BY DAVID LIBMAN
Before receiving the Oracle series for review, I knew only a few things about Bosphorus cymbals: that they are made in Instanbul, Turkey entirely by hand, and that Jeff Hamilton and Stanton Moore endorse them. Those facts alone are enough to give any cymbal company street cred. But until now, my general impression of the particular models I’ve tried has been that Bosphorus excels at making lush-sounding jazz cymbals with lots of wash, personality, and trashiness – but not necessarily that much volume or articulation.
Enter Bosphorus’ new Oracle series, a set of cymbals developed through collaboration with veteran jazz drummer Ralph Peterson. Despite those jazz origins, non-jazz drummers should read on. The Oracles are well suited for many genres, including rock, country, Latin, funk, and whatever else you can think of, so pick your pleasure.
THE ORACLE FAMILY
I received every offering in the Oracle series: 22″ and 20″ rides, 18″ and 16″ crashes, and a set of 14″ hi-hats. Like all Bosphorus cymbals, these are made from B20 bronze (80 percent copper/20 percent tin), which is a universally accepted professional-tier cymbal alloy. Keep in mind, however, that B20 bronze is sort of like chicken (or should I say, Turkey): It can be average or fantastic depending on how it’s raised and what you do with it.
I’d guess this B20 bronze is more akin to free-range organic chicken (not the mass-marketed steroid-injected stuff), and that Bosphorus must have some magnificent chefs – er, cymbal smiths – back in Istanbul. The quality of the Oracle’s look and sound is simply stellar. Furthermore, although crafted entirely by hand, the Oracles are evenly weighted, nicely shaped with flat edges, and clearly durable (I pounded them with all my might).
Although new, the Oracles look ancient. Multiple hammer marks cover the cymbals’ surfaces from their edges through and including their un-lathed bells. The cymbal bows (i.e., the playing surface surrounding the bell) sport wide lathing with concentric circles. Unpolished, the Oracles have a grayish/copper patina similar to the color of an old penny. White Bosphorus logos adorn the cymbal’s tops and bottoms. Blue stamped model identifiers such as “CRASH” and “RIDE” with “Made in Turkey” designations complete the bottoms. The handmade look is reinforced by the cymbal smith’s signature on the inside bottom of the bells.
These cymbals have many quirks in their aesthetics: A few of the white logos were washed out in places by the lathing; the lettering on the blue stamp designations is imperfect; some of the surface areas have slight discolorations; and the lathing is not exactly exact. Yet this is not a bad thing – quite the opposite. The Oracle’s look discloses their reality: Actual human beings make these cymbals, not machines guided by Intel chips. The result is a look that is organic, unique, and, to my eyes, quite beautiful.
THE ORACLES SPEAK
One thing that differentiates cymbals from a lot of today’s pop music is that with cymbals, good looks alone are not enough to ensure success. It’s still all about the sound. Here’s where the Oracles really excel. Once I set up the Oracles and started playing them, it was as though the clouds parted, the sun rose, and I was suddenly able to see the light. Wow! (And no, I’m not on Bosphorus’ payroll). Let me repeat. Wow! Do they sound like other cymbals I’ve heard or played? No. Do they sound amazing? Oh yes.
Probably the best description of the Oracles’ sound came from my son Mathieu, who is not a drummer but quite a good guitar player with two drummer parents. “They don’t sound all manufactured,” he said. He’s right. But what does that mean more tangibly?
The 22″ and 20″ rides begin with a very well-rounded, articulate stick sound that is bathed with many mid-range overtones, some lows and less highs. Needless to say, the 22″ model sounds lower pitched and bigger than the 20″ model, but both are excellent. Moreover, both models are capable of full, loud, explosive crashes that are exceptional for ride cymbals – and truthfully better than a lot of the larger crash cymbals I’ve heard.
Although nicely defined, the stick sound that comes from these rides is neither pitchy nor piercing, yet it is simultaneously woody and metallic. The articulation allows for fast ride patterns. Better yet, these plates also have a subtle bed of mid and low hum/sustain surrounding the stick articulation that allows for lovely sounding slow ride patterns as well. These rides have sustain that evokes adjectives like “breathy” and “dignified.” “Trashy” or “washy,” however, would be inaccurate.
The ride bells speak with a louder and distinct voice from the cymbal bow. However, the bells are not piercing or particularly cutting, and they never totally abandon the sound of the rest of the cymbal. Rather, the bell sound remains surrounded by the entire cymbal’s resonance – making for an integrated, full sound.
The 18″ and 16″ crashes burst with fullness and plenty of volume – as much as you would ever need for most acoustic or amplified situations. Be warned, however, if you play with guitar players who like their amps to cause hearing loss, you would want to mike these cymbals to keep up. While emphasizing the mid frequencies and enough lows to keep the sound big, these crashes tend to avoid the higher overtones. As a result, they sound slightly gated and lack the shimmer that often barks from newer, more modern-sounding crashes. In this particular case, the lack of shimmer is not a negative because the sound integrates remarkably well with the rides.
In particular, when crashed, the 20″ ride and 18″ crash have different pitches – but not that different. The contrast comes from the fact that the 20″ ride has more bang and less swoosh, and the 18″ crash has just the opposite. The 16″ crash has similar characteristics to the 18″ model, but with a higher pitch. Truthfully, I was able to get all the crash sounds I would probably ever need from the 20″ ride and 18″ crash, and I like the fact that I can still ride the 18″ crash. Therefore, if I had to sacrifice one family member, it would be the 16″ crash. Still, if you can afford it, the higher pitch of the 16″ model helps to round out the sonic spectrum of the series.
The 14″ hi-hats have an acceptable, chunky foot chicksound that is full and loud enough but is sometimes burdened by air pockets. Once I got the correct angle on the bottom hat, that problem seemed to go away. I’ll confess that I generally prefer a bit more bite to my foot chick and gravitate toward 13″ hats for that reason. In a perfect world, I’d love to see Bosphorus add a 13″ set of hi-hats to the Oracle series, but the 14″ hats are very good if you like that size.
The stick sound on the 14″ hats impressed me because of the fact that the hats combine excellent articulation with plenty of surrounding spizz sound. The open hi-hat sound with both the foot and the sticks is big and splashy, yet sufficiently non-abrasive and musical to offer a gratifying hi-hat playing experience.
Having described the individual family members, I should say that as a series, the Oracles sound and feel aged but not old. Strike an Oracle – whether a ride, crash, or hi-hat – and you’ll see the entire cymbal vibrate with that magic ripple. The cymbals have a feel that is just hard enough to allow you to fully dig in, but soft enough to not feel brittle. On that note, I suppose you could crack one of these cymbals if you played it hard enough, but they never felt fragile under my sticks.
The Oracles are the kind of cymbals that probably make me look more like a fan boy than a credible reviewer. If they sucked, I’d say so. If I could find more critical things to say about them, I would. I suppose I could complain about the price, but that would be disingenuous. From my perspective, they’re worth every penny because of their playability, musicality, versatility, sonic depth, and volume range. My only suggestion is that Bosphorus should consider adding a set of 13″ hi-hats and a few splash and China cymbals to the series. You can never have too much of a good thing.
MODELS, SIZES & LIST PRICE
14″ Hats $685
16″ Crash $510
18″ Crash $540
20″ Ride $595
22″ Ride $695
New cymbal line designed with jazz veteran Ralph Peterson. These cymbals are made entirely by hand of B20 bronze and feature wide, shallow lathing with an unpolished fired patina finish.