November 2004

Sabian HHX Manhattan Jazz Cymbals

At a time when Paiste and Zildjian have devoted considerable resources toward recapturing the dark sonic archetypes associated with the traditional over-hammered K. Zildjian-style cymbal, the folks at Sabian have very determinedly marched to the beat of a different drummer. Sabian's stubborn insistence on pursuing an original modern vision of cymbals-influenced by but defiantly distinct from the instruments of the past-is most notable in the form of its family of HHX Manhattan Jazz cymbals. Available in 16-, 18-, 20- and 22-inch models, and a choice of 13- and 14-inch hi-hats, what sets HHX cymbals apart from their purely hand-hammered brethren in Sabian's HH line, is a higher profile, a shallower, more symmetrical style of hammering and a lighter lathing cut. All of which add up to a clearer, less complex style of cymbal with greater projection-that is to say, a faster, more immediate response and a drier, more radiant sound with more shimmer and brilliance. And while these new HHX instruments are nowhere near as grainy and complex as a standard HH, they are a warmly voiced cymbals-and not particularly bright.

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Sabian HHX Manhattan Jazz Cymbals

For these auditions I employed a pair of Vic Firth SD9 Driver drumsticks, which despite their hefty shaft offer jazz drummers a light, focused range of inflections due to their thin throat, oval bead and softer, sweeter sound signature of maple. Compared to the darker, more complex timbres and textures of Sabian's HH cymbals, these new HHX Manhattan Jazz cymbals are considerably clearer and more open sounding, with a full, focused low-end response, and negligible overtones and colorations in the midrange. Medium-thin in weight, they seem to open up with the slightest touch. You can flex them with your hands, and when fully energized there is a palpable wobble on the outer edges-which tends to dissipate vibrations so that crash accents swell up instantaneously but do not sustain interminably. On the 22- and 20-inch rides, I achieved a woody, bone-dry stick sound over a light, smoky, ephemeral wash with a very warm, short crash response-which allowed me to back off from multiple crash-ride accents and drop right back into time without missing a beat.

For some jazz players, the Manhattan Jazz rides will be a perfect small-combo acoustic cymbal, whereas for others it will more readily function as a secondary ride sound. I didn't much care for the 22-inch Manhattan Jazz ride, but I fell in love with the 20-inch model. While I'm sure the dry, buoyant stick response, billowy low-end rumble and absence of complex midrange colorations will recommend the 22-inch ride to many drummers, to me it sounded parched, hollow and uninvolving-because of all the extra surface area-compared to comparable cymbals from Paiste (the 22-inch Traditional Extra-Light ride) and Zildjian (the 22-inch Constantinople Medium-Thin Low).

However, for my tastes the 20-inch ride had a more integrated, organic sound, and I felt as though the more energy I put into it the more I got out of it. The bell was more articulate than that on the 22-inch, and the stick sound was more focused and coherent: the relative dynamic contrasts in going from ride patterns to side-sticking accents and back again were smoother and better balanced from top to bottom when I laid into it, which just made me feel like swinging. In my setup the 20-inch ride proved a very elegant crash ride, and I think it would be a perfect candidate for rivets, as was the 18-inch model, which shared many of the attributes I admired in the 20-inch, but with a lighter, brighter stick sound, and a much quicker crash response. Oddly enough, the 16-inch model also had good light-ride characteristics and a very nice bell, although obviously it and the 18-inch excel as light, full, fast crash cymbals-warm, round and responsive.

Most impressive of all from a jazz drummer's perspective were the hi-hats, particularly the 13-inch pair, which are among the best of that size I've ever played. Despite their thin, pliant feel and soft, muted attack characteristics, they offer a solid, chewy, penetrating sound with the foot and a very buttery, expressive pallet of throaty exhalations and dark shouting accents. Better yet, there's nothing sharp or "pingy" about the closed-stick sound; they have a tight, dry response and won't build up into such a complex mix of overtones that they obtrude on the acoustic piano or vocalist's frequencies-in this case the absence of midrange layering and overtones that bugged me on the 22-inch ride very much work to the hi-hats' advantage. By contrast the 14s have greater spread, added hiss and a more full-bodied response. Which pair you prefer is largely a matter of application and taste, but for me the sweet tone and quick, airy, percussive response of the 13-inchers won the day.

Drummers looking for rich, complex, textured midrange voicings in a ride cymbal needn't tarry here-they will likely find these cymbals altogether too cool and dry. Those looking for a smoother, quicker, leaner brand of ride projection, or a fast, focused, rounded style of crash-ride cymbal, should give the Sabian HHX Manhattan Jazz cymbals a serious audition.

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