Once you get beyond the budget area you arrive at the middle bracket of kits, the province of the Pearl Export. This is probably the most hotly contested area of the market, and if you can afford it, these kits are the best value of all. They are aimed at the keen amateur, or the semi-professional weekend club player; someone who wants a good reliable kit but can’t yet afford a top line outfit.
As with the budget level, the present market can be traced back to the appearance of the first Pearl Export around 1982. But things have moved on a lot since then and the latest kits with the Export name bear very little relationship to those early models. You can hardly blame Pearl for hanging on to the Export name since it’s such a strong brand, but it does cause confusion in the second hand market. If you see a used Pearl Export advertised, it could be two years old or 20 years old. Try to ascertain the facts before wasting a journey. The transition from budget to middle range is a little hazy.
The middle range kits start just above the budget prices, nominally around $500, bearing in mind once again that $500 may be half the list price. And not that the price may include hardware but will normally be minus cymbals. There are several levels within the middle bracket, as more and more refinements are added to the basic specification. So, for example, the basic Export has a plastic wrap finish while the Export Select has a lacquered exterior. Other common refinements include additional plies of quality hardwoods, resonance mounting rather than standard tom mounts and wood snare drums instead of steel.
So we have kits with plastic wraps, like the basic Ludwig Rocker, Mapex M, Pearl Export and Tama Rockstar. But even here the standard of wrap is better: Tama points out that its wraps are not stuck on with adhesive tape and neither are they glued just in patches. They are impact glued and bonded over the entire shell. There will also be more colors beyond the plain options of the budget kits. DW’s Pacific CX, for example, has superb retro onyx pearl.