What are the cymbals?
For non-musicians, the simple explanation would be round yellow things you see on a drum set. But for all beginner drummers, we must dive into it a little deeper. Cymbals formerly come from Asia, and before they were used in musical situations, they were used in rituals, ceremonies, etc.
Nowadays, we have many types and variations. They are inseparable part of a modern drum set.
What are the cymbals made of?
They are made out of a couple of different materials
- Bronze (malleable, bell, combination)
- Nickel silver
- Aluminum bronze
- Combination ( for ex. Cooper, zinc, aluminum, manganese)
Also, we have cymbals for practice and cymbals you can find on the electronic drum set made out of plastic and rubber.
The cymbal purpose
I want to emphasize the necessity of exploring and erasing the boundaries; trying out the new sounds. Drummers tend to merge two cymbals into a stack. Also, companies are experimenting with all sorts of new sounds.
What does that all mean? It means that some cymbal types can change the purpose in this process. Let’s go back to the old school drum set and genuinely the most common cymbal use.
In the old days, we had hi-hat, ride, crash, splash, and china. Believed or not, those were the only cymbal types, even splash and china came later.
Hi-hat and ride cymbal are designed with a purpose to be a rhythm cymbals, and they still are. However, all kinds of stacked cymbals take the lead nowadays.
All the other cymbals have the purpose of accenting some notes and are used more between song parts and in the drum breaks.
For instance, the crash cymbal is often used to start or finish a drum break while the splash cymbal is used to fill the rhythm.
Types of cymbals
The best cymbal companies
There are so many cymbal companies, but to be honest, all the cymbals that I have tried from smaller companies are not near when it comes to sound that all big guys produce. Good cymbal sound is relative and it relies on a drummers taste in cymbals.
The most popular and at the same time, the best cymbal companies today are:
What are the best cymbal series?
Ok, time to dive even deeper into cymbal sound. Let me shine a light on a couple of similar things in every company. Each company has 3 or 4 quality levels of cymbals.
First two levels are mainly cymbals for beginners, like:
- Zildjian S family
- Zildjian Planet Z
- Sabian SR2
- Sabian B8X
- Paiste 101
- Paiste PST 3
- Meinl HCS
- Meinl HCS Bronze
- Meinl Generation X
Some companies’ 2nd level is pretty good and can be used by a pro drummers. Something like:
- Paiste PST 8
- Paiste PST X
- Sabian AA
- Sabian HH
- Meinl Classics
Professionals use the two highest levels for both live and studio drumming. Most popular level among young drummers is the 3rd level. Those cymbals sound more flashy and bright, like:
- Sabian AAX
- Zildjian A custom
The highest level is reserved for overall best cymbals mostly used in the studio and some special series like Sabian Vault, Special edition series, Signature series etc.
The signature models sometimes can be in the middle or lower-level like Joe Jordison or Nicko Mcbrain signature cymbals by Paiste or at the highest level like Meinl signature stacks and Dave Weckl HHX Evolution by Sabian.
Let’s put aside that great sound is relative to the ear of the listener. I think it is safe to say that the best cymbals come with a top series and let’s name a few:
- Zildjian K series
- Sabian HHX series
- Sabian Artisan series
- Paiste 2002 series
- Paiste Signature series
- Meinl Byzance series
- Meinl Artist concept model series
Now when you have essential knowledge about top manufacturers and cymbal quality levels we are ready to jump straight into finding the perfect one for you.
It is all about sound and a price so I will guide you through different sounding cymbals. I picked two ways to go. Rock and more heavy cymbals that have a brilliant finish, a large bell, and bright sound, and Jazz, the cymbals that are low volume, and have a soft attack.
I researched the top line cymbal series so don’t expect to save money but to get the best cymbals on the market.
Rock Cymbals BRIGHT/HIGH PITCH/LOUD
Again, it depends on taste, but usually, many rock drummers use cymbals with similar features. 90% of rock drummers have large, bright cymbals with a brilliant finish, the cymbals which can cut through guitar and bass guitar distortion.
