BY JOHN NYMAN
Mid-Level Kit Earns Top Marks
Pearl has earned a strong reputation with its top-end Masters Custom line. And now with the new MCX line – the low end of that same high-end line – you can get all of the essentials of quality intact with very few frills, all for a good price. These drums are as close to perfect as medium money can buy.
Before giving the MCX drums a thorough inspection, I played them. And then I played, and played, and played some more. Then disassembled and scrutinized them. If you’d like to be spared some additional reading, I can sum up my findings here: There’s nothing wrong with these drums. Sure, there are several things about them I’m not crazy about, but those are points of taste. I found nothing actually wrong with these drums – no real flaws of any kind. So go ahead and buy an MCX kit, and you’ll probably play it happily for the next 20 years or so. Or read on for details, some history, and to parse through my personal preferences to see what bits you can relate to.
First off, the MCX drums are made in Taiwan. Did you flinch? You don’t have to. Back in the ’60s, all the crappy drums were made in Japan. So were the crappy motorscooters (Hondas). Boy, how times have changed. When was the last time you saw a drummer loading Pearl or Yamaha or Tama drums into his Honda or Lexus and shouted at him, “Loser!” See, those days are long gone. Nowadays the “senior” Masters Custom drums are made in Japan, and there’s no shortage of quality in their manufacture. The MCX drums are made in Taiwan, land of emerging manufacturing skills. There’s no shame in it.
Taiwan has been making various bits of gear for many drum manufacturers for years now. Hot on their heels are factories in mainland China. Guess what? They’re getting good at it.
Out Of The Box
My 22″ x 18″, 10″ x 8″, 12″ x 9″, 16″ x 16″ shell pack came in an Orange Sparkle Fade. I also received a matching maple 14″ x 5.5″ snare drum (which is not part of the shell pack). The glittering fade finish is a paint job, not a wrap. The final product is flawless, but who picked the colors? They’ve put a warm tone (orange) next to a cool tone (silver). Hmmm. (See, I told you all my complaints were personal preference.)
The shells themselves are gorgeous: six plies of maple, finished on the inside in a soft satin sheen. There were no discernible flaws in workmanship. The bearing edges, cut at 45 degrees from the inside with a small mirror-angled back cut and very slightly rounded off, far exceeded my anticipations for a drum set in this price range. And Pearl uses handsome, black hex/Phillips combination bolts to fasten the lugs. Included is an inside tag with a serial number. Sweet.
Pearl has always had a good rep for hardware. The company calls the MCX lugs a “bridge” design. Sounds fancy. Simple, actually. It appears the bottom of the lugs are notched out to provide less surface contact with the shell. But it’s a cool look, and there are rubber gaskets at the contact points. The coolest part? The lugs have threaded brass inserts to accept the steel tension rods. Wow. My coveted vintage tubs don’t have that.
The toms and snare featured die-cast rims, which are heavy, shiny, lustrously plated, and well finished. Die-cast hoops add focus to the attack and dry out some of the overtones. Some companies prefer triple-flanged hoops on the toms for a more wide-open sound, but Pearl, Gretsch, Tama, and others use die-cast hoops on toms. It’s a personal and divisive choice. I love ’em, maybe you hate ’em – tomato/tomahto – the die-cast hoops on the MCX are really nice ones.
Okay, time to get picky. I don’t find the Masters badge very attractive. Looks like a golf tournament banner. Removed, it left only two pencil-tip holes. What else? The toms are suspended via Pearl’s OptiMount system. This is the older, black version (they’ve since gone chrome). Again, not much for the eyes, but it’s always worked well. In fact, it may be the most versatile of the suspension systems, owing to its ability to slide up and down in position, even though lateral movement is limited.
So far I’ve found three things I don’t care for on the MCX kit, and they’re all aesthetic: the color choice, the badge, and the unattractive OptiMount. Boy, that ain’t too shabby for a list price of $2,499 (which Pearl is quick to say translates into a “street price” of around $1,500). Besides, the badge is small; the OptiMount does work well; and as for colors, Pearl offers several in addition to this Orange Sparkle Fade.
