Flats Lite is the lightweight, plastic shell incarnation of Arbiter's single-lug AT (Advance Tuning) drums. It has been around for some years now and this version features some subtle improvements to the construction of the drums, and a brand new rack system. Previously the tom-toms had been mounted on separate floor stands and the bass drum in a sort of Zimmer frame cradle.
The revolutionary concept behind AT is Arbiter's use of the so-called 'V' clamp system to tension the heads rather than the usual metal rims and multiple lugs. With the V clamp there is just one lug per head to turn in order to tune the drums and it is set horizontally, something like an oversized, posh jubilee clip. The kit comprises three toms (a 10", a 12" and a 14"), a 20" bass and 12" snare drum.
While the single-headed toms and bass drum have no counterhoop rims, the double-headed snare has good quality, cold rolled metal rims finished in matching black. If you take a rim off and give it a tap with your stick it rings like a bell. The snare batter rim is obviously necessary for rim shots and cross sticks.
The use of the term 'Lite' is entirely apt as the V clamps are made from glass-filled nylon while the minimum depth 'shells' are made from ABS plastic. The ABS acts like a wood shell to project the sound rather than absorbing it which is what other plastics might do.
Tuning the toms and kick is, of course, a doddle. High or low, there's nothing like AT for ease and speed. As for the sound, it is different to a normal double-headed kit with deep shells, but not as different as you might expect it to be.
Fitted with transparent double-ply heads, the toms are melodic, punchy and fat. There is no loss of volume, just a slight loss of focus, so that when you are sitting behind the kit the sound seems to spread. But from the audience's side maybe that's a good thing - it could mean increased projection.
The bass drum has a budget version of Remo's popular Powerstroke-3 perimeter-damped head. This too delivers a good thump, particularly impressive from out front. It feels a bit strange and flappy at first, but you soon get accustomed to it. We have no doubt that you could grow to love it.
Discrete changes have been made to improve performance. The height of the shell is slightly increased so that you can get more tension on the heads if you require. And the mouldings of the 'V' clamps have also been improved.
The 12" diameter snare drum is the only double-headed drum in the set, allowing for separate tensioning of the snare side and batter heads. This means you have two lugs to contend with instead of one. Steady on!
The snare strainer lever is also a new moulding with an increased throw off distance. Altering snare tension is something you normally do via a thumbscrew, but here it involves simply tightening or slackening two drum key bolts on the butt plate. The problem we had was when we released the snares to get a tom sound there was still some snare buzz left, the result of the snare tape being held close to the head on the butt side. We're assured the problem will be rectified with the next batch of rims.
The snare is the only drum where you might encounter trouble in getting a decent sound. Achieving the right balance between the top and bottom heads and the tension of the snare was not easy. It only worked within a fairly narrow range. All the same, the shallow shell gives the drum a contemporary crack and the sound is loud and sharp, if rather harsh.
Cross stick sounds are limited given the small diameter of the shell, but rim shots are satisfyingly ferocious.
On the rack
The big news is that Flats Lite now comes with its own rack mount. Previously there were two floor stands and, because the drums are so light, it sometimes felt as though they were liable to get knocked over. The heavy gauge steel rack, which is made in house, gives you complete confidence to thrash away. It also means you can lift the whole kit and move it around with relative ease.
The horizontal curved mounting bar not only looks cool, it has a practical advantage. When you tighten the mounting clamps they grab better, which makes the toms more stable. We're told that's why racks have curved bars - something we'd not considered before.
The snare drum is mounted on a cradle which is attached to the frame upright (on left or right, so no problems if you're a lefty). The two cymbal arms slot into the two outer vertical posts of the rack and the rack has four monster feet for non-slip grip. Along with the rack you get bass drum and hi-hat pedals, two cymbal arms and a stool.
These are the same CB models you find on the budget CB drum kits which have been a great success for Arbiter in recent years. The stands and stool are lightweight, which is fine. But the pedals, although there's nothing wrong with them, are starting to look rather dated, especially in comparison with the rest of the kit.
Completing the kit there's an 18" ride/crash, 14" crash and a pair of 13" hi-hats, made by a certain Canadian cymbal company. They're inevitably cheap brass efforts, but good enough to get you started. The 14" is short on sustain, the 18" rides well but is a bit of a clanger and the hi-hats are fine, particularly when played closed.
The major difference between the Traps kit and Flats is the tuning system. Flats has the unique Arbiter single-lug tuning and V clamp construction, whereas breakaway company Traps has reverted to the traditional steel rims and multi-lugs of normal drums. With drummers being a conservative lot, the latter will appeal to many.
We also found that the Traps snare drum worked better, but then the single lug tuning of the Flats toms is a great help for new drummers.
Flats also has the attractive curved rack bar, while Traps scores with its double-headed bass drum and better quality Big Dog hardware. This is, however, reflected in Traps' marginally higher recommended retail price.
The AT tension system was a major passion of its inventor Ivor Arbiter. Mr Arbiter felt that all drummers would benefit from single-bolt tuning. It is certainly something that could be a godsend to many youngsters, not to mention schools and drum teachers.