The Black Panther series is Mapex’s flagship snare drum line, offering up a host of individual and characterful drums ranging from the more delicate Velvetone and Retrosonic to the outright heavy-duty Blaster and Sledgehammer models.
Following on from the success of these snares, there’s even been a line of full kits bearing the Black Panther name, including the Black Widow, Blaster, Velvetone and limited edition Retrosonic.
Now, Mapex has decided to up its game once more with the release of three new Design Lab snare models: The Equinox, Cherry Bomb and Heartbreaker. Having been impressed by the Equinox last issue, we’re excited to get our hands on its counterparts for review.
The Cherry Bomb, aptly named for its 8-ply (9mm) cherry wood shell, is available in two sizes (14"x6" and 13"x5½") while it’s more of a one-size-fits-all situation for the 14"x6" 8-ply (8mm) mahogany Heartbreaker. The latter also features 4mm mahogany reinforcement rings which, in addition to offering extra stability, according to Mapex “blend historic snare drum tone with modern snare design”.
Both snare drums are dressed with Sonic Saver hoops, Puresound Custom Series 16-strand wires, Black Panther cylinder-drive strainer and butt-end adjuster and Remo Ambassador X batter/clear Ambassador snare-side heads.
The Cherry Bomb features 10 vintage-style dual tube lugs with all hardware finished in a high-gloss chrome while the Heartbreaker sports 20 classic Black Panther single lugs with all hardware finished in a slightly cooler brushed black chrome.
Both snares also share the same 45° SONIClear bearing edges (with 3/8" rounded back cuts), 2.7mm deep, 5½" wide tapered snare beds and Mapex’s new Natural Satin SAS finish. Short for SONIClear Attenuation System, the SAS finish is applied to offer maximum shell resonance, unlike some thicker lacquers and wraps. It leaves the shells with a minimalist look, and helps to show off the natural grain of the wood.
Utilising many years of drum building knowledge, Mapex has designed each Design Lab drum using a ‘Concept Hybrid’ approach to shell design, shell composition and drum construction. This means that everything from shell material selection to bearing edges, snare beds and counter-hoops have been taken into careful consideration in order to craft each instrument.
Mapex tells us that “each drum has been designed to combine ‘Sound Concepts’ to create unique and personal instruments for the demanding player”. The Concept Hybrid profile of the Cherry Bomb is described as vintage, controlled and precise, while the Heartbreaker is dark, rustic and throaty. Each Design Lab snare also comes complete with a protective Black Panther drawstring bag.
With both review snare drums sharing identical 14"x6" dimensions and the same natural satin finish, it’s clear that they belong to the same family. The Heartbreaker’s slightly darker mahogany shell is enhanced by the brushed black chrome hardware and the classic Black Panther lugs look particularly stunning in this finish. The paler shade of the cherry shell is offset by traditional tube lugs finished in the standard chrome.
Interestingly, there was already a Cherry Bomb within the Black Panther family and this new model is a “re-imagined and optimised” version of the original. For those familiar with the earlier model, you’ll agree that this is a completely different beast.
Both snares are built to impeccable standards, which helps justify the higher than usual price tags - particularly the Heartbreaker which retails at £539.99 (the Cherry Bomb will set you back £443.99). Although described as “ultra-premium”, the Design Lab snare drums do not appear to offer much more in terms of specification compared with the regular Black Panthers, but then the Heartbreaker is one of the most visually stunning drums we’ve seen.
In terms of sound, both drums are on the drier side of the scale (certainly in comparison to the lively all-maple Equinox), which makes them a joy to tune and leaves fewer overtones to manage. The mahogany shell is the driest and also has the lowest fundamental pitch. By our reckoning, it’s also the louder of the two drums.
As advertised, the Heartbreaker feels right at home in a rock setting, blasting through heavy guitars and delivering a beautifully-balanced backbeat in a medium-low tuning. When cranked pretty much all the way up, the drum becomes a force to be reckoned with. Rim-shots become ear-splitting (not necessarily in a bad way) and it aggressively punches its way through the mix.
The Cherry Bomb more than lives up to expectations in terms of being controlled and precise. You barely have to tickle the batter head to be rewarded with a full response from the 9mm shell. A little more lively than the Heartbreaker, it produces a warmer tone and sounds particularly great through a wide dynamic range.