Zildjian is one of the biggest cymbal entities in the drumming world. They make some of the best-sounding cymbals you could possibly hear in drum setups. However, those pro-grade cymbals cost a fortune.
If you want a good set of cymbals but aren’t willing to spend thousands, you should look into the Zildjian S Series. These cymbals came out in 2016, and they’ve become popular amongst beginner and intermediate drummers since then.
In this guide, I’m going to explain everything you need to know about the S Series cymbals as well as break down each option within the varying cymbal types.
Bottom Line Up Front: The Zildjian S Series is Zildjian’s intermediate range of cymbals. These cymbals are made from B12 bronze, and most of them are heavy and bright.
This makes them ideal for heavy-hitters and people looking for decent cymbals on a budget. Even though they’re an affordable range, you can find Zildjian S cymbals in all the cymbal types from hi-hats to chinas to splashes.
Types of Cymbals
Before we get into the specifics of the Zildjian S Series, I’m going to remind you of all the types of cymbals that you can get. If you’re new to drumming, this is the section you should read to inform you about all your cymbal options.
After that, we’ll look at the S Series and how many cymbals you can get within each cymbal type. It’s a surprising number, so keep reading!
Your hi-hats are your main cymbals in a drum setup. You use them to play grooves, making them the cymbals that get used the most. Because of this, I highly suggest investing more in your hi-hats than in the other cymbals around your kit.
Hi-hats always come in pairs. Thankfully, a pair of them typically costs the same as a single cymbal of any other type.
When choosing hi-hats, you need to listen to what they sound like when a stick hits their surface and edge. You also need to listen for when they’re played open, as well as what it sounds like when you close them with your foot.
Hi-hats range from 10” to 16”.
The crashes are the cymbals that even non-drummers know about. They have one primary purpose – to be crashed on. However, you can get a lot more out of a crash cymbal than simply hitting it as hard as possible.
You can play the bell of a crash to get a tight and high-pitched sound. You can also play the surface to get a gently sound.
A drum setup will typically have two or more crash cymbals around it, and crash cymbals range from 16” to 20”.
You may find some crash cymbals having holes in them. These are called trash crashes, and they have less sustain than normal crashes thanks to those holes.
Ride cymbals are the biggest cymbals in a drum setup. If a drummer is right-handed, the ride will usually be placed to the left of them, somewhere between the floor tom and the rack tom/s.
The primary purpose of a ride cymbal is for its surface to be played on with the tip of a drum stick. This is called “riding the cymbal”, hence the name. Many ride cymbals can be crashed on as well. However, the more crashability a ride cymbal has, the less articulation it tends to have on the surface.
Ride cymbals usually range from 20” to 24”. Remember that the larger your ride cymbal is, the harder it will be to place comfortably in your drum setup. Huge rides do sound interesting, though!
Splash cymbals are the complete opposite of ride cymbals. They’re the smallest cymbals in a setup, and they range anywhere from 6” to 12”. They make a high-pitched sound due to their size.
Since they’re so small, you can’t really play them on the surface, meaning they’re purely used for crashing on. Drummers will use splashes to play jabs within fills and grooves.
Not all drummers use splash cymbals. Personally, I’m not a fan of such high-pitched tones. However, they’re incredibly useful in certain musical settings. They also make great parts for stacks, which I’ll get to a bit later.
A china cymbal has the appearance of a cymbal that has been turned inside out. These cymbals have trashiness as their main quality. You’ll see metal and rock drummers using them most of the time, with a few eccentric drummers using them for other styles of music.
China cymbals have an incredibly broad range of sizes. Some are as small as 6” while others are as large as 20”.
Like splash cymbals, china cymbals can sometimes be an acquired taste, which is why you’ll see many drummers not using them.
They’re mostly used for breakdowns in metal music. There’s no better feeling than bashing a china while a band switches to a half-time section in a song.
Effects cymbals are any cymbal that doesn’t fit into any of the previous descriptions. Companies sometimes like to make cymbals that are unique and add an interesting flavor to your setup.
The most vivid example of an effects cymbal that I always tell people about is the Zildjian FX Spiral Trash. If someone saw this in a drum setup, they wouldn’t know what to classify it as, making it a classic effects cymbal.
Most effects cymbals make trashy sounds, and just like splashes, they make excellent additions to cymbal stacks.
You’ll find effects cymbals being mostly utilized in hip-hop, R&B, electronic, and trap music.
