BY AJ DONAHUE
Ludwig’s brass snare drums are among the most utilized instruments in recorded music history. Even amid the myriad options available today, various iterations of the infamous Black Beauty snare sit perched on the shelves of just about every studio on Earth (we have no way of verifying that, but it sure feels accurate). So, how does Ludwig improve an icon? Try stripping it bare and leaving it raw.
After the successful debut of its Raw Copper Phonic snares, the company rolled out an un-plated, organic edition of the seamless brass drums that have anchored its catalog for nearly a century. It was a hit too, taking first place in the Metal Snare Drum category in the 2018 Drummies! Gear Awards. We wanted to check it out for ourselves, so Ludwig sent over a 14″ x 6.5″ Raw Brass Phonic for review. Let’s see if it lives up to the legend of its predecessors.
You won’t find a lot of variation from the critical formula here—this is basically a nude Black Beauty. The Raw Brass Phonic features the same metal formula and seamless, 1.2mm shell used in the BB. It ships with 2.3mm steel triple-flange hoops, 10 Imperial lugs, and Ludwig-branded medium coated batter and clear snare side heads. The only significant differences on the Phonic are the finish and the substitution of a P88 throw-off.
One interesting note about the Raw Brass Phonic’s finish: no two drums look alike. The variations in color on each shell and between drums are created naturally during the forging process. Beyond that, the Phonics receive no finish other than a light sealant. That earthy appearance blends nicely with chrome hardware—this one is a looker.
The Raw Phonic is beautifully built from top to bottom. The shell is perfectly round, all components are drilled and aligned evenly, and all moving parts operate without issue. The batter–side hoop on our drum was the slightest bit out of round, but it didn’t seem to create any tensioning issues as the drum tuned up very quickly, for the most part.
Sonically, I found the Raw Brass Phonic to be surprisingly different than the Black Beauties I’ve played. I hear the same upper–register attack, musical sweetness around the edge, and mid-range punch that make the Beauties so satisfying to sit behind, but there’s a marked decrease in the high-frequency brightness sitting on top of each note. Some of that shift in frequency even extends to the wire sound, which is just a bit darker and dryer than what I’ve heard from other brass drums.
Since this sound correlates so closely to its aesthetic, I considered the notion that my eyes are fooling my ears here. But I spent a lot of time earlier this year with a bunch of brass snare drums, including a friend’s Black Beauty, and I do hear something different in the Raw Phonic.
I attribute those differences in sound to the slightly less reflective surface of the un-plated brass. The large-ish, chambered lugs with rubber gaskets certainly add to the controlled response, but I think the lack of nickel plating is what makes the biggest difference here.
The result is a drum that offers a heavy dose of fat punch behind each cracking note, but settles fairly quickly and doesn’t require a lot of tone control, even under microphones. The tone-dense middle is warm and hefty, and there’s a strong enough bottom-end presence to add beef with too much disruptive sustain. It has a mostly even response under soft to medium strokes, but heavy hits bring out more of the metal’s inherent ping. The cut and presence one would expect from a brass snare is there, but the predominant quality here is a hefty wallop from the mid-range that lands right in your chest as much as your ears. It’s a really satisfying response.
Not surprisingly, the drum is extremely sensitive thanks to the combination of a metal shell and wide, medium-depth beds. It’s also incredibly comfortable to play. Those Ludwig heads have a forgiving softness that feels so nice under the stick.
I enjoyed this drum most at medium and higher tunings, which bring its pock-ing warmth forward. Higher tensions in particular deliver a beautifully balanced combination of restrained crack and wide follow through—something that translates very well under microphones (as heard in our demo video above).
Low and loose tensions are a little more difficult to dial in. It seems to be the only range in which the drum responds with a significant spread of overtones. There’s plenty of boof under each stroke, but I’m hearing a little more wobble around the edges than I’d prefer. But, with a small piece of tape near the edge, this Raw Phonic is a booming beast.
Ludwig’s Raw Brass Phonic is, in almost all regards, a Black Beauty. I’ve made a point to focus on the slightly dryer, more controlled response I’m hearing, but this is still a top-notch brass snare drum at its core. The Phonic is fat, warm, and musical with a real haymaker coming from the middle. I think it’s best suited for heavy backbeats and medium to loud play, but it’s capable of handling more delicate settings as well. Plus, it’s a really great looking drum. Overall, this is an excellent take on an iconic instrument.
- 14″ x 6.5″
- Raw, un-plated exterior and interior
- Seamless 1.2mm shell
- Interior edge flange
- 2.3mm Steel Triple Flanged Hoops
- P88 throw-off
- P35AC butt plate
- Wide, medium-depth snare beds
- 20-strand steel wires
- 10 Imperial lugs
- Ludwig Weather Master Medium Coated Head
- Ludwig Weather Master Clear Snare Side Head
STREET PRICE: $699