Pearl have been a long-time player in the Compact and Portable drum kit space with their Rhythm Traveler and Rhythm Traveler Pod/Gig. Both have received consistently positive reviews, not only here on CompactDrums.com but just about everywhere drums are subject to scrutiny. The RT brothers have always impressed with advantageous value-to-quality ratios among other aspects that made them lead contenders. While the RTs were distinct in their respective designs, without direct competition, Pearl now enters the hot 4-piece “Compact Bop”, or “Jungle” kit market with their own contender; Pearl Midtown. Read our Detailed Pearl Midtown Review.
Smaller-size bop kits anchored with a 16″ bass aren’t a new idea. Famous drummers, particularly in Jazz, occasionally played this configuration as far back as the 50’s, maybe even earlier. However, in the last 10 years the “Jungle” kit has evolved from an infrequent DIY setup to an established genre of it’s own. Sonor have produced their Higher-end Select Force Jungle for quite some time and with increased popularity and demand for this config, later also added the “Safari” as an entry-level contender. Ludwig have taken a big chunk of the same market with the “Breakbeats by Questlove”. Rapidly building significant market share largely due to unparalleled marketing activity. Yamaha played in the space with their original Manu Katche which has now been replaced with a 5-piece version and Premier makes a value oriented setup currently not available in North America. There are other “niche” contenders as well, however these are mostly in the higher-end portion of the arena.
Let’s take a look at how the latest Cat in the Jungle stacks up against the competition.
Detailed Pearl Midtown Review
Generally speaking, just about everyone will agree that Pearl doesn’t disappoint when it comes to quality. Even hardcore fans of other brands, more often than not, side with this general statement. We have grown to have an expectation that Pearl products at the very least will feel solid, function as advertised, sound decent and survive a fair share of abuse. The Midtowns are no exception.
As is mostly the case, the finish is the first to catch the eyes. The example in our Detailed Pearl Midtown Review is the Black Gold Sparkle, a subtle gold sprinkle over black. As far as wraps go, it appears to be of high quality, free of flaws and perfectly gleaming. The chrome doesn’t disappoint either delivering on the expectations mentioned before. Further unpacking reveals not only the expected bits and pieces but even an assembly instruction booklet and a pair of sticks.
Some might not look at the instructions but at the price level there may be quite a few first time drum kit owners. These will surely appreciate saving the time of trial and error otherwise necessary before it all comes together.
Ever notice that on entry level drums the tension rods have an ever so slight “grinding” sensation when turned, while on some intermediate and most pro-level kits the tension rods rotate smooth as silk? The Midtown’s tension rods fit in the latter category, something I had not expected from a $399 drum kit. In fact every mechanical part is of perfect fit, finish and function. Every part feels solid and the pieces fit together without the slightest of rattle-inducing gaps. A few other details that seem elevated above the entry level price tag are the almost luxurious claw hooks, the chunky, cast butt plate and the sleek and smooth little snare strainer. The bass drum riser is a new model, simpler than the ones that came with the pod, in this case consisting of a 7/8″ pole welded to a triangular base.
Setup and assembly takes a mere 15 minutes from emptying the contents of the boxes. The resulting little bop kit gives a remarkably positive impression. Oooohs, Aahs and big grins all around from the three of us.
Additional remark: ++ that the batter side bass drum WOOD hoop has a cutaway for the chain, or mallet depending on height. The absence of said cutaway is known to cause serious time consumption due to endlessly seeking the sweet spot between clearance and beater angle.
Facts and Stats
List Price: USD $699
Street Price: USD $399
Bass Drum: 16″ Diameter X 14″ Deep
Rack Tom: 10″ Diameter X 7″ Deep
Floor Tom: 13″ Diameter X 12″ Deep
Snare Drum: 13″ Diameter X 5.5″ Deep
Detailed Pearl Midtown Review
Tom and Snare rims: 1.6 mm Triple-Flange
Bass Hoops: Wood with Matching Wrap Finish
Shells: Poplar, 6-Ply, 7.5 mm
Tom Mount: OptiLoc Suspension System
Heads: Remo UT Clear on toms. Coated on Snare Clear, Muffled on Bass Batter and Coated, Muffled on Bass Resonance.
