You can’t have a good drum setup without good cymbals, and cymbals are often the stars of the show. I always tell drummers how your choice of cymbals is more important than your choice of drums. While you can fine-tune drums to sound decent, you can’t do much to change your cymbals. So, it’s important to get a good set of them from a reputable brand.
There are dozens of cymbal brands to choose from. Four of them are extremely popular, yet there are more that I find severely underrated. In this guide, I’m going to take you through every major cymbal brand and explain what they offer.
Bottom Line Up Front: The most popular cymbal brands in the drumming world are Sabian, Meinl, Paiste, and Zildjian. These brands are known as the big four, and they make the most sales in the drumming industry. There are plenty of smaller cymbal brands that make excellent products, though. These include Istanbul Agop, Anatolian, Bosphorus, Soultone, Dream, Wuhan, Heartbeat, and TRX.
Cymbals have been around since ancient times. However, cymbals and drum kits have only been a thing since the 1920s. When jazz music started taking shape, drummers started playing on kits with suspended cymbals and low boys (the old version of a hi-hat).
Ever since then, cymbals have been a vital component of every drum set. As drummers, we use a wide range of cymbals with different sizes and tonal qualities to create a setup that is unique to us.
If you’re in a rock band, you’ll need a loud set of cymbals that are punchy enough to be heard on a stage. If you’re in a jazz band, you’ll need warm cymbals with musical textures. Every cymbal brand tends to offer products that suit all needs, so choosing a brand can be tricky at first.
While there used to be only a few cymbal brands out there, many more have popped up over the years. All the ones that I’m about to mention are highly reputable.
The Leading Brands
The cymbal market is dominated by four main brands. If you walk into any music store, chances are high that you’re going to find products from all these brands there. They’re the most trusted, and you can find most professional drummers using them.
Because of this, finding the exact types of cymbals that you want is typically a bit easier. There is more information available on all their products along with user reviews and personal experiences.
Here are the top four brands in no particular order:
Meinl is a German cymbal brand that has had their cymbals dramatically increase in popularity over the past decade. Their main line of cymbals is the Byzance Series. There are several varying Byzance lines that cover all kinds of cymbals that you can think of.
The brand is most well-known for their dry cymbals that have rustic appearances, though. The Byzance Extra Dry cymbals are amazing, and I always see drummers using at least one of those cymbals if they play Meinl.
Meinl’s entry-level line is called the HCS Series. They’re some of the best-sounding brass cymbals I know of, allowing beginner players to experience the well-known Meinl quality. The best part about those cymbals is that you can get chinas, stacks, splashes, and other unique cymbal options. It’s the most expansive entry-level line out there.
At the peak of Meinl’s product lineup are the Byzance Foundry Reserve cymbals. These cymbals have dark and warm tones that sing more musically than most other cymbals. When you buy them, you get a special package that comes with gloves and a pair of sticks.
Here are some drummers to check out that play Meinl cymbals:
- Robert ‘Sput’ Searight
- Benny Greb
- Matt Garstka
- Anika Nilles
- Shawn Crowder
Paiste is a Swiss cymbal brand that also has a large factory in the USA. I’ve always known Paiste as the brand that many rock drummers used back in the 70s and 80s. One of the most popular Paiste players was John Bonham, and he was notable for using a large set of Paiste 2002s.
Like Meinl, Paiste has an excellent range of entry-level cymbals in the form of the PST 7 Series. Those cymbals are made of a bronze alloy called SuSn8 which is slightly superior to brass. Because of this, they sound a bit better than the Meinl HCS cymbals. However, you don’t get as many options, and they’re a bit more expensive.
Paiste’s top lines of cymbals are called the Signature Series and the Masters Series. Both lines have incredible cymbals that have been expertly crafted to sound beautiful.
The 2002 cymbals are another popular Paiste line, especially for rock and metal drummers.
Here are some drum legends who used Paiste cymbals. Many of them still are today:
- Stewart Copeland
- John Bonham
- Alex Van Halen
- Ian Paice
- Jeff Porcaro
Those were some of the biggest names in rock drumming. However, Paiste also provides plenty of good cymbal options for all styles. So, here are some modern Paiste artists:
- Josh Freeze
- Dimitri Fantini
- Rob Brown
- Aquiles Priester
- Eric Moore
You could argue that Zildjian needs no introduction. Even as I type this, it’s the only cymbal brand name that my spelling corrector doesn’t try correcting me on as it already knows that it’s one of the most established instrument brands in the world.
