Great Stereophile article on a friend of mine, drummer Billy Drummond

I'm so glad to see Stereophile go out and do a story on a really good artist and our hobby.  Congrats Billy.  I hope you all enjoy the article.  We met at Johnny Rutan's Audio Connections in Verona, NJ.  Lot's of good musicians actually shop there. We always have a blast meeting up (I drive in from CT) various weekends.  I know Billy posts here at times, so congrats buddy!  See you Aug 6th at the store when they have Alex from Ayre coming in.  Sorry, just so cool.

Musicians as Audiophiles: Billy Drummond

By Ken Micallef • Posted: Jun 20, 2016
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Billy Drummond is a world-class jazz musician who listens to music on what he describes as "high-performance playback equipment." Drummond has not one, but three, working systems in his cozy New Jersey home, each one lovingly tweaked, carefully positioned and closely maintained to reach optimal playback efficiency.
Billy is Professor of Jazz Drums at Juilliard and NYU, and he also accepts students at home. After lessons he often invites students to hear vinyl on his Basis Audio turntable, Audio Research amplification, and Magnepan speakers setup. The visiting 20-year-olds are often as confused as they are impressed.

"I've had students listen to my stereo," Drummond explains, "and when I flip the record over they ask 'Why are you doing that?' I say 'To play the other side.'

They reply "What? What 'side'? That doesn't make any sense."

I have to explain to them that a record has two sides, "A and B."

"But can't you just . . .?"

"No. You can't just push a button. You have to flip the record over."

Drummond has recorded three albums as a leader (Native Colours, The Gift, Dubai; all Criss Cross Records), ten as a co-leader, and at least 300 albums as a sideman, including Stereophile's first jazz album, Rendezous (now out of print, though one track, "The Mooche," can be found on Editor's Choice). When not recording (often at David Chesky's studio in New York) or touring globally with Steve Kuhn, Eddie Henderson, Stanley Cowell or his own group, Drummond can be heard performing locally in the Tri-State area.

Drummond's basement studio is chock-full with snare drums and cymbals—three of his prized ride cymbals bear the autographs of his heroes: Max Roach, Jack DeJohnette, and Tony Williams. Also in Drummond's studio lair, framed photos of historic rhythm masters look out over two well-used Gretsch drum sets.

Back upstairs in an unused bedroom, one of Drummond's stereo systems is literally two rigs functioning as one, with two different front ends powering Magnepan MG1.6/R speakers. Drummond's basement was flooded in early 2016, so he merged two systems together (a pair of Snell monitors remains downstairs).


Part one of the bedroom system includes the following source components: Technics SL-1200 Mk.2 Anniversary Gold Turntable with Audio Technica AT120ET cartridge; Sony SCD-CE775 SACD changer; Sony CD/recorder; Oppo DV-980H Universal Player; and California Audio Labs Sigma II tube DAC. An Audible Illusions Modulus 3A preamplifier feeds Quicksilver V4 Mono Amplifiers. Kimber, Straight Wire, AudioQuest, and Nordost comprise cabling; AudioPrism Ground Control and Tripplite, Adcom and Monster Power handle line conditioning.

In the second part the bedroom system, components include a Basis 1400 turntable/Rega RB300 arm/Ortofon Quintet Blue cartridge to the Audible Allusions Modulus 3A preamplifier and Audio Research 150.2 stereo power amp. Digital is handled via PS Audio Digital Link III DAC, Audio Research CD-1 CD player, and Sony SCD-555ES SACD changer. Symposium Roller Blocks support the Audio Research components. Cabling from AudioQuest, Lifatec, SilverSmith, Straight Wire and LessLoss and a Shunyata Research Hydra 4 conditioner complete part two. Whew!

Listening to Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition (ECM), Barry Harris's At The Jazz Workshop (Riverside) or Paul Motian's Le Voyage (ECM) on the Basis turntable-fed system sounded shockingly good in the bedroom! Hearing DeJohnette's drumming through Drummond's large Maggies was a revelation. The speakers' excellent imaging, superb transparency, effortless speed and life-sized soundstage made these familiar recordings a fresh listening experience. If Drummond ever tires of the music biz, he can put his meticulous tweaking skills to good work.

Guided by John Rutan of Verona, New Jersey's Audio Connection and StereoTimes's Clement Perry (a close neighbor), Drummond has successfully tweaked his systems, each decision impacting the sound quality. The sonic differences were palpable when switching between the Sony SACD and Audio Research CD players.