Quality and Tolerances
Once assembled it’s tempting to dive right in, tune and check out the sound and feel. We’ve learned though that if we do this, it’s challenging to ever get around to the tedious process of measuring and documenting the tolerances as well as inspect the quality of the shells and each component. Thus, the Midtowns get entirely disassembled and laid out across the floor in a somewhat orderly fashion.
Starting with all the hardware, each and every piece is inspected for flaws, irregular threads, pores in the welded seams, pits in the chrome finish, dull spots, loose pieces and anything else that can be considered an imperfection. We found nothing, not a single little thing to comment on. At this price range we would normally expect some irregularities. It’s not uncommon to find small flaws in threads that cause some screws to stick in certain parts, or some play in the fit between two parts as well as slight flaws in the finish. The Midtowns have no such imperfections of any kind anywhere.
Next is the wrap finish. The seams are all uniform and well bonded. Even with a bit of prodding and prying along the seams, there does not seem to be any loose spots that could eventually cause lifting. The wrap itself is of higher quality than most anything in the segment, with perfectly gleaming surfaces throughout and a uniform appearance. Also we were not able to find any scuffs or scratches.
The shell interiors are un-finished and a tad on the rough side. In all honesty this is one of the few aspects that is on par with our expectations of a sub-$500 drum kit. The inside of the bass drum hoops are however sanded smooth.
Time for the nitty-gritty; Measurements. Entry level kits can often display up to two or even three mm discrepancies when cross measuring the diameter of the shells, and similarly up to two mm from “level” to high and low spots of the bearing edge. The Midtowns however boast tolerances more in line with intermediate drums. None of the shells are more than 1 mm “Out-of-Round” and the bearing edge “trueness” remains within 1 mm throughout the kit. These are very impressive results in this price range. The bearing edges themselves are smooth, consistent and without flaws.
Our initial positive first impressions are greatly re-enforced after a thorough inspection of Quality and Tolerances.
Detailed Pearl Midtown Review
Construction and Design
From the perspective of shell make-up the Midtowns are all 6-ply, 7.5 mm Poplar shells with standard 45 degree inner and slightly smoothed over 45 degree outside bevel bearing edges. The toms both have six lugs per side, while the snare has eight. The bass drum also has six lugs per side which may seem like two too few to some, but should be more than adequate considering the expected tuning range. Some of the competitors in the segment boast 8 lugs on the bass drum, but instead provide either steel hoops or regular triple flange rims, while the Midtowns shine with their rounded over wood hoops with matching wrap on the outside.
Accentuating the sleek wood hoops are the almost excessively nice claw hooks with rubber inserts to protect the hoop’s surface.
Pearl continues it’s use of 7/8″ L-arms for the rack tom, but have incorporated the newer “OptiLoc Suspension System”. I’m liking this design a lot as it doesn’t put strain on the top rim like many other suspension mounts. Rather the lateral force is absorbed by a single stud in the shell while vertically supporting the tom via rubber grommets around the tension rods. This solution is also rather sleek in comparison to the bulkier, more common rim mounted brackets.
Sometimes smaller size floor toms need the leg brackets extended to the top of the legs for sufficient height. The Midtowns come with long legs and the brackets are mounted low on the shell ensuring ample adjustment range even for us players that like the floor tom as high as the snare or even higher. On the subject of brackets, the Midtowns mounting brackets, leg brackets and lugs all resemble those now found on the exports, which in turn look like shorter versions of those found on the Masters.
In the Manufacturer’s Words
BIG GIG, SMALL DRUMS, HUGE SOUND
At home on the street as well as on stage, Pearl’s ultra-portable Midtown Kit is vital for the gigging drummer in the metropolitan groove.
FULL-SIZE PLAY IN A SMALLER FOOTPRINT.
The Midtown Kit’s compact size makes it ideal for tight spaces, and quickly breaks down into an optional two gig bag set for quick transport. Included elevated 16×14 bass drum, 10×7 tom, 13×12 floor tom, and 13×5.5 snare create a unique sonic statement.