- Sabian and Zildjian lean-to similar rock sound although it seems like Sabian cymbals are more flexible so they tend to open up more
- Paiste is focused on a vintage rock sound so, they have totally different sound from Sabian and Zildjian
- Meinl mainly focused on a dry sound but I will give you an example of that “brilliant” sound with Meinl
I focused on the best sounding cymbals but just in case I put some middle-range series to better fit your pocket while not decreasing sound quality much.
Bright clear sound with high and middle pitch. Modern sounds such as AAX perfectly fit the sound of bands like Korn, Dream Theater, Winery dogs, etc. Both Mike Portnoy and Ray Luzier use this series on their drum set.
Legendary series designed with the help of Dave Weckl. More expensive than AAX but more versatile as well. It is perfect for all kinds of music genres not rock only. Usability in different situations makes this series affordable.
The Hand-Hammered series made for heavy hitters with a price just in the middle between AAX and HHX. These cymbals lean toward old school sound with a lower pitch. If you want to escape from a totally modern sound this is a perfect choice.
It has a very similar sound to AAX by Sabian although A Custom tends to be more expensive in some cases. It's the kind of sound Metallica, Motley Crue, and Slipknot use. Very bright and modern. Let's check that kind of sound in this video below.
K Custom Session
Such a cool series for rock although ride and hi-hat in this series differentiate from crashes. Hats and rides are heavy with clear "brilliant" sound while crashes are more mellow sounding and not so heavy. To match I would rather go with some A custom crashes.
K Custom ride
Since the Zildjian K series is kinda messed up. They don't have full sets in each subcategory. In K Custom series they only have this ride but it sounds perfect. Brilliant sounding heavy ride with great-sounding bell perfect for rock, funk, fusion, and more.
2002 will get you old school John Bonham, Ian Paice sound. If that is your preference, go for it. You will not find anything better that will get that sound however Paiste recognizable sound comes with a high price tag.
This series is ruthless. Hard tick sound that will chase away any pop music lower. Guys who use this series are from rock and metal world, Eloy Cassagrande (Sepulture), Dave Lombardo (Ex Slayer) to name some.
Classic old school rock series but not as expensive as 2002. Although it's made out of the same material as 2002 series it is not as heavy sounding. I would say it's perfect for alternative rock, indie rock, and blues.
When it comes to heavy music this is the first series from Meinl that crossed my mind. For many years this kind of sound is a synonym with modern rock cymbals. Meinl focused their sound around dry, low pitch cymbals with the exception of this great series.
As modern and as trashy as it gets. Two-layer cymbals are very versatile and but due to cracky sound, they are perfect for Rock and heavy music. They were able to reduced attack a little bit with a raw bell while brilliant finish edge gives it modern “trashy” sound.
Pure Alloy Custom
This series is worse than Byzance and made out of different materials. However, it has a much better price and if you search middle-level rock cymbal by Meinl this should be your go-to series. If you like higher pitch and softer sound go with Pure Alloy Series.
Jazz Cymbals - SOFT/QUITE/MEDIUM DRY
Jazz drummers have an entirely different taste from rock drummers. They like dry cymbals that sound great when you play the body of the cymbal. The cymbal bell doesn’t play that significant role in jazz music. Let’s see which cymbal series have what it takes to satisfy a jazz drummer.
The volume also plays a significant role, jazz drummers like cymbals with lower volume. I researched the market and found some extraordinary cymbals that are not jazz only but so versatile that you can use them in many live and studio situations.
They have that "serious" sound and the most important fact is that they are versatile so many rock, pop and hip hop drummers use them as well. Sounds lean more to dry and dark sound which jazz drummers prefer that's why I picked this series.
Once again serious series by Sabian. Lacy leans toward Jazz sound more but all cymbals at this level are versatile and love to be recorded. HHX is definitely my go-to series when it comes to studio recording, they are just perfectly crafted.
