- Best Crash Cymbals
- Best Hi-Hat Cymbals
- Best Ride Cymbal
- Best Cymbal Pack
- Best Splash Cymbal
- Best China Cymbal
Nothing is more important to a drummer than their cymbal sound. The right cymbals will stay with you for your entire career and will always sound great. However, choosing the right cymbals can be a challenging process because every cymbal sounds different. To help you choose the right cymbals for your drumming needs, check out our lists and buyer’s guide below.
Best Crash Cymbals:
Crash cymbals produce a lot of the color in a drummer's sound, providing the accents in songs and helping with transitions. There are hundreds of different models of crash cymbals on the market and they all sound very different. A lot of crash cymbals have their sound written on them in the form of their name; for example, a dark crash is dark, a fast crash is fast, and a thin Crash is made of thinner metal which also affects the sound.
Crash cymbals generally come in sizes between 14-20 inches, but 16-18 inches are the most popular sizes. While there are many cymbal makers, the two most popular are Zildjian and Sabian, because of their reputation for great sound. However, Paise and Meinl are also making great cymbals these days and are growing in popularity as well. Not coincidently, all of our following picks are manufactured by one of these companies.
My taste in crash cymbals changed drastically after recording my first album. I encourage all drummers to record their cymbals to hear what they sound like as often a cymbal will sound great up close, but horrible when recorded. Cymbal manufacturers' websites are a great resource because many have recordings of all their cymbals. This is a great representation of the cymbal sound because you are hearing what they sound like through a microphone. I have found that darker sounding cymbals often have more depth on recordings than bright cymbals.
I encourage drummers to purchase as many crash cymbals as they can afford to provide the most versatility. While most of the cymbals below are available in a range of sizes, the ones I've chosen represent the size that I think sounds the best.
The criteria considered when looking for the best crash cymbal are sound, impact, durability, and the ability to blend with other cymbals. The sound of the crash cymbal is by far the most important of the criteria. While not all my picks are considered (or labeled) "dark", they all have a deep sound. Even my fast crash cymbals have a lot of depth to their sound.
Since its common to have multiple crash cymbals in a set-up, look for cymbals that complement each other's sound well. Fortunately, all of the cymbals on this list accomplish this very well and can actually make inferior cymbals sound better when doubled with these cymbals. Additionally, the impact that a cymbal makes is incredibly important and will change in different genres. All of the following picks will make a suitable impact for the appropriate genre. Lastly, while crash cymbals are famous for dents and cracks because they’re typically hit extremely hard, the picks listed below are extremely durable, and I’ve personally never had one crack.
Sabian's 18" AA Medium Crash Cymbal can produce an enormous sound while still providing good tone. It’s one of the most durable cymbals on the market, and sounds great with other cymbals. With a very reasonable price tag, this is one of the best deals currently on the market. Read Full Review
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Zildjian's 18" A Medium Crash is the first cymbal that I put in my bag when I leave for a gig. In fact, I use this cymbal on every gig I’ve ever played and it always sounds great. This pick is a great place to start for individuals working on building a cymbal set-up. Read Full Review
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Zildjian's 16" K Dark Crash Medium Thin is the best dark cymbal available for jazz music and is versatile enough for other genres of music. It also does a great job of complimenting bright cymbals in a bigger set-up. Read Full Review
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Meinl's Soundcaster Custom Medium Crash is a great sounding cymbal due to its warmth and depth. It can be used in most genres of music, but sounds particularly good in the metal and rock genres. This is a well-made cymbal that’s very durable. Read Full Review
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Meinl cymbals are quickly growing on me because of their great sound. The 20" MB20 Heavy Crash is a powerhouse and can overpower when needed. It’s the best cymbal for metal music or for anyone looking to create an extremely aggressive sound. Read Full Review
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Best Hi-Hat Cymbals:
Hi-hats are the most important part of any drummer’s cymbal setup as they are played more than any other cymbals, and provide the all-important pulse. Hi-hats are actually two cymbals (top and bottom) and are mounted on top of each other on a hi-hat stand. Most hi-hats are sold as a matched pair, even if they are two different models. Hi-hats come in sizes between 12-15 inches, but most of them are 14. I use 14 inch Hi-hats in my setup, but I have used 13 inch hi-hats for low volume gigs such as jazz combos or performances in smaller venues.