"On the Sony SACD player I'm using a Lifeatec TosLink cable to the DAC, and a Silversmith RCA cable from the Audio Research CD player to the DAC," Drummond explains. "The two sound very different. I like the attributes of the TosLink; it's a little bit faster because it's glass. The RCA cable is silver, so it's different-sounding again. And Lifeatec's cable is not that expensive, $70 a meter."

Why Maggies?

"They're open; they're fast; they're detailed," Drummond replies. "They have a huge soundstage; they image well; they're non-fatiguing. They don't have a box so they're not colored. They're dipoles, so they fire front and back.

"I like their speed for the drums," Drummond continues. "There's something special about the way a Magneplanar handles drums and cymbals. Maybe it's because the surface area is larger than a small cone. When you hear a drum through the Maggies you're hearing the drum. And because these are so fast they really get the cymbal sound right. That's been a key factor for me in choosing a speaker. If it doesn't get the cymbals right I'm not happy." (Laughs)

Billy, what is an audiophile and are you one?

"I don't know about all that!" he replied. "That's a name that somebody else gave people like us. I am someone who enjoys listening to music on high performance playback equipment. As opposed to someone listening to music on equipment that is not high performance and someone who might not be interested in extracting the most information the recording actually has on it. I am interested in that. I don't know what you call that. You can call that whatever you want." (Laughs)

Why are most musicians generally not audiophiles, or "high-performance playback" aficionados?

"Most musicians can get it without it being high-performance playback level," Billy says. "But most musicians that hear my rig are completely floored and want to get into it. I have turned students on to it; those are young people in their 20s. They're stunned hearing this. They're used to hearing music on earbuds or computer speakers. They have no clue; they've never experienced that connection to the physicality of the process. But at my place they get the bug."

In Drummond's living room, situated in front of wall-mounted photos of Billy with Sonny Rollins, Billy with Hillary Clinton, and Billy with President Obama, system two holds court.


Analog from Technics SL-1200 Mk.II turntable with Audio Technica MLA440 cartridge is contrasted by Pioneer/Oppo/Yamaha CD players signaling a MicroMega MyDAC, all into Audio Research SP16 preamplifier and Bryston 3B ST stereo power amp juicing Vandersteen 3A Signature loudspeakers. Straight Wire interconnects and speaker cables, Tempo Electric Big Twist Silver interconnects and Klee coaxial digital cable comprise connectors. Adept Response RPT 2 and Akiko Audio E-Tuning Gold Mk.II power conditioners and an Acoustic Revive RR-77 RR77 Schumann Resonator close system two. The sound here was extremely musical and warm, with no syrup in earshot!


Now to the dining area, where system three, "hobbled together from leftover pieces," includes Technics SP-10 turntable with Audiocraft tonearm, Pioneer DV45A Universal player, MSB Digital Link DAC, Nakamichi DR2 cassette player, NAD C370 integrated amplifier, Tannoy Reveal monitors and Vandersteen 2CE loudspeakers. System three, framed around Drummond's LP collection, played solid musical pleasure.

Billy, how does your inner audiophile influence your outer musician?

"I didn't say I was an audiophile!" Billy laughs. "But maybe it helps me to sonically hear the people that I am aspiring to be like or become musically. High performance playback equipment helps me get closer to my ideal. Aside from hearing the musicians play live—and there is nothing like the live performance—I can get closer when I extract the information from the disc or the records. Then I can hear clearly the sounds of these people playing their instruments. And that's something that I am in touch with. It's all about sound. We're trying to get the best sounds we can from our instruments. We like musicians for their unique and different sounds. I like being able to differentiate between those different sounds."






Thanks very much for posting this ctsooner. I'm a long time jazz fan and attend live jazz venues quite regularly.  Billy Drummond is a pro's pro, truly top notch. 
Though I think electrostatics do cymbals better than Maggies (except perhaps the models with the ribbon tweeter), I'm with Billy on them for drums, especially the 3-panel Tympani's. I also share with him a love of Gretsch drums. It wasn't mentioned, but I'll bet he plays old Zildjian Turkish-made K cymbals.
I had to sell my Gretch kit about 20 years ago during my first marriage.  I was crest fallen.  I ended up selling them to a jazz drummer in NYC.  It was brokered by the same store and owner who sold me my original kit in the very early 70's. Ironic that the drum store I took lessons at was right next door to the high end audio store where I got started a few years prior at age 9, lol.  For those of you who know Billy, he's just a great guy and so into great sound.  

