BY DAVID E. LIBMAN
Dream Cymbals entered the global cymbal market in 2005, as a Canadian operation selling handmade cymbals from China. The brand may be relatively new, but its factory in China’s Wuhan region has produced world-class gongs for generations.
The company offers several Western-style lines of cymbals based on specs provided by its Canadian designers. The craftsmen at Dream’s Chinese factory apply generations of experience working with B20 bronze (the 80 percent copper/20 percent tin alloy used for many manufacturers’ top cymbal lines) in their creation of Dream’s Western-style Vintage Bliss, Bliss, Contact, and Energy lines. At the same time, Dream offers Chinese-style cymbals in its Lion/China Series, Han Series, and Jing Series.
I didn’t know much about Dream before receiving a selection of its cymbals, so I was able to evaluate the models I received without preconceptions.
Dream sent me 24″ Contact rides, 24″ Bliss rides, 22″ Vintage Bliss crash/rides, 22″ Bliss paper thin crash/rides, 20″ Vintage Bliss crash/rides, and 20″ Bliss crash/rides. I also received 13″ and 15″ Bliss hi-hats. When I cracked open the boxes, my first impression was that the cymbals look like they were teleported — brand new — from the 1940s or ’50s. Dream forges, hammers, and lathes its cymbals all by hand. The human element comes through in their appearance. The surface areas of the Vintage Bliss and Bliss lines sport ultra-thin stripes created by micro-lathing. The Contact line has wider lathing and striping. Under shiny yet non-brilliant surfaces, various indentations and hammering marks emphasize the Dream cymbals’ handmade look. Attractive black logos, but generic-looking identifying text (such as 22″ crash/ride), complete the cymbals’ decidedly old-school appearance.
The Vintage Bliss and Bliss lines are very thin. The Contact line is thicker, but not much. As a result, despite some large diameters, these cymbals don’t feel particularly heavy. I was able to suspend the 24″ rides on a lightweight stand without any balancing problems. When played, the Dreams wobble from bell to edge like vintage cymbals. Nonetheless, when played hard, these cymbals feel flexible and sturdy. I didn’t sense that they would easily crack or dent.
The completely handmade aspect of these cymbals shows through in some of their imperfections. When placed on an angled cymbal stand, most of the 20–24″ models settle to a resting place caused by a slightly heavier sweet spot. Some of the cymbals’ edges are not quite straight or slightly sharp to the touch. I’ve never been bothered much by such cosmetic irregularities in cymbals. To me, the most important thing is the cymbal’s sound and feel. However, if you’re looking for a perfect-looking cymbal, some of the Dreams may not live up to your expectations.
A DREAM COME TRUE
At first, it struck me as a bit over-the-top that Dream sent me two of each model, but it made more sense once I started playing these platters. None of them sound alike — not even two identical models. For example, I didn’t like one of the 22″ Bliss crash/rides, but the other one may be one of the best-sounding cymbals I’ve played. In fact, among the batch of cymbals I received, some are real gems. The fact that each cymbal has a unique voice allowed me to sound more unique when I played them.
Despite their individual differences, Dream cymbals on the whole produce a decidedly jazzy sound — in part, due to long sustain, and a remarkably wide overtone series that heavily emphasizes darker, lower tones. (I didn’t receive any of the Energy line cymbals, but I understand they’re for harder hitters and would suspect they have a less jazzy sound.)
The Dreams’ lower frequencies sing warmly and more delicately than the barking roars that sometimes come from Chinese-style cymbals. All of the cymbals’ bells — from the 20″ to the 24″ models — sound clear, un-choked, tuned, and distinct from the rest of the cymbal without being piercing. These cymbals speak with an aged quality and a distinct overtone series that differentiates them from other Western, European, or Turkish cymbal brands that I’ve played. Keep in mind that I received two of each model, so my description in each case focuses on my favorite of the pair.
