Sakae Road Anew Drum Set Review

road-anew-header
Photo courtesy of soundevesound.com

Earlier this year (way earlier), the good people at Sakae shipped over one of the company’s new Road Anew drum sets. The series is Sakae’s first foray into the mid-level market for U.S. consumers, but it’s loaded with high-end features so I was really excited to check it out. We’ll get to the specs in a second, but I wanted to take a moment to address the company’s interest in this review.

From day one, Sakae was involved. This wasn’t just a promotional review for them. Based on my repeated conversations with the company rep, they were genuinely curious about the testing and more than happy to discuss the results. For me, this is very rare. My website is not a high-impact marketing tool for reaching hundreds of thousands of drummers, but Sakae was incredibly respectful of my thoughts and questions about the drums. Their representatives were clearly invested in the process.

I think that’s a very important testimony to the company’s concerns about product quality (Side note: Check out our review of Sakae’s Trilogy kit from last year).

To me, the Road Anew kits don’t represent Sakae’s entry into the near-industry-wide race to the bottom. Instead, these drums serve as a remarkably affordable avenue for introducing drummers to the company’s ridiculously high standards for sound and build quality.

If it isn’t already clear, I was pretty high on this kit. Let’s break it down.

Specs

Sizes: 10×7”, 12×8”, 16×15”, 22×18”, and 14×5.5”

Shells: 6-ply shells with inner and outer plies of cherry, and four plies of mahogany between

Edges: Roundover counter-cut with a soft apex and a 35 degree interior cut

Hoops: 1.6mm steel; cherry/mahogany bass drum hoops with Silver Sparkle lacquer exterior and satin natural cherry interior

Lugs: Light-weight chrome over zinc die-cast (same as Trilogy)

Finish: Silver Sparkle lacquer

Set Hardware Included: All double-braced; snare, hi-hat, three-tier straight cymbal, and three-tier boom cymbal stands; bass drum pedal; bass drum tom mount

Buy it: $1,099 at The Drum Shop in Tulsa, OK or visit Sakae’s Dealer Locator.

kit-front

Appearance

So, as noted above, this kit sells for less than $1,100 and it comes with a full set of hardware. When I saw that combination of features and price, I made a few irrational assumptions about what kind of kit I’d be receiving. After all, this is a drum set targeted at the mid-level market, so there were clearly going to be some concessions to cost.

Well, it definitely doesn’t look like a mid-level kit. The Silver Sparkle finish was actually a lacquer rather than the wrap I expected, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. I’m not the biggest fan of silver sparkle finishes normally, the combination of large glitter (there’s probably a better word for whatever that is than glitter) and heavy gloss created a ton of visual depth.

Beyond the finish itself, the warm red-brown of the interior cherry plies poking through clear heads and on the inside of the bass drum hoops provided a beautiful kind of organic counterpoint to the dazzling twinkle of the lacquer.

drivers-seat

Light-weight vintage-style lugs, 1.6mm steel hoops, and slim bass drum spurs all contributed to a classically inspired look that I found very satisfying. The throwback visual was mitigated just a bit by the 18” deep bass drum and suspension cradles, but the kit was still a joy to look at.

Setup

The Road Anew kit came in two large boxes with everything packed very securely. The snare drum and both rack toms were already headed and assembled; only the floor tom and bass drum needed to be put together. Getting everything together and ready to play took me just about a half hour, and that’s including a quick tune-up.

The insides of the shells were satin-finished cherry, which again, was just gorgeous. For the most part, all of the edges and inside surfaces were smooth and even, save a few very small rough spots on the inside of the bass drum and floor tom.

lug-and-claw

I also noticed that the ply joints were straight rather than scarfed. As I understand it (not totally sure here), a scarf joint is a little stronger because there’s more surface area making contact. That said, I could be completely wrong. Either way, the shells were round throughout, and didn’t flex much when bear hugged which is something I do to all drums not because I’m testing their physical integrity, but because I love them.

Otherwise, I found the whole process to be smooth and easy except for three pesky issues.

First, the rods on the pre-assemble drums – and especially the snare drum – were very stiff. After a few weeks with the kit, I ended up removing all the rods and applying some of the included rod lubricant (!!!). Problem solved.

Second, some of the rods, notably those on the resonant side of the snare drum, kind of felt like they were bottoming out before they could bring up the head to a high tension. I normally like to get that snare reso pretty crisp, and I had trouble doing so on this drum.

Finally, I had an issue getting the floor tom batter side head to seat flush. Even after a few tune-ups and tune-downs, the head could still rock back and forth on the edge. The hoop and shell were both round, so I’m not entirely sure where the issue was coming from. I tried a few different heads and ran into the same problem until I finally found one that worked. Then, after all that, I went back to the original stock head to film the video, and the thing sat just fine. I have no idea what was happening there. By the end of the review period though, the drum sounded excellent with the stock heads. Frustrating, but in the end, not a big deal.

