Tama and Pearl are the two big Japanese giants of the drumming world. Both drum brands have been around for decades, and they make some of the highest-quality kits available.
I’ve been able to play professional kits from both brands over the years, and I’ve loved how solid they feel and how good they sound.
In this guide, I’ll give a few comparisons between the drum kits that both companies offer. The goal isn’t to determine whether one is better than the other, though. It’s just to see how the kits differ and help you understand various design qualities.
- Tama Drum Company
- Pearl Drum Company
- Entry-Level Drum Kits
- Intermediate Drum Kits
- Professional Drum Kits
Tama Drum Company
The Tama drum company is based in Japan, with some of their more affordable products being produced in China.
The company first started in the 1970s, and I’ve always heard how Tama drum sets were massively popular in the 80s rock and metal scene.
Fast forward to today, and you’ll find dozens of Tama drum kits sitting on the top shelves of music stores.
They’re still really popular amongst metal drummers, but you’ll also see plenty of other drummers using them.
Some of my favorite drummers that endorse Tama are Peter Erskine, Anika Nilles, Eloy Casagrande, and Mario Duplantier.
Pearl Drum Company
Pearl is also based in Japan, but the company was first started in the 1940s. So, it’s quite a bit older than Tama. A lot of Pearl’s cheaper kits are also made in China and Taiwan.
Pearl is arguably the most popular drum brand in the world. Pearl drum sets were everywhere when I was a child, and it led to most non-musicians being familiar with the name.
One of the cool things about the brand is that they’ve released a few electronic drum sets over the years. While they haven’t reached the same level of popularity as Roland or Yamaha kits, they’ve all been decent.
I’ll just be looking at acoustic drum sets in this guide, though.
When looking at Pearl’s artist roster, some of my favorite drummers there would be Dennis Chambers, Matt Halpern, Ray Luzier, and Calvin Rodgers.
Entry-Level Drum Kits
Let’s start with entry-level kits for our comparisons. These are affordable kits aimed at newer drummers who haven’t been playing drums for long.
These beginner kits typically don’t cost more than $1000, and they usually come with a full set of hardware, drums, and cymbals.
Tama Stagestar vs Pearl Roadshow
Tama offers the Stagestar as their beginner kit. It has poplar shells, a few colorful finish options, and solid Tama hardware stands.
Pearl offers the Roadshow, which I think is a lot more popular purely due to how many I’ve seen being sold at music stores.
There really isn’t too much of a difference between these two drum kits. The Tama Stagestar has better finish options, and I much prefer the Omnisphere rack tom holder to Pearl’s L-arms. They make it easier to position the rack toms on top of the bass drum.
However, the Pearl Roadshow has far more configuration options. It also has a junior version for kids, so I’d argue that it caters to more drummers.
Pearl Export vs Tama Imperialstar
The Pearl Export and Tama Imperialstar kits are still considered entry-level, but they’re a lot better than the previous two kits we looked at.
The Pearl Export is one of the most sold drum kits of all time, so its reputation puts it ahead. It’s a bit pricier than the Tama Imperialstar, though. It also doesn’t come with cymbals.
The last thing to mention is that the Export has mahogany plies in the shells to add a bit of depth to the tones, while the Imperialstar only has poplar plies, so the tones aren’t as dynamic, in my opinion.
Tama definitely wins when it comes to finishes, as the Imperialstar has far better finish options.
Intermediate Drum Kits
Moving on to the intermediate category. These are the most affordable kits that brands offer that are made from a higher-quality wood than poplar. They can easily be used by pro drummers, but they don’t quite have the high-end hardware features of pro kits.
Pearl Decade Maple vs Tama Superstar Classic
Out of all the drum kits on this list, these are the two closest competitors. They’re both maple drum sets that come in a variety of configurations, and there really isn’t much that separates them.
If you were to pick between the two, the only defining features would be the shell hardware and finish options.
I think Pearl has done a bit better with finishes here compared to the kits we’ve already looked at. You get to choose between high-gloss lacquers, satin color bursts, and standard satin finishes.
