Gear Review: Practice Pad Shootout!

by JJ Jones

I’ve been working on my hand speed and finger technique a lot this last year. After using an Aquarian 6″ Quik-Bounce practice pad for ages, I decided to change things up and try a variety of pads with different surfaces and rebound options to help me develop some faster sticking skills. When I researched practice pads online, though, I found the sheer number of choices overwhelming. To help narrow down the playing field, below is a comparison of some of the most popular practice pads available, including some newcomers on the scene.

Most Realistic 
Tie: Aquarian Super-Pad and Prologix Blue Lightning

I’m defining “realistic” in this category as which pad feels the most like my own main snare: a medium-tuned Tama Stewart Copeland signature chrome-over-brass, with either an Evans UV1 or Aquarian Reflector series drum head. On the spectrum of my test pad group, my snare falls somewhere between the Aquarian Super-Pad and the Prologix Blue Lightning. Many companies advertise their practice pads as being “snare-like” with a “natural feel and real stick response,” and for me the Aquarian Super-Pad delivers on that promise since playing it feels like just a slightly harder version of my own snare. Prologix puts out some beautifully made rubber-surface pads with thick lathed wooden bases and fabric tops. Their heavy resistance Blue Lightning feels very close to my medium-tuned Tama.


Most Portable   
Tie: Aquarian Super-Pad, Aquarian Quik-Bounce, and Prologix Double Sided

The Aquarian Super-Pad is designed to serve as both a low-volume drum mute (it comes in sizes to fit toms and bass drums), as well as a practice pad. At less than 1″ thick and weighing only 16 oz for the 10″ size (and 12 oz for the 6″ mini size), the Super-Pad is much thinner and lighter than any of the other pads I tried —- perfect for throwing in a backpack or a suitcase.

The 6″ Aquarian Quik-Bounce is extremely small and light, with a high-rebound neoprene surface (it’s a bit harder than my snare but worth the trade-off for something that’s so easy to carry). I used this pad for years, bringing it on countless tours and trips. It comes with an 8mm threaded insert that allows the pad to be mounted on a cymbal stand.

Prologix made me a special 6″ double-sided Blackout/Red Storm combo pad (high and medium resistance surfaces, respectively) for this review. While it is thick at 2.75″, it’s also light and small, so makes another great travel option. And unlike the Aquarian pads, it has two sides: the realistic snare feel of the Red Storm along with the extreme-resistance workout surface of the Blackout. Here’s hoping Prologix will manufacture a run of these for sale to the public!


Most Quiet    
Tie: Reflexx CP1 and Prologix Blue Lightning and Blackout

I found the FLEXX surface of the double-sided Reflexx CP1 to be the quietest of all the pads, with the WORKK surface and both the Prologix Blue Lightning and Blackout series as close seconds. The noise level of any pad is usually a direct result of the material it’s made from, with typically the softest, highest resistance pads being the lowest volume and the hardest being the loudest (e.g., the Drumeo P4 was loudest of my test group, having two hard surfaces that simulate a cymbal and a high rack tom).


Best Build and Durability   
Tie: Prologix and Reflexx CP1

All Prologix pads feature a dual density or open-cell rubber main playing surface, and are countersunk with a plastic nonmarking rim that not only produces a realistic feel for rim shots and cross-sticking, it protects the playing material edge from nicks and gouges as well. Each pad is double-sided with a harder recycled bottom surface in addition to the various top resistance surfaces, and each includes a lathed birch ply base. These pads are sturdy, durable, and built to last.

The Reflexx CP1 features two different unique playing surfaces adhered to a ¾” eco-friendly, 100 percent recyclable, engineered colored wood called Valchromat. The unique manufacturing process of this wood involves individually impregnating the fibers with organic dyes that are then connected with a special resin. This gives it greater internal cohesion, load resistance, and flexural strength than the typical fiberboard most pads are constructed from.


