Can changing drumheads make a cheap set sound better?
Yes, and yes.
Drumheads make a big difference. Coated/clear, single ply/double ply. Ported bass drum/non-ported. Then how you tune them.
I’ve played many kits found on bandstands around town. They are uniformly cheap, heavily dampened, and wildly tuned. Played well, out front in the audience, they usually sound fine or even great. The only comments I’ve ever gotten are remarks on my Paiste cymbals I’d brought to the show.
I still love my pro level kits. But it took many years before I purchased them. On early recordings the cheaper, well tuned, with coated drumheads, my Gretsch Catalina 20” sounded good, sometimes really good.
When I moved into classic rock bands, I used clear drumheads, tuned them lower and voila: Rock and roll baby!
Moral of the story?
Remo drum heads
Aquarian drum heads
It’s the drummer. It’s the room. It’s the band. It's the tuning. It’s the music.
David Story, drummer, pianist, qualified online music teacher