give the drum a more even tone. In effect they should make imperfections less detrimental to the sound of the drum.

I asked Dick Markus, percussion product manger for D’Addario, about the heads.


What’s the concept behind the new Level 360 heads and what benefits does it have to the consumer?

First, please understand that this is not a new range or kind of drumhead. Level 360 Technology is a re-design in how the drumhead fits onto a drum via the way the collar of the drumhead interacts with the bearing edge of the drum-shell. We have applied this technology to all 6” – 20” Evans batter, snare and marching tenor heads.

It began with Rick Drumm (President of D''Addario), who had been having trouble fitting traditional synthetic heads (including Evans) on some of his Yamaha and DW shells. It wasn’t that they didn’t fit, but to get the head to have decent contact with the bearing edge of the drum shell he had to make sure the rim was tightened down, usually with more turns on some key rods than others just to get even pitch. We all have gone through this. There had to be a better way.

Like many other seasoned players, Rick understood the benefit in timpani head design, where the head is ‘oversized’ to ensure proper contact between the head’s playing surface and the edge of the bowl, while realizing that the head itself could not be of a larger external diameter. The only answer was to find a way to expand the horizontal plane of the film itself. Ergo, the collar had to be more vertical to have a larger playing surface, such that the bearing edge went under the flat part of the head and not into the curve of the collar as ‘traditional’ plastic heads have always done.

By making the collar more vertical and ‘opening’ up the horizontal plane of the head, the extended flat portion of the head sits on the bearing edge, ‘level’ and ‘360 degrees’ around the head. There are no high spots on the head that have to be forced out by higher tuning to make contact with the head. The head fits so easily that you can spin it freely on the bearing edge with just a flick of the wrist. It is in constant contact!

Note- Historically, one of the benefits of natural calf is that when you moistened the head to set it to a shell, the collar itself moulded around the bearing edge as the head dried so the entire horizontal surface of the head was an extended vibrating membrane.

The benefits are really simple:

Ease of fit - just drop the 360 head on the shell. There is immediate consistent  contact with the bearing edge. No high spots where the curve of the collar is riding on top of the bearing edge. The entire edge is encapsulated within the flat horizontal plane of the film
      
Ease of tuning - after you drop the head on the drum, thump it. There already is a resonance because the head is in 360 degree contact with the edge.
Simply finger tighten the key rods and you’ll have an acceptable, though quite “wet” sound and probably no wrinkles in the head. Minor adjustments bring the head to a pitch. The player will find it much easier to bring the head to the pitch/tone/timbre they want because the head is not fighting the bearing edge and counter hoop

Extended tuning range - for example, we have discovered that we could bring 14” toms down into acceptable, resonant 16” range, 12” into 14” , etc. Conversely we could bring a 10” into an acceptable 8” range without choking. All because the playing surface of the head, not the collar of the head, is what’s making contact with the bearing edge.

How much development and research has gone into these heads?

Well, to paraphrase an old axiom ‘every action has an equal and opposite reaction’. As we made changes to the collar, we impacted things like how the film fitted into the flesh-hoop, how the adhesive that secures the head reacts to new angles etc, etc. Then there were the inevitable vendor issues who ran a bit late with several of our bending moulds. After several iterations of the design and a hefty financial investment, all issues were resolved. We actually began using Level 360 Technology in mid-summer 2012 on 12” and 14” heads. We fully converted all of our batter, snare and marching tenor heads on September 15 2012. So this has been out in the field for a while.

Why has this system not been done before?

Some people have made design adjustments that appeared to begin to address the issue, but not to completion.

In general (we) drummers have had these issues with drum heads all of our lives. We became used to having to torque down the counter-hoop to “set” (read ''stretch and distort'') the drum head to the bearing edge of the shell. Remember all the drummers that stretch a head on their knee before they even attempt to put the head on a drum? Ever since the implementation of plastic heads from Chick Evans (Evans founder) 50 plus years ago and various flesh-hoop modifications, nobody has substantively addressed the physical improvements to the collar shape of the drum head that affect the ease of fit, ease of tuning and tuning range.

So, that's what Evans say, how did I get on with them?

There is no doubt the time from when I took the heads out of the box to when I got a usable sound was much shorter than 'normal' on my (Gretsch) test kit. I managed to get lower pitches from these Level 360  G1 clears than I felt I used to before. I use 10” and 12” as small toms so this is important to me - I like to get them as low as I can without them losing their tone and interfering with the snare.

Tuning drums lower can cause heads to wear quicker, so durability is always an issue too – heads can lose tone and need to be tuned up to get the same sustain as when they were fresh. So far there doesn't appear to be any difference in durability but I have found that as the heads are tuned slacker they appear to be dented more on the 12” and 16”, but this could also be a student with damaged tips on there sticks so I cant directly relate this to the heads!

After five weeks of playing (so far), with 70 hours a week of mixed ability and styles of students (including students who 'dig in' to the heads), the sound and tone is still there. I find I normally can get about four weeks out of drum heads in my teaching studio (an average of 200+hours) before the tone has gone from the smaller drums and the heads look and sound like they need changing.

So, overall I really liked these Level 360 G1 on my toms. Yes, they had a nice tone straight out of the box, yes, they tuned really easy even on that 'problem drum' (mine is the 12” on that particular kit) and yes, they appear (so far) to last longer.

Another good move from Evans!

Mike Dolbear

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