Snare drums, bass drums, and toms all have heads designed specifically for great sound so it's important to choose heads matching your kits individual elements. Before purchasing a head, the diameter of the actual shell needs to be accurately measured and may require removing the rim or old drumhead. Once you’ve determined the head type and size, there are many options to choose from among various brands and specific models. Our buyer’s guide below will help you navigate through the sea of choices and ultimately help you select the drumheads best suited for your needs.
Best Snare Drumhead:
Snare drumheads are different from other drumheads because they interact with the wire snares stretched across the bottom head. Snare drums require both top and bottom heads and even the top head can affect the way these snares sound so it’s important to choose a head that will enhance the snare sound. The snare drum needs very unique heads because of the drum’s crisp sound which is quite different than the sound of toms and bass drums.
There is no need to be concerned about durability, because this head will never be struck with a stick. The most practical top (sometimes called batter) snare drumhead is a coated white plastic head. This type of head helps to create a crisp sound, and the coating allows for brushes to speak. Other options for the top head are clear plastic, and calfskin. I never use clear snare drumheads because they don’t produce the ideal snare sound, but rather a tubby flat sound. Calfskin drumheads are extremely expensive and should only be used for orchestral snare drums.
I always use a coated plastic head on top of my snare drum and a very thin clear head on the bottom. There are some specialty heads with holes to create a dry sound, or built-in muting devices. These technologically advanced heads shouldn’t be ignored because they often sound wonderful.
The criteria used to select the best snare drumheads for this list are their sound, durability, responsiveness, and value. These picks for best snare head produce a crisp sound, can cut through the band if needed, and will also help drummers define themselves with a very unique snare sound. All of my picks for best snare drumhead are responsive to soft playing, rim-shots, and brush playing.
All of these picks are very durable and can withstand heavy-handed players. The top head, or “batter head”, has to be quite durable because most drummers wail on their snare drum and don’t have a lot of options if the head breaks. Quality snare heads will last a long time and so it’s always recommended to purchase the best-sounding rather than a cheaper option.
The ST Dry head by Evans is the head offering great dry sound and durability. It’s a 2-ply head that performs like a single-play head to give you the best of both worlds. It’s precisely drilled holes let the drum breathe in a way that is unmatched by other heads. Read Full Review
The Evans 300 is my favorite snare side head because it allows the drum to really speak. It’s neither too bright nor dark and is appropriate for all music genres. It features a very thin, yet extremely durable design. Read Full Review
The Remo Ambassador is the most versatile snare head on the market. It has a warm tone with a crisp attack. It’s very durable for a single-ply head and can be used with any genre of music. Read Full Review
Remo’s Snare Side Ambassador is the most popular snare-side head for a number of years now. I like that it has an open tone and allows the snares to speak. This head is low maintenance because you just put it on and know it’s going to always sound good. Read Full Review
The Heavyweight snare head by Evans is one of the most durable batter heads available. Its power dot adds flexibility to the center and keeps the head in better playing shape. It delivers a powerful sound that will cut through louder genres of music. Read Full Review
Best Tom Head Drumhead:
Tom-tom drumheads are the most important drumheads in determining the tonal voice of a drum set. The toms need to speak in a way that will cut through the texture to aid transitions and create momentum. All of the tom heads need to be in harmony with one another, so it’s fairly common to purchase the same brand for all of your toms. Many companies even have discounted tom packs for common sizes which are sold in sets of three or four.
All of these picks for best tom head are available in many different sizes, so don’t worry if you have an unusual sized tom. All drumheads vary in microscopic degrees of thickness which really can’t be detected by the naked eye; most companies have a naming system to help determine the level of thickness.
Just like snare heads, tom-tom drumheads are available in both the single and 2-ply layered variety. Single-ply heads have an open sound that produces a lot of tone while double-layered heads are more durable, but can sound flat. Some Tom heads have built in dampening and other sound control devices, and these picks in particular sound great and produce a focused tone.
The criteria used to choose the best tom-tom drumheads were their sound, durability, versatility, and value. The bottom, or resonant tom head, should be very thin and allow the drum to sing. These picks have a very pure sound and keep excellent tone.
Since these heads are never struck with a stick, their durability is not an issue. However, the top head, sometimes called batter head, has to be quite durable because it is the side that is played upon. All of my picks for best tom batter head are very durable and sound great. Almost all of these picks are versatile enough to sound great when playing a number of different genres of music.
Finally, we took basic affordability into consideration. Most quality tom heads are similarly priced and are only slightly more expensive than inferior heads, so I recommend paying more for better quality. Drumheads do break, so you probably should have spare heads on hand if you’re going to be doing a lot of gigging or studio recording.
