May 2009

New Sabian Cymbals: A Roundup

Canadian cymbal manufacturer Sabian may be less than 30 years old, but the company has become the primary rival to Zildjian, the 17th-century elder among world cymbal producers. The reasons for Sabian’s ascension include not only its historically affordable pricing, but also a particularly broad, innovative range of sounds among its multiple cymbal lines.

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Sabian Vault Artisan 14-inch Hi-Hats
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Sabian Vault Artisan 16-inch Crash Cymbal
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Sabian AAX Memphis 21-inch Ride

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Two of those lines have new items. Sabian’s B20 bronze Vault cymbals are part of a limited-quantity collection, not a series, and new Vault Artisan hi-hats and crashes feature the cymbal artists’ personalized signatures and one-of-a-kind numbers. They even come in individual, Artisan-embossed lined cloth sleeves for extra protection. The new Memphis Ride, part of Sabian’s B20 cast bronze AAX cymbals, brings warmth and depth to the series with the slogan of “modern bright.”

The Artisan hi-hats offer variety, coming in 13-, 14- and 15-inch pairs, each with a medium top hat and noticeably heavy bottom hat. All were created using high-density hand hammering by an individual Sabian artist. The smallest set ($509 online), crafted by Mark Love, offers the clarity associated with 13-inch hi-hats, plus more volume than expected. The top hat is high-pitched and crisp whether played with the pair closed or open, and cuts through whether struck with drumsticks or hybrids like Pro-Mark Hot Rods. But played with brushes, the smaller hi-hats may get lost in the mix in anything other than all-acoustic situations. Even played with sticks, especially outdoors, this pair can be drowned out if a band’s volume increases. Put a microphone on them, and that problem is solved.

Love also designed the 14-inch set ($579), the most popular size among hi-hats. These possess similar qualities to the 13-inch pair, yet expectedly cut through better in both indoor and outdoor settings without microphones, especially when played with sticks. Versatile, the middle pair plays well on everything from quiet ballads to accelerated, higher-volume pieces.

Ted Kaye’s 15-inch hi-hats ($635), however, are the pleasant surprise of the three sets. Fifteen-inch hats are relatively rare because of the inherent muddiness associated with their larger size, but there’s only a modicum of that trait in this pair. That small demerit is offset by additional volume and surprising clarity, especially when played with sticks. Opened and closed by foot, the pair produces crisp “chick” (without being struck) and “wash” sounds (while being struck) that surprisingly rival the two smaller sets of hats.

All three are advertised on the Sabian Web site as “deeply dark and rich,” characteristics that apply primarily to the 15-inch hi-hats, although Sabian also serves notice that each Vault Artisan cymbal’s pitch “varies by model.”

Of course, the pitch of all cymbals also varies by placement in a room or outdoors. The 13-inch pair, for instance, sounded better in a small indoor setting—with a carpeted floor, lots of wood and a high ceiling—than on an outdoor stage. The 14-inch hats were more audible outdoors than their smaller counterparts, yet were also better indoors, while the 15-inch set cut through both atmospheres.

Love also designed the new 16- and 18-inch Vault Artisan crashes (with the tag of “fast, dark and dirty”). Each of the thin cymbals qualified as fast in attack, although the 16-inch model’s pitch variations certainly didn’t include dark or dirty.

Rather, the 16-inch ($349) came across as bright, dry and loud, especially when hit hard outdoors. Inside, it sounded better, although both crashes also varied greatly in tone and pitch depending on how hard they were struck—and what they were struck with. Hit the 16-inch lightly with sticks, or harder with hybrids or brushes, and it’s darker and dirtier. Played with mallets, it’s loud and trashy.

The 18-inch crash ($409) proved more versatile, although deafening when struck aggressively with a stick. Also louder outdoors and a better indoor cymbal overall, the larger crash sounded best when struck in moderation, and proved darker and moodier when hit with hybrids, brushes or mallets.

Sabian’s 21-inch AAX Memphis Ride ($289) proved a wild card. With its dark, natural finish and single-line lathing, it resembled another of the company’s recent efforts, the Vault Crossover Ride. But the medium Memphis Ride certainly doesn’t qualify as “modern bright,” the AAX motto. It’s dark and dry when played with sticks from the outer edge toward the middle, and its volume is moderate. Deep and trashy when used as a crash, the cymbal can also deliver a low, rumbling swell when played with mallets.

Though the Memphis Ride doesn’t quite equal the volume and articulation of the medium-thin Vault Crossover overall, it is superior in one regard. Played on its oversized bell, the cymbal sings, especially with sticks or hybrids. Its overall quiet nature could make the Memphis Ride a good jazz cymbal. But for soulful off-beat ride patterns and accents, its greatest gift, and what truly makes this cymbal live up to its name, is its Memphis bell.

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