A stack is when you have two or more cymbals placed on top of each other. When you tighten the stack, the sustain gets shorter. Some drummers use incredibly tight stacks to get an alternative hi-hat sound. You could think of a stack as a type of hand clap.
Stacks that are looser have a bit more sustain. I know a few drummers who prefer the sound of a loose stack to a single china. They’ll use it for the same purpose, but the tones are a bit more pleasing to the ears.
You can buy premade stacks from companies like Zildjian, or you could mix and match cymbals yourself. I love using old and cracked cymbals for cymbal stacks. It’s a great way of getting a bit more life out of them.
Zildjian S Series
I’ll stress again that the Zildjian S Series are intermediate cymbals. If you’ve been playing drums for a good number of years, you’re most probably going to find most of these cymbals too shrill and harsh. They’re also not as responsive as many drummers would like their cymbals to be.
They’re made from B12 bronze, and B20 bronze is typically what most high-quality cymbals are made from. So, these are cymbals for beginner drummers who want to get something a bit better than the stock cymbals that may have come with their drum set.
What I am impressed with, though, is the number of options you have. So, let’s look at what Zildjian S cymbals you can get in each cymbal type.
Zildjian S Hi-Hats
Here are your hi-hat options:
- 14” S hi-hats
- 14” S Rock hi-hats
- 14” S Mastersound hi-hats
- 13” S Mastersound hi-hats
- 10” S Mini hats
The 14” S hi-hats are the most standard option. They have the classic bright sound that shines through quite strongly in a cymbal setup. The Rock hats are quite similar. However, both the cymbals are a bit heavier, making the hats a bit louder. If you want the loudest hi-hats possible, they’re a good option.
The Mastersound hi-hats have a wavy bottom hat. The unique pattern makes the hi-hat closing sound a lot more defined. It also makes the washing sound a bit more pleasant. You can get these in either 13” or 14”. The 13-inch version sounds a bit higher-pitched than the 14-inch version.
Finally, the Mini hats are 10”. They have a very short sound and would typically be used in unique setups. They’re great for hip-hop and electronic music. I wouldn’t recommend using them as your main hi-hats, though.
Zildjian S Crash Cymbals
All the crashes in the S line are mostly either 16” or 18”. There are 4 distinct types of crashes within those sizes:
- S Thin crash
- S Medium Thin crash
- S Rock crash
- S Trash crash
The S Thin crashes are some of my favorite models in the series. They’re not as loud or harsh as the other S cymbals thanks to their thinner frame. They’re the only cymbals that I could see myself using in a professional setup on their own.
The Medium Thin crash has more sustain than the thinner version. It’s arguably the most versatile crash as it tends to work well in many settings.
The S Rock crash has the most volume out of all these cymbals. You don’t need to hit it hard for the tone to sing out strongly. It’s a lot thicker, making it more durable as well.
The S Trash crash has the same size dimensions as the thinner crash. However, it has several holes drilled around it to boost the high-end frequencies. It has the classic sound of a trashy crash cymbal. However, I found that it shimmers for a lot longer, which some drummers may not like.
Zildjian S Ride Cymbals
You’re a bit limited for choice with ride cymbals here. You only get to choose between two rides, and both of them will either be 20” or 22”. Here’s what they’re called:
- S Medium ride
- S Rock ride
The Medium ride is the all-purpose option. It has a decent amount of stick articulation, and it can be crashed on. Although the crashing sound isn’t the greatest, I love that it’s an affordable cymbal that has the option. Most cheaper cymbals can’t be crashed on as they’re too thick.
The Rock ride is a lot louder with a much stronger bell. The bell tone is piercing, and the articulation on the bow is a lot clearer than on the other ride. The disadvantage of the S Rock ride is that you can’t crash on it. It’s a heavy ride for rock or metal, so you’ll need to have other cymbals around you that are intended for crashing instead.
Zildjian S Splash Cymbals
Here are the available splash cymbals in the S Series:
- 8” S splash
- 10” S splash
- 8” S China splash
- 10” S China splash
These cymbals are my least favorite in the S Series. While they all sound like regular high-pitched splash cymbals, they all have a lasting shimmer after you hit them. That resonating shimmer is what makes them sound quite cheap, in my opinion.
The regular splashes have a traditional sound, and the S China splashes have a trashier tone to them. I wouldn’t recommend getting these if you want splash cymbals that sound musical. They work quite well in cymbal stacks, though.
