Many people will have seen, heard and possibly played a set of the iconic Natal fibreglass congas.
Conceived by Alan Sharp, who used to make his own Latin percussion instruments, the Natal name was recently resurrected and the company launched its 'Originals' range to high acclaim.
Featuring hardware designed from scratch and British design and quality control, the Originals soon gained a reputation for a well-designed, great- sounding product. Having conquered the top end of the market, Natal now sets its sights on the more affordable end of things. Will it succeed? Let's find out...
The Arcadia kit comes in both wrap and lacquer finishes. For review we have been sent the 'UFX Plus' configuration in a very fetching 'Grey Strata' wrap. The UFX Plus is a six-piece set-up with two floor toms, but the Arcadia series is also available in a 'rock' configuration featuring a 24"x16" kick, 13"x9" rack tom and 16"x16" floor tom, or a 'jazz' set-up with 18"x14" bass drum, 12"x8" rack tom and 14"x12" floor tom.
The review kit rack toms are 'short-stack' depths - the 10"x61⁄2" and 12"x7" shallow toms are directly mounted to the bass drum using Natal's Pro-Series aluminium- ball tom mounting system, which is the same set-up as used on its flagship 'Originals' line. The floor toms are 14"x12" and 16"x14". The bass drum is the now-standard 22"x18" and features Pro-series spurs and 20 lugs.
The drum wrap is a gunmetal grey with horizontal black stripes of varying width - a sort of modern spin on the classic onyx wrap finish which really 'pops' and looks great under lights. The other available wrap finishes are red sparkle and black sparkle, and there's a red sunburst lacquer finish as well. A nice touch at this price- point is two badges, one on either side of the toms so those of a left-handed persuasion can display their brand-loyalty to the audience.
The drum shells are Natal's own 100 percent birch construction, and feature the same Natal 'Sun' design lugs as on the 'Originals' series, but cast in a lower- mass form to reduce weight for the gigging drummer. All of the drums feature a crisp 45° bearing edge with Remo UT heads and triple-flanged hoops, and the lug bolts are all-black inside the shell - a nice touch.
The UFX Plus configuration comes with a full hardware pack with straight and boom cymbal stands, hi-hat stand, snare stand and kick drum pedal. All of the hardware is bright chromed and double- braced and feels instantly sturdy enough to stand up to gigging.
Straight out of the box, first impressions of the Arcadia are excellent - the short-stack toms giving it a contemporary vibe and the two floor toms suggesting a custom-spec kit. Had we not known the price we would have thought that it was definitely at the pricier end of the scale, especially given that a full hardware pack is also included.
The hardware is heavy-duty and seems up to the rigours of regular gigging. The practical choice of shell-mounted tom blocks doesn't stifle the shell but means set-up is quick and easy, the memory locks making repeat set-ups and tear-downs much easier.
The bass drum pedal has all the necessary adjustments and the two different cymbal stands mean you can position your cymbals easily. The hardware is smooth and easy to use - something that reinforces the premium feel of this kit.
It all goes up easily, with none of the 'awkward adjustment angle' problems that can beset entry-level hardware. The tom mounts allow a broad range of movement and the shallow depths mean positioning is easy to do. The lugs tension smoothly and the clean bearing edges result in easy tuning.
The Remo heads, whilst not being that company's 'full fat' range, have come on in recent years and do a good job of letting the drums sing cleanly and across a broad range of tunings.
Comments from the band while setting up the Arcadia kit are uniformly positive and only improve when they hear the sound; the un-damped bass drum has full heads but this only seems to reinforce the low-end - it punches through a loud bass player and guitarist easily and articulates well, something that deep bass drums sometimes struggle with, especially when unported.
The snare drum has a broad tuning range and copes with heavy hitting as well as light ghost notes. A touch of Moongel is all that is necessary to get a nice clean, tight backbeat - again this is an absolute steal at the price.
The shallow depth of the toms means that they speak quickly with a strong fundamental tone and no unwanted overtones. Despite the half-inch difference in depth between the 10" and 12", there's a clear and distinct difference in the tuning range of each.
The more regular-sized floor toms still articulate quickly without being too boomy, but the 16" lets you play those tribal rock beats without it getting away from you.