24″ CONTACT & BLISS RIDES
Both provide excellent, woody stick definition with the ping of a flat ride, no doubt due to their relatively flat bow. The 24″ Contact ride offers more aggressive stick articulation and an underlying dark swell, while the 24″ Bliss is more delicate and glassy, with a small yet distinctive-sounding bell. I enjoyed both 24″ models, but the subtlety of the 24″ Bliss appeals more to my jazz sensibilities. Despite its large size, the 24″ Bliss ride possesses a controllable dynamic range that allows it to work well as a main ride cymbal for many styles of music.
22″ VINTAGE BLISS RIDE
This was my favorite cymbal of the bunch. When played lightly with stick tips, it projects a warm, woody articulation surrounded by a swell of low, sizzling overtones. At louder volumes it retains stick articulation, which is never overpowered by the underlying overtone spread. When crashed, this cymbal roars and then decays quickly enough to begin a ride pattern again almost immediately. It also exemplifies how cosmetic imperfections do not necessarily negatively affect a cymbal’s sound. Despite an obvious dent on its edge, I found this cymbal’s sound and forgiving feel to be utterly fantastic.
22″ BLISS PAPER THIN/CRASH RIDE
Thin enough to invert by hand, but flexible enough that I don’t think it would crack easily, this cymbal explodes with a trashy wall of sound indicative of a small tam-tam. Despite its “crash/ride” label, it works best as a crash, although you may not crash it throughout a song. Still, it’s an excellent effects cymbal for more selective use.
20″ VINTAGE BLISS CRASH/RIDE
This fine-sounding crash maintains decent stick articulation when played as a ride, but has a dominant low pitch that’s a bit much for my taste. While I wouldn’t want this as a main ride, I would certainly use it as a crash/ride along with one of the 24″ or 22″ models as a primary ride.
20″ BLISS CRASH/RIDE
Again, Dream could drop the “ride” part of the label, because this cymbal plays much more like a crash, bursting with a powerful wash of lows and personality. But while it provides acceptable stick articulation, it had slightly too much pitch and swell to work as a main ride.
13″ & 15″ BLISS HI-HATS
These hats lack air holes, flat or wavy bottoms, rivets, un-lathed bells, or any of the other features found on many modern hi-hats. But these cymbals didn’t need gimmicks to consistently give clear and crisp foot chicks without air pockets, splashy open foot sounds, and a truly comfortable foot feel. Even the 15″ set is relatively light in weight.
When played with sticks, the hi-hats provide an articulate and wide dynamic range that emphasizes the spizz-aspect of the sound. As one would expect, the 15″ hats have a lower pitch and more chunk to their sound, while the 13″ hats sound lighter and crisper. I generally prefer smaller hi-hats, so I favored the 13″ set. However, if you’re a fan of 15″ hats, you should definitely give these a try because they’re excellent.
Bliss & Vintage Bliss Cymbals
Alloy B20 bronze
Features Hand hammered; thin hand-applied micro-lathe lines; light weight; smaller bell profile.
Sizes & Prices:
20″ Vintage Bliss Crash/Ride ($204),
20″ Bliss Crash/Ride ($183),
22″ Bliss Ride ($269),
22″ Bliss Paper Thin Crash/Ride ($249),
13″ Bliss Hi-Hats ($199),
15″ Bliss Hi-Hats ($239).
Alloy B20 bronze
Features Hand hammered; wide hand-applied lathe lines; medium-light weight; larger bell profile.
Sizes & Prices: 24″ Ride ($529)
I was able to select a set of Dream cymbals that I truly enjoyed (24″ Bliss ride, 22″ Vintage Bliss crash/ride, two 20″ Bliss crash/rides, and 13″ hats) because of their comfortable feel, incredible sound quality, and overall uniqueness. Considering the wide variations in each model’s sound, this is a cymbal brand that I would recommend trying first at the store rather than ordering online without a test ride. They project a jazzy sound, yet have a wide-enough dynamic range to use for many styles. However, because the Dreams sound quite different from a typical machine-hammered cymbal, they might be intimidating at first if you’re looking for a more homogenous sound. But Dream’s offerings as well as their affordable price point will probably pleasantly surprise those willing to take the risk.