Most Diverse   
Winner: Drumeo P4

The Drumeo P4 has three levels and four playing surfaces that are meant to simulate the various parts of a drum set: traditional gum rubber for the snare, neoprene for the high tom, a soft bouncy rubber for the floor tom, and a very hard surface that simulates a ride cymbal. The variety of sounds on the P4 gives it more of a performance aspect than other pads. You can get some really cool grooves going between all the surfaces and it starts to sound like its own percussion instrument. Drumeo claims different levels and surfaces encourages the practicing of movement and musicality, like on a drum set. The P4 is definitely unique and I had fun creating grooves, but as a practice pad I find most of the surfaces to be too hard and often just end up using the softer rubber surface alone. It was also the loudest pad of my test group due to its hard surfaces, and at almost 4 lbs for the 12″ pad, it’s not very portable.


Best Workout   

Winner: Reflexx CP1

By a wide margin, I found the Reflexx CP1 WORKK surface to be the winner in this category, with the Reflexx FLEXX surface coming in second (along with the Prologix Blackout). Guy Licata, founder and CEO of Reflexx, told me that unlike the open-cell structure of the FLEXX and Blackout surfaces, the air pockets in the WORKK surface rubber are actually trapped in the substrate, making for a much smaller cell or air pocket (hence it’s “microcellular”) and offering “a completely different rebound profile” than any other practice pad. I found the WORKK surface transmitted less shock to the stick — and thus I had less hand fatigue — due to its specific density (in other words, I could hit it hard and it would absorb the impact), and I believe Reflexx’s claim that, as such, it engages and develops less articulated muscle groups in the hand. The Reflexx WORKK surface is truly unique and is surely why I see their pad everywhere on social media these days in pics from so many of my favorite drummers (Anika Nilles, Mike Johnston, and Mark Guiliana, to name just a few).


Best for a Beginner  
Winner: Evans RealFeel

The two-sided Evans RealFeel is one of the most popular and ubiquitous practice pads in the world. It features a natural gum rubber playing surface and comes in both 6″ and 12″ models. Compared to other pads I tested, it’s on the harder/louder end of the spectrum, and the 12″ version is heavy at 3.5 pounds. But it’s the standard pad of choice for good reason: It has a large octagonal playing surface, good rebound (but not too bouncy), a harder opposite side for more of a workout, and it’s well built and durable. These features make the RealFeel the best pad for starting a sticking practice, and I suggest to all my beginning students it be one of their first drum-related purchases.


Best Overall   
Winners: Aquarian Super-Pad and Reflexx CP1

My priorities in a practice pad are low volume, portability, and a realistic feel. That said, I’m now adding to that list the “workout” factor of the extreme resistance pads. Given these specific criteria, my overall winners for this shootout are the Aquarian Super-Pad and the Reflexx CP1.

The 14″ Aquarian Super-Pad fits snugly inside the rim of my snare and is thin enough that I don’t need to adjust the height of my snare stand or have the pad on its own stand. It’s extremely light, which makes it not only good for travel but also easy to just lean up against my floor tom and grab when I’m ready to do sticking work during a practice session. It’s also one of the quietest pads, being just above the extreme resistance surfaces in volume level. Lastly, it’s got one of the most realistic feels to my actual snare, the only other pads coming close in that category being the Prologix Blue Lightning and Red Storm.

Given how much I’ve come to appreciate the workout the softer pads offer, in this category the high-resistance Reflexx CP1 is really in a class by itself. The WORKK surface is totally different from any other pad on the market and offers a unique feel along with an intense workout. The CP1 is also well-built, fairly small and portable (10″), and comes with a nylon carrying bag. It’s a definite winner for me, and I look forward to many future practice sessions with it!


JJ Jones is a Berklee trained, internationally-touring drummer and educator. She has played with folk-pop darlings Girlyman, comedian Margaret Cho, Egyptian revolutionary Ramy Essam, and LA’s riot-pop band WASI, among many others. JJ is the founder of EmpowerDrumming.com, the only drum education company in the world exclusively for women.

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