Cymbals: Sabian £40-160
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No doubt about it, these days a drummer has to have his wits about him (or her) when it comes to acquiring new gear. As if there aren't enough manufacturers battling it out in the conventional drum market there are now the electronic variety to consider, as well as rhythm boxes and drum computers. Decisions, decisions.
No problems with cymbals though. Until now that is. Sabian might sound more like the first name of some failed Forties B movie actor than a cymbal company, but if the set of their wares which I tested are anything to go by, Zildjian and Paiste can wave goodbye to their monopoly.
Bob Zildjian is the man behind the new firm and much of his product's obvious quality must be derived from his long association with the cymbal maker's craft. So it's no surprise to discover that in both looks and sound the Sabian is generally more readily comparable to the Zildjian than the Paiste equivalent.
My test set, for instance, bore a close resemblance to the K Zildjian. They were selected by myself at the Sabian warehouse in Leicester from the HH range, HH meaning hand-hammered. I took a 10in splash, a pair of 14in hi-hats (which comprise a medium top and a heavy bottom), a 16in thin crash, an 18in medium crash and a 20in medium ride.
The first common sound characteristic was that all the cymbals sounded excellent at the quiet end of the dynamic scale. The merest flick produced a warm, rich swish with none of the clang which often affects other cymbals.
Like the Zildjian each Sabian has its own characteristics and no two cymbals sound exactly the same, so selecting a balanced setup can be quite a lengthy process. The benefit is that once you have made a decision it will rapidly become apparent that your choice is essentially unique.
The first session I played with the Sabian amazed the recording engineer, who actually left the sanctuary of the control room to find out what it was that sounded so good. In fact we were able to record the top kit flat, with no equalisation, which obviously made the spill from the rest of the kit more natural, and useful, in quality.
I have recently developed a weakness for the splash — it can punctuate a piece of music without being overpowering, as long as the cymbal doesn't sound too thin and, consequently cheap or jokey. In this respect the Sabian was fine, producing a fast decaying sizzle with plenty of punch.
The hi-hats also bore up well to a severe thrashing. Plenty of chip as the foot brought the cymbals tightly together, plenty of chiming splash as the foot gently brought the cymbals lightly together and then, as quickly, apart.
The top cymbal responded well to the stick, a nice tight ping with lots of top end and no hint of the renegade drainpipe sound. The bell gave a surprisingly bright and distinct tone, just the ticket for the pseudo-triangle rhythm.
The bottom cymbal meanwhile contained a much deeper, more sharply defined ping, so anyone adventurous enough to attempt the Buddy Rich-style of using both cymbals can be sure of being heard.
The 16in proved to be almost irresistible. Whether walloped or tapped it sounded beautiful. Its thinness in no way compromised the broad depth of tone. As well as the expected sharp attack there was a reassuring warmth which indicated the efficiency of the hand-hammering technique.
Much the same could be said of the 18in, though its larger span and thicker consistency made for a pitch difference of about a tone and a half.
The 20in is a jazzer's delight, with such a variety of total responses and colours that I venture that either the muscular application of Tony Williams, or the much more delicate demands of Billy Higgins would be more than satisfied.
The HH range covers sizes from 8in to 22in, and comes in four thicknesses: thin, medium thin, medium and heavy (the heavy being in the 20 and 22in ride bracket).
Also Sabian produce a machine hammered selection of cymbals. They're called the AA range. They sound more uniform and a happy choice can be made from fewer cymbals than the HH.
In its choice of hi-hats, the AA offers four separate combinations of top and bottom cymbal weights. It also offers five weights in the crash division and sizes from 8in to 20, while the rides come in every size from 17in to 24in and four slightly different weights than the HH: medium thin, medium, medium heavy and heavy (rock) which features a large bell.
In the specialist department there are the AA flat hats, a medium top cymbal and a flat heavy bottom with three holes to prevent choking which is available in 13, 14 and 15in sizes. There are also two Chinese cymbals, the classic dustbin lid soundalike with upward bent edge and the more gong-like tone of the flat edged version with small bell. Both available in the AA range from 18 to 22in.
Got that? Right. For what it's worth I kept my test set because they sounded better than my existing set-up. It's hard to explain a sound as transient and complex as that of a cymbal in words, so I can only say that of all the various bits of hardware that I have had the pleasure of testing, the Sabian is head and shoulders above the rest.
If you have a sound in your head and the AA range doesn't match it, then root about among the HH's and I'm sure you'll find what you're looking for. I've never owned a set-up that's proved so pleasant to play and easy to record, and I'm not the only one.
My old mate Larry Tolfree (who did the Linx tour with me and is now working with Joe Jackson) also has a set of HH's and likes them so much that he carries them around everywhere he goes, rather than risk losing them.
Believe me, that's praise indeed.
Enquiries: Cymbals and Percussions, (Contact Details).
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Review by Andy Duncan
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