Zildjian S China Cymbals
Like the ride cymbals, you don’t have too many options here. You can only get a standard china in the S Series that is either 16” or 18”.
If you were to choose one, I’d highly recommend the 18-inch version. The 16-inch S china cymbal is incredibly loud and trashy. While that’s what you typically would want from a china, this one just isn’t the most pleasing sound to the ears.
The 18-inch S china sounds a lot better. It rings for a bit longer with a deeper tone, and that deep tone is what elevates it in my mind.
Zildjian S Effects Cymbals
Unfortunately, there aren’t any unique effects cymbals in the S Family. The only cymbal that could be considered as one would be the S Trash crash. However, it’s more of a crash than it is an effects cymbal.
There’s a cymbal called the Zildjian Trashformer that I used to think belonged to the S Family as it comes with one of the S Series packs. I later learned that it was actually part of Zildjian’s ZXT Series.
Zildjian S Stacks
There aren’t any premade stacks in the Zildjian S Series either. However, I discovered a few years ago that the Zildjian S cymbals make excellent additions to stacks. Since the cymbals are so thick, they act as a fantastic base layer.
I’ve tried using an S Series splash as a base with a few thinner splashes on top, and it sounded incredible.
If you’re a professional drummer who’s accustomed to high-quality cymbals, I think the best use of S Series cymbals would be for stacks. I hate buying expensive cymbals just to stack them together and kill the tone. So, getting cheaper cymbals like the S Series is the perfect solution.
Zildjian S Cymbal Packs
There is one main pack that is offered with S Series cymbals, and it’s called the Performer Pack. Here’s what you get:
- 14” S Mastersound hi-hats
- 16” S Medium Thin crash
- 18” S Medium Thin crash
- 20” S Medium ride
I think that Zildjian has chosen the best cymbals here. The Mastersound hi-hats are the best sounding ones out of all the hi-hat options, and the Medium thin crashes are the most versatile compared to the rock crashes.
I remember Zildjian selling an S Series Rock pack at one stage. However, it appears that they’ve stopped selling it. If you want the rock cymbals, you’ll need to buy them separately.
The Performer pack costs just under $500. That’s around the same price as one top-quality cymbal will cost, showing you how affordable these S cymbals are.
Meinl Classics Custom
The Meinl Classic Custom cymbals are slightly more expensive than the Zildjian S Series, but they’re the main competing cymbals from Meinl. They don’t have the same shimmering tones, making them sound slightly better.
However, they still share many of the same qualities. They’re bright, cutting, and loud. They’re a great option for rock, metal, and punk drummers. They’re also a good step up from entry-level cymbals.
I’ve always found these cymbals to be quite close in sound to the Zildjian A Customs. They’re not as high-quality, though.
I also love Meinl for their weird and wacky cymbals that have earthy, unlathed surfaces. The Classics Custom cymbals are more of a standard option, losing a bit of the Meinl attraction for me.
You can buy a Classics Custom box set that comes with the following cymbals:
- 14” Classics Custom Medium hats
- 16” Classics Custom Medium crash
- 18” Classics Custom Medium crash
- 20” Classic Custom Medium ride
- Tones are less shrill than the Zildjian S Series cymbals
- Great cymbals for punk, rock, and metal
- A bit more dynamically responsive than the Zildjian S Series cymbals
- More expensive than the S Series cymbals
The XSR cymbals are Sabian’s intermediate range of cymbals. They’re made of B20 bronze, making them sound a lot less rigid and causing their tones to sound more musical.
From this, you may think that they’re clearly the best option. However, there aren’t as many models, meaning there’s less choice of cymbal weights and sizes compared to the S Series. So, these are perfect if you can find the exact sizes that you want, but you may not find the cymbal types you’re looking for in the XSR Series.
One benefit this series of cymbals has, though, is the larger number of effects cymbals. The XSR Fast Stack is an incredibly unique cymbal that has an amazing sound.
Due to the cymbals being made from a B20 alloy, they’re more expensive than both the Zildjian S Series and the Meinl Classics Custom. You can get an XSR Performer cymbal pack for a decent price, though. Here’s what it comes with:
- 14” XSR hi-hats
- 16” XSR Fast crash
- 20” XSR ride
- Superior tone to the Zildjian S cymbals thanks to the B20 alloy
- Very dynamically responsive
- All the XSR cymbals are versatile
- More expensive than both the Zildjian S cymbals and the Meinl Classics Custom cymbals
Meinl Classics Custom Dark
My final alternative recommendation is the Meinl Classic Custom Dark Series. These cymbals are priced the same as the standard Classics Custom cymbals. They just have a widely different range of tones.