Shell Hardware

As mentioned above, the Road Anew kits ship with the same light-weight chrome over zinc die-cast lugs found on Sakae’s Trilogy drums. Couple of benefits here: they look great and they keep the drums super light. They’re not quite as easy on the arms as the Trilogies were, but I wouldn’t call them heavy by any means either.

lug-and-claw

The kit also ships with the same 1.6mm steel hoops found on Trilogy kits. The hoops are ultra-light and very flexible, so they really let the drums breathe (more on that in a minute). I think a lot of drummers have become overly attached to the 2.3mm steel hoop, and are too often prone to assuming that anything less is “cheap.” That’s not the case here. These slim rims were a very deliberate addition to the Road Anew drums. But again, we’ll get back to that in the sound section.

snare-throw
The Road Anew snare throw was simple and easy to use

 

The bass drum spurs felt a little skimpy in hand, but I didn’t have any problems with them during the review period. The telescoping legs were strong and wobble-free.

spur

One thing that jumped out to me was the floor tom brackets. The wide, circular clamps were surprisingly stout when compared to the rest of the kit’s hardware, and they were exceptionally easy to use due to the broad, ergonomic wingnuts. Nice touch.

floor-tom-bracker

Finally, the suspension cradle mounts on each rack tom were a real joy. I’ve addressed these before in the Trilogy review, but I’ll recap here by saying that it’s hard to determine how much the resonant side-mounted cradles actually affect sound, but the lack of wobble is huge plus. The drums were extremely secure even under heavy play. And on top of that, the toms opened up very well at every tuning.

cradle-and-arm

Which leads us to sound.

Sound

Overall, I absolutely loved the sound of this kit. For a big picture summary: the drums were warm, round, and low-leaning with just enough pop up top to keep them present in a live mix. With one exception, I thought the Road Anew drums were genuinely great. They performed exceptionally well in a live setting, but I was blown away by how beautifully they recorded.

Let’s start with the really good stuff. The 22×18” bass drum was out of this world. The entire kit came equipped Sakae-branded heads. The bass drum wore a clear single-ply batter with an internal tone control ring around the inside, and an unported black resonant side head, also tamed by an internal edge ring. With nothing inside and a tuning just below medium, the kick was thumping and warm with a ton of bottom end. I could comfortably bring the drum up a little higher for a singing boom, but it was happiest with the heads tuned just above wrinkled on both sides. What a killing drum.

Included bass drum hoop protector
Included bass drum hoop protector

 

Despite the lack of muffling and a reso port, every note was remarkably controlled, and I actually think some of that had to do with the bass drum tom mounts, which seemed to settle a few of the wandering lows and highs trailing each note. When I removed the toms, the drum sounded much more open – both when I was sitting on top of the kit, and when I had a friend play them for me.

The toms fell right in that same range, but were more comfortable going up high. Again, low-middle was the sweet spot here, but they could hang with a jazz tuning. The 10” tom choked a tiny bit when tuned higher, but not enough to ruin the sound.

edge

At all tunings, the toms were full and singing with a sweet woody center that made me want to come back to them a lot. I think the combination of rounded outside edges, the warmth of cherry, the soft roundness of mahogany, and those 1.6mm steel hoops all combined to create a sound that was kind of at odds with itself in an excellent way. The shells zeroed in on fat and bottom-heavy notes, but were balanced by the thin hoops that allowed the edges to speak just a little more and maintain some high-end presence. I think there’s a chance that swapping the current hoops out for something heftier might actually tame the tone a little too much and curb some of the built in punch.

After I got the floor tom and batter head marriage issue resolved, the 16” drum settled in with a huge, almost tympani-esque “doom” that filled a lot of space. Once the single-ply clear heads relaxed more, the drums mellowed further into the soft, vintage-y roundness that I think is the target sound for this kit.

I was surprised by how much attack remained even after the batter heads were well beyond broken in. Check out the isolated tom strikes from the video above to hear how much slap is still there. In my mind, that’s an awesome plus for live performances with a set that likes to live this low.

I swapped out the stock clear batters for two-ply coated batters on the 12” and 16” toms and holy crap did that make a huge difference. The drums were fatter and fuller with a beautiful bluntness capped by more of that rich woody middle. I left those heads on when I took this kit out on a country gig, and it was the perfect sound for that show. It was just tremendous and full without ever getting in the way.

