BY BRAD SCHLUETER
Mapex fans on a budget were forced to swallow a bitter pill earlier this year when the company discontinued two of its most popular entry-level drum lines, M Birch and Pro M. But a spoonful of sugar soon followed in the form of those lines’ replacements, the new Meridian Birch and Meridian Maple lines. It could be argued, of course, that nothing was missing from the originals. But Mapex not only found a way to make some significant improvements with the Meridians, but managed to keep the price down as well. If you’ve always liked the sound of the M Birch and Pro M lines, you can take heart in the fact that the shells haven’t changed much — not at all in the case of the Meridian Maple, which are the same seven-ply maple shells used in the Pro M. The Meridian Birch has just lost the M Birch’s outer ply of maple in favor of a true, 100 percent birch shell. What have changed significantly are the finishes, lugs, and hardware. And those changes are worthy of a closer look.
OUT OF THE BOX
Mapex sent me a 5-piece Meridian Birch kit. And for those terribly impatient types I can tell you up front that I like all the changes to the line. I’m quite familiar with the M Birch kits, having both reviewed them and spent the last several years teaching and shedding on three different M Birch kits, all in different finishes. After this assignment I’m hoping the shop I teach at will upgrade the teaching kits to Meridians.
The kit I received was in the SRO configuration: 22″ x 18″ bass drum, 14″ x 5.5″ snare, 10″ x 8″ and 12″ x 9″ rack toms, and a 16″ x 16″ floor tom. These sizes are a great choice for most rock gigs. The larger diameter floor tom yields a noticeably lower pitch than a 14″ tom would, making it perfect for jungle tom grooves. There are four other setups available, plus a “Go Large” add-on package with a second bass drum and 10″ and 18″ toms and hardware — perfect for metal drummers. Incidentally, the Go Large add-on works best with the “standard” configuration (12″ and 13″ rack toms), because if you use it with any other configuration you’ll end up with two 10″ toms. Mapex has also just announced that the Meridian Birch is available as a shell-pack for a list price of $899.99. And with both lines you have the option of ordering any of the individual drums à la carte.
I thought Mapex’ M Birch line offered appealing smooth lacquer finishes when it was first introduced, and some solid colors remain in the Meridian Birch line. But all the M Birch’s burst finishes (darker at the top and bottom and lighter in the middle) are gone, or were just moved upstairs for the pricier Meridian Maples. But the new fade finishes in the Meridian Birch are still quite nice. Fortunately, they still have the smooth-as-glass look and feel from eight coats of hand-sanded lacquer.
Mapex sent me the new Cherry Mist finish, which is a very subtle deep-cherry-to-paler-red fade. Only Mapex doesn’t call it a fade, possibly because the effect is more understated compared to the other “true” fades. Either way, I loved this finish. It was perfectly done, worthy of a kit priced at least a thousand dollars more. In fact, some very big companies offer much coarser finishes until you start shelling out (pardon the pun) around four figures more.
Again, the real improvements to this line happened in hardware. The snare drum features a new-and-improved throw-off, a welcome upgrade from the one that came with the M Birch kit I’d previously reviewed. That old throw-off had a plastic knob that had broken during shipment. This new strainer is all metal and of higher quality.
The drums now have 2.3 mm Powerhoops instead of the 1.6 mm hoops that came on the M Birch. These are more rigid, but more importantly they produce a louder rim-click on the snare drum. The lugs have shrunk, and the new ones are both more aesthetically appealing and should help minimize some vibration-robbing contact with the shells. The bass drum claws are still stamped steel, though at a glance you might be fooled into thinking they’re die-cast. Better still, they now have a rubber gasket to protect the beautiful wood hoops from metal-to-wood gouging. To my eye, the styling of the new lugs and bass drum claws is reminiscent of something found on pricier Tama’s Starclassic drums. The tom mount has also been redesigned, and this too works well with a smaller footprint. The overall effect is pure class.
Mapex also includes a new line of double-braced hardware with this kit, and it’s a middleweight champion. I received a three-tier hideaway boom and a straight cymbal stand that feature new clamping memory locks, ergonomic wing screws, and slip-proof rubber feet. At first glance, you might mistake them for DW stands. Mapex has adopted a similar synthetic black handle, dubbed “Accu-Lock,” for it’s cymbal tilter — no doubt a nod to a now-established DW instituted on its hardware years ago.
