5 Best Hi-Hats: Guide to "Chck" Cymbals

Best Hi-Hat
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Updated July 2019

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Hi-Hats have been around for decades. They were first devised as a way for percussionists to be able to play more than one instrument simultaneously, giving them a greater degree of flexibility when playing in an ensemble. Early Hi-Hats were known as sock cymbals, and were both smaller and placed lower than modern day hi-hats. In case you weren’t already aware, a hi-hat cymbal is actually a pair of cymbals controlled via a pedal. Closing the pedal brings the hi-hats together, and releasing it separates them. This motion can be combined with your drum sticks to create a variety of tones and dynamics, making a very versatile cymbal.

There are dozens of varieties of high-hat cymbals currently available, all of which come with their own pros and cons and occupy different price points. Thankfully, if you’re unsure where to start looking for the best hi-hats for you you’ve come to the right place. This article will give you all the information that you need to make an informed decision, as well as five great recommendations.

Hi-Hat Cymbal Size

An important thing to remember when trying to select a hi-hat is that size is incredibly important. The size of a cymbal is one of the most important factors in dictating its pitch and representation of frequencies. - Smaller hi-hats offer a brighter and punchier tone, making them well suited to genres that require a fast and aggressive attack with loads of cutting power. - Larger cymbals have a higher representation of bass and low-mid frequencies, resulting in a tone with more depth at the expense of brightness.

Materials and Production Process (Machined vs. Hammering)

Like other instruments, cymbals tend to benefit from being crafted by an experience worker as opposed to a machine. While the technology we currently use to manufacture instruments is leaps and bounds ahead of what it used to be, a machine still can’t compare to the knowledge and technique of a dedicated craftsman. With that being said, if you choose to purchase a hand hammered cymbal you’re going to be paying a premium. So while a hand hammered cymbal is generally going to offer a better tone, you may be better off going with a cheaper (though still viable) option depending on your finances.

Also, the good thing about machine hammering is that you’re pretty much always going to be getting the same exact cymbal. This means that if you happen to fall in love with one type of machine-built cymbal odds are you can find a replacement.

Generally, cymbals fall into two categories: sheet and cast cymbals. Sheet cymbals are created by combining bronze, brass, and nickel or silver. Then they are shaped and sized to the proper dimensions. Cast symbols are made from bronze poured into a mould, which is then flattened and lathed into the appropriate shape. These cymbals are preferred by most modern musicians due to their bright tone and aggressive attack.

Sheet cymbals tend to have a brighter tone. Cast cymbals are considered to be more musically rich, and they’re also the more traditional way to make cymbals. Jazz and orchestral musicians generally prefer to use cast cymbals because they don’t sound quite as aggressive, though preferences vary from musician to musician.

Top 5 Hi-Hat Cymbals

Meinl Cymbals HCS13H 13” HCS Traditional Hi-Hat Pair

Meinl Cymbals HCS13H

Founded in 1951, Meinl Percussion is one of the premier manufacturers of percussion instruments currently in operation. While the company does have a long history of producing great percussion instruments, they actually got their start by producing wind instruments. The company was in operation for more than a year before they started producing their first percussion instruments, which were cymbals.

Like many companies that existed at the time, Roland Meinl (the founder of Meinl Percussion) took a hands-on approach to the products that were produced. In the early days of the company he actually cut, hammered, lathed, and drilled all of the cymbals by hand. He also took it upon himself to transport them.

While the current incarnation of the company may not share the approach taken by Meinl, the Meinl Cymbals HCS13H 13” HCS Traditional Hi-Hat Pair offers a great value to any percussionist.

The first thing to know about this cymbal set is that Meinl uses a HCS brass alloy. Brass is generally considered to be a budget alternative to bronze in regards to cymbals, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing depending on your situation. This alloy does have an impact on the tone, which we’ll get into in more depth later, but while it is made out of brass don’t discount it out of hand.

As stated by the product’s name, these cymbals are 13”. Because of their size, the Meinl Cymbals HCS13H cymbals are going to have a very bright and focused tone for the materials they’re made out of. If you’re playing anything except for jazz or orchestral music odds are these cymbals will work as well as any other budget model.

Something else that’s important to know about these cymbals is that they have a 2-year warranty. These are beginner’s cymbals, but for the price they really are a great value. They have a very respectable amount of volume, and when provided that the musician playing them is relatively competent they’re a viable option for both rehearsals and small performances.

It should also be said that when compared to bronze cymbals, brass cymbals are going to sound a bit muffled. Bronze is going to have a better frequency response overall, regardless of cymbal size or production technique. However, these cymbals are still very bright and cutting. They would be a perfect fit for anyone looking for a solid all-around hi-hat that won’t break the bank.