The only part of the Road Anew kit I didn’t love was the snare drum. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good drum, but I just don’t think it was for me. And I also think it may not be the best fit with the rest of the Road Anew rig. It was very dry and focused. I never found the same warm, doughy sound in it as I did the toms and bass drum, and I missed that. Even tuned low, I thought it sounded thin and kind of flat.

snare-wires
Snare wires and beds

 

That said, the drum’s dry splat sounded great for hip hop or classic soul-inspired grooves. It sounded almost pre-muffled and hit that Al Jackson Jr. zone pretty well. This will be a great snare drum for some people, but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted with the rest of these drums. But, I’d be happy to have it around as a specialty sound drum or backup, especially when it came with a kit at this price.

Kit Hardware

First of all, the fact that a kit that sounds this good and sells for under $1,100 comes with a full set of hardware is bananas. So much so, that it kind of confused me at the outset. Initially, I thought that if I were a buyer looking for an affordable kit to take on gigs or into a studio, I would have rather spent a little less cash on just a shell pack, and used any hardware I had at home.

But I ended up really appreciating the inclusion of the hardware. With the addition of a throne, sticks, and cymbals, the Road Anew kit is ready to go right out of the box. I think that’s a great asset for drummers who are either upgrading from a much lower-quality kit, or searching for a gigging kit with limited extra hassle.

As far as the hardware itself, this isn’t space-age stuff. Despite being double-braced, it’s very light in-hand thanks to fairly slim tubes. Honestly, it felt a little shrimpy at first, but the stuff proved to be surprisingly sturdy. I moved this kit several times and used it for a live performance. Every component was reliable, easy to set up and tear down, and a breeze to transport given the weight.

boom-joint

Functionally, the stands gave me just about everything I wanted. Tiny teeth on the cymbal stand tilters offered more than enough positioning flexibility and a very firm hold. Chunky wingnuts with fingertip-friendly construction at every tube joint felt secure but not sticky. Every tube moved easily inside its receiving piece. All of the felts were very firm and featured an even harder piece of darker material on one end to help maintain shape.

The chain-drive hi-hat stand operated smoothly and with a very tight response. The snappy action felt great when chomping away at two-and-four with my foot in a jazz setting. That feel helped make sure each closing of the hats was quick and clean. And, like the rest of the Road Anew hardware pack, the unit was strong enough to handle a lot of movement. Even despite the flexible metal prong pedal base, the stand never felt shaky or noisy.

The snare stand did have the tiniest bit of lean to the basket, and not along the alignment of the arms. It was easy enough to work around; I simply oriented the basket so the lean benefitted my preferred snare position. I imagine it was due to a minor bend during shipping. Otherwise, the stand was excellent.

I’ve never loved the look of individual arms/posts for bass drum tom mounts (rather than a single twin unit), but I understand that reasoning behind including them. Separate units make it much easier to position both toms at the exact height you want without too much extra fuss on the actual bracket. And, because the Sakae mounts go straight into the receiving bracket rather than using a vertically oriented L-arm, the choice makes a lot more sense.

bass-drum-tom-mount
Cool design element on the bass drum tom mount

 

Those mounting arms were ultra-sturdy, and the four separate points of articulation made them very easily to position and then freeze into place with the included memory locks. And while the hexagonal mounts do penetrate the mounting bracket entirely, they couldn’t go in far enough past the bracket to actually touch the shell. That’s a nice feature that could easily save you from an ugly accident.

Finally, the bass drum pedal was just excellent. The sturdy little kicker was smooth as silk and absolutely silent. Cam, footboard height, and cam rocker adjustments were all available, but I really loved the feel right out of the box. The large, two-sided felt/hard rubber beater was heavy enough to create some extra “oomf” when needed, but not so heavy that it was difficult to control. I found the felt side to be the most enjoyable to play. On three different bass drums, it gave me a nice, hearty “whump” with no fuss. Just the pedal itself is a huge value-add with this set. I would happily use the Road Anew pedal as my main option with no worries whatsoever. Also, it came with a heavy-duty, stick-on rubber hoop guard to fit right under the clamp. That rules.

Pros

Warm, low-leaning tone with decent range

Gorgeous finish

Great appointments and shell hardware

Very light

Hardware pack included

Very strong bass drum pedal

Bonkers value for $1,099 price tag

Rod grease included

Cons

Minor head seating issue with 16” tom (resolved)

Thin sounding, odd-man-out snare drum

Rods on snare drum reso side might have bottomed out

Wrap Up

As mentioned a few times above, Sakae’s Road Anew kit sells for $1,099 and includes five beautifully made drums that sound excellent, a full hardware pack, and a killing bass drum pedal. The value here is out of control. I think this would make an excellent gigging kit, but I think they’d do even better as a studio set for someone who records regularly. They’re versatile, controlled, warm, and just cozy. Sakae really nailed it here.

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