The sound of the Hi-hat is by far the most important of our selection criteria for this list. I encourage drummers to purchase the Hi-hat that sounds the best, regardless of price, because it’s the workhorse of your kit. The Hi-hat contributes a lot in creating a drummer’s overall sound and so all of these picks are amazing sounding hi-hats when played open, closed, with stick, or with the foot pedal.
These picks are extremely durable cymbals, and can take a lot of abuse. While hi-hats do crack from time to time because they are played so frequently, these pairs will last longer than other models thanks to production by the very best cymbal makers in the industry. Additionally all of my picks have a unique color that helps set them apart from other cymbals and helps them be versatile and blend well in a particular genre. In fact, most drummers have several pairs of hi-hats for use in different playing situations and genres. Some of these cymbals are even versatile enough to use in multiple genres.
Sabian’s AAX 14 Stage Hats are the best sounding Hi-hats available, and are incredibly versatile. They can be used for any style of music and will last for a long time. They have a sound that’s bright enough to cut through and dark enough to sound mature. Read Full Review
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Zidjian is one of the best cymbal makers, and the New Beat is their best hi-hat. They are versatile and durable cymbals, and they have a great sound will blend well with multiple styles of music. Read Full Review
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Zildjian’s A Custom line is one of the best made series of cymbals available. This hi-hat pair is very bright and will cut through the band along with a great sound which makes them versatile enough to use in multiple genres of music. Read Full Review
Paiste’s Signature Dark Crisp hi-hats are the best cymbals available for jazz and low-volume gigs. They have a crisp sound that is dirty and mature sounding. They are very responsive and have unmatched articulation. Read Full Review
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Meinl cymbals have quickly become the choice of cymbal for professional Metal drummers, and the MB20 Heavy Soundwave are some of the best sounding cymbals for the metal genre. They are very durable, possess lot of bite, and have a great sound while being piercing enough to cut through a metal band. Read Full Review
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Best Ride Cymbal:
Ride cymbals are typically the biggest and most expensive cymbal in a drummer's cymbal set-up; often they’re also the most important cymbal in any jazz drummer's set-up. In fact, I remember watching a jazz drummer play an entire song with only his ride cymbal. He sat on the front of his bass drum (which I don’t recommend) and drove the band using only that particular cymbal.
The perfect ride cymbal can really give a drummer a unique sound and carry a band by itself. For the rock drummer, the ride cymbal provides a nice color change as it packs more of a punch than other cymbals. Ride cymbals generally come in sizes between 18-24 inches but 20-22 inches are the most common. Just as with crash cymbals, there are hundreds of different types that all sound very different and usually have the sound they generate literally written on their surface.
The ride cymbal is one of many cymbals in my set-up that will change with different gigs. I use different ride cymbals for different genres of music such as a pingy ride cymbal for rock music so it will cut through the band. Ping rides will work well with big band jazz as well. Dry cymbals are a good choice for smaller jazz gigs and lighter styles of music, while flat ride cymbals have a very unique sound without a lot of articulation.
The following best ride cymbals were chosen because they’re very thick, and therefore all tend to be fairly durable. In fact, I don't think I've ever heard of a drummer cracking any of these ride cymbals. All of the cymbals on this list are manufactured by either Zildjian, Sabian, or Paiste which means you’ll be getting the highest quality sound, and each cymbal offers a very unique color that excels in their particular musical genre.
Sabian's 21" Raw Bell Dry Ride has a very unique sound that’s not too wet yet not too dry, resulting in a darker vintage sound that gives it maturity. A raw, hand hammered production method makes it one of the coolest looking cymbals out there. Read Full Review
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Zildjian's 20" K Custom Dry Ride is the best dry Ride cymbal for Jazz music, and it is one of Zildijan's best made cymbals. Truly a joy to play, it’s the most articulate cymbal available and swings like no other. Read Full Review
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Paiste's Signature Dry Heavy Ride has an articulate sound that really cuts and is perfect for metal and rock music. Paiste's Signature line of cymbals are very well designed and this is a great example of how great design leads to truly great sound. Read Full Review
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Sabian's HHX Manhattan Jazz Ride is the perfect cymbal for a drummer looking for a wet sound. It is perfectly suited for Jazz music and compliments other cymbals well. Sabian HHX line of cymbals are some of the best around and this is one of the best overall cymbals for Jazz. Read Full Review
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The "A" Zildjian Rock Ride has a sound that is distinctively associated with rock music. It has a clear attack and enough power to drive a rock band. The overall sound of the cymbal makes it useful when applied to other genres as well. Read Full Review
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Best Cymbal Pack:
Cymbal packs are meant to be a one-stop shop for a drummer’s entire cymbal set-up. Sometimes called box sets, they usually contain everything you need for a complete cymbal set-up and typically include a crash, ride, and a high-hat. If you shop around, there are cymbal packs which can include an extra splash cymbal, cymbal bag, cymbal stand, or even an extra crash cymbal, thereby saving you a lot of money. A good cymbal pack should contain a range of versatile cymbals because cymbals of the same line often have similar (and versatile) sonic colors.
