Design Lab Versatus System
Reimagining every element of the drumset to maximize tone and versatility.
The Design Lab is what Mapex dubbed its group of drummers, engineers, and designers who contributed ideas and opinions on ways in which the drumset could be improved to maximize its sonic potential. The best results of their tests were incorporated into what the company believes is the pinnacle of drumset construction: the Black Panther Design Lab series. This series comprises two models, the Cherry Bomb and the Versatus, with the former delivering vintagestyle warmth and controlled punch and the latter providing classic tone and utmost versatility. We were sent a complete Versatus system to get a feel for how encompassing these drums truly are. Let’s dive in!
The Shell Specs
The Versatus system is designed to be modular, so that you can create several different configurations to suit different musical applications. Included are a 16×22 bass drum, a 12×18 auxiliary bass drum/tom, 7×10 and 7.5×12 rack toms, and 13×14 and 15×16 floor toms. The shells are a mixture of maple and mahogany, with the plies getting progressively thicker as the drum diameter increases. The bearing edges also change, as do the number and location of internal maple tone rings.
Smaller rack toms (8″ and 10″) have 6-ply shells with 45-degree edges on top and bottom and no internal rings. The 12″ tom has a similar shell but a tone ring is added on the batter side only, while the 13″ tom has the tone ring on the bottom side only. The 14″ floor tom is also 6-ply, but it has 60-degree edges and tone rings on both sides. Larger 16″ and 18″ floor toms have 8-ply shells and both tone rings. The 12×18 bass drum/tom has a 10-ply shell, 60-degree edges, and no rings. The 22″ bass drum has tone rings placed on both sides, and there’s a third ring placed in the center of the shell to help minimize standing-wave reflections.
The Versatus kit is available in a handful of satin, gloss, and veneer finishes, which are organized into three levels according to their impact on the shell’s natural resonating pitch and length of sustain. Natural Satin and Satin Black stains are said to have the least effect on shell resonance while also allowing for the lowest fundamental note possible. The gloss lacquers (Transparent Copper, Rose Burst, and Piano Black) dampen the shell a little bit and raise the fundamental slightly. The Peach Burl Burst and Gold Sparkle Burst finishes have a high-gloss lacquer atop an extra ply of exotic veneer, which collectively has the greatest dampening effect and highest pitch.
The two most significant hardware innovations incorporated into the Design Lab kits are the angle-adjustable Soniclear Attenuation System (SAS) floor tom leg and the Magnetic Air Adjustment Tom Suspension (MAATS). The new floor tom leg has two drum key–operated elbow joints at the base that allow the angle to be adjusted from 90 degrees to vertical. The theory is that the straighter the leg, the faster the decay. Each floor tom comes with one SAS leg and two static 90-degree legs. All three legs feature Sonic Pedestal feet that allow the steel posts to float on a rubber spring to minimize sustain-choking vibration transfer to the floor.
The MAATS tom mount is a completely reinvented system that incorporates magnets (Magnetic Force Adjustment) to control or open up drum resonance based on how much of the drum’s weight is being distributed to the magnets. The mount also has a vertical-moving Acoustic Resonance Gate that allows you to lengthen or shorten the sustain time of the drum without affecting the tone or feel. Mapex includes MAATS mounts with every rack tom, and they are sized to be compatible with the receivers found on most cymbal stands and drum holders. If you’re a fan of feature-laden hardware, Mapex has done everything imaginable with the MAATS tom mount and SAS floor tom leg to give you utmost tone control and adjustability.
To the Studio
All the design tweaks and innovations incorporated into the Black Panther Design Lab Versatus system would be meaningless if the sonic results weren’t exemplary. Thankfully, these drums lived up to our expectations, in terms of providing open, warm, and versatile tones suitable for any playing style and musical situation.
The 22″ bass drum came with a Remo Powerstroke P3 Renaissance batter head, which is my favorite model. The underside dampening ring and textured surface reduces just enough high overtones to emphasize punch and warmth without killing all of the resonance. The front head is the new Powerstroke Felt Tone, which has a built-in felt strip that floats underneath the film to provide classic-style dampening without affecting how the head seats on the bearing edge. Those heads, combined with the drum’s 60-degree bearing edges and the additional center SAS tone ring, created a fat, deep, and warm bass drum sound. This sound could be easily transformed from a big, resonant marching-style tone when tuned medium to a controlled, punchy smack when tuned just above the wrinkle point. Noticeably absent in sound were the loathsome highfrequency flutter echoes that often plague open, double-headed bass drums, thanks to the center SAS ring, which helps break up the sound waves as they bounce around inside the drum.
The 12×18 auxiliary tom/bass drum, which came with an Emperor Clear batter and Ambassador Clear bottom, was my favorite piece of the Versatus kit. It came equipped with three legs and brackets, as well as vintage-style gullwing spurs, so it could be set up as a standard floor tom or as a bop-type bass drum. Also included is a simple detachable lift bracket that affixes to the wood hoop and provides a solid metal lip on which to attach a pedal. The wood hoop is cut out at the spot where the bracket attaches to ensure that the chain and footboard of the pedal have an unobstructed path. The front side of the drum has a triple-flange hoop, which I assume was added to allow clearance for the legs when the drum is used as a floor tom. This shallow 18″ drum can be cranked super high for an Elvin Jones–type “boink” or detuned super low to a deep, resonant 808-style tone. And when used as a tom, its thunderous but punchy tone blends seamlessly with the racks and floors.
The 10″ and 12″ rack toms came with single-ply Ambassador Clear heads on top and bottom, while the 14″ and 16″ floor toms had 2-ply Emperor Clear batters. This combo allowed for a smooth transition from the faster, sharper sounds of the small drums to the deeper, fatter smack of the floors. I was able to get a wide yet balanced spread among the four drums by tuning them in fourths, with the 16″ tuned quite low (B) and the 10″ tuned just below the choking point (E).
The MAATs tom suspension system, which was a lot lighter than I anticipated due to being fabricated mostly of aluminum, not only provided infinite position options and held the rack toms in place without choking the sustain, but the length of the notes among the four drums could be closely matched by adjusting the distance between the magnets in the mount. The effect caused by adjusting the magnets was subtle but noticeable. And it was nice to be able to shorten the length of the 12″ to match that of the 10″ without having to resort to dampening the drumheads, as the latter impacts not just sustain but also timbre and feel.
Similarly, the adjustable SAS floor tom leg provides some resonance control when positioned straight versus angled. I heard about two seconds less sustain coming from the floor toms when the legs were set completely straight. This subtle but significant tone control will come in handy when using these drums on loud, booming stages or in studio situations where close mics are picking up every last detail of sound.
All in all, the Mapex Black Panther Design Lab Versatus lived up to our expectations as a high-end, high-quality one-kit-does-it-all option. You could set up the entire system, with the 18″ auxiliary drum positioned as a remote bass drum, for an ultimate studio kit that’s ready to take on any project that comes your way—from bebop to metal. Or you could parse it out into several smaller configurations, whether it’s a tight 10″/14″/18″ bop setup, a basic rock 12″/16″/22″ threepiece, or a classic Steve Gadd/Vinnie Colaiuta– style setup with all four toms and the 22″ bass drum. Either way, with a Versatus system in your possession, your sonic palette will be pretty much complete. Michael Dawson