kana wrote: I'm curious about Mali, and hope to someday see how different they feel and sound.
Very different from Guinea-style shells. With that interior ledge at the bottom of the bowl + slanted sides, the sound tends to reflect upward. You get a higher-pitched, dryer sound with fairly minimal bass. (Something I really notice when switching between my Mali and Guinea drums - my Mali shell is pretty much like those sold by Drumskull.) Mali shells, being more rounded and literally more bowl-shaped, have a far broader range in many ways. The sound is - for me - a very pleasing balance of high, low and middle tones. I feel like the sound flows more easily from a well-crafted Mali shell, but that's probably more about my personal taste than anything else. I guess I love the way the higher notes blend with the fullness of the bass tones.
* Edit: see Duga's post below*
There's also a very real difference in the way the top ring and bearing edge sit in relation to one another. (Wish I had some good photos to post...) Personally, I think my Mali shell is a *lot* easier on my hands; is more ergonomic, due to the way the bearing edge is finished as well as the fact that the top ring is closer to the bearing edge than is the case with my Guinea drum. With the latter, there's a pronounced gap between the bearing edge and the top ring - your hands and wrists have to work with that curve. I've noticed that I have to be much more conscious of how I'm sitting (height and position) with Guinea-style shells; also more attentive to the angle of the head. One real pro: Guinea shells seem to be much easier to balance with minimal pressure from legs and feet than Mali shells.
For ensemble playing, I prefer my Guinea drum.
Regarding the different levels of drums, I think WULA offers a drum for everybody, and every budget, without compromising quality.
I think there's a great need for this - so many people drop by here, wanting advice on purchasing their 1st drum. The 500+ price tags are a real deterrent. There has to be a way to craft a truly *good* "entry level" drum, but I've yet to come across one that I like. (Again, this is probably just me being picky, but I haven't yet played a lower-priced drum that I'd recommend to someone who's just getting into djembe playing...)
Edited to add: My Mali shell came from the carver who made this drum - http://www.botefote.com/merch/details/djembe/new1.htmI
(Mine was a custom build and the finished product looks a bit different, though it was done by the same person.)