Thinking about hardware, and I usually don't like negativity, I much prefer Pearl 80s feel, handling etc. over 70s/80s Sonor! Sonor has this great image of German-made Mercedes Benz-type quality, but the handling is far from elegant. Toothed tilters, clunky through-the shell mounting, over-engineered stands...I cut my hand more than once on those slotted t-rods. Pearl in contrast has always been a joy to set up, felt great.
I plan to bring my 80s mpale drums with me to compare before I buy another kit. Might save some money that way.
My hunch is that the name "Pearl" and Japan itself has negative connotations to some US Americans.
I think for most Americans, Japan has become revered for quality, particularly with their automobiles, specifically Toyota. Preferences for Japanese made Tama and Yamaha drums too. There are some exceptions, like in this thread, but I don't know many people who have anything negative to say about the quality of Pearl's products. Even the Exports are well made. But the brand just doesn't inspire a lot of people when their heroes played something else. Pick a different demographic from this board though, and Pearl is one of THE drum companies to them.