BY JOHN NYMAN
Sabian’s new HHX cymbals are a fusion of old ideas pounded into a shape that projects in a new way. Sabian calls the resultant secret mojo of their new HHX line “Tone Projection.” They sent us a couple boxes of cymbals and here’s what DRUM! found out when we searched beyond the brilliant buzzwords to ask the big questions and play the metal firsthand.
The 14 types of cymbals in the HHX line are from the bloodline of Sabian’s Hand Hammered cymbals and AAX cymbals. The idea that Sabian had – which took some five or six years to bring to fruition – was to get the warm, slightly dirty sounds of hand hammered cymbals to speak up and kick ass. To that end, the HHX line sports a taller profile than traditional, hand-hammered cymbals like old-school Zildjian K’s, Sabian Hand Hammered, and several others of the ilk. To add to the dirt and funk of the sound, Sabian leaves most of the bells raw and all the finishes natural, and this aggressive look catches your eye right away. In fact, your intrepid DRUM! reporter was reviewing the catalog while getting coffee’d up at a breakfast counter. The lady in the next chair said, “Is that a laser surgery brochure? Oh. It looked like a catalog of eyes.” Remember that one the next time someone says drummers are weird.
Sabian made many a prototype as part of their diligent research and development. (A few vague and interesting stories were heard about half-finished artist’s models being mistakenly shipped elsewhere and then inspiring further wacky ideas from other artists. Such is the folly of the cymbal maker’s muse.) The result of Sabian’s diligence is a line of cymbals with a new look, a family of tonal cousins that make sense to the ear and the eye and are different than other Sabian cymbals.
The problem with loving cousins is picking out the best ones. Our test batch included a Dry Ride, Power Ride and Stage Ride; some HHXtreme crashes (they used to be called HH Fierce Crashes), Power, Studio, and Stage crashes, some Groove Hats (formerly Manhattan Groove Hats), a couple of Chinese cymbals and a couple of splashes. We started with the rides.
The HHX Power Ride is offered in 20″ only, and it is a heavyweight cymbal. There are numerous tool marks on the face, increasing the raw, sexy appeal. I unzipped the front of the cymbal bag and slid my hand inside to caress the rounded orbs of … oops! Sorry. Wrong column. There are extra tool marks on this one, which looks really good, and the sound is ping, ping, ping! Very clear stick definition, very little roar, lots of fat stick sound. This has little sonic tie to a traditional hand-hammered ride. This is more of a heavy rock ride with lots of warmth and consistently focused stick attack. Playing the loud, clear, raw bell, by the way, feels weird. All those large dimples feel funny under your stick. Kind of fun.
The 21″ HHX Dry Ride is not always dry but it sure is good. This one, to our ears, sounds more like a traditional hand-hammered cymbal but with bigger ballsaciousness. The rather modest, low profile bell is low-pitched. Stick definition is good but always surrounded by a slight roar and wash. Interestingly, played with a small to medium-weight stick, say up to a 5A with a small oval or acorn head, the attack was very dry and clear with a nice “tah” sound, each stroke like a lone flower in a desert. We liked it. Played with a bigger stick, in this case say a 5B or 2B, acorn head, the cymbal reacted completely different: less dry, more ping, more high end, even more lovely roar and wash. Sticks always make ride cymbals sound different, but this was notable.
The Stage Ride sounds surprisingly related to the Dry Ride. Is the Stage Ride dry or does the Dry Ride belong on stage? Both sound hand-hammered; that is, they have warmth and roar and wash. The Dry Ride is a much heavier cymbal; the Stage Ride has more low-end frequencies in its roar. The Stage ride’s stick attack is more muted and is in danger of being overrun by the wash sound. Caught in a descriptive corner I would call the Stage Ride a medium-weight ride with good warmth.
A whole set of HHX cymbals mounted on stands is quite a visual treat. The raw bells are like swollen brown aureoles, swinging and swaying … sorry! Wrong column again. They are a striking lot … sorry! And the extra-large hammer marks make fantastic ripples of reflected light from the 20,000 lighters held aloft at the Staples Cen … sorry!
All of the HHX cymbals have large hammer marks. Sabian ended up with a “super-sized” hammering method, because, as one Sabian spokesperson said, “It’s not just the metal. It’s what the metal goes through on its way to becoming a cymbal.” The jumbo hammering is purported to change the way the metal sounds because of the increased compression of the cast B20 bronze. They smack the cymbal hard with the hand hammer, and the trick, the spokesperson said, was to womp that sucker without putting a hole right through it. Many drummers have that problem every night with their crash cymbals.
The HHX crash cymbals are a healthy assortment. The four we received (we didn’t get the Manhattan crash) are very different from each other. Studio, Stage, Power, and Extreme cymbals cover a wide range of sounds. The overall sound of HHX crash cymbals is one of low-end mass and terrific high end “shimmer.” Some sizes suit their model better than others do. For instance, in the Studio line, the 14″ is superlative in its balance of tone, attack and decay. Several HHX cymbals sounded bigger than expected.
The Studio Crashes are thin weight and they speak quickly and clearly. Good low frequencies in both 14″ and 16″, and both were keepers, but the better high-end shimmer and tonal balance was found in the 14″ (we didn’t test the 18″). These are sweet cymbals, not rude cymbals. The Studio crashes are recommended listening unless you need a real aggressive or dominating sound, and in all perusing of HHX cymbals we suggest you listen to sizes outside of your normal range of favorites.
