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BY AJ DONAHUE

For its Design Lab series, Mapex and drummer/relentless innovator Russ Miller created a line of drum sets with such an overwhelming and comprehensive list of features and appointments (each with its own acronym) that I don’t even have space for any kind of intro here. There are just too many new sonic, aesthetic, and hardware features on this kit for small talk, so let’s jump right in to this Mapex Design Lab Cherry Bomb series drum set.

BOMBS AWAY

Mapex shipped over a 4-piece shell pack with a 22″ x 16″ bass drum, 12″ x 8″ mounted tom, and 14″ x 14″ and 16″ x 16″ floor toms, along with 13″ x 5.5″ and 14″ x 6″ Cherry Bomb snare drums for this review. I was immediately struck by the entire collection’s timeless look, with chrome hardware, tube lugs, and a satin natural finish that really highlights the warm, red-brown hues of the 100 percent cherry shells.

As I unpacked the entire rig, I could immediately see how much care and consideration went into each component. The interior and exterior finishes, as well as all bearing edges, are smooth and flawless. I found no notable issues with roundness, seams, or joints—as expected on a high-end kit like this—and every element was noticeably crisp. This is a beautifully crafted set of drums.

Small tube lugs are stylish and equipped with swivel nuts for easy tuning

Beyond that, the low-mass tube lugs have a stylish design, but are also equipped with swivel nuts for easy tuning. The Sonic Saver hoops have softer and rounder shapes than standard triple-flanged hoops, which contributes to the overall aesthetic of the kit but also offers a nice split between the bouncy rigidity of die-cast hoops and the added focus of stick savers. Natural maple bass drum hoops offer denser surfaces for mounting pedals while also breaking up the soothing warmth of the all-cherry shells’ appearance just a bit. And that’s to say nothing of the MAATS and SAS appointments all over this kit (more on that shortly).

Mapex put an incredible amount of thought into these drums, and it shows. Now, let’s get to the sound.

FAVORITE FLAVOR

In its description of the Cherry Bomb drums, the sage Shadout Mapex [editor’s note: any Dune fans here?] leaned heavily upon the loaded term “vintage” in product headlines. There’s also a fair amount of “controlled” and “precise.” That’s an amorphous and vague descriptor for a drum set’s sound because there are several dozen versions of “vintage” character. Generally accepted notions include warm, round, and focused, but really that term can include a broad range of sounds.

In this case, however, I think it refers mostly to the sounds often associated with the thin-shelled, round-edged drums of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. After setting the drums up and putting them through a rudimentary tune-up, I struck each and heard full, deep, and broad tones with huge beds of warm lows. They don’t have as much of the top-end clarity as something like maple or birch drums, but there’s a surprising amount of built-in projection even with the Coated Ambassador X heads they shipped with.

A 60-degree interior bearing edge on this bass drum (and 16″ floor tom) allows the larger drums to pipe up a little faster under each stroke

The bass drum, without any additional tone controllers, delivers an enormous note with just a bit of sweetened tone in the middle. It isn’t overly rumbly or spanky, just clear and powerful with almost no fuss. It’s an incredibly satisfying anchor for this kit.

These drums are an absolute joy to play. I spent more than a week just enjoying the out-of-the-box sound before I tried to fine tune them at all. I think Mapex nailed the formula here. Blending cherry’s natural warmth, punch, and controlled response with thoroughly calibrated shell thickness and SONIClear bearing edge specs makes for an excellent balance between those “classic” tones and the power and projection found in a lot of modern music.

The smaller drums, including this 14″ floor tom, have 45-degree interior bearing edges

Speaking of those shell specs, Mapex cut the smaller 12” mounted tom and 14” floor tom with 45-degree interior edges, and the larger drums with 60-degree inside edges. Roundover counter cuts build in a little extra control, and I imagine those steeper cuts on the 16” floor tom and 22” bass drum allow them to pipe up just a little faster under each stroke.

I’m always wary of how much minor alterations like that can impact the sound of such large drums. In this case, at least, it certainly isn’t hurting anything. I’m impressed by how comfortably the four drums sit with one another. At all tunings, they always sound like a close family with the same tubby core pitching down or up for each respective size.

Speaking of tuning, all of the drums speak comfortably from low to high. They get a little squished when cranked, but I think that’s to be expected with drums that have this much built-in control. Despite this, the kit maintains a rich, popping sweetness that sounds beautiful under microphones.

Floor tom suspension feet are optimized for maximum sustain

I will say that the swivel nuts and tension rods fought each other just a bit on every drum. Normally on high-end kits, rod action is exceedingly smooth. But here, I had to run every lug through a couple of tuning cycles to get them to work comfortably together. I don’t think that’s a huge issue, but it’s something I haven’t seen very often on kits of this level.


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The Cherry Bombs feel like they are at their most comfortable under low- to medium-tensions. That’s where all of that fat, doughy punch breathes best to my ear. While I think these drums are more than capable of handling just about anything you throw at them, I’d be most excited to use them in indie rock, country, or singer-songwriter situations where depth and warmth can make a big difference.