The brand started centuries ago, and it’s still one of the biggest cymbal entities today. They have so many popular cymbals that you can find being played all over the world.
Before I get to their good ones, let me start with their disappointing ones. Zildjian’s entry-level line of cymbals is called the Planet Z Series. I wouldn’t recommend these to anyone as they don’t sound near as good as the cheap cymbals from other brands.
The most decent affordable cymbals from Zildjian are called the S Family. While these can be considered intermediate cymbals due to their price, they work well for both beginners and intermediate players.
The real highlights of Zildjian are the A and K lines. The standard A and K lines are amazing, but the A Custom and K Custom lines are even better.
Finally, the K Constantinople cymbals are the top-quality product that the brand offers. They closely compete with the Meinl Byzance Foundry Reserve cymbals.
Here are some popular drummers who play Zildjian cymbals:
- JD Beck
- Larnell Lewis
- Aaron Spears
- Travis Barker
- Ash Soan
- Dennis Chambers
- Matt Greiner
Sabian is the final top brand to mention. There has always been a strong rivalry between Sabian and Zildjian as Sabian was started by one of the Zildjian family members. He took the company and built it to a place where drummers would need to choose between the two as they both provided excellent cymbals.
While Sabian’s cheapest line of entry-level cymbals is the SBr Series, I always find myself suggesting the B8X cymbals to new drummers instead. They’re a bit more expensive, but they’re much better in their tones. They’re still very affordable compared to higher-tier cymbals.
The two biggest lines of Cymbals from Sabian are the AAX and HHX lines. The AAX cymbals are bright, explosive, and very loud. They’re what you’d want in high-energy environments. The HHX cymbals are more complex and musical. Most of them have darker tones and work better in jazz and recording environments.
Here are some well-known drummers that play Sabian cymbals:
- Phil Collins
- Gregg Bisonette
- Dave Weckl
- Chester Thompson
- Ray Luzier
- Mike Portnoy
- Jeff Hamilton
- Bernard Purdie
- Terry Bozzio
While choosing cymbals from the top four brands will guarantee love for what you picked, you may want to know what smaller brands there are and what they have to offer.
Most smaller brands produce the same types of cymbals that the big brands do. They just haven’t been around for as long and their popularity hasn’t hit the wider scope yet. These brands make excellent cymbals. You’ll often find that they’re a bit cheaper as well in some cases.
While Istanbul Agop isn’t part of the big four brands, I’d argue that it’s one of the closest brands to joining. I have a few favorite drummers that play Istanbul cymbals, and their products are incredible.
One of the best Istanbul Agop cymbals is the Clapstack. It’s a group of cymbals that you buy with one purchase that stack together to make an authentic hand clap sound. It’s incredible.
Their entry-level cymbals are called the ART Series. They have bright sounds with shimmering tones and are affordable options for beginners.
Some of Istanbul’s best cymbals fall under the Signature line. I’ve seen so many jazz drummers use these cymbals as they sound musical, expressive, and articulate.
One of my favorite drummers that use Istanbul Agop cymbals is Yussef Dayes. He’s a jazz drummer from the UK that is known for playing fast and energetic beats.
Here are some other popular drummers that endorse the brand:
- Carter McLean
- Cindy Blackman
- Jimmy Chamberlin
- Jarrod Alexander
- Ferit Odman
Bosphorus is a smaller cymbal company based in Turkey. I first came across their cymbals when jazz drummers used from overseas would come to perform in South Africa, where I live. While I used to think Bosphorus was purely a company for jazz drummers, I’ve recently realized that they have a bit of everything.
The Bosphorus Traditional Series is where you’ll find most standard cymbals that drummers love. Their Antique Series mixes lathing patterns on the surfaces of cymbals while their Turk Series is full of dark and unlathed cymbals. These are the cymbals that I’ve personally seen jazz drummers use the most. Their Masters Jazz cymbals also cater brilliantly to jazz drummers.
If you want the best from Bosphorus, you need to check out their Master Family. These are their top cymbal lines.
Here are some drummers who play Bosphorus cymbals:
- Ari Hoenig
- Clark Tracey
- John Morrison
- Matt Skelton
- Ty Dennis
Soultone cymbals have gotten a bad reputation over the past decade thanks to the brand’s questionable marketing strategies. They offer cymbal endorsements very easily that include a large discount. However, they price their cymbals so high that the discount ends with the cymbals costing the same as what other brands would be without a discount.
