BY AJ DONAHUE | FROM DRUM! MAGAZINE’S MAY 2018 ISSUE
Sound and volume control are two of the biggest trends in new percussion product development right now, and drummers have more sound-shaping aids available to them than ever before. But somehow, the world of cymbal-specific tone-tamers hasn’t quite caught up with what’s available for drums. Most of what’s on shelves now effectively amounts to different types of on/off switches that leave cymbals feeling unlike cymbals at all.
Enter Sabian’s FRX series. The new-for-2018 line is designed to offer volume and sound control without sacrificing musicality. Per the company’s literature, these aren’t substitutes for “real cymbals.” The FRX (short for Frequency Reduction) models are high-caliber cymbals built with gigging drummers in mind.
The Hole Truth
FRX cymbals look a good bit like Sabian’s HHX models with their natural bronze finishes, fine lathing, large hammering in radial patterns throughout the top-side bow, and bells that appear to be unlathed on both top and bottom. That’s no coincidence. We caught up with Sabian product specialist Mark Love at Winter NAMM 2018, where Sabian debuted the FRX series, and he told Drum that they are, in fact, based off the HHX line. They’re shaped from B20 bronze, and all land in the medium to medium-thin range. Absent the frequency-regulating treatments, these are no different than professional-grade cymbals in every respect.
But that modification makes a world of difference. The treatment utilizes dozens of 1/8″ diameter holes in tight rings at key points in each cymbal’s profile to reduce surface tension and mitigate certain frequencies. It audibly targets higher frequencies (along with some midrange spread and, surprisingly, lower frequency muddiness) to reduce the presence of tones our ears perceive as loud or disruptive. This innovation comes at a time when sound management is an increasingly important subject for countless players. But the question is, does the FRX design live up to expectations?
Available in 16″, 17″, and 18″ sizes, the FRX crashes are in the medium-thin weight range, cut with medium profiles and slightly oversized bells. Each crash features eight rows of holes starting about half way down the bell and running to just over an inch of the bow.
I love these crashes. They’re dark, breathy, controlled, and even from start to finish. The FRX punctuators aren’t quite as trashy or explosive as other holey crashes, but they’ve got a hint of that character. They respond quickly at all volumes, and disappear just as quickly.
Because most crash cymbals lean hard into the upper registers, scooping out those cutting high tones without robbing the cymbals of their crashability seems like a tough task, but Sabian nailed it here. The FRX models are present enough to stay afloat alongside heavily amplified guitars, but not quite loud enough to swallow up surrounding instrument noise. They sit beautifully in low-volume settings, and have a buttery, modern jazz crash sort of thing that I think makes them sound a bit larger than they are.
In the press materials Sabian sent over, the company was pretty clear that the FRX cymbals are designed to allow you to play the way you want to play (read: hard) without having to worry as much about excess cymbal noise. I was concerned about the impact of adding a bunch of holes around the stress point of each cymbal’s bell-to-bow transition area, that it might increase the risk of cracking, so I did what any responsible product tester would do, and I wailed on them like George Foreman in his prime.
Cut back to our conversation with Love at NAMM. He said years of work went into this particular design aspect. Placing holes too close together runs the risk of damage to the cymbal; too far apart doesn’t give the desired frequency reduction; too many holes started creeping into effect territory. Finding the right balance required tons of research and development.
Well, I’m pleased to report that after more than a month of brutal bashing, I’ve yet to see any evidence of cracks or breaks. That feels like a good sign.
The line also includes 20″ and 21″ rides that sit a little closer to medium weight, with profiles that lean toward the shallow side. Both rides sport the same hole pattern seen on the crashes, but also feature three rings of holes about an inch away from the edge.
The rides have a dusty ping that trends toward dry, but doesn’t quite get all the way there. I’d call them bright-dry. Both are quick, articulate, and just cutting enough to hang in almost any situation. The shaved highs make a noticeable difference in how aggressively the notes hit my ear, but the rides still sound lively and somewhat sparkling. Their bells have a kind of thunk-ing tone that projects well, but isn’t quite as rich as what you’d hear from a traditional cymbal.
Both share a somewhat clang-y edge crash when played alone, but when I brought them to a loud rock band rehearsal, I was surprised by how much more effective I found that crash sound to be. The low gongy-ness disappeared into the surrounding noise, leaving a broad, slow-ish bwah supplemented by just a touch of shimmer.
On their own, the 14″ FRX hi-hats were my least favorite member of the family. The pairing of a thin top over medium bottom featured the fewest perforations of the entire group, with only the top cymbal bearing a single ring of tiny holes at the base of the bell. Played closed, they have a ticking, almost plastic-y quality that just doesn’t project much sweetness or sparkle, if any.
But again, my opinion completely changed when I brought them to a couple of band rehearsals. The overly contained, knocking sounds I heard initially somehow fit beautifully next to other instruments. The hats are very tight, but that extreme control offers a ton of articulation, making them an excellent complement for electric bass. And no matter how hard I hit them, they never really boiled over when played open.
I wouldn’t say the FRX hats are bright or cutting enough to handle heavy metal, but they’re surprisingly capable in almost any other style because they never step on any toes.
Disappearing Frequency Trick
I wanted to see if I could more accurately identify the frequencies affected by Sabian’s FRX design, so I did a couple of recording comps against another set of similarly sized and weighted cymbals.
In my microphones, there was a notably reduced presence below 300 Hz and above 8 kHz. I expected to see lower peaks in the higher register, but was surprised to see that sharp of a drop in the low end. Targeting those tones makes sense though, as lower midrange sounds can be as disruptive to our ears as higher notes by creating muddiness and affecting what we hear as definition. Additionally, I noticed that the crashes and rides weren’t as hot in the 500 Hz to 1.2 kHz range, which helps control some of the midrange roar that can quickly overtake other instruments. Fascinating stuff, I know.
Sabian’s FRX cymbals are controlled, smooth, and musical at all volumes. And while the company is rightfully reluctant to call the FRX models “low-volume” alternatives, these cymbals can definitely help drummers struggling with perceived loudness problems. These cymbals don’t sacrifice tone and quality for volume control. These are professional-grade instruments designed with sound management in mind. (They were even used in the Super Bowl halftime show.)
Plus, while they work exceptionally well as a family, they could easily work with other cymbals too.