ONE MORE THING ABOUT ‘VINTAGE’ SOUNDS

My main gigging kit is a modern replica of a classic 3-ply shell build with reinforcement rings. It does a tremendous job recreating the thumpy, tubby sounds usually associated with vintage drums. Because Mapex markets the Cherry Bomb kits as having a sort of “vintage” character, I set the two kits up next to one another to compare these different versions of the modern vintage vibe.

There are plenty of similarities between the two—warmth, roundness, controlled finish—but the Cherry Bomb kit sets itself apart in sheer power and breadth. Listening to the Mapex drums after playing my “traditional” vintage-style drums is like hearing a shaped and EQ’ed version of the same kit. All of the same frequencies are there, but the faders are pushed up. The lows are bigger and more present. The mid-range sweet spot jumps out a little more. The attack is more full and pronounced, with a bit less of the papery plap sound common in many older drums with round edges.

The Cherry Bomb drums really do an excellent job of splitting the difference between vintage thumpy warmth and modern punch and projection. When I hit these drums, I want to hear big, whole notes that leave plenty of room for those beautiful mids and lows to bloom. While I have no doubt that they would sing and speak quickly with clear batters and a little extra tension, I just couldn’t get enough of them tuned fairly low with the included Ambassador X coated heads. This is the kid of sound I love.

MAATS AND SAS

Okay. Let’s get to the MAATS (Magnetic Air Adjustment Tom Suspension) mounts and the SAS (SONIClear Attenuation System) floor tom legs. In short, these are two mounting elements designed to not only allow for maximum sustain and resonance, but also allow the player to dial it back as the situation may require.

One SAS leg on each floor tom allows you to adjust for desired sustain and resonance

Let’s start with the SAS floor tom legs. This is a pretty handy little upgrade applied to one of each of the floor toms’ three legs. The other two legs have full 90-degree bends at the base to better control note length without the need for additional dampening, but that third leg comes equipped with two rotating joints that allow for adjusting the angle from fully straight to even beyond 90-degrees at each position.

The toothed gears of the SAS floor tom legs were relatively easy to adjust and lock-in, though they felt a bit shaky when loose. With the leg straight or slightly angled, I heard a little bit more sustain in the middle and lower ranges. It wasn’t an overwhelming change, but it was noticeable. This is a nice touch on a kit that feels like a perfect fit for studio use.

The MAATS mount for the mounted tom is tunable for different rooms and musical styles

Still with us? Good. Here’s where the magnets come in.

The mounted toms are held in place by Mapex’s new MAATS (Magnetic Air Adjustment Tom Suspension) system. These eye-catching units were designed by Randall May, perhaps best known for the MAY internal microphone system. Even the most effective suspension mounts still rely on a chain of connected hardware components that naturally inhibits vibration. This unit was created to help relieve some of the targeted drum’s weight, thereby allowing it to vibrate more freely.

The MAATS system does this by utilizing a pair of incredibly strong, tunable magnets so the drum, despite remaining connected with grounded metal components, actually floats a bit when the system is engaged.

So, does it work? Well, after experimenting with the MAATS mount for a couple months I was able to identify some differences in the sound and feel of the mounted tom—but it took a fair amount of work to get there.

The MAATS tom mounting bridge “floats” on two super powerful magnets to allow for maximum resonance and sustain

At first, the unit itself feels pretty overwhelming. It comes with a “quick start” user guide and a 12-page user guide written by May himself. That’s because there are so many different points of articulation, with a wide tuning range behind each. Not surprisingly given the amount of literature involved, I found the initial dialing-in process to be complicated and tedious for two reasons.

First, taking full advantage of the settings requires the use of two different tools: a drum key and a hex wrench (supplied). To further complicate matters, most of the adjustment points are not easily accessible from the throne. To comfortably tweak and explore all of the settings, I suggest making your MAATS adjustments away from the drum set.

Second, the entire system is meant to give the user a chance to dial-in sustain and resonance, and both of those qualities are heavily influenced by tuning and the room the drums are in. So, if the user prefers a tuning with an abbreviated sustain, or is setup in a very dry room, it’s difficult to hear the subtle differences created by the system.

On top of that, adjusting the magnet spacing, which dictates the amount of “float” (sustain) afforded to the tom, requires dropping that tiny hex wrench into a fitted hole in a wheel toggle, turning it less than 90 degrees at a time, removing the wrench, and repeating the process until you get to your desired spacing. With that process, significant changes take a long time.

All that being said, I think there is in fact some real magic here. Once I figured out the right balance of magnet spacing and Acoustic Resonance Gate spacing (a sliding toggle that affects resonance by moving the magnet’s vertical position in relation to the mounting component actually on the tom), I was able to pinpoint some quick changes that would alter the shape of the tom’s note without any tuning adjustments.

I can imagine this would be great for a session drummer setting this same kit up in different spaces with a consistent tuning. Having the option to pull a little bit more or less air out of a drum when the room isn’t giving you everything you need is pretty helpful. This system may be even more effective on drums that don’t have as much built-in control, as the cherry shells’ naturally tight response might be undermining a bit of what the MAATS system has to offer.

