Drummers can find the best snare drum by examining how the drum is composed and thinking about their venue and genres. The head of the drum and the snares come into the equation, too, because different heads produce different sound qualities and response. Size of the drum matters as well, with both diameter and depth affecting pitch, articulation and resonance. In the end, all of these factors have to be viewed together to decide whether the drum is appropriate for what the drummer wants to do.
The most important element in looking for the best snare drum is to look at the material. Snare drums come in two major types classed on the type of shell they have: wood or metal. Wood is naturally porous, thicker and has a more uneven surface compared to metal. In practice, that translates to a warm sound with fewer overtones.
Neither wood or metal snare drums are necessarily "better." The choice really comes down to what type of music the drummer is playing and the venue in which he's performing. In a really wide open area or for genres such as rock or metal, for instance, a metal drum that projects will be better than a wood drum. For recording, though, or for genres such as bluegrass or folk, the warmth of a wood drum typically is the ideal.
Next, drummers have to consider the head type. Most drums use either Mylar® or Kevlar®, with Kevlar® being more expensive. With Mylar®, drummers get a more relaxed feel to the head and a little less rebound. This means less strain on the wrists and hands, but the heads take more effort to keep in tune. That's not ideal for a drummer who does tons of drumming and is constantly on the go, bringing the snare drum into different environments.
Kevlar® heads are made of the same material manufacturers use to construct bulletproof vests. Not surprisingly, snare drum heads made of Kevlar® aren't very forgiving. They give phenomenal rebound, but because the hands and wrists are what absorb most of the stress of the hit, lots of drummers find these heads cause physical problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome. A Kevlar®-head instrument usually is the best snare drum for a very experienced drummer who can truly control his technique and therefore lessen the chance of injury.
Another element to investigate when searching for the best snare drum is the snares, which provide the characteristic sound of a snare drum and which thus arguably are the most important part of the instrument. Snares may be gut, cable or wire. The situation here is similar to that of the shell material; it really is a matter of taste. The type of music does play a role in deciding what snares are best, though. For example, wire provides a very bright sound, but it's not going to give a player good response when volume is high.
There also is the issue of pitch and resonance. The smaller the diameter of the drum, the higher the pitch typically is. Smaller snare drums such as piccolos or popcorn snares are more for special effects and typically won't get as much use, so they should be additions to a standard snare in a drum set or percussion collection. The best snare drum for versatility is usually between 12 and 14 inches (about 30.5 and 35.6 cm) in diameter and 5 to 6 inches (12.7 to 15.24 cm) in depth. If a drummer wants more resonance, then a drum with a deeper shell is in order.