It has a really impressive tone for its price range, and unlike a lot of other budget minded cymbals Meinl ensures that their products are made to a consistent level of quality. The Meil Cymbals HCS13H 13” HCS Traditional Hi-Hat Pair offers a great value to beginning percussionists.

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Zildjian ZBT 13” Hi-Hat Cymbals

Zildjian ZBT 13" Hi-Hat

Zildjian is a percussion company of the modern age in every respect, and in recent decades has kept pace with (if not advanced) the technology behind cymbals. With that being said, something that many musicians don’t know about Zildjian is that they’re actually one of the oldest companies in the world. It was actually founded all the way back in the 17th century by Avedis Zildjian during the Ottoman period.

Zildjian was an alchemist. Though alchemy may have a fanciful reputation in the current age, at the time it was considered to be on the forefront of science. In fact, many of these proto schools of science helped to establish the procedures and methodology used by scientists today. Another fun fact about the company is that at the time Zildjian was making his first cymbals they were actually used as a weapon of war. Cymbals used to be used to intimidate the troops of opposing armies. Zildjian’s success at producing cymbals gained recognition from the ruler of the Ottomans, Sultan Osman II.

While the company may have advanced with the time, they are still recognized for their dedication to quality. They’ve also strove to maintain workmanship over industrialization, and as such have become one of the few bastions of handmade instruments that operate on a global scale.

Given the reputation of Zildjian, as well as the fact that they’re products are used by musicians the world over, it should come as any surprise that the Zildjian ZBT 13” Hi-Hat Cymbals offer a good value to percussionists. To learn more about the product, as well as how it stacks up against the competition, check out the specifications below.

The most important thing to know about this cymbal set is that it’s aimed at beginners, which means that its overall quality is going to be lower than models intended for professionals. So while there are pros associated with this product, don’t assume that just because we have a favorable opinion of it doesn’t mean that more expensive cymbals don’t also have value.

While these may be beginners’ cymbals, they definitely benefit from the experience that Zildjian has making cymbals. While materials do make a difference, the experience of a manufacturer is what has the greatest impact on how an instrument is going to perform. It doesn’t matter what a cymbal (or any instrument for that matter) is made from if the person assembling/building it doesn’t know what they’re doing.

Lastly, the top cymbal is of a medium thin weight while the bottom is of a medium weight. Thinner cymbals are generally quieter and have a bit less character, though they are more responsive. The most important thing to know about this hi-hat set is that it’s likely going to be one of the brightest voiced pieces of equipment on this list, due both to its size and its voicing. These cymbals are incredibly bright and focused.

These cymbals are one of the best options available in this price tier. Zildjian’s ZBT 13” Hi-Hat Cymbals offer a good value to any drummer looking for a entry-level hi-hat that won’t break the bank.

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Sabian AAX X-Plosion Hi-Hat Cymbals Brilliant 14 in.

Sabian AAX X-Plosion Hi-Hat Cymbals Brilliant 14 Inch

Founded in 1981 in Meductic, New Brunswick by Robert Zildjian, Sabian is one of the most important modern manufacturers of cymbals and accessories for drummers. A little known fact is that Sabian and Zildjian’s adversarial relationship is inspired by not just being competitors in the same niche, but also by the fact that bad blood exists between the two branches of the Zildjian family.

Robert Zildjian believed that he was better suited to lead the company, though traditionally the eldest son was always put in the role of leadership. This resulted in a bitter law suit in 1979. Robert left the company following the lawsuit, though he was awarded the Canadian factory as a settlement. A condition of the settlement was that Robert Zildjian wouldn’t claim that his new cymbals were the same as any Zildjian products, and that he wouldn’t associate with or use the Zildjian name.

The name of the company comes from the first letters of the names of his three children (Sally, Bill, and Andy) and the surname “ian” to indicate the company’s Armenian roots. Though the Zildjian name remained with the original company, a great number of the artisans originally employed at Zildjian chose to leave for Robert to work with Sabian.

Though the company may have a troubled legacy, their products are undoubtedly on par with any other company’s offerings. Sabian is the cymbal of choice for a huge number of notable musicians, such as: Terry Bozzio (who has drummed for Frank Zappa and Jeff Beck), Ray Luzier, Rob Hammersmith, and occasionally Dave Grohl (from time to time he used 2oo2 Crashes while playing with Nirvana).

If you’re looking for a high-end hi-hat cymbal set you definitely can’t go wrong with Sabian AAX X-Plosion Hi-Hat Cymbals Brilliant 14 in. To learn more about the product, as well as how it stacks up against the competition, check out the specifications below.

The first thing to know about these cymbals is that they are hand-crafted from B20 Bronze. Bronze is known for its rich acoustic properties, which is why it’s the traditional material for bells and cymbals. