BY AJ DONAHUE | FROM THE SUMMER 2018 ISSUE OF DRUM!
Finding the right pair of cymbals to build a cymbal stack isn’t always easy—or cheap. An effective stack combines different sounds to create a potent, staccato bark with just enough sizzle around the edge to give it some life. It’s not as easy as tossing any two cymbals on a stand and locking down a wingnut, because differences in cup shape and profile can lead to an uneven fit resulting in buzzing notes, lingering tones, and lots of wobbly weirdness.
Thankfully, Zildjian realized that most drummers today don’t have the resources to purchase a bunch of different cymbals just to experiment, so they produced a set of five pre-paired stacks designed to offer an easy and affordable path to that sound.
Zildjian’s new FX Stacks are available in five different sizes: 8″, 10″, 12″, 14″, and 16″. Each stack set includes a proprietary alloy bronze “top” cymbal with a random-ish array of half-inch holes across the bow and a steel “bottom” cymbal. All cymbals have matte finishes that feel just a little rough to the touch.
All FX Stacks also come with a special Zildjian-branded Cymbolt mount that easily drops on and off standard-sized cymbal stand posts. This is a really valuable little add-on, as it not only allows for easy mounting and transport, but it’s also long enough to accommodate hi-hat–style stacking (bottom edge to bottom edge), as well as bell-to-bell stacking. Plus, the Cymbolt’s removable bottom nut can be tightened or loosened along the threaded post to adjust the amount of play between the cymbals.
My one gripe with the Cymbolt is that there’s no quick-release mechanism for that bottom nut, which means you have to roll the thing all the way down the threaded post any time you want to flip or remove the cymbals. That might seem like a petty concern for an otherwise great product, but we’re talking about nearly three inches of post length and a pretty well-fitted nut. That’s some serious twistin’.
That said, Zildjian was nice enough to toss in a few extra felts with each unit
to mitigate that very issue.
SOUNDS ON SOUNDS
Going into this review, I expected the FX Stacks to have a fairly uniform sound and response respective to their sizes. But when I finally got them on stands, I was surprised to find some real differences in the way they played.
Before we get to that, however, let’s talk about shared qualities. In each model, the combination of bronze and steel cymbals provides a uniquely biting blend of clapping attack and static shock. These things bark big and loud, and they have no problem cutting through surrounding noise. I think Zildjian found a really effective combo here in steel and (what I’m guessing is) bronze with a pretty low tin content.
The two included cymbal types are fairly different on their own. Bronze pieces are on the lighter side and offer the kind of trashy, airy crash sounds you’d expect from a smaller cymbal with holes. Conversely, the steel pieces are heavier and respond to stick strikes with clean, bell-like tones. There’s a lot of sound in the individual cymbals, and I had just about as much fun creating little melodies with the isolated pieces as I did with the assembled stacks. But we’re here to talk about these units as stacks, so let’s get to it.
All five of the FX models share quick, barking responses followed by tight bursts of sizzle. Even with the Cymbolt nuts very loose, they are still quite contained. If your preference is for generous, buzzing stackers with a loose hi-hat–style sustain, you likely won’t find that here. What you will find is five instruments that sound a whole lot like the squashed, hyper-compressed hi-hat and snare samples common in much of today’s digitally produced music. In the bell-to-bell configuration, they produce mostly similar sounds that offer plenty of cutting sharpness and some trashy body.
That said, the 8″ and 12″ models strayed from the pack a bit. The 8″ stack has a much, much tighter spread than its bigger siblings, offering a pleasingly dry response that could probably be substituted for a handclap sample in live settings. On the other hand, the 12″ unit proved to be the slushiest of the bunch, which I think has to do with a very short, flat flange around the steel cymbal’s edge. The 14″ stack also has short flange on the steel cymbal, but it looks shorter and seems to affect response a bit less.
With the stacks flipped and in the hi-hat-style setup, all five models have a good bit more to say. They speak with a stronger presence of tinging, high-end frequencies and less trashy spread. Here, the adjustable nut can open up some additional sloshiness in the response, but even so, these are still very controlled pairs that settle quickly.
The 14″ and 16″ models were the biggest outliers in this configuration. The 14″ set was significantly slushier than the others (again, I think owing to that little flange), while the 16″ pair has a surprisingly strong low-end presence that seemed to come out of nowhere. That extra beefiness in the 16s is really satisfying, and seems outsized in relation to the other sets.
Finally, throughout this section, I’ve been assessing the sound of each model with the bronze piece on top, but there’s no reason the FX Stacks can’t be used with the steel cymbal in the prime position. I experimented with each set configured steel-up and found a really interesting mix of table-top tick and clanging punch. These sounds are a little less orthodox than what I hear in the bronze-up sets, but I think they’d be useful in improvised or industrial settings.
The folks at Zildjian, smartly recognizing the growing popularity of cymbal stacks among drummers throughout the musical spectrum, have created a series of preconfigured stacks that are effectively paired, and affordable too. Although they might have the look and price tag of budget-friendly instruments, I found them to be extremely playable, and sonically, they lacked nothing. I wish the Cymbolt unit came with a quick-release nut to speed up some of those changes, but otherwise, this is a fun, expressive, and satisfying set of cymbal stacks. They offer a whole lot of different sounds, and with the most expensive model coming in at only $170, they offer a lot of bang for the buck.
8″ FX Stack $99.95
10″ FX Stack $119.95
12″ FX Stack $129.95
14″ FX Stack $149.95
16″ FX Stack $169.95