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Sabian X-Celerator, HHXplosion, HHX Evolution and Jia Chinese cymbals

Though Sabian’s cymbal-making pedigree goes back hundreds of years, Sabian Ltd. celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. As part of the celebration the company produced a slew of new cymbals, including two pairs of 14-inch hats, both featuring a scalloped bottom cymbal similar to those pioneered by Paiste more than 30 years ago. This design eliminates air lock and provides consistency of sound. The models represented are the AAX X-Celerator hats and the less expensive, but no less musical, Pro X-Celerator hats.

Sabian has engineered what it calls “auto-focus response” into the AAX cymbals. As I understand it, this means that the tone of the cymbals from high to low remains the same no matter how soft or loud you play them, which eliminates conflicting overtones. I like a cymbal that acts differently depending on how I play it, but I’m sure many drummers would appreciate the consistency.

You best mean what you play with these bright and penetrating hats, because their precise response and sound will reveal any inconsistency in your playing. I found playing on the top with a stick to be an enjoyable experience for the ear, bringing out a mellower, throaty sound. Playing with the foot brought out more of the high-pitched sound of the bottom cymbal. The cymbals’ bark is sharper than that of a small dog, and I absolutely loved their sizzle when played slightly open. If I were looking for projection in a large venue with amplified instruments, then AAX X-Celerator hats would be just what the doctor ordered. If I were playing in a small room with other acoustic instruments, however, I might look elsewhere.

The Pro X-Celerator’s sound is not quite as complex as the AAX X-Celerators, yet they possesses all the fine qualities of their more expensive cousins. The entire Pro line has a brilliant finish and is made from B8 bronze (92 percent copper, 8 percent tin). This differs from the other cymbals reviewed which are cast from B20 bronze (80 percent copper, 20 percent tin). The higher content of tin gives the cymbals a brighter sound. The sound of the Pro hats is softer than the AAX hats, with a darker, funky quality that I favor.

Also new in Sabian’s line are the 16-inch and 18-inch HHXplosion crashes-I had trouble evaluating these cymbals because I’m not a fan of cymbals that simply crash. It would be impossible, however, for anyone not to recognize the cymbals’ sophisticated and developed powers of punctuation. They speak quickly with rich and focused tone, and the decay is relatively short but not abrupt. These cymbals possess more versatility than your garden variety crashes. The sound of the nonlathed bell is very pointed and is capable of sustaining a rhythm or time feel at lower volumes-a perfect complement to a timbale setup. I enjoyed the smaller of the two cymbals, finding the 16-inch to be deeper and darker-sounding than its big brother. If you’re looking for a crash cymbal, these are definitely worthy of your consideration.

Next up is the 14-inch HHX Evolution mini-Chinese, an effects cymbal of uncommon tonal depth. In addition to the trashy white noise you would expect from a China (I use this description with affection), it has somewhat of a gonglike tone and sustain that I enjoy. It sounds great right-side up or upside down or stacked on top of another cymbal. Its beautiful exotic crash doesn’t obscure the sound of the rest of the band like some larger Chinas do.

Finally, my personal favorites: the 18-inch and 20-inch John Blackwell Jr. Jia Chinese. These cymbals are like the lovechild of a flat ride and a China. Play on their flat, unlathed centers, and you get a dry, dark, funky tone. I especially enjoyed using it to play time under bass solos. Let the shoulder of your stick come down and hit the lathed upturned edge, and the Jia opens up to reveal a lush dark China crash. Deep too! There is a raw quality to the sound, but because it is a relatively thin cymbal without a bell, its response is controlled. Its large, unlathed arena adds to its dry character. A flat Chinese cymbal is such a wonderful combination of sounds. I don’t know why one hasn’t come out sooner, although I understand that Sabian and John Blackwell Jr. have been collaborating on this instrument for the past six years. A Jia Chinese can contribute to the intimacy of low-volume acoustic music better than any of these cymbals.

Sabian hit the ground running 20 years ago and continues to be a major player in the world of cymbal craftsmanship, offering sound choices for just about everyone.

Originally Published