Good Information About Cymbals & Cymbal Listening Guide

The following comments were written by Rob Zollman
of  Whole Music Learning
LLC / Hands-On Music VT.

 It’s not the brand, it’s the cymbal
I’ve never bought cymbals by brand, because to me the only important thing is how good a cymbal sounds. Every brand has its good ones and bad ones, and everything in between. A good cymbal is a good cymbal regardless of the company that made it. But what’s a good cymbal? One’s person’s pleasure is another’s poison. In other words, we each have our opinions.

To make things more complicated, no two cymbals sound alike (except for low budget mass produced cymbals). That leaves it up to you, the player, to search and discover the best cymbals for your needs. Judge each cymbal’s sound in terms of how you like it and how you plan to use it.  

I don’t mean to attack some of the common notions about brands, and even models. Cymbal companies create different models so they can 1) give you a system to help you organize and maybe make sense of all the possibilities, and 2) make more money. What I’m saying is that, even though there are so many choices, it boils down to what seems good to your sensibilitie

But now I’ll go out on a limb. Certain cymbal sounds and general qualities, just seem more pleasing to a greater number of listeners and players than others. And some of us, including me, have listened to cymbals for so long and in so many different applications that we have arrived at some rough standards, which, surprisingly, we sometimes agree on. We’ve even developed a cymbal “vocabulary” of terms and descriptions, in order to verbally describe cymbals to each other, and explain why we like or don’t like them. We use words like dark, bright, dry, thin, full, buttery, edgy, trashy and washy, along with common terms such as highs, lows and mid-range frequencies. We also bring in historical references: old K’s, very old (Constantinople K’s), ’60s Zildjians, etc.

In the end, though, if you could use the words to fully describe the experience of listening and playing cymbals, we wouldn’t need the cymbals.

Bosphorus Cymbals
While I’ve said that cymbal companies are all about the same to me, I’ve also observed that a couple of companies make an unusually high percentage of better sounding cymbals, at least to my ears. One such company is Bosphorus Cymbals.

Bosphorus has been around for awhile. Their basic models are consistently good from the beginning, and they continue to introduce new lines that seem to fit, rather than overflow their own offerings with endless choices. I find the brands that do this tend to be confusing. More is not necessarily better. So my current front runner is Bosphorus, with Istanbul Mehmet a close second. Have a listen to Istanbul’s Tony Williams Tribute Series and you’ll hear why this company is worth considering. 

Audio and Video Files
Here at Hands-On Music, we make a recording and/or video of each cymbal we sell. This is intended to help you make intelligent and appropriate choices, so that you feel good about the cymbals you play.

In each audio file, I make comments and play the cymbal in a variety of ways (see below Listening Guide. I try to be objective, but I also give my opinions. While it may be better to avoid giving opinions altogether, as a long time cymbal player, I draw on my experiences to recognize and identify certain characteristics and communicate these to you. Fortunately people have generally appreciated me doing this.

If you’re just starting out and haven’t yet acquired an ear for cymbals, I urge you to gather your own experiences and make your own judgments. I hope I’m able to help.


For maximum fidelity I recommend you listen
through headphones or bigger speakers.

PLEASE NOTE:  As each cymbal has its own unique set of sounds, you will not hear the same sound file for two different cymbals. However, some things that don’t change from one sound file to the next. To avoid saying the same things on each sound file, the following applies to nearly all of my cymbal demos.

1.  Each cymbal demonstration starts with telling you the cymbal brand, size and model, followed by its unique stock number. For example, “here is the Dream Bliss 20” crash/ride #BCRRI20-01”. Then I may give a brief visual description of the cymbal.  [Please note: Most of the photographs are taken indoors using reflective daytime light, and not using a flash. Highlights are particular to these lighting conditions and will change depending on other conditions.

2. About cymbal weights  It has become common practice to give cymbal weights, usually in grams. In over 40 years of cymbal buying and collecting, I have never weighed my cymbals, nor have I ever made a spending decision based on cymbal weight. That being said, in consideration of my customers’ requests for cymbal weights, I’ve purchased a digital scale. If not already included, cymbal weight will soon be a part of each description. 

3. Different sticks result in different qualities of sound. Variables include tips, size, shape, weight, material and brand. While I can’t go crazy demonstrating lots of different sticks, I do believe the single most variable, particularly when it comes to the sound of a cymbal ride, is the shape of the stick tip.

Accordingly, most cymbals are demonstrated with a variety of sticks having ball, acorn, and/or olive tips. This is usually explained in the sound file. Unless otherwise noted, sticks are hickory and in the vicinity of 5A weight and size. This covers a fair amount of ground where sticks are concerned.

4.  Different locations on the cymbal result in different sound qualities. I demonstrate rides close to the edge, in the middle and closer to the bell or cup. I also demonstrate the sound of the stick tip and shaft on the bell.

5. Crashes are demonstrated using the shaft (upper shoulder) of the stick.

6. Each demonstration includes a roll played with marimba mallets. For splash cymbals and smaller crashes, I’ll play a choke.

7. Hihats are demonstrated with a variety of open and closed techniques. I also strike each cymbal individually, and may roll on each cymbal. Some pairs of hihats have “top” and “bottom” written on them, others don’t. In any case, I’ll start with the lighter cymbal on top, and I may reverse the cymbals as well.

8. Comparisons and uncommon uses  From time to time I may compare a cymbal of one brand, model and size with others of the same model and size. I may also point out uncommon uses I’ve found for a particular cymbal or cymbals. For example, I’ve found pairs of 12” splash to be interesting as hihats, or pairs of 18” crashes to work very well as a pair of handheld crash cymbals for band or orchestra.

All demonstrations are subject to microphone, recording and reproductive qualities and differences. No demo can replace the actual sound of being there. Even live experiences vary from room to room, playing with or without music, etc.