I’ll quickly add that the bridge mount, which uses a cylindrical insert to hold the drum in place while also allowing it to be rotated 360 degrees, is an awesome bonus for quick tuning adjustments.

The MAATS system is an incredibly novel innovation that could have a lasting impact on the way we think about tom sounds. But as it stands right now in its first iteration, I think there’s still a little refinement that could take place. I would love to see more efficient adjustment mechanisms that either relied on only one tool, or made that magnet wheel-toggle easily accessible with bare hands so it could be tuned faster.

SNARE DRUMS

I’ve previously covered the 14” Cherry Bomb snare in our Exotic Wood Snare Drum article, so I won’t eat up a lot of space rehashing that entire piece. But to offer a quick summary: it’s warm, it’s fat, and it leans toward dry with a kind of pre-compressed punchiness that hits your right in the gut. The 16-strand Puresound wires have a tight, controlled response that help highlight the vintage-esque, body-forward sound of the drum at medium and low tunings. High tensions bring out a great funky character with just the right amount of ring around the edge. I’m not sure I’d choose the 14” Cherry Bomb for pieces with a lot of dense snare passages where clarity is critical, but it’s an excellent drum for recording any kind of backbeat-driven music.

The 13” snare has a similar feel to it, but is just a hair livelier, even at lower tensions. The expected timbre change of the smaller diameter contributes to this, but I think the dual air vents might have a bit more impact on the smaller air chamber inside a 13” drum. Those same 16-strand wires speak more quickly, and seem to sit right up under each note. I was still able to get a healthy splat out of the smaller unit, but I had a lot more fun using it for bouncy, funky passages that would be appropriate for modern fusion-type settings. It also makes a killer cranked snare for hip-hop or pop situations.

I’d like to give a quick shout out to the dual-adjustable, piston-drive throw and butt combo that comes on both of these drums—what a joy those little units are. Dual-adjustable strainers can be a little frustrating sometimes because it’s so easy to over-adjust yourself out of a good sound, but the Mapex models operate smoothly and without any bother. They’re quiet, easy to engage and disengage, and they look great.

VERDICT

The Design Lab Cherry Bomb kit and snare drums have tremendous vibe. Mapex bills the drums as “vintage, controlled, and precise,” which tells a lot of the story here, but not all of it. These drums produce enormous, full, round tones that sound a bit like someone exploded the traditional “vintage” character in all directions. The included MAATS tom mount and SAS floor tom legs are a little overwhelming for the amount of effect I heard from them, but in the right circumstances they can make a notable difference in the performance of drums. I’m a bit worried that those heavily hyped tech upgrades will overshadow the fact that these are just truly outstanding drums. Mapex put a lot of R&D energy behind these new Design Lab kits, and it paid off in the sound. I hope drummers won’t suffer from any engineering fatigue when it comes to learning about these kits, because these drums are truly special.

FEATURES

4-Piece Shell Pack

  • 22″ x 16″ bass drum, 12″ x 8″ mounted tom; 14″ x 14″ and 16″ x 16″ floor toms
  • Cherry wood shells
  • Natural finish
  • SONIClear bearing edges
  • 12″ mounted tom
    • 6-ply, 5.8mm shell
    • 45-degree edges
    • 6-lug Sonic Saver hoops
  • 14″ floor tom
    • 6-ply, 5.8mm shell
    • 45-degree edges
    • 8-lug Sonic Saver hoops
    • Self-damping SAS floor tom leg
  • 16″ floor tom
    • 8-ply, 8.2mm shell
    • 60-degree edges
    • 8-lug Sonic Saver hoops
    • Self-damping SAS floor tom leg
  • 22″ bass drum
    • 8-ply, 8.2mm shell
    • 60-degree edges
    • Natural maple hoops with 10 claws on each side
  • Remo Heads
    • Coated Ambassador X batter heads on toms
    • Clear Ambassador resonant heads on toms
    • Powerstroke 3 Renaissance batter head on bass drum
    • Black Suede resonant head on bass drum
  • Hardware
    • Chrome hardware
    • MAATS magnetic tom mounting system with tunable sustain and bounce adjustments
    • Spring-loaded telescoping bass drum spurs for quick adjustments between spikes and rubber caps
    • Tube lugs with swivel nuts

Snare Drums

  • 14″ x 6″ or 13″ x 5.5″
  • 8-ply, 9mm cherry shell
  • 45-degree SONIClear bearing edges
  • 7mm deep x 5.5″ wide tapered snare beds
  • 10-lug Sonic Saver hoops on 14″ drum
  • 8-lug Sonic Saver hoops on 13″ drum
  • Remo Coated Ambassador X batter heads
  • Remo Ambassador snare side heads
  • Tube lugs with swivel nuts
  • Dual-tension, self-lubricating cylinder drive throw and butt combo
  • Puresound Custom 16-strand stainless steel snares
  • Natural finish
  • Chrome hardware

STREET PRICES

Mapex Cherry Bomb 4-piece Shell Pack – $3,499

Mapex Cherry Bomb 14” x 6” Snare Drum – $449

Mapex Cherry Bomb 13” x 5.5” – $449

CONTACT

mapexdesignlab.com