Evans’ EC2S tom heads are the purest sounding heads on the market today. They have a strong attack and focused tone. They’re incredibly durable and will not need to be changed frequently. Read Full Review
I’ve had Genera Resonant heads on my toms for years and they always sound great, fitting in well with any genre of music. These tom heads rarely break, react well with any batter head, and hold up to tuning changes better than other resonant heads. Read Full Review
Evans G1 Coated tom heads are some of the best sounding coated batter heads available. They have a warm tone with sustain and the classic coated sound. I personally use these heads for jazz because they offer great character and personality. Read Full Review
Evans’ Resonant Glass heads are the thinnest heads offered by Evans and can really help create a light sound. When combined with coated heads and singly ply heads they sound great They can also help add sustain and tone to 2-ply heads. Read Full Review
Best Bass Drumhead:
Drumheads designed for bass drums (sometimes called kick drums) are usually the thickest and most muted heads in the kit. Bass drums usually have a front/resonant head and a playing side/batter head. In some rare cases, drummers will only have a batter head and leave the resonant side open. Most companies sell sets of batter and resonant heads in a matched pair that often includes some type of muting system or dampening device. The resonant head will also sometimes have a large hole drilled into it for microphone placement.
All drumheads vary in microscopic degrees of thickness which can’t really be detected by the naked eye with most companies having a naming system to help determine the level of thickness. Just like all drumheads, bass drumheads are available in both the single and 2-ply layered variety. Single-ply heads have an open sound which produces a lot of tone while double-layered heads are more durable but can sound flat.
The criteria used to choose the these best bass drumheads were their sound, versatility, durability, and value. All of my picks for best bass head produce a very pure tone and will help you produce the specific type of sound you are looking for. Some drummers prefer a full bass boom and others prefer a muted thud but these picks will surely satisfy all drummers.
All of these picks are versatile heads that will respond well to different muting devices and playing techniques. Many of these heads feature built-in dampening devices that work well to control sustain and overtones. These heads are also very durable and manufactured by reputable companies. Bass drum heads are the most expensive heads of all the drums in the kit, so you might have to spend a little more to get a quality head; however, these picks offer good value because they sound a lot better than cheaper heads as well as being more durable.
Evans’ EMAD2 Bass heads are the best sounding heads on the market. They can be easily adjusted for any player's desired level of dampening, and are extremely durable. Even when fully dampened, they have amazing tone. Read Full Review
The EMAD Reso Bass Drumhead works with the EMAD2 Batter head to create the ideal Bass Drum sound. This head controls the overtones of the Bass Drum and creates a tight punch. The 4 inch hole doesn’t affect the overall sound and allows for easy microphone placement. Read Full Review
The Aquarian Super-kick II is an extremely durable head with an articulate attack as well as exclusive features preventing the head from losing tension. Aquarian heads may not be as popular as other heads, but they have some amazing features setting them apart from other heads. Read Full Review
Remo’s Powerstroke 3 may be the most popular bass drumhead for general playing. It has been a staple on Bass Drums around the world for many years. It has a clear punch with superior overtone control. Read Full Review
Remo’s Coated Ambassador Bass drumhead is my favorite batter head for Jazz Bass Drums. It has unmatched warmth and brightness that especially blends well for live playing. The white coating gives the drum personality and character with some added durability. Read Full Review
Drumhead Buying Guide
In truth, nothing affects the kits sound more than a proper drumhead, and many inexperienced drummers buy cheap heads because they’re not aware of this simple fact. There are certain drumheads which will help a drum sound more genre specific if that’s your preference. Conversely, there are also specific drumheads allowing a kit to produce a more versatile sound so you can blend in with multiple musical genres. Drumheads can also assist a drummer in creating a signature sound by controlling the amount of resonance generated as well as molding the character of your kit.
Calfskin vs. Plastic
Drumheads were originally made from thinly stretched animal skin but in the 1950’s, plastic drumheads debuted. Plastic quickly became the preferred head among drummers because they’re inexpensive and require less maintenance.
Although calfskin heads are still made today, they’re extremely expensive and require constant attention. These heads react to the environment around them so if you’re gigging in a very humid climate, the head will be become floppy and need constant tightening.
Modern calfskin drumheads are mainly used by a small percentage of orchestral percussionists. The other material used to make drumheads is Kevlar which is extremely thick and usually only found on marching drums.
Drumheads come in an almost limitless range of thickness. Thicker ply plastic is often more durable but can sound “choked”. Thinner heads usually have an open sound with a lot of ring but aren’t durable enough for styles such as rock or metal. Drumheads will either have one or two layers of plastic and are labeled single or 2-ply. 2-ply heads are extremely durable but some can sound short and choppy.