With that said, the Tama Superstar still has finish options that arguably look more interesting.
The Pearl Decade Maple kit has the L-arm tom mounts, while the Tama Superstar has the Omnisphere double tom holder. Like earlier, I think the Tama design is far better.
In terms of tones, both of these kits sound very similar.
Professional Drum Kits
Both brands offer far more pro kits than anything else, so there are plenty of options to compare here. This is also where you’ll find more differences between drum sets, making it easier to pick one that you may like.
Pearl Session Studio Select vs Tama Starclassic Performer
Pearl’s Session Studio Select is one of the most underrated drum kits on the brand’s product lineup, in my opinion. You don’t see too many pro drummers using this, but it’s an incredibly good kit.
It has hybrid mahogany and birch shells, with the inner mahogany plies offering deep tones and the outer birch plies offering bright sounds.
The kit also has high-end Pearl hardware that makes it perform smoothly. Here’s where the tom mounts aren’t an issue anymore when comparing other kits.
The Tama equivalent would be the Starclassic Performer drum set. This kit has hybrid maple and birch shells. It has the same punchiness from the birch plies, but the maple plies make it sound a bit higher-pitched and warmer than what you get from the Pearl kit.
Another big difference is that the Tama kit has die-cast hoops and the Pearl kit has 2.3mm Superhoops. Die-cast hoops are quite a bit thicker and heavier, so the drums sound more rounded. The pearl drums tend to resonate a bit more, but they’re also trickier to control.
I’d say that both of these kits are very evenly matched!
Pearl Masters Maple vs Tama Starclassic Maple
These two kits are often the go-to options for drummers that need pro kits for live and studio settings.
They both have strong maple shells that make them sound incredibly musical and versatile, but it’s the hardware features that make them feel different to play.
The Pearl Masters Maple has the R2 Air Suspension System to make the rack toms resonate and sing more, while the Tama Starclassic has the Starcast Mounting System to make the rack toms feel a lot more solid when you hit them.
Pearl has also introduced a few interchangeable features with their High-End Re-Imagined campaign, so you get a few more options from the Pearl kit.
From personal experience, I’ve seen more Pearl Masters kits being used in recording studios, while the Tama Starclassic is one of the most picked drum sets for live stage tech riders. However, they both work for pretty much any purpose!
Pearl Reference vs Tama Star
The Pearl Reference Series kit has often been referred to as the flagship drum set from Pearl, but it’s actually second to the top on the brand’s product line. It also went through a recent overhaul with the High-End Re-Imagined campaign, becoming the Pearl Reference One.
This kit has a mixture of mahogany, maple, and birch drum shells to give it optimal tones for every drum size. It’s undoubtedly one of Pearl’s best kits, and it’s one of the best drum kits I’ve ever heard being played live on stage.
Tama’s equivalent is the Star, which is the brand’s main flagship drum kit. You get three versions of this kit that are made with maple, walnut, and bubinga shells. The kit has all of Tama’s highest-quality hardware features.
While these kits are also matched, I definitely think the Star kits have the best finishes. I don’t know any brand that offers better looking finishes than what you get with the Tama Star line.
The final kit to mention is the Pearl Masterworks, and this is where Pearl has an edge over Tama. These are custom drums, and you get to place a direct order from Pearl to have a kit created with any specifications that you want.
The complete customization here makes it the best kit that I’ve mentioned so far, as the possibilities are endless, and whatever you choose to make, it will sound incredible.
I haven’t seen too many Masterworks kits being used live, but I know a lot of drummers who have them as their dream sets to own one day.
As you can see from all those comparisons, both Tama and Pearl are quite evenly matched in terms of drum kit choices.
I’m a huge fan of both, and the only way to pick between them is to choose which hardware features you prefer.
Also, Tama offers far more compact drum kit options, while Pearl has the higher-quality flagship drum set.
Finally, both brands have amazing snare drum ranges!