BY BRAD SCHLUETER
Meet the Armory Series — a new line of drums from Mapex that looks great, boasts lots of professional features, and is very affordable. But unlike many other kits in its price category, Armory’s unusual bearing edges (the points circling the top and bottom of the shell that contact the drumhead film) command the forefront of Mapex’s promotional promises.
Also available on the company’s Mydentity and Mars series drums, these new SONIClear bearing edges are cut with a unique profile designed to help heads seat better on the shell and tune more easily. While that alone is an intriguing highlight, Mapex managed to pack a load of cool and even surprising features into the package.
But first — the doorbell rang.
SHELLS & FINISHES
A 6-piece Armory kit arrived on my doorstep with blended 6-ply straight shells (layered birch/ maple/birch) that are 7.2mm thick. Drum sizes included a 22″ x 18″ kick, 10″ x 8″ and 12″ x 9″ mounted toms, and 14″ x 14″ and 16″ x 16″ floor toms. The supplied 14″ x 5.5″ Tomahawk snare features a 1.0mm steel shell. Mapex also offers three other kit configurations and several add-on drum sizes.
Our kit had Mapex’s Magma Burst lacquer finish (basically a red sparkle that fades to black). Upon close examination it looks like small silver sparkles nest among the red ones, but that might be my eye playing tricks on me. Regardless, the finish is beautifully applied and looks great. One bass drum hoop has the bright red sparkle while the other is black. Having two hoop colors gives owners the option of mounting the red hoop next to the red side of the shell and the black next to the black, or reversing the hoops to emphasize the contrast. Only Armory’s Photon Blue outfit is similar to our review kit in this regard, while the other finish options simply have two matching bass drum hoops.
Other finishes include Transparent Black and Transparent Walnut for those seeking a more subdued look, as well as two satin finishes — a rich Mantis Green and wine-colored Cordovan Red. Most drummers will find at least one Armory finish to suit their taste in this wide selection.
Armory kits come with either black or chrome shell hardware, although the two styles aren’t actually interchangeable. Instead, Mapex matches the hardware color to complement each shell finish. So, for example, the transparent black and red scheme of our Magma Burst review kit arrived with black hardware, while other shell colors are supplied with chrome hoops and fittings. Also important to note, Armory’s black hardware is electro-plated, not powder-coated, for greater durability and higher sheen.
Although our review kit didn’t include any Armory floor stands, the line’s selection is worth mentioning. Unlike its shell hardware, Armory stands and hi-hat pedal components are highly customizable. You can choose chrome stands, black-plated stands, or chrome stands with black plated fittings (for an interesting “zebra” look). It’s all pretty heavy-duty stuff and includes memory locks, stepless tilters, and nice handles to lock tilter angles, which provide more leverage than standard wing screws.
The included Tomahawk snare looks far more expensive than it is, with a smooth and highly polished dark gray patina hat contrasts nicely against the shell hardware.
FEATURES & OPTIONS
Mapex sweetens the deal for Armory kit buyers with a unique offer that bucks industry trends. If you decide within two weeks of the purchase date that the supplied Tomahawk snare isn’t your cup of tea, Mapex will exchange it for either one of four other snare drums in the Armory line, or a 14″ x 6.5″ maple snare with a finish that matches your kit. Each snare looks like a winner and (besides sharing a 14″ diameter) features different specs from the others in the collection, with a number of shell depths and materials to choose from.
It’s a juicy offer, but I wonder how many people will actually opt for the exchange. Far from being a cheap, lightweight steel snare, the Tomahawk is a thoroughly professional drum with plenty of heft. It has ten elegant Mapex tube lugs, professional 2.3mm triple-flanged hoops, a sturdy throw-off, die-cast butt plate, and 20-strand chrome snare wires.
Armory drums incorporate several other great features. Toms have the same SONIClear suspension system found on Mapex’s superb Saturn IV line, which attaches to the bottom of two lugs while a third rubber-tipped point rests against a small “M” badge on the shell. These are held between rubber washers.
Toms and bass drums are fitted with Saturn IV-style lugs for an upscale look. The springy design of the SONIClear floor tom feet cushions them from hard floors for increased sustain. Bass drum claws feature rubber gaskets to protect hoops and prevent rattling. And tom brackets are hinged to make maximum contact with support rods. Our kit was fitted with Remo’s imported coated UT heads, including premuffled front and back bass drumheads, and single-ply coated batters over clear resonants on the snare and toms.
This is all good stuff, but I wish Armory kits didn’t come with a virgin bass drum. I know — lots of drum companies have adopted that style in recent years, and admittedly, the theory looks good on paper: Removing the tom bracket from the bass drum increases its low-end sustain by limiting stress on the shell and reducing the number of holes drilled into it.
But a bass drum mounting bracket makes your kit easier to set up quickly, and I’ve heard many bass drums with center-post tom mounts that have lots of low-end resonance and punch. Of course, adding extra mounting hardware will likely increase the price of a bass drum, and some drummers just prefer to play virgin bass drums, so it’s definitely a trade-off.
NOW FOR THE EDGY PART
Not all drumheads are the same. Some are formed with a sharp collar profile, which prevents the head from sitting completely flat on a pinpoint 45-degree bearing edge. Such imprecise seating can make a drum harder to tune, especially if you want to dial-in a low pitch. However, the SONIClear edge is sculpted to make every manufacturer’s head sit flat. The edge changes slightly depending on which Armory shell you look at. According to Mapex, all drums share a 3/8″ rounded back cut and a flattened apex. Snares and mounted toms have an inner 45-degree cut to increase attack, while floor toms and bass drums feature a 60-degree inner cut to emphasize low-end frequencies.
Mapex’s ads and frequency graph appear to show how SONIClear bearing edges have more volume and sustain throughout their frequency range than typical drums. But does it live up to its promise? Good news. It seems to work. The Remo UT heads sat completely flat on the edge all the way around. The drums have good sustain and are easy to tune to lower pitches given each shell’s diameter. They all sound full, which is impressive, given the single-ply UT heads.
Toms have ample attack and warmth for pop and rock gigs. The bass drum offers a good, meaty sound, and its premuffled heads keep it from becoming too boomy. Fans of solid front heads will be glad to learn that you won’t have to port the drum to get a punchy sound. The Tomahawk snare sounds great. It’s sensitive at low volumes, but has a full tone with lots of high-end crack when I lay into it, as well as loud and lively rimshots and rim-clicks. If this were my primary snare, I’d probably put a little tape on the head to tame its overtone ring.
The Armory Series is another strong addition to the Mapex line. Its finishes are diverse and beautifully done. The different shell and hardware color options allow a degree of customization and help the kits appeal to drummers of all ages. Best of all, SONIClear edges work as promised, imbuing these drums with sustain and full tone. The snare drum exchange offer is fantastic, though I suspect many drummers will be quite happy with the Tomahawk. Perhaps the sweetest part of the deal — the drums are a bargain.