BY DAVID LIBMAN
Every now and then, gear arrives at my home for a Soundlab review without advance warning. This happened recently when I received a box marked “Sonor” that was an unusual size: 32″ x 16″ x 16″. I thought, “This box isn’t big enough for a drum set, but it’s too large for a snare – so what is it?”
I anxiously opened the mystery package, and was almost shocked to realize it contained an entire 4-piece drum set consisting of an 8″ x 8″ tom, 13″ x 10″ floor tom with legs, 12″ x 5″ steel snare, and a 14″ x 12″ bass drum. Yes, you read that right: 14″ x 12″!
Before assembling this kit, its diminutive dimensions made me wonder if it was designed for children. But, having now spent some time playing it, I can affirm it can be played by an adult, and will take a beating. During my testing process, the toms did not move and the bass drum stayed in place – even under the assault of my double bass drum pedal.
Plus, it has a slick name that evokes the hipness of a James Bond movie: the “Martini Special Edition.”
SONOR KEPT YOUR BAR TAB LOW
In a world dominated by 22″ bass drums, a kit with a 14″ kick is clearly designed for a niche market segment. In my view, Sonor has therefore wisely introduced the Martini kit with a very low price point – MSRP $612/street $359.
Of course, because the Martini kit is budget friendly, many of its specs fall into the “no frills” category. For example, the tom and kick shells are poplar (not maple or some exotic wood), heads are Remo UX (made in China, not Remo’s U.S.A. heads), the snare strainer is generic looking with a black plastic tension knob, the steel hoops are 1.6 mm (instead of 2.3 mm or die-cast), and the grommets that cover the air vent holes on the shell exteriors don’t have any corresponding fastener on the interiors. This made me wonder if the grommets could eventually fall off, but they feel like they’re firmly in place, so I suspect they won’t. Despite it all, the Martini kit’s less-luxurious features still seem to have decent quality.
More importantly, the Martini kit impressed me with some of its high quality components. Among other things, the bass drum mount and tom arm are chromed heavy-duty units that are very sturdy. They have three memory locks, including one that encloses the bottom circumference of the tom bracket. The hex-shaped tom L-arm includes a ball mechanism that allows for almost infinite angle adjustment. The entire unit held the 8″ rack tom firmly in place.
The Martini kit employs the same circular shaped hinged mounting brackets for the tom mount, floor tom legs, bass drum legs, and bass drum riser mechanism. This is, incidentally, the same mounting bracket found on some higher priced Sonor kits, like the Ascent series. Although, unlike the Ascent series, the tom mount bracket on the Martini kit attaches directly to the shell without any sort of suspension system. The bracket is easy to use, clamps tight, and has nice looking chrome with no pitting.
The lugs on the Martini’s toms and bass drum are chrome units that attach to the shells via two screws. In similar fashion to the lugs on Sonor’s higher end kits, the Martini’s lugs are shaped like mallets. Unlike the lugs on the higher-end kits, Martini lugs do not have the raised bridge between screws that avoids lug-to-shell contact. Instead, the entire length of the lug sits flush against the shell. The lugs do, however, include Sonor’s internal patented Tune Safe mechanism, which helps keep the tension rods from slipping out of tune. I put quite a bit of practice time in on this kit, and it stayed in tune without much slippage. I’m sold on the efficacy of Tune Safe lugs.
Despite the drums’ diminutive sizes, the hardware on the Martini kit enables comfortable positioning even if you like to play drums positioned high. The tom arm that mounts on the bass drum is height adjustable and has plenty of length. Floor tom legs are long enough to get the 10″-deep floor tom plenty high off the ground. Sonor engineers obviously considered that a 14″ bass drum would need to be lifted off the ground to allow the beater to hit its sweet spot. The Martini bass drum solves this with a simple riser system consisting of a metal arm that mounts into a bracket. The kick pedal mounts onto a flat metal strip on the riser instead of the bass drum hoop. As a result, the riser simultaneously lifts the bass drum off the ground and protects the bass drum hoop from pedal clamp rash. Once set up, I was able to position everything on the Martini kit to the same heights I use for my standard kit (which has a 22″ bass drum).