These five best cymbal packs were chosen because they sound great both individually as well as within a group. These sets can exist on their own as a drummer's complete setup, or they will sound great when paired with other cymbals. These cymbal packs also include the types of cymbals a drummer might normally purchase independently of the pack, meaning each cymbal carries itself properly as well as ensuring there are no weak links in the chain. Additionally, these sets include all the cymbals you need to have a complete setup including a hi-hat, crash, and ride cymbal. Lastly, these picks are manufactured by the finest cymbal manufacturers to ensure lasting, reliable performance.
The AAX Stage Performance Set offers a great value, because it includes professional quality cymbals and what may be the best high hat on the market. Sabian is one of the best cymbal makers in the world and you can trust each of these cymbals is made with the high level of quality possible. Read Full Review
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Zildjian’s K Custom Hybrid Cymbal set is one of the best sets available because it has a complete sonic spectrum. These cymbals are bright enough to cut through the texture, and dark enough to sound mature. K Custom cymbals are famous for their high quality and amazing sound, and these hybrids are no exception. Read Full Review
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Paiste’s 2002 cymbal pack is a must for classic rock drummers looking to re-create a retro sound. These cymbals offer great responsiveness and have the classic sound associated with some of the most important recordings of all time. Read Full Review
Sabian’s Paragon cymbal pack was designed in collaboration with world-famous rock drummer Neil Peart to generate a perfectly matched set all the essential cymbals needed for a complete audible color palate. These cymbals generate a bright sound as well as being manufactured to have a professional, mature look. Read Full Review
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Sabian’s SBR Performance Set is the best cymbal pack for drummers with an extremely limited budget. This cymbal pack includes everything you need to start playing with a 20-inch SBR ride, a 16-inch SBR crash, and 14-inch SBR high-hats. These durable instruments look and sound better most other cymbal packs within this price range. Read Full Review
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Best Splash Cymbal:
Splash cymbals are typically the smallest and least expensive cymbals in a drummer’s cymbal set-up and are mostly used to add unique colors to a drummer’s sound and produce interesting accents. Just as with crash cymbals, there are hundreds of different models of Splash cymbals you can choose from. Splash cymbals come in a number of different sizes, some as small at 4 inch with others as large as 13 inches; however, I believe 8-12 inch splash cymbals are the most effective.
The best splash cymbals on this list were chosen on the basis of their distinct sound, unique color, brand name, and durability. All of these splash cymbals have their own distinct splash sound which can enhance a bands overall sound. Each of these cymbal picks also has a different color when played, so they can actually all be used in the same set-up. And since splash cymbals are often very thin and can crack easily, we ensured all of these picks are made by quality cymbal makers to ensure superior durability.
The 10 A Zildjian Splash is the best splash cymbal because it has the ideal splash sound with a bright tone and provides the fast attack you’re looking for. For a splash cymbal it’s extremely durable and can stand up to the punishment of repeat performances. Read Full Review
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Sabian’s 11 AAX Max Splash is perfect for drummers looking for a full sounding splash cymbal. It has a bigger sound than most other splashes and a quick punch. It makes a great primary or secondary splash. Read Full Review
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The Meinl 10 Soundcaster Custom splash is one of the most powerful splash cymbals on the market and is very effective for hard rock or metal. It has a bright tone and a full sound that penetrates through the band, a fast attack, and retains great tone throughout. Read Full Review
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Sabian’s 10 AAX Splash is a great cymbal to use as a primary splash, because the bright sound pops out of the texture. The 10 AAX Splash blends well with other cymbals and gives drummers another quality option for creating unique colors. Read Full Review
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Zildjian’s 8 A Custom Splash is the best of all the smaller Splash cymbals, being extremely fast and capable of playing articulate rhythmic figures. This splash cymbal is perfect for complimenting your existing setup and provides all the extra brightness you need. Read Full Review
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Best China Cymbal:
China cymbals are very unique cymbals with a sound similar to a gong combined with a trash can lid (hence the reason some of them are called China Trash cymbals). Smaller China cymbals generally have a fast attack which is very effective for accents while large China cymbals actually start to sound like gongs because they have a lot of overtones. Adding a China cymbal is a great (and often inexpensive) way to add some variety to your cymbal setup as they can offer different color and timbre that cannot be achieved with other cymbals.