The MCX drums play well and sound great, and that’s the bottom line. With Remo USA heads all around, including Clear Ambassadors on the toms and what looks to be an unlabeled Powerstroke 3 on the kick (there’s a Masters logo instead of Remo), the kit is rock-gig ready. Pearl shipped a “virgin” kick with the review kit (undrilled kicks are standard with the MCX shell packs), so I used a heavy-duty Pearl stand (which doesn’t come with the shell pack) for the 10″ and 12″ toms. Me, I’d drill the bass drum, but it’s nice to see the company leave you a choice. The floor tom is on legs, and the legs come with memory locks. In only minutes I was playing the drums.
From the box, the 22″ x 18″ kick was warm and round, punchy not boom-y. It came with a Remo DynamO hole template and after a while I used it. Cute gizmo. You fasten the adhesive ring to the head and then lightly trace the inside of the ring with a razor blade. Voila! You’ve made a clean port in the head. And, for makin’ rock on this drum, a better sound was had with a port. The bass drum was full and punchy, though a bit long in the note (I hate 18″-deep bass drums because of this, although yes, I realize it is the new worldwide standard). I monkeyed around with various amounts and types of padding in the kick, looking for variety and satisfaction, and found it without much trouble. The MCX kick is capable of both moderately delicate work and blunt-force trauma.
I first tuned the toms on the low side, only a half-turn or so up from finger-tight. They sounded punchy, round, full, and clear. No funny wang-tones, no thin voice, just syrupy sweet maple goodness. Part of their clean focus comes from the die-cast rims.
Pearl also sent the matching MCX snare drum, but since it’s not part of the MCX standard shell pack, it didn’t get the complete physical examination. I did play it on a gig, and it was warm and snappy. I have great faith in the MCX shell at the core of this drum, and I like the included die-cast hoops. If you’re in the market for a snare along with your shell pack, give it a listen.
I played the MCX Masters kit (sans MCX snare) on an outdoor calypso/smooth jazz gig. Not only were the drums festive looking, but, tuned up a bit higher, they made clean work of all those melodic tom solos. At a classic rock bar gig, the kit kept me smiling over multiple nights. And the drums tuned very easily. The tension rods are smooth and the drum responds effortlessly to tweaking.
Though the painted finish is first rate, it occurred to me that readers might want a comparison between painted and wrapped drums, so I ordered an extra 12″ x 9″ tom. The Bronze Glass finish adds a noticeable pound or so of weight to the 12″ drum (and floor toms and kicks in a wrapped finish will weigh proportionately more). But side-by-side on a stand, I couldn’t find any discernible difference in sound between lacquer and wrapped finishes. Admittedly, tuning two drums exactly the same is difficult, and I only got them in the ballpark. But unless you’re gigging with geeks from NASA, I’d say there’s no difference in sound between MCX painted and MCX wrapped shells.
The biggest limitation I found in the MCX line is the slim choice of bass drum sizes, which includes only 18″-deep bass drums in both 20″ and 22″ diameters. Some jazzers, needing a 20″ x 14″ kick, will be out of luck. If the available sizes suit your needs, you will find great value in the MCX line. Construction is first-rate, performance and sound are excellent, and the price is very reasonable. My personal nitpicking about aesthetics aside, I’d recommend these drums to anyone, be they a house-bound beginner or a gigging professional.
6-ply Maple shells with 45-degree bearing edges.
10″ x 8″, 12″ x 9″, 16″ x 16″ toms and a 22″ x 18″ bass drum. Four other configurations available. Add-on drums include 13″ x 10″ tom, 14″ x 14″ floor tom, and 20″ x 18″ bass drum.
(Reviewed), Orange Sparkle Fade. Also available: Lime Sparkle Fade, Black Sparkle Fade, and Chestnut Fade. Wrapped finishes include Bronze Glass and Red Glass.
OptiMount suspension system; 100-percent maple shells; die-cast hoops; bridge lugs with brass inserts; Remo USA heads.
MCX 4-piece shell pack: $2,499.