A full easily portable shell pack costing less than many snare drums.
Sound, Voice and Tone
Let’s work from the bottom up. The bass drum heads are both fitted with “muffle rings”, which as expected provides for a dry, rather tight and “thumpy” tone with accentuated attack and rapid decay. Tuning it as low as possible turns out to be a relatively easy task even with the brand new heads and does indeed yield the expected results except it reaches a tad deeper down than we had thought it would. Of course this is a significant plus, greatly reducing the feeling of compromise in the interest of smaller size. Well done. We tuned the reso head just barely past floppy and the batter head just tight enough to provide a little bounce. The sound is pleasant with ample low end if even just a tad quiet. We found ourselves stomping just a smidge harder than usual to eak out a few more dB from the small shell. At medium tuning the volume increases somewhat and still maintains an authoritative punch but now with some added sustain. Surprisingly enough we could tune all the way up to Jazz-range without signs of choking or muddiness, but in all honesty, different heads would be required for the serious Jazz-Cat. The stock heads though are more than adequate for lower to mid range tunings.
The tom heads are our least favorite, sounding almost “clanky” at low tunings but bearable tuned up a bit. Plenty of low end can be had from the floor tom while the rack tom responds better tuned up another 1/4 turn. Even at high tunings the UT heads “click” right at the point of stick contact. After replacing the stock heads with regular pinstripes those big grins returned to our faces. Both toms now exhibit a tonal balance between attack, tone and clarity. With the pinstripe the rack tom is more than able to get down to heavy rock tuning along with the bass and floor tom.
Utter fun is to be had from the little 13″ snare drum. Even at ballad-low tuning it cuts through with little effort. The higher we tuned it the more we smiled until getting close to the choke point where it snaps with the crack of a whip. Loud, clear and with “In-your-face” presence. The snare has projection to spare even with an unfinished poplar shell. We even found that to balance it with the slightly shy bass drum, a bit of holding back is required. Cross-sticking can often be challenging with a 13″ snare fitted with 1.6 mm rims. Not so in this case. We all quite enjoyed experimenting with different spots of resting the stick end on the head, exploring the range of “clacks” available.
At $399 US street price there’s no real discussion whether the Midtowns are good bang for the buck or not. It’s obvious that they are. Rather, let’s explore just how good the value is and how they stack up against the competition. Keep in mind that this is a rather subjective perspective of the author.
In my rarely humble opinion there are only two aspects of the Midtowns that suggest they even belong in the price range they are in; Unfinished Poplar Shells and Six lugs per side on the bass drum. Just about everything else is above and beyond what I would expect. Especially noteworthy are the wood bass drum hoops, cast claw hooks with rubber insert, slick little suspension mount, Adjustable height bass drum riser and cast butt plate. The two main competitors both have steel bass drum hoops, simpler risers, no suspension mounts and stamped claw hooks.
Detailed Pearl Midtown Review Summary
In the past three days we’ve jammed all our favourite tunes taking turns on the Midtowns and taken them through every tuning imaginable. Myself (Magnus), Todd, Ryan and Sean are all in agreement that the Midtowns are the new “King of the Jungle”. In fact we intend to have a crowning ceremony later this evening. Being that I am the DIY tinkerer-type, I rarely leave any of my drums alone, finding things to improve on just about every kit I’ve owned. The only tweak I intend to perform on the Midtowns down the road is sanding and sealing the interiors, but there is certainly no urgency. We love just about every aspect so far. The only very slight downside we can think of is the bass being just a tad quiet compared to the snare which has all the presence one could ask for. Possibly I’ll sand and seal the bass first and see if that levels it out. The positive aspects far outweigh any drawback though. These drums are easy to tune and adaptable to just about any genre. They are as well made as Pearl’s high standards have us expect and simply a joy to play, tune and show off. The four of us are all in agreement that the Midtowns are OUR first choice in the segment. Maybe not everyone will agree, but I urge everyone to consider them before making a decision.