If you’ve ever felt a tendon slide across a bone while twisting a wing screw at an odd angle, you’ll appreciate these handles. There’s a locking screw at the bottom of the tilter (that’s easy to miss) that will lock your desired angle from gig to gig.
Mapex also includes its new hybrid felt/rubber “Multi-Sustain” cymbal felts, which combine a thin felt glued to half of a Cymbal Accentuator, which is the rubber ball Mapex uses in place of a felt on most of its hardware. With the Multi-Sustains, the idea is that the side that rests against the cymbal determines the cymbal’s sustain. That may be true on a splash or other small cymbal, but unless you clamp the felts tightly, I doubt they have much noticeable effect. I’m not a fan of the Cymbal Accentuators, so I view this as a small upgrade.
The hi-hat stand features a ten-step tension adjustment, rotating legs, and slip-proof feet. It felt very nice to play, with plenty of smoothness and response.
The simple and solid snare stand has a memory lock, uses a ratcheting design and works perfectly. Nuff said.
The P700 bass drum pedal is a basic but thoroughly well-built piece of hardware. It has a stabilizer plate underneath with a convenient drum-key holder attached to it. It uses just a single chain, though I noticed that the double-pedal version has been upgraded to a double chain. I wish the pedal didn’t use a wing screw under the footboard to clamp the pedal to the hoop, but all Mapex pedals suffer from that minor inconvenience. I think the company should have taken the opportunity to move the wing screw to the side of the pedal where it’s easier to reach, and use a lever similar to those used on many other pedals. That quibble aside, the pedal felt fine, and its three-sided beater (felt, wood, or plastic) offers plenty of impact options.
The snare and toms come outfitted with Remo UT single-ply batter heads, while the bass drum has a clear batter with a muffling ring around its circumference for taming boominess. The tom heads and bass drum batter are clear, the bass drum resonant/logo head is a solid black model, and the snare batter is coated for better brush playing.
To my ears, the drums sound very good, virtually indistinguishable from the M Birch line, which would be expected since both lines use the same shells. The decay characteristics of birch shells are one of the reasons they make such good drums for recording. The 20-lug bass drum offered a deep wallop with a good amount of attack. It had plenty of boom, so if I owned these drums I’d probably replace the batter head with a more muffled one and port the logo head for easier microphone placement. Ports tend to shorten a bass drum’s decay and deaden the action, which I like more than a closed, bouncy-feeling drum.
The toms were clear and articulate, though there was a noticeable pitch drop from the 12″ rack down to the 16″ floor tom. The toms didn’t ring too long, as you’d expect from a birch kit.
I’m a big fan of birch snares. They tend to be brighter than maple and have a controlled decay without the excessive ring that can plague other wood as well as metal snare drums. This nicely crisp eight-lug model did not disappoint.
Earlier, I stated that Mapex had made all these improvements without raising the price, and while that is mostly true, it isn’t the whole story. Previously, Mapex offered either an extra tom with the M Birch kits, depending on how many drums you chose. Though always a “limited-time offer,” it had gone on for so long that some of us had come to expect it. Alas, those freebies are finally over. The savings have allowed Mapex to improve the line without charging the customer for it. Seems fair in this economy.
Mapex Meridian Birch drums are as good as anything you can find in this price category and remain a smart choice even if you have more to spend. For surprisingly little money you get an all-birch kit with a selection of beautiful lacquer finishes that both sounds and looks great. With new lugs and mounts, 2.3 mm hoops, and a full complement of quality hardware, you really can’t go wrong. Frankly, I can’t think of another company offering so much for so little.
SHELLS 100-percent birch, 6-ply, 7.2 mm drum shells.
CONFIGURATION 10″ x 8″, 12″ x 9″ rack toms, a 16″ x 16″ floor tom, a 22″ x 18″ bass drum, and a 14″ x 5.5″ matching wood snare drum.
FINISH Cherry Mist (reviewed) plus seven other lacquer finishes.
FEATURES 2.3 mm Mapex Powerhoops; newly designed tom mounts, lugs, and cushioned bass drum claws; a variety of configurations available; a selection of eight very attractive finishes; side-throw snare strainer: hardware package is included in price.
LIST PRICE 5-piece Meridian Birch kit with hardware, $1229.99 (as reviewed); 6-piece with hardware, $1539.99; shell-pack only, $899.99