Buying a budget kit used to be pretty straightforward. You'd decide which brand you wanted and you'd go for either a 'fusion' or 'rock' kit. The former would run 20", 10", 12", 14", the latter 22", 12", 13", 16" - simple. But advances in low-end drum making have not only brought us better kits with more features, but also a greater choice of kit options.
Nowadays it's not uncommon to be spoilt with affordable set-ups now available with deeper bass drums and with a good range of tom sizes and snares. The new Mapex VX Series is an excellent example of just such a line. There are 'Rock' and 'Fusionease' kits available with 22"x18" kicks, but if you're after something smaller then this five-piece 'Jazz' ensemble might be right up your alley...
The VX Jazz bass drum retains the generous 18" depth of the other kicks in the line-up, but is a slimmed down 20" in diameter - good for a punchy retort and for setting up your toms a little lower too, if that's an issue. The toms run 10"x8", 12"x9" and 14"x14", as you might expect, but it's nice to see the 14" as a 'square' floor tom as opposed to a mounted type. Not that one's inherently better than the other, it's just a nice twist that adds a bit of variety.
The drums are all constructed with basswood shells, an inexpensive but decent-sounding wood that appears on various kits, guitars and basses, and the VX range is wrapped in a maple outer ply for rather sexier looks than basswood can offer. Shells are eight-ply and 7.2mm thick and the mounted toms benefit from being suspended by Mapex's ITS cradle system to allow for greater resonance.
The general fit and finish of the VX is quite acceptable for a kit of this type. We would understand if the dark Wax Deep Coffee satin finish is a bit downbeat for you, but it's nicely done and will appeal to the less ostentatious drummers out there. In any case there are a good number of other colour choices, so there will be something to catch your eye.
As far as finishing touches are concerned, the matching wood bass drum hoops are sweet, and low-mass lugs interfere as little as possible into the visual splendidness of the shells themselves. All good so far...
What's also good for budding players for whom the VX is an entry into Drumland is the fact that the kit comes with a full complement of hardware. Tom holder, cymbal, boom, snare and hi-hat stands, bass drum pedal and stool are all part of the package, and a pretty decent crop of metal it is too. Of the lot it's only the bass drum pedal that, predictably, is likely to be swapped for a more upmarket version as soon as funds allow - the rest of the set is perfectly well built for your first few years pounding the beats.
Double-bracing means everything is solid enough for gigs and rehearsals, so don't feel that you'll be limited to bedroom blasting unless you splash out on posher hardware. And memory locks mean the setting up/breaking down process is as simple with the VX as it would be with a vastly pricier offering.
The five-piece Jazz set is completed by a 14"x5½" snare in basswood/maple in keeping with the rest of the kit. The snare is common to both 'Standard' and 'Fusionease' VX kits and makes as much sense here as it does anywhere - its 'all-purpose' dimensions allow for a degree of fatness when tuned lower, but it remains lively and toppy however you tune it.
Unsurprisingly, its natural tone is fairly lightweight and slightly thinner than you'd get from a more expensive snare, but then you can easily spend what you'd cough up for the whole VX package on a snare, so don't read too much into this.
You'll also find high-end snares easier to fettle to remove that 'budget boink' than this one. A little damping provides a quick cure, but it's a bit of a challenge to tweak out unwanted harmonics by tuning alone. It's a situation that crops up on many snares lower down the ladder though...
The rest of the kit performs in fine style although, as always, a step up in terms of heads will make a big improvement on the sound of the VX. The Remo-sourced heads fitted to the kit are better than those that would have been supplied 10 years ago, but there's still room for improvement. Those approaching the VX as their first kit will doubtless be delighted by the response of the kick and the twang of the toms, but the more discerning will note a slightly underdeveloped lower mid-range and a more clattery high-end than they might be used to.
Ultimately, however, the VX is a good-sounding kit with the promise of greater things. That 18" kick is potentially a little thumper and the 'togetherness' of voice that the 20" diameter provides is very likeable. It needs some damping to arrive at a decent sonic balance, but it's not at all bad. And the toms are fast-reacting and clear - a little extra beef from a head change and all would be just dandy.
It might be tagged as a jazz kit but, as always with these marketing labels, there is enormous scope for using this VX for different applications. Anyone starting out playing funk, pop, hip-hop, gospel etc would be well served by the kit, so don't let the name put you off if you're not into extended improvised jams with sax players. Buy, enjoy, and change heads, bass drum pedal and maybe snare when funds allow...
Measured against the price at which it sells, the VX is an easy package to recommend. It boasts enough high-end-style touches to make it feel special, the satin finish is cool and, as it stands, it sounds pretty acceptable.