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Hands-On Review: Sabian HHX Cymbals

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The Modern Dark Sound

By Mike Fitch
Musician’s Friend Staff Writer

Many of today’s greatest drummers lean toward the dark end of the sonic spectrum when it comes to their cymbal sounds. It was the quest for dark, rich, subtle cymbal sounds that led the great jazz drummers into back-alley music shops from Istanbul to Brooklyn in search of the vaunted dark, rich, smoldering tone of handmade vintage Turkish cymbals. But while these older cymbals and the many modern imitations they spawned had the sought-after darkness, they lacked the definition and projection to drive the heavily rhythmic, groove-oriented styles of rock, pop, fusion, and other contemporary music.

While Sabian’s HH series covers that vintage dark side, their HHX Series lets drummers have it both ways with a modern dark, hot, simmering tonal vocabulary that also delivers the focus and cut to project through harder-edged modern musical settings. To accomplish this, Sabian designed an innovative feature called “Tone Projection.” A unique combination of shaping, lathing, and jumbo-peen hammering, “Tone Projection” enhances the lower, darker end then projects it through the music. I recently tried out several of the newest HHX ride, crash, and hi-hat models, and here are my thoughts.

B20 Bronze - Acoustic Alchemy

B20 bronze, renowned among cymbal makers for its musicality and durability, is the alloy of choice for HHX cymbals. Sabian’s premium B20 bronze is a unique mixture of bronze and tin, with a touch of silver added. But using great bronze doesn’t guarantee a great cymbal. The processes of shaping, heating, tempering, and hammering all play critical roles in creating the sound. Parts of the Sabian process are mysterious and remain a family secret. But when it comes to playing HHX, your ears will tell you all you really need to know.

In the groove

Lathing is the process of cutting radial grooves into the cymbal surface, and on both the top and bottom of HHX cymbals you’ll find a variety of grooves from shallow and narrow to deep and wide. These influence the tension of the cymbal metal and enhance response and feel. The pinpoint lathing on the top leaves much of the cymbal surface as smooth as glass, interrupted only by the dimples of the hammering. The large bell, though hammered, is left unlathed to maximize response volume, focus and projection. The resulting looks are just as arresting as the sounds.

HHX Groove Ride – master’s metal

Sabian HHX 21" Groove Ride Cymbal

The HHX 21" Groove Ride is the result of a joint effort between Sabian and renowned R&B drummer Zoro. The goal was to create a cymbal with good definition and clarity for driving, groove-oriented playing, while retaining a wide, controlled bed of tone.

The Groove Ride is a medium-thin model with an overall dark and complex sound, yet it is capable of great focus and projection, especially when played on its large bell. The underlying wash of tones never sounds muddy or threatens to capsize. By varying my sticking touch and force I was able to create a wide spectrum of different colors and effects, all with total control over the cymbal’s dynamics.

Perhaps Zoro put it best, “I'm into the feel of the music, so the feel of my cymbals is very important. I want definition without stick shock. I like them soft. . . I want to be able to sink my stick into the cymbal and make it speak to me, not scream.”

HHX X-Celerator Hats – the hat makes the man

Sabian HHX X-Celerator Hi Hat Cymbals

HHX X-Celerator Hats combine a medium-weight top full of HHX tone, and a heavy, contoured “Air Wave” bottom. The rippled contour of the bottom releases air when the cymbals come together, preventing sound-muting airlock. This boosts speed, crispness, and clarity for an optimum blend of tone and projection.

I’d tried “wavy-bottom” hi-hats of various types before and found them to be kind of harsh and too bright. But these X-Celerator Hats sounded great—they projected crisp high-end well, yet didn’t add excessive volume or sound too metallic.

As they do with all hi-hats, Sabian sonically matches the top and bottom cymbals of X-Celerator Hats, so you know their tonal frequencies work well together.

HHX X-Plosion Crash – volcanic 20"

Sabian HHX Plosion Crash Cymbal

Large crashes in this realm are for those who need exceptional power in their cymbals, and the 20" HHX X-Plosion is up to the task. This crash puts out intense sound, yet never gets out of hand as larger crashes are apt to do. When struck, the sound peaks in intensity like the crest of a wave, then descends into a warm, shimmering finish.

The HHX X-Plosion provides the kind of rich, vivid crash sound that players in rock, funk, fusion, and other volume-heavy styles seek, yet it also has the subtlety and tone for jazz.

HHX X-Plosion 16" Crash – fire and ice

The 16" HHX X-Plosion responds and decays quickly yet has an amazingly full, vibrant sound. I was very impressed with it's dual-faceted personality, capable of both intense, ice-cold highs and a deep, dark presence in the low end. If you think all 16" crashes sound the same, you haven’t tried this X-Plosion. It’s one of the darkest crashes I’ve heard, yet somehow its sound rises phoenix-like above the mix.

The best of both worlds

When experienced drummers play a cymbal, they know right away if the cymbal has “got it”—a full sound and response that is instantly heard and felt. HHX cymbals have both the dark, full, warm depth of old world cymbals as well as the bright focus and projection needed for contemporary music. Cymbals are instruments that should be chosen with care, because your choice will likely be an integral part of your sound for a long time to come. Give Sabian HHX cymbals a listen—they’re the real deal.

Features & Specs

HHX Groove Ride:

  • 21"

HHX X-Celerator Hi-hats:

  • Available in 13", 14", and 15" sizes

HHXplosion Crash:

  • Available in 14", 15", 16", 17", 18", 19", and 20" sizes

Tags: Cymbals Acoustic Drums Sabian

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