I left a message for him last night and hopefully he'll come post on the thread.  Charles, do you know Billy from Johnny's or just from his work?
I'm aware of him through recordings over the years. I haven't the pleasure of a personal meeting. 
I need to start listening to him, lol.  I too have loved jazz for years, but don't know enough about it.  
CT, if you decide you want to get another Gretsch kit, I would consider selling one of mine. I have a couple, both "Stop Sign" badged era, early 70’s. And each has a 24" kick! Hard to find Gretsch’s with 24’s. One is finished in genuine Brazilian Walnut (old growth, no longer available at any price), no plastic wrap. The toms are 12 X 8, 13 X 9, 14 X 14, 16 X 16, and 18 X 16, the wood-shell snare 14 X 5-1/2. Big kit! The other is wrapped in Black Diamond Pearl, the finish I collect and play on stage. It is not for sale, unless you offer me silly money ;-).
I'd love another kit, however I have MS and am numb from the waist down, lol.  I also have lost so much coordination that I couldn't even sound good on my old Ludwig pad, lol.  Nice kit though. Mine was the stop sign badge of course and I too had the 24" bass.  LOVED that bass. I did the larger snare, but of course chrome because that's what all the other kids were using. There were still the hickory shells I believe.  6 ply, right?  I did the Peacock swirl flame finish and it was cherry.  Dusted them with vacuum all the time and polished the chrome all the time.  Had 12x8, 13x9 mounted and 116x18 on the floor.  All Zildjian's.  The hi hat was the larger one. I want to say 14", but don't remember as that was long ago.  I do remember upgrading to the 'new' solid bass pedal (no leather straps) and the upgraded hi hat stand.  Had the heavy duty stands and tom tom connects.  Built for great rock back in the day ;).....I could get a TON of sound out of those.  Mom hated me in the basement blaring my system and trying to play along, lol.  Loved me some 5th-12th grade.  I was either listening to music, playing drums, cooking, riding the bike or playing ball/hockey in the winter.  Your sets sounds great.  Post a pic

Loved that Black diamond pearl.  Gretch were really cool back then.  All my friends had Ludwig or a couple of Slingerland (Gene Kruppa right?).  Buddy Rich was Ludwig if I recall.  May have that messed up, but those were my two favorite back then, but I wanted a rock set with a real rock flavor, hence the swirl of the 70's.
I have been a Stereophile subscriber since 1993 to the present. I rather enjoyed this article as well. Hope to read more coverage like this one.

Ooo CT, Peacock Flame! That wrap is pretty rare, and has become very collectable. That snare you had weighed a ton, didn't?! The 6-1/2" Gretsch Chrome Over Brass snare drum is killer, but the snare pictured in Billy's kit is Ludwig's current COB with tube lugs, a great drum---it was my main snare for years, but I sold it a couple of years ago.

The 70's Gretsch shells were 6-ply, usually alternating layers of Maple and Gumwood. Billy's are round-badge Gretsch from either the 50's or 60's. The 50's shells were 3-ply (outer ply's Maple, center Gumwood), and are a bitch to tune; the shells were made for calfskin heads, which were put onto the shells to dry after the skin was mounted in wooden hoops. When Remo started making plastic heads on aluminum hoops in the late 50's they were slightly too small for the Gretsch 3-ply shells, so Gretsch changed their shells to slightly smaller 6-ply ones. A lot of pro's play whatever drums they have an endorsement deal with on stage, but record with Gretsch. Jeff Porcaro (studio, Toto), for instance.  

I, too, saw this article and was totally charmed by it--for multiple reasons. For one thing, Billy Drummond is one of the best drummers on the East Coast and has been for a long time. I've seen/heard him half a dozen times and he's the real deal. For another, few musicians I've known care too much about the quality of sound reproduction in their homes--though they often DO care that recordings sound good enough not to distort their compositions/solos, etc. I remember having some jazz players over to the house in the early '90's when I had my big audiophile system set up...these guys looked at me like I was insane (they totally understood making music, but not obsessively consuming it in the manner I was doing).

What shines through in this story is that Billy Drummond, before he became the great jazz drummer he is today, started out by listening to music with passion & curiosity--and continues to do so now in his home. Who among us can't relate to that?
thanks bdp.  I haven't been keeping up on drums in so long and I've forgotten so much. Gumwood not hickory, yes!  I got the ply correct though, lol.  My first instructor shared the story of Gretch shells.  That just brought me full circle,  thanks.  

The irony for me is that I only know Billy as Billy. We just talk Vandersteens stuff as he loves him some Vandy's and we talk audio. I didn't know how accomplished he is as  a drummer, but now I know.  I'll have to get some of his music now.  I'll let him pick out what I need to listen to, lol.  
Hey, that's nothing. I have a friend Nora Zimbalist who plays the cymbal.
My dentist is Zach Pearlman. And I know a guy whose name is Mr. Taylor and... he is a tailor.