Just as with crash cymbals, there are hundreds of different models of China cymbals. China cymbals have the widest range of effective sizes of all cymbals with some as small at 8 inches, others as large as 24 inches. The most common sizes are 12-14 inches for smaller China cymbals, and 16-20 inches for the larger versions.
The China cymbals on this list were chosen because they all sound very unique and produce their own amazing sound. Drummers typically have a combination of dark and bright China cymbals when there’s more than one in their set-up and so the China cymbals on this list all have distinctive colors which complement each other. China cymbals vary in thickness, and many have very thin edges which can crack easily so each of these cymbals have been manufactured so they can take a beating.
Zildjian’s 18 FX Oriental China Trash is the most popular China cymbal played by world class drummers. It delivers a big sound which will cut through any band with its combination of good tone and trash. Read Full Review
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The 14 Wuhan China cymbal is one of the best China cymbals available because it sounds great as well as being extremely affordable. A Wuhan China cymbal offers drummers a great combination of trashy yet tonal sounds and is one of the best ways to add a unique tone to your cymbal set-up without breaking the bank. Read Full Review
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Sabian’s 19 China is one of the best China cymbals on the market because it’s so fast to speak. This cymbal is very popular because of its superior tone and energy. With the reliable Sabian name on it, you know you’re picking up a cymbal which will last a very long time. Read Full Review
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I really was impressed the first time that I heard the Meinl 18" Byzance Brilliant China. It has a full-bodied sound while still having a lot of "trash" in it. The high pitch produces a bright sound that will cut through the band and really stand out when you need it to. Read Full Review
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Cymbal Buyer’s Guide
Cymbals provide most drum sets with color and character. With so many different types of cymbals offering a variety of functions, it can be hard knowing which ones you need specifically for your drum set. This buyer’s guide provides the information needed to help you choose the appropriate cymbals for your particular drumming needs.
Hi-hats are played in almost every style of music and usually produce the ostinato or smallest subdivision of the beat. All drummers have at least one pair of hi-hats in their cymbal set-up.
These cymbals are usually sold in a matching pair, each including a top and bottom cymbal. These cymbals usually have a diameter of 14 inches, but can measure anywhere between 10-15 inches. The bottom cymbal is usually slightly heavier than the top one.
Hi-hat cymbals are mounted on a hi-hat stand which stacks the top cymbal above the bottom cymbal. These stands include a pedal to allow them to be played by foot. Hi-hat cymbals may be played either in an open or closed position.
The ride cymbal generally has a large bell which gives the cymbals a “pingy” sound, providing a different color option for smaller subdivisions and ostinatos. This particular cymbal is an integral part of any jazz drummer’s kit and also played by drummers in most musical genres.
The ride cymbal is usually the largest and heaviest cymbal in most drumming set-ups. Ride cymbals usually have a diameter measuring between 18-22 inches, but can also measure between 17-24 inches as well. Most drummers have at least one ride cymbal in their cymbal set-up.
Crash cymbals produce accents, help with musical transitions, and produce a splashy, “crash” sound. Beginning drummers usually have one crash cymbal but most professionals have at least two. Most drummers prefer to have crash cymbals in a variety of sizes to provide different options for sounds and colors.
Crash cymbals are made in multiple sizes with diameters measuring anywhere between 14-22 inches with the most common models having a diameter measuring 16-18 inches.
Effect cymbals (or EFX cymbals) are specialty cymbals which create unique sounds.
Chinese cymbals (aka “China” or “trash” cymbals) are mainly used to produce sharp accents in rock and metal. They have a very unique shape and sound similar to gongs but have a sharper decay. China cymbals come in sizes similar to crash cymbals and they’re often mounted with the bell pointing downward.
Usually the smallest cymbals in any drummer’s cymbal set-up, splash cymbals are meant to produce short accents along with a splashy sound. Splash cymbals typically have a 6-12 inch diameter and are appropriate for almost all genres of music.
Some ride cymbals are known as “flat top rides” because they’re completely flat and generate a unique sound mainly for jazz playing. These cymbals don’t have a bell and typically come in sizes similar to ride cymbals.