This series is designed by legendary jazz drummer Jeff Hamilton. That fact says enough about their sound. This is the close as you can get to the classic soft, warm jazz sound. Bell is not too loud either and it just loves to be played on the body.
I must acknowledge Zildjian for exploring the jazz sound more than other companies. They have the most cymbal series designed for jazz and Constantinople is just one of them. Perfectly designed for modern jazz drummers due to a fact that sound deviates from old school jazz sound.
This series sound leans to old school jazz with dry symbals. Steve Smith and Steve Gad play these cymbals. Although they have different sounds. Steve is playing fast notes on the ride and Gadd is hitting them hard they sound great in both situations.
K Custom Dry
Zildjian has the most series with "jazz sound" and the many symbals from K series would fit the jazz drummer’s taste. I picked K custom dry because it’s sound differentiates from Constantinople and Kerope. This series is played by John Riley, Larnell Lewis, and Rashid Williams.
Paiste nowadays has tho subcategories of SIgnature series. The Dark energy is more rock-oriented and Traditionals which leans more toward jazz. It has a little bit different sound from series like Zildjian Kerope so if you are jazz drummers who look for more crispy sound go with this series.
When Vinnie Colaiuta switch to Paiste a few years ago he choose this series to start with. I truly believe his taste and the fact he can choose companies and cymbals the fact he chose this Formula 602 says enough but just in a case listen to the video and check if it's for you.
This series sounds like a combination of Paiste and Zildjian. It has the Paiste recognizable thick sound while at the same time it has Zildjian K Series sound like High Definition, Dry and Dark series. These are the best Paiste cymbals I heard so far; next to Signature series.
Byzance Foundry Reserve
Although it is not jazz only but a very versatile sounding series perfect for studio use in all kinds of situations. The sound is similar to Artisan and Legacy series by Sabian but since Meinl grow popularity in the last few years they increased prices.
This series is designed for jazz but versatile enough to be used in Latin or Funk music. These cymbals are very thin so when you play them you can see how they bend. Due to that fact, their volume is a little bit lower which makes them perfect for jazz.
Next to Byzance Dual, I would say this is the series Meinl use for experimenting because they were able to get a bunch of new sounds. Not just the whole set has different and new sounds the cymbals in set sound different. You can see these cymbals often on Benny Greb drum set.
Let's talk durability
Over time I noticed some cymbals crack more often, did that happened to you?
For years I’ve been playing Paiste cymbals because they had classic rock sound I was looking for, then I flipped to Meinl, also great sounding cymbals but few of them cracked pretty early.
After some time I bought some Sabian and Zildjian cymbals and now my whole set consists out of these company’s cymbals.
The whole switch thing comes naturally because the sound I was looking for evolved and naturally I wanted more modern sound for rock and later on versatile cymbals and so on.
It seems like Paiste and Meinl cymbals tend to crack more often, I can’t claim that but that is just my experience. Since I switch to Sabian and Zildjian I still haven’t broke a cymbal and I am not an easy hitter.
So I guess some cymbals are more flexible than others at least in higher cymbal categories like AAX, HHX, K, and A custom series.
I think it’s important not to pick cymbals only if the sound suits you. We all know cymbals break from time to time but expanding the time in between those cracks can save you enormous amount of money.
New VS Used
I’m pretty sure that all materials wear out after time. Cymbals in live circumstances go through hot, cold weather, dry air, and who knows what that can hurt them.
Having that said I still haven’t noticed much of a difference. The ride cymbal I bought a couple of years ago was used Zildjian K and I still play it but we all know ride cymbals don’t break that often.
I also have HHX stage hats again, used and they either haven’t break. The two crash cymbals I used are bought A custom, 16, and 18 inches. I purchased one brand new and other was used and they bought still in use. I have nothing against used cymbals but you need to pay attention on a couple of things.
Avoid buying cymbals with this kind of damage. This is a first sign that they’ve been used for a long time and maybe even without cymbal sleeve.