RETRO COOL LOOK
The Martini configuration presently comes in one color: a Retro Turquoise Galaxy wrap. I’m a fan of both sparkle and turquoise, so this wrap was right up my alley. Plus, the natural wood bass drum hoops and chrome colored steel snare create a nice contrast that make the turquoise “pop” visually. Although the audience would never closely examine shell interiors, I took the time to do so. The coloration of the inner poplar plies on my review kit looked extremely consistent, and none of the plies I could see along the bearing edges had any cracks or gaps.
Toms and bass drum shells were evenly cut with 45-degree bearing edges. I know this because, among other things, I examined the bass drum edges to the touch before putting on the heads. Furthermore, the rack tom and floor tom tuned easily, which is always an indicator of good edges. I was also pleased to see that Sonor made the extra effort to include a snare bed on the bottom bearing edge of the 12″ x 5″ snare drum, which, in my view, helps to avoid residual snare buzz.
THE SOUND OF A MARTINI
Before commenting on sound, I think it’s important to note these are miniature drums sold at a budget price. Therefore, not surprisingly, the toms don’t sing for days, the bass drum doesn’t boom like a cannon, and the side stick sound on the 12″ snare is just fair. With that said, I quickly came to the conclusion that it’s best to approach the Martini kit on its own terms. And on those terms, the kit sounds pretty darned good.
Once tuned, the 8″ mounted tom pierces through with a focused, almost pingy sound with short sustain. In that sense, the 8″ tom was the most “dry” part of the Martini. The 13″ floor tom similarly barks with a focused mid-range pitch with short sustain.
The 14″ bass drum came with a felt strip that muffled the drum too much for my taste, so I removed it. Without the felt, the bass drum thumped with a high-pitched yet beefy boom. The no-frills 12″ x 5″ steel snare sounds very good, with ample snap, cut, and crispiness. These drums blend well with each other in terms of both pitch and volume.
As expected, the Martini kit can be played softly. But it also can compete in louder settings than one might expect. At one point, my wife Andrea (who is also a professional drummer) was jamming on the Martini kit while my son Mathieu played his Telecaster through a Vox AC30 amp. If you’re familiar with the AC30, you know it can get loud. Yet the pitches of the drums on the Martini kit punched through in a frequency range that allowed me to hear them quite well, including the bass drum.
The Remo UX heads that come with the Martini kit are durable and sound pretty musical for their price range, but they are budget drumheads. I suspect the Martini kit would sound even better with Remo’s U.S.A. heads, or some comparable professional heads.
As you might have assumed, the Martini kit is so small and unique sounding that it can’t cover all the bases. As much as I would have liked to try this kit on a gig, I opted not to because it was not right for the styles I was playing during the testing process. Still, if I owned the Martini kit, I’m sure I would eventually break it out for quirky jazz or funk gigs, coffee house gigs, and similar applications.
Overall, the Martini kit was extremely fun to play, more sturdy than I expected, well made for its price, and extremely “cute” visually. Furthermore, with its $369 street price, this kit is an excellent bargain for such a unique instrument. Overall, I was thoroughly impressed.
Configuration 14″ x 12″ bass drum with tom mount, riser and wood hoops; 8″ x 8″ tom with tom arm; 13″ x 10″ floor tom with legs; 12″ x 5″ steel snare.
Shells Toms and bass drum: 9-ply/7.2mm cross-laminated poplar with 45-degree bearing edges; snare: steel.
Hardware Sonor lugs with Tune Safe mechanism; 1.6 mm steel hoops; included drum key.
Finish Retro Turquoise Galaxy Sparkle wrap.
Heads Remo UX heads (made in China). Toms and snare: coated single-ply batter and clear resonant side. Bass drum: coated batter and resonant side head with Sonor logo.
Price 4-piece kit with tom arm, floor tom legs, and bass drum riser: MSRP $612/Street $359.
www.sonor.com (international); www.sonorusa.com (U.S.A.).