Stage Crashes have more body in the attack than Studio crashes and less of a “tail.” They have a dominant low-end sound with a high shimmer that seems to “float” above the low attack. These do attain the “Auto-Focus Response” phenomena that Sabian ascribes to their AAX line – they sound the same if tapped or if whapped. They come in 16″ and 18″ (we particularly dug the 16″).
The Power series is heaviest in weight. The 16″ sounded similar to many “really good” heavy 16″ crashes we’ve heard, and sounded like some 18″ crashes we’ve heard, too! But whomping on the beefy, 18″ Power Crash is like shoving a destroyer out to sea by hand. You feel the weight of the cymbal under your stick – it pushes back – and once you’ve whomped that sucker hard enough to make it go it obliterates all frequencies for a split second. Not a versatile cymbal, but, like a fully armed destroyer, it certainly gets the job done. The sound is predominantly low, massive and metallic, keeping its sonic ties with the raw, flat piece of metal it once was, with the excellent high-end shimmer of the Studio Crashes. Recommended for those of you who now converse mostly in American Sign Language. Available in 16″ and 18″.
The HHXtreme crash cymbals are weird. Good weird. Formerly called HH Fierce Crashes, these are loud and weird, bright and funky. For those of you who never investigated them under their previous name, we’ll cover them here.
HHXtreme crashes, tapped lightly, give the wash and roar and honk of mutated Chinese cymbals or gongs. They’re funky looking, too, with a low profile and an unhammered strip around the circumference. However, when you hit ’em hard, the HHXtreme crashes sound like a thin crash with a cutting, white noise roar that would easily carry it through loud and dense music. They keep their sonic ties to Chinese cymbals (or trashcan lids) but they are bright and clear. If you like the idea of a “thin” sounding cymbal that roars through the music, check these out. These will sell some earplugs, too. The roar and attack of the cymbals took our ears off right at the root. Sabian stops shy of calling it a specialty cymbal but we don’t. The HHXtreme crash is an uproarious specialty cymbal for drummers who need a cymbal with lots of juice. The sound is too weird (and too good) to just call it a crash. Available in 16″, 17″, 18″, 19″ sizes. Larger sizes recommended.
Chinese came to us in both available sizes, 18″ and 20″. There is no subtlety to these cymbals. Leapin’ lizards, flying pintos! These say, “Attack, attack!” and none too subtly, either. Very little “gong” sound to these Chinese, it’s all that oriental “whang” and it’s loud and shrill. A bit too thin for use as a jazzy Chinese ride, these are aggressive, one-punch Chinese crashes.
HHX hi-hats are available in three flavors: Groove Hats, Stage Hats, and Power Hats. The easiest description would be light, medium, and heavy, respectively.
HHX Groove Hats are Sabian’s attempt to recreate the old-school sound of the funky ’60s and ’70s. And they did, but it all depends on what records you liked in the funky ’60s and ’70s! They come in 13″, 14″, and 15″ sizes, which pretty much makes for a wide range of sounds, so I’m not sure which ’old school’ hats Sabian was copying. These Groove Hats are not sweet and gentle, like 40-year old A hats. This is not Irv Cottler playing a subtle verse in a Sinatra tune. It’s not quite Gaylord Birch on the Pointer Sisters “Yes We Can Can,” either. But the 13″ Groove Hats are damn close to Zigaboo Modeliste playing that “Cissy Strut” with The Meters. Funky retro.
The HHX Groove Hats are always slightly dirty, with lots of ’kah’ in a half-open position. Thin enough to readily change pitch when you press your foot down, they are still very fat sounding. Stick definition is very good in the 15″ hats, much less so in the 13″ hats. The 14″ HHX Groove Hats are in between the two on stick definition but they cut like crazy! Our ears are wrecked! In a good, funky way! Definitely a warm, hand-hammered, nasty swampy hi-hat with full penetration. The 15″ and 13″ are the most exciting. The Groove Hats do not have raw bells.
Stage Hats have tremendous focus in the 13″ size. These would be perfect for tight, fast, drum ’n’ bass work that requires clarity of stick articulation and open and closed “barks” and “pea-soups.” They retain the warmth of hand hammering, too. Foot-chick sound is low-end, almost dull, not bright. The foot-chick of the 14″ Stage Hats is much stronger. These have a strong perceived mid-range sound. Stick definition is okay. The 14″ hats are “normal” enough to go against other 14″ cymbals in a blind test and lose on account of boredom. The 13″ hats are going to be perfect for lots of contemporary drummers.
Power Hats come only in the 14″ size and they are heavy. These are hats for some loud situations. Played quite softly they give off annoying overtones. It’s like trying to mosey to the store for a quart of milk in a Dodge Viper. It just doesn’t work very well. But they are nice and warm, perhaps more so than other thick, heavy cymbals made for loud situations. The foot-chick sound is as assertive as slamming a car door; open and closed sounds are metallic and midrange heavy.
HHX Splash cymbals come in 10″ and 12″ sizes. They’re a good match as a pair, with a nice interval between them. The 10″ is quite bright – as we expected – but the 12″ has a lot of “kuh” in the sound. Both are louder and more full-bodied than other splash cymbals we’ve heard. The 12″ could pass as a crash cymbal instead of a splash. We hope Sabian develops an 8″ HHX splash.
The HHX cymbals are a bold and raw looking bunch. They all have the dimpled surface of jumbo hammer victims. The HHX cymbals are handsome and look very cool splayed all over a drum set. (Oooh! Perfect with that “Eyeball” drum set from Pork Pie shown in the March/April 2001 issue.) The sounds, as Sabian claims, are both warm and cutting, effectively combining hand-hammered warmth with rock and roll projection. Check them out.