With that being said, not as many drummers have been complaining about the brand as they used to. So, I’d say that they’re improving. They have some great cymbals, and it’s unfortunate that their customer service has stopped drummers from seeing that.
They tend to make cymbals that Gospel and R&B drummers love playing. The Gospel and Explosion lines from Soultone are particularly excellent.
Here are some popular drummers on Soultone’s artist roster:
- Nick Menza
- Jerohn Garnett
- Steven Adler
- Nick Smith
- Stan Lewis
Anatolian have a huge supply in South Africa, so I grew up playing their cymbals. The brand has an impressive 18 lines of cymbals. One of my favorites of those is the Jazz Collection line. I’ve been using a JC ride as a crash cymbal for several years on my main drum kit.
If you want some bright and powerful cymbals, you could check out their Diamond line. A church I used to play at had a full set of these, and they cut through mixes incredibly easily, yet they still sounded musical enough not to get in the way.
The most impressive thing about the brand is the sheer number of affordable cymbals that they offer. Since the exchange rate in South Africa is fairly weak compared to the dollar, most drummers I know play Anatolian cymbals thanks to their cheaper prices
Here are a few popular drummers who play Anatolian cymbals:
- Nate Wong
- Dennis Buhl
- Heiko Braun
- Joan Bonet
- Kasper Lund
One of the biggest goals of Dream cymbals is to make affordable cymbals that sound excellent more accessible for drummers. The Dream Ignition cymbals are entry-level, but I’d argue that they sound much better than both the Meinl HCS and Sabian B8X cymbals. If you have access to these, I’d highly recommend them over the entry-level cymbals from the major brands.
Dream are also very well-known for their Bliss ride cymbals. They’re incredibly versatile and they have an amazing crashing sound. I’ve found them to work very well in worship settings as crashing the ride is one of the main things you do.
There are a lot more cymbals to mention, but I’d suggest checking out Dream’s website for more information.
Here are some accomplished drummers that play Dream cymbals:
- Kent Aberle
- Ryan Barclay
- Craig Bagby
- Adam Bowman
- Jesse Cameron
Wuhan has a strong reputation for being one of the cheapest cymbal brands. You can get a Wuhan china cymbal for $70, and it will sound relatively decent. Their splashes and chinas are their best products. I don’t know too many drummers who use Wuhan crashes and hi-hats as their main options.
I couldn’t find any drummers who exclusively use Wuhan cymbals. I found that to be a testament to the reputation the brand has. If you want to buy one cheap cymbal to use for a specific purpose, you can always look to Wuhan. Their cymbals also make great additions to stacks.
I first heard of TRX when a few YouTube drummers that I watched used their cymbals about a decade ago. I was widely impressed with how good they sounded.
The brand has three main types of cymbals – the TRX cymbals, the TRX Special Edition cymbals, and the CRX cymbals.
The TRX cymbals are their main line. These cymbals are made from B20 bronze and cover a wide range of tonal qualities.
The Special Edition cymbals are a bit more affordable and offered in multiple pack configurations.
The CRX cymbals are the brand’s entry-level line. There are an incredible number of cymbals to choose from in this line, and all of them tend to offer more value for money than the main brand entry-level cymbals do.
Here are a few drummers who play TRX cymbals:
- Jerome Flood III
- Josh Ingram
- Lindsay Raye Ward
- Taylor Young
- Vincent Smith
The last lesser-known cymbal brand that I’m going to mention is Heartbeat Cymbals. I love this brand as they’ve put a special emphasis on making cymbals that work well in church settings.
Christian Contemporary music often calls for cymbals that are large, thin, and extremely washy. I’ve found Heartbeat Cymbals to be one of the few brands that make a large number of cymbals that perfectly fit the bill.
In fact, they go even further by making cymbals in sizes that you won’t easily find elsewhere. It’s not uncommon to see a 26-inch Heartbeat ride cymbal with a flat bell. It sounds crazy, but it works really well in a worship context!
You can also buy packs of Heartbeat cymbals that have larger sizes. While major brands sell packs that come with 14-inch hi-hats, 16 and 18-inch crashes, and 20 and 22-inch rides, Heartbeat sells packs that have much larger cymbals. I love that.
Here are some drummers who use Heartbeat cymbals. Most of them play in church settings:
- Noah DeBolt
- Scott Davis
- Robby Shaffer
- Brendan Tan
- Simon Kobler
Choosing a Cymbal Brand
With so many cymbal brands out there, you may be wondering how exactly you’re supposed to choose your cymbals. When I was learning to play, I just got whatever was available. Thankfully, I have the luxury of choice nowadays. If you’re in the same boat as me, here are some things to think about.
