Why Is There Even A Debate?
If you’ve been drumming for a bit, you may wonder what the pros and cons are between a bass drum port hole vs no porthole. After all, we always see the resonant head on drum kits and it can make anyone wonder what the difference is.
Bass Drum Port Hole Vs No Porthole Explained!
When it comes to kick drum sound, most drummers have an opinion as to whether they prefer a bass drum with a port hole or without. The question is, which one produces the best overall sound?
A bass drum port hole can be seen as beneficial in regards to increasing resonance and improving sustain. However, the size of the hole plays an important role in determining the final result.
Too large a hole will reduce overall volume while too small won’t provide sufficient low-end response. It’s essential to get it just right for optimal results.
The choice between bass drum port hole vs no porthole also comes down to personal preference when considering overall sound.
Some argue that kick drums without portholes are louder and punchier, since less air escapes from inside the drum shell allowing for better projection and clarity of note attack.
A Great Kick Sound Is Always Desired
Whatever you’re doing with your reso head (front head on the kick), I understand your concern for getting a great sound out of your acoustic kit.
What is a Bass Drum Port Hole?
A bass drum port hole is an essential tool for any drummer looking to get the best sound out of their instrument.
It’s a small opening cut into the resonant head of the bass drum, allowing players to control the low end tones and achieve a better overall sound.
For years, drummers have desired more control over their low end resonance, especially in live settings where traditional miking techniques don’t always yield great results.
The port hole gives them that control by allowing air to escape from inside the drum, creating less of a boomy tone that can become overwhelming in certain situations.
It also helps to even out high and mid-end frequencies as well as adding clarity and articulation to every strike on the head.
Pros of a Port Hole
Using a kick drum port hole can be an effective way to mic a kick drum (as I previously mentioned) and get the desired sound. For sound guys, having a port hole in the front of the kick drum can provide great benefits.
The first benefit is that it makes perfect mic placement easy. Because the sound source is coming from inside the kick drum, you don’t have to worry about where to place your mic as it’s already in position.
This makes setting up quick and easy for any sound guy, even if they’re inexperienced with miking drums.
Another benefit of using a port hole is that it allows for just enough muffling on the bass drum without altering too much of its natural tone.
Lastly, there is better sound projection and some attack added with the port hole cut on the resonant head.
Cons of a Port Hole
The cons of a resonant bass drum port hole are numerous, and should be taken into account when playing.
Firstly, the bass drum port hole will reduce the amount of air pressure in the shell, thus diminishing sound quality (warmth will be lost).
Secondly, it increases the risk of premature tearing due to moving the kick around, mic placement (getting caught), etc. air on the head itself.
Thirdly, since there is less contact with the head as a result of having an open port hole, this can cause less rebound from the bass drum beater on the batter side head.
Furthermore, it can be difficult to get consistent tuning across all frequencies when using a bass drum with an open port hole.
This is because there is less surface area for contact between the head and hardware components such as lugs and tension rods; meaning that some tones may not respond as expected when tightened or loosened during tuning sessions.
I will say, I always have to focus more when tuning my resonant kick head because of the loss of even tension around the head.
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Ways to Enhance Port Holes
The kick drum is an integral part of any drummer’s setup, so making sure the sound coming out of its port hole is ideal should be a priority.
Enhancing your kick drum port hole can be done in several ways depending on the style you’re striving for and the resources available to you.
One way to enhance your kick drum port hole is by using a port hole protector. These are typically made from rubber or plastic and fit snugly over the existing hole.
This helps prevent outside noises from entering the microphone and distorts any echo created for a fuller, richer sound. Another option is a port hole ring or dampening ring, which also fits into the existing opening but provides more control over low frequencies.
There are products, like the Kickport that increases low-end response and adds more punch to your kick, all while protecting your port hole from tearing. They are pretty easy to install.
Benefits of Not Having a Port Hole
Can you get a good sound without a kick drum port hole? Believe it or not, the answer is yes.
Despite the fact that many rock and metal bands use bass drums with kick drum port holes to help amplify their sound, small bass drums can still produce a great tone without them. This makes them ideal for jazz kits, where clarity of sound is paramount.
The trick to getting good sound out of small bass drums is to work on your technique and learn how to tune the drum correctly. Check out my previous post about the best drum tuners by clicking here.
Striking the center of the head correctly will produce a much better tone than just hitting anywhere on the head. It’s also important to find cymbals that complement your kit and don’t overpower it, as this can detract from any nuance in your playing.
To add a little more depth, you could add an extra layer of fabric (or Aquarian pads) on your batter head where your kick pedal beaters are striking. This will also a great way of extending the life of your batter head.
About the port hole position:
The porthole position will normally be off-center to the left or right, but you’ll see a bass head with center position port holes too.
A center port hole will lose a lot of sustain though. When you strike the batter head, the sound will travel pretty much straight through the port hole. With an off-center port hole, sound is able to vibrate more inside of your bass drum before escaping.
It’s Personal Preference
When it comes to a bass drum port hole vs no porthole, it really will come down to the discretion of the drummer and what they like the most for a resonant drum head.
To wind everything down, it can be a great choice to control the amount of muffling and a better sound for music that calls for a greater volume and full-bodied sound.
It’ll also be a lot better on a sound tech or sound engineers, in terms of easy miking your kick drum head. As I mentioned, the port size can vary on resonant bass drumheads.
It is recommended to have port holes 4-5 inches, which gives enough room for a mic, but also doesn’t take too much away from your resonant head. If your resonant head is responsible for warmth and you have a port hole too big, you’ll lose out on that warmth.
If you’re not careful, the edge of the hole can tear from getting caught on things (mics, playing shows regularly. etc.). A lot of new heads can come with enforced portholes.
There are also tons of products you can put on them to protect them that are basically made of protective vinyl material. Duct tape is also a viable option, but you probably wouldn’t need much.
The Battle Will Continue
So, I think the tug-of-war between bass drum port hole vs no porthole will always continue, but I hope that all of this information has been helpful.
I have personally always used a porthole because I’ve always had to mic my kick drum and liked the sound of all of my kicks with a porthole rather than not have one.
Why Do You Use Portholes?
So, what are your thoughts on portholes? Do you use them or are you on the fence about them? I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions in the comments below. Please let me know!!
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Until next time, stay attuned!