So far I have bought only a few sets of bongos that were new and widely available. I have reviewed them here, in case you are considering purchasing one of the same model. I would like to have reviews here of a variety of the bongos available on the market, so if you would like to contribute a review, please let me know via the contact page.
Rhythm Tech Alpha Series
I purchased these in 1992 because they looked well-made, and they had gotten a good review in a drum magazine, and I wanted an alternative to LP. The main notable thing about them is they are very heavy duty. They may even be too heavy to play comfortably for a long show. The shells are Siam oak, very thick, and quite well-made. They have a dry "neutral" sound. The heads were OK. The rims and tuning rings are ultra thick and heavy. For some reason I found it difficult to tune the hembra; I never did figure out whether the problem was in the head, or the rim, or what. I would say that these are a great choice for a rock and roll player looking for a loud, heavy-duty set to mount in a stand. You can find them online for about $155, which is fair, but I wouldn't pay more than that.
Meinl FWB500 Free-Ride
These are the ones I rave about all the time, and that I used for professional gigs for almost five years. I bought them in 1999 because they have a 9" hembra (optional) for more volume on the low end. The fit and finish of the shells and hardware of these drums is second to none. They are far better-manufactured than any other factory-produced drum I have ever seen. The heads were decent, certainly as good as you can find from a factory. I did find that the hembra had too much sustain, more like a tom-tom than a bongo, so I changed the head to a much thicker hide, which solved that problem. The hevea (rubber tree) wood shells have a terrific warm tone that projects well. I honestly can't tell if their "Free-Ride" suspension system (which replaces the traditional wood-block bridge) makes any difference to the sound. However it is very sturdy, and does not flex at all. I only have one criticism of these bongos: the comfort-curve rims extend farther than normal away from the shells, so the bongos are longer overall than most. People with shorter legs may find them too big for comfort. The good news is that these drums routinely sell for around $130 on the internet, which is a great deal on some very professional drums.
These bongos are handmade in the Dominican Republic from recycled oak rum barrels. I bought them in 1999 because they look super cool and because the company claims to provide jobs at fair wages and good working conditions to the otherwise impoverished island. Unfortunately, the quality of the bongos is total crap. I so wanted to like these drums, but I couldn't. I returned them for an exchange, and the second pair I got was worse. The shells have gaps, the hardware doesn't fit, the shellac is drippy, the heads look like they were shaved with a weed-wacker, and the metal parts are crude. I think the idea of this company was brilliant, but the execution was not. Many catalog companies have had this brand of drums on "closeout", "while supplies last", for over four years. I would say buy them only if you are looking for a really cool prop for your movie or decoration for your nightclub.