When cymbals once start changing like this or like a small crack that is just an avalanche waiting to crush you and you can’t stop it.
You probably have seen people do this kind of thing in order to keep the crack from expanding.
This is just a little save of time, the further crack is inevitable. You can do this on your cymbals just so they can last a couple of months longer but don’t buy this sort of cymbals.
The size I need
It all depends on your taste and preference but let me tell you a few facts that will save your money ahead.
Small crashes like 14 inches will not do the work in heavy music and vise versa the big crashes will blow out the band in music that is softer like latin and jazz. Also, it all depends on the environment. If you play stadiums there is no such thing as a too big cymbal, but in most situations, you need to pay attention.
Most of the time in studio sound guys can control them so in the studio go for the sound and don’t pay much attention to the size. See if the sound of the cymbals matches with a song.
The same goes for china cymbals, they almost don’t have a proper place at all in jazz music while heavy dudes love them.
For pop, RnB, funk music my suggestion is to go for smaller china like 12-14 inch while for rock the bigger the better. Heads up, a lot of musicians don’t like china cymbals sound so go easy on them.
Ride cymbals are usually made in sizes 20-24 inches. They are really versatile cymbals type so I highly doubt that somebody will complain about the size of a ride.
I am pretty sure each will do a great job if it has great sound.
Nowadays there’s a lot of hybrid sizes like 18-inch hats but classic sizes are 13 and 14. Smaller hats tend to have a higher pitch and to be quieter if you like that that’s fine but my vote goes for classic 14-inch hats.
This is a golden middle when it comes to the control of a sound and a volume.
For me large splashes like 10 and 12 inches don’t make a lot of sense they are too big for splash sound and to small for a crash so something like unnecessary middle but that’s just me.
I suggest sticking to 6 and 8-inch splashes maybe even both because there is a difference in the sound and both sound great.
You can easily play drums without a splash but they are so cool to add some texture to rhythms and breaks.
Cymbals that belong in this group are stacks, o-zone, and other crazy shapes cymbals.
It’s all about experimenting here so be free to experiment with sizes as well. Be careful of the type of music you play and will it fit there but as far as the size goes it really doesn’t matter as long as fits the music and the band you’re playing with.
Expensive cymbals VS Cheap cymbals
Let me start by saying that these two groups are made out of completely different materials. Cheap cymbals are usually being made out of Brass or Bronze B8 while the best cymbals are made out of Bronze B20 or some mix of high-quality materials.
Imagine like you have apple juice with 100% apple in it and then as the price gets lower you get more water and sugar and less fruit. The end product is similar. With cymbals at the end of this process, you get very little good materials and more crappy ones.
That being said it’s very straightforward how the price influence the sound. For all beginners, I strongly suggest not to shoot for the most expensive series right away. Hitting the cymbal has to do with having a proper technique and except low-quality cymbal materials, the bad technique can cause cymbal breaking.
I would go for some other brands like Istanbul, Anatolian Bosphorus or Masterwork which are not that expensive like the “Big 4” but have decent quality so you will probably get better sound for your money.
Later, down the road, you can pick and chose cymbals you like. Always have in mind that some cymbal series are there for a long time and with a reason.
These are the series like Zildjian A custom, K custom, Paiste 2002, Sabian HHX, AAX, AA, HH, etc.
So, with the price increment you really end up with a better sound it’s just a matter of whether or not you need to spend a particular amount of money.
All the high-quality cymbals have a similar price and it’s hard to get a good deal so go slow sell old cymbals add some extra cash and level up eventually.
Best value for the money cymbals
Price matters so, I will give you some editors choice recommendations.
Beginner level cymbals:
Intermediate level cymbals:
Pro level cymbals:
With this post, I tried to answer some common online questions about cymbals and go through the top of the line cymbals of 4 the main companies.
I am sure that are some pretty good cymbals out there from companies like Ufip, Istanbul, Soultone, and more but these are my top picks, the biggest companies, and the cymbals I found the best when it comes to sound.