They’re a lot lower-pitched. However, they’re more aggressive than any other dark cymbals available on the market. These cymbals are mostly used by metal drummers, as their trashy and dark tones cater quite well to the style.
They’re also good for making cymbals stacks, similar to the Zildjian S cymbals.
I wouldn’t recommend using these for styles that aren’t rock or metal, though. You’ll find their tones far too aggressive for any softer styles of music.
The biggest benefit of them is the number of options you have with cymbal types. You can even buy an ultimate cymbal pack that comes with almost every cymbal you can think of. Here’s what you get with that:
- 16” Medium hi-hats
- 18” Medium crash
- 20” Medium crash
- 18” Medium Trash crash
- 22” Medium crash/ride
- 16” Medium Trash stack
- 18” Medium Trash china
- 12” Trash splash
- Great cymbals for rock and metal
- Large number of cymbal type options
- Unique dark appearance
- Not suitable for styles other than rock and metal
Answer: The Zildjian S cymbals are an intermediate range of cymbals while the A and K Customs are the top range of cymbals from Zildjian. The A Customs are a bit more affordable, and they share the same brightness and punchiness that the S Series cymbals have. However, the tones from the A Customs are a lot more pleasing to the ears.
The K Customs, on the other hand, are a lot richer and more complex. Most of Zildjian’s top-quality cymbals fall under the K Custom name. If you were to ask me what the best cymbal packs from Zildjian are, I’d mostly recommend any cymbals in the K Custom line.
If you have access to the A and K Customs, you’re going to find yourself not loving the sounds of the S Series cymbals.
Answer: I’d say that they’re great for heavy styles where harsh sounds are needed. They’re a perfect set of cymbals for a punk rock album. However, they lack depth and tonal richness for most other styles.
Darker and more complex cymbals are usually a better option for recording. They sound a lot better through microphones, and they’re easier to manage within a mix.
If a recording engineer were to have Zildjian cymbals on their drum kit, you’d mostly see a mixture of A Customs and K Customs. The A Customs are for a bit of brightness and punch while the K Customs are for the smooth and warm sounds.
Answer: No, the Planet Z cymbals are the cheapest cymbals that Zildjian has in their product line. They’re purely intended for beginners who aren’t accustomed to great cymbal sounds yet. They’re quite harsh and shrill in their sound, so I wouldn’t recommend them to most drummers.
Out of all the entry-level cymbals offered by different cymbal brands, I’d say that the Planet Zs are some of the worst-sounding ones. It would be better to get either Sabian SBr cymbals or Meinl HCS cymbals.
However, if a set of Planet Zs came with your kit and you’re learning how to play, they’ll work just fine.
Answer: Zildjian is one of the oldest brands in the world as the company was founded almost 400 years ago. With the brand being around for so long, it’s only natural that it would be one of the most popular.
However, I believe the biggest reason for their popularity is their artist roster. I grew up watching so many world-famous drummers that play Zildjian cymbals. Drummers such as Travis Barker, Dennis Chambers, Dave Grohl, and Gavin Harrison were hugely influential to me. All the drummers I know will say the same thing about other famous players who have used Zildjian cymbals over the years.
The Zildjian name has been boosted as so many great drummers use the cymbals. It’s a repeating process of aspiring drummers watching their favorite players use them and then buying them themselves.
Answer: The Zildjian ZHTs are what the S Series cymbals used to be. In 2016, Zildjian rereleased the cymbals under the new name and made a few adjustments such as the hammering and lathing being slightly different.
The sounds of the S Series cymbals are mostly the same as what the sounds of the ZHT cymbals were. They’re bright, heavy, and quite harsh.
You can’t buy new cymbals with the ZHT name anymore. If you manage to find them secondhand somewhere, know that they’ll be mostly the same as the newer S Series line.
The Zildjian S Family has become an iconic part of Zildjian’s lineup. While they’re not the highest-quality cymbals around, they will serve beginner and intermediate drummers fairly well. I highly suggest checking them out if you have entry-level cymbals and you want an upgrade.
If you’re a pro drummer, you should stick with the A and K Custom cymbals from Zildjian. The only use I’ve personally found for the S Series cymbals is to use with cymbal stacks.
Whatever use you have for these cymbals, know that Zildjian is one of the best cymbal brands that have ever existed, so their products can be trusted!
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