The biggest decision to make is whether to stick with one cymbal brand or use multiple cymbals from varying brands.
I’d only suggest sticking to a single brand if you plan on getting a deal with them one day. When cymbal brands look to endorse drummers, they want to see that the drummers were loyal to them before they even had a relationship.
If that isn’t your goal, then you should mix and match different cymbal brands. Using only one brand will limit you as there are thousands of cymbals to choose from when looking at every brand. It’s more important to look for cymbals that you love the sound of than it is to get cymbals with the same brand name.
Some drummers love the aesthetic appeal of using one brand. While that’s understandable, you’ll need to accept that you’re limiting yourself with that mindset.
When looking at different brands, educate yourself on what product lines each brand has. While Zildjian has the K Custom Family, Sabian has the HHX Series. Both lines of cymbals offer similar tones, dynamics, and purposes.
However, a brand like Heartbeat makes many cymbals that are specifically made for worship drumming. Sabian and Zildjian don’t have that, so Heartbeat may be the more attractive option.
Check all the product lines out of all the brands and see what you like the most. I’m a huge fan of Meinl’s Byzance cymbals, so I generally look at those first when I want to buy a new cymbal.
Customer service is always something you should check out with any brand. A perfect example of this is with Soultone cymbals. So many drummers have disappointing stories about their service, so it leaves them with a bad reputation.
On the other hand, drummers usually only have good things to say when they talk about the main four brands. That’s because their customer service is great, and you feel as if you’re part of the family when you play their cymbals.
Unfortunately, cymbal brands don’t typically sell directly to drummers, so the customer support will often come from the music store where you buy them. However, most cymbal brands will email you back happily when you ask them a question, and that’s what you should seek from the brand you choose.
A good way of finding cymbals that you love is by watching other drummers play them. When looking at cymbal brands, you should look at which famous drummers are part of their artist rosters. When you see those names, you’ll be able to look them up and watch videos of them playing. That’s why I mentioned a few drummers for each brand above.
Answer: The most well-known cymbals will be ones that are made by the big four cymbal brands – Meinl, Sabian, Paiste, and Zildjian. Zildjian’s most popular cymbals are the A Custom and K Custom lines. Mein’s most popular cymbals are anything in the Byzance line. Sabian’s most popular options are the HHX and AAX lines. Paiste’s most popular cymbals are the Signature Series and the 2002s.
Answer: Zildjian is the oldest cymbal brand in the world. The company was founded in 1623, making it one of the oldest overall companies in the world. Zildjian cymbals were being made for marching bands, orchestras, and other percussive groups.
When drum kits started becoming popular, Zildjian started making cymbals for kits, and the rest is history. Zildjian is arguably the most popular cymbal brand around, and it’s largely due to the fact that the brand has been going for so long.
Answer: All the major cymbal brands remain very competitive with each other. Because of this, their cymbals typically have similar prices. So, to find the most expensive cymbals, you’d need to see what the top lines are in each brand.
Meinl’s most expensive line is the Byzance Foundry Reserve line. The most expensive cymbals from Sabian and Zildjian are the Artisans and the K Constantinoples.
Answer: Most high-quality cymbals are made from a B20 alloy. Cymbals made from B20 are always more musical and expressive than cymbals made from B12, B10, B8, or brass. All the worst cymbals are made from brass, so stay clear of those if you’re looking for the best cymbals out there.
Answer: When building a drum kit setup, your two most important cymbals are the ride and hi-hats. These are what you use to play grooves with, so you should budget higher for them when looking around.
If you were to choose between one of those, I’d recommend picking hi-hats. Ride cymbals are typically played in open parts of songs such as choruses, whereas hi-hats have more of a universal use when it comes to song parts. You could also open them to get a bigger sound for chorus sections.
If you’re playing jazz, then I’d choose a ride cymbal over a pair of hi-hats.
Over all my years of drumming, I’ve found that your choice of cymbals is what gives you a unique voice behind the drum kit. Drums tend to sound quite similar, but a dry cymbal sounds incredibly different from a bright cymbal.
If you want to develop a sound that is unique to you, you should look for cymbals that you love from all the brands and mix them together. Get some inspiration from drummers that are already using those brands but try to get cymbals that best reflect your own playing style as well.
The best thing about cymbals is that you can easily swap them out on cymbal stands. So, your cymbal collection will never be too big enough! Check out all the brands that I’ve mentioned above. They all make amazing products.
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