Thursday, May 10, 2012

How to make a pair of $300 practice/studio headphones for just 50 bucks

Practicing on live drums is pretty hard on your ears. Practicing on live drums in a small room for hours on end is just plain dangerous. So a good pair of isolating headphones is a really good idea if you want live drum response without damaging those irreplaceable hearing cells.

I tried a number of commercial and ‘drummers’ headphones but found them not isolating enough, too small, too uncomfortable, or too expensive. All I wanted was a decent pair of protective headphones with some means of plugging them in to a music player. The ideal solution -- high-end drummer headphones that were way too expensive -- looked suspiciously like off-the-shelf airport grade headphones, and that gave me an idea.

I picked up a pair of Peltor H10A “earmuffs” at a local safety supply for $35. They are large and comfortable (I have fairly big ears) and have a noise reduction rating of 29dB, plus they make my drums sound awesome. I cut two short pieces from a soft plastic hanger, and wedged a plastic ‘stick’ into each ear cup. All I had to do then was add something to produce some sound. I tried a few types of ear buds and settled on an inexpensive pair from Panasonic, although any decent unit will do. There you have it: gourmet hearing protection for under $50. I also picked up a $25 headphone amp, so I now have my own portable monitoring system that can tap into any sound source. Sweet!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Small price - Big impact

Whenever I've felt the need to upgrade the ol' drum set, it's always been a matter of 10s or more often 100s of dollars. So imagine my delight when I picked up an innocuous product for under $10 that solved a problem that had been plaguing me for years.

I bought a few Cympads a few months ago, just to try (and managed to lose all but one on the way home; so much for "I don't need a bag; I'll just stick 'em in my pocket.") I was not blown away by the device, but when I went to the company's website, I discovered that my expectations were out of whack. It seems these trinkets were originally developed for studio work, so my style of banging around might not be the best test.  I decided to look around for a sample pack, which has a number of the disks in different diameters and thicknesses.

Well my local drum shop didn't have the sample pack, but they did have the hi-hat pack. I was in the market for new clutch felts anyway, so for a few dollars more I got two clutch washers and a bottom plate washer.

Now, before we go any further I'd better tell you about my hi-hat set up. I use an old Ludwig Atlas hi-hat that is the sweetest thing going. I bought a pair of 13" "Dyno Beat" cymbals about 15 years ago. The top cymbal just says "Top Hi-hat"; the bottom cymbal weighs about as much as a refrigerator. The sound is awesome, but they've always been a bit temperamental. I have to get the clutch tension just right, and then I'm always fussing with the bottom cymbal. Worth it? Usually.

So, back to the Cympads ...  They are made from hard, dense, closed-cell foam and look pretty ordinary. The bottom washer is rather thick, but not too thick to fit on my antique stand. Putting the clutch together was a bit of a chore as the washers tend to grip the metal rather than slide like felt does. But without too much straining I got it all back together.

And the result? Remarkable! I love the authoritative "chup" sound of these hats, but in the past I had to be content to hear it only about 75% of the time. A bigger annoyance was up-tempos. The cymbals tended to lag, which could be quite off-putting. Now with the Cympad  washers, every note is crisp, clear and well defined. At faster tempos, the left foot no longer sounds like it's playing with some other band. And I'm not always trying to "fix" the bottom cymbal. 

I'll definitely keep any eye out for that sample pack and see if it can tame another problem child cymbal I have.

Cympad “Optimizer Hi-hat Clutch & Seat Set”
Price:  $9.95