Sizzle cymbals have a buzzy, “sizzling” sound. Sizzle ride cymbals are mostly used for jazz while sizzle crashes and Chinas are usually used for effects in rock and heavier musical genres. These cymbals sometimes have holes drilled in them to create their buzz sound. Another common method to add buzz are inserting small metal rivets into the sizzle holes.
Orchestral and Band Cymbals
Hand Crash Cymbals
Hand crash cymbals (sometimes called “piatti”) are sold in pairs. They’re held in each hand by straps tied through their center mounting holes and played by striking one cymbal against the other. Hand crash cymbals are generally thicker and much heavier than a drum sets crash cymbals and are available in almost any size diameter between 14-24 inches.
A suspended cymbal is similar in size and sound to a drum set crash but are often lighter with a mellower sound. While drum set crash cymbals are usually played with a stick, suspended cymbals are typically played with mallets to create a swell. Suspended cymbals are available in almost any size diameter between 14-24 inches.
Anatomy of a Cymbal
All cymbals have a hole drilled in the center for mounting purposes.
The bell of the cymbal is the raised portion surrounding the center hole.
The bow is the area from the bell to the edge. Usually the largest part of the cymbal.
The cymbals edge is the end point of the bow.
It’s important to note many cymbals are available with different finishes. Some cymbals have a “brilliant” reflective finish which sounds brighter.
Most cymbals contain the cymbal type in their name, usually written on the cymbal. For example, a “dry ride” is a ride cymbal that sounds dry.
Cymbal Manufacturing Methods
Cast cymbals are made from molten metal poured into a mold. Once set, the metal is shaped into a cymbal, hammered, and lathered. These affordable cymbals generally sound great.
These cymbals are made from a solid piece of metal hammered by hand into its ultimate form. These are often the best sounding cymbals as well as the most expensive. The top cymbal makers keep their methods of hand hammering a close secret.
Sheet cymbals are actually similar to cast cymbals except they’re cut from a larger piece of metal. Usually meant for beginners, these inexpensive cymbals sounds very thin, aren’t very durable, and professionals often consider them a waste of money.
Finding a cymbal with a particular sound is difficult because every cymbal sounds different; even cymbals of the same model from the same manufacturer will sound distinct from one another.
The best place to start is by listening to a lot of cast cymbals and then comparing them to hand-hammered cymbals. This should be done for all of the cymbal types. Most quality cymbal makers have recordings of all their cymbals on their website and I highly recommend using this resource for selecting specific models. For my recommendations of specific cymbals, refer to my best lists detailing each of the cymbal types.
Since a cymbal is basically a piece of metal struck with a stick, they can get dented or even break if played improperly over time. While thick cymbals are more durable than thinner options, the quality of the cymbal is the most important factor in determining its durability.
Hand-hammered cymbals are generally the most durable followed by cast cymbals. Sheet cymbals are usually very thin and crack easily so only beginners on a budget should consider them.
The largest cymbal manufacturers are Zildjian and Sabian, two companies known for making high-quality cymbals. Paiste, Meinl, Istanbul Agop, and Bosphorous also make great sounding cymbals as well.
Quality cymbals hold their own like no other musical instrument and often increase in value over time. I always recommend spending extra money to purchase quality cymbals because you can end up wasting a lot of money on inferior-sounding options which crack or dent easily.
Most drummers spend a couple hundred dollars on “starter” cymbals which sound terrible. Drummers often outgrow them quickly and could have just started with the same quality cymbals they plan on upgrading to.
I recommend starting with a pair of high-quality, 14 inch hi-hats and a similar quality 16 or 18 inch crash cymbal. If you’re on a budget, I recommend buying a dirt-cheap ride cymbal because it’s the most cost effective option.
Quality ride cymbals are generally quite expensive and can be fairly genre specific, so selecting one can be a difficult decision for a beginner. It may be best to start with an inexpensive option and then upgrade later on to the exact cymbal you want.
If you’re looking for more colors under a tight budget, try adding a China or splash cymbal as they’re often inexpensive. As your playing career advances (or your budget grows) you can upgrade to a higher quality ride and add another crash or two.
Cymbal packs are a good option for saving money as most companies offer a whole cymbal set-up in one package. These are often sold at a discount and include a pair of hi-hats, a ride, and one or two crash cymbals with some packs even including specialty cymbals as a bonus. For specific pack recommendations, refer to our “Best Cymbal Pack” list.