All drumheads are either batter heads or resonant heads.
Batter drumheads are mounted on the playing side of the drum and the heads actually struck by the stick. These are often thicker because they need to stand up to consistent drum playing.
Sometimes called snare-side heads, resonant drumheads are never struck with the stick and are mounted on the non-playing side of the drum. These heads are often quite thin for resonance.
Clear drumheads don’t have a coating and deliver a very pure tone. These are commonly used for bass drum and tom heads.
Coated heads have a white-textured surface to give them a bit more articulation and character. Snare heads are almost always coated to produce a crisp sound; jazz drummers frequently use these heads on their toms and bass drums as well.
Frosted or “hazy” heads have a light, airy quality. They have a very light coating which doesn’t have as much personality as a coated head.
These are white heads without a textured coating and have a slightly warmer sound than clear heads.
Ebony drumheads are black in color and usually darker in sound. These heads don’t have a coating and are often used for the front of the bass drum.
There are types of drumheads made to sound and look like calfskin. The most popular of these are Remo’s Fibreskyn which are mainly used for concert bass drums.
These heads are very thick and should only be used on marching snare drums.
Made by Remo, these heads are often used for orchestral snare drums and timpani. They are similar to hazy heads but have a more refined look and sound.
It’s important to note each drum type uses a different type of head. Snare heads are very distinct from bass drumheads and both of these are different from tom heads. It’s important to measure the diameter of your drum shells to determine what size drumhead is needed. Also, drums will require both a batter and resonant drumhead.
Most snare batter heads have a 14 inch diameter and are coated to produce a crisp sound. Some have a reinforced center dot which will bolster the impact location on the head which is why they’re often called “power dot” drumheads.
You also need to consider whether or not you use brushes when choosing a snare head. Jazz drummers who frequently use brushes will want a heavily coated head with no obstructions for a nice sound. Even single-ply snare heads are designed to be very durable so you don’t necessarily need to have a 2-ply head. However, it’s a good idea for heavy hitters or metal drummers.
Snare Resonant (Snare Side Heads)
The resonant drumhead of the snare drum is very important because it interacts with the actual wire or cable snare to create the snare sound. These are usually the thinnest heads in a kit as they need to produce a lot of vibrations to activate the snares; they’re usually clear to allow the snares personality to speak freely. These heads are the most complicated to change if they break, so use caution when tuning and never set your snare down on top of anything other than a snare stand.
Tom-Tom batter heads give a drum set its overall tone and pitch. These heads are typically clear for rock and coated for jazz. Single-ply heads have a bit more tone but manufacturers are constantly improving 2-ply heads which produce nice tone. Some tom batter heads have muting devices built right into the head, saving the drummer from having to use tape or gel muting.
Tom resonant heads are very thin, offering an extremely pure sound. They’re almost always clear and usually labeled “resonant heads.”
Bass Drum Batter
Bass heads are often sold as a system or package with appropriately matching front and batter heads. The bass drum batter head is often the thickest head in the entire kit and delivers a thick, punchy bass sound. Jazz drummers will usually use a coated head thin enough to create an open sound while rock drummers often use a thick head with built-in muting and sometimes a power dot or double-braced impact zone.
Bass Drum Resonant (Front)
Front bass heads are situated at the kits front and center. This is the head facing the audience and usually where the band’s name or the kits brand is written. Front bass heads are thinner than batter heads and usually have a small or large hole to allow for adjustment of any internal muting device such as a pillow. Many studio engineers prefer a small hole in the front head for microphone placement.
There are many newer drumheads offering features which limit the amount of extra work and maintenance required to create the sound you want.
Some bass and tom heads have built-in muting so there’s no need for external muting with tape or gel.
This is a reinforced area on certain drumheads which prevents breakage due to repeated playing in the same spot.
These heads have the reinforced dot on the underside of the head so it doesn’t interfere with the heads playing surface.
Drumheads labeled “dry” will often have precisely drilled venting holes in the head which create a very dry sound. Some bass resonant drumheads also have a pre-drilled microphone hole.
Some drumheads are available in different colors and this is usually for aesthetic purposes only. I myself have a set of bright red drumheads that I keep around for playing Halloween gigs.
The three main companies making quality drumheads are Aquarian, Evans, and Remo. These companies all make several different models of heads which vary in features and thickness. For some specific recommendations please refer to my list of best drumheads.
Drumheads are relatively inexpensive as opposed to other components like cymbals and hardware. The heads with extra features often cost a little more but worth the price if they capture the sound you want. Compared to cheaply made options, quality drumheads won’t break as often. It’s best to pay a little more to purchase a quality drumhead made by Aquarian, Evans, or Remo.