The bass drum on the RetroSonic has less attack than, say, maple or birch, but it compensates for that lack of attack with a lovely, low pitched round boom that’s warm and controllable — even with no muffling. Although the Remo Suede Powerstroke 3’s are good quality professional heads, they tend to give a slightly papery sound on this bass drum. I suspect a clear Powerstroke 3 or clear Emperor would give this kick more attack on initial impact, but still retain its lovely low tone.
The 12" mounted tom is perhaps the most finicky drum, sonically, on the RetroSonic kit. At tighter tensions, it has a tendency to produce less sustain, giving it a sound reminiscent of some of the mounted toms on old bebop recordings. If tuned too loose, it can get flubby. This tom sounds best at a medium tension, with a focused full pitch and quick decay.
I suspect this tom might ring longer if it was mounted with a Rims-style suspension mount instead of the S1000 snare stand included with the kit, but that would not look very retro. With that said, this is a very nice snare stand, although it does not look very retro either. The S1000 has a center-positioned snare basket with a ball-style angle adjustment that is engaged by use of a comfortable large black handle. This stand also includes spikes that can be adjusted to protrude out of the rubber feet. I’m not sure why you need spikes on the bottom of a snare stand, unless you’re playing on the floor of an ice rink, but it’s a feature. The stand’s tripod base can be rotated, which is helpful if you use a double pedal and want the tripod positioned just so. Also, this snare stand has a decent height that allowed me to place the mounted tom rather high up.
Walnut seems to be a perfect wood for the 16" x 16" RetroSonic floor tom. This tub sounds absolutely amazing. It sings with a big, round, low pitch that seems to ring for days. No doink here, just pure tone. I should mention that although I understood Mapex’s choice of Remo Suede Ambassadors on this kit (they have a vintage vibe), I would love to hear how both the mounted tom and floor tom would sound with clear Emperor heads. These walnut shells seem thick enough to handle a 2-ply head. I bet clear Emperors would give that extra bit of attack that is already somewhat muted by the walnut.
The RetroSonic snare speaks with a full, breathy, woody, midrange voice that sounds aged. It feels bouncy, sensitive and not new, even though it is new. The snare strainer is new for Mapex. It’s got a smooth lever that disengages outward from the drum. Both strainer and butt each have a tension-adjustment dial that spins and click locks at various positions. I liked the ease of adjustment and the fact that both strainer and butt are all chrome with no ugly black rubber parts.
Although I had these drums only briefly, I gave them a good workout. I have owned my share of vintage kits over the years, and playing these drums gave me the same sort of emotional response I get from those kits. Quite simply, this is very comfortable kit to play. Although it’s new, the RetroSonic doesn’t feel new. Instead, it feels … familiar. The RetroSonic drums allowed me to dig in and they would bounce back with a responsive, non-harsh, cushioned feel. Sonically, although the walnut lacks the sort of attack that I’ve heard from maple or birch, it still manages to produce a good volume due to its round, albeit slightly lower pitch. Would I use the kit for heavy metal or techno gigs? No. But I would definitely use it for jazz, classic rock, funk, and country, or any other setting where a wide range of dynamics are in play.
With its Black Panther kits, Mapex appears to be attempting to prove a point: that it’s a large drum company capable of producing luxury drum sets that one would otherwise expect to see from only the small high-end custom drum companies. Point proven.
With its walnut burl veneer finish and slick tube lugs, this kit looks like luxury furniture. I might be afraid of scratching these drums if I used them as an everyday gigging kit. I would, however, love to have this kit in my living room or (if I had one) my recording studio. At a $3,799 list price for the shell pack — with an extra $799 for the snare (which you would almost certainly want to include), these drums are expensive. But the RetroSonic kit has a unique vibe and limited-edition status, which will almost certainly make it a collector’s item. Well done, Mapex.
Shells 9-ply, 8.1mm walnut shells made with a 1:9 rounded bearing edge cut at 45 degrees with an outer walnut burl veneer.
Features Mapex Sonic Saver hoops (like Slingerland hoops), RetroSonic column lugs hand-tooled from stainless steel, Remo Suede Ambassador batters and clear Ambassador resonant heads, Remo Suede Powerstroke 3 bass drumheads, and the S1000 snare stand.
Configuration 22" x 16" bass drum, 12" x 8" mounted tom, 16" x 16" floor tom, 14" x 5.5" or 14" x 6.5" snare drum (not included).
List Price $3,799 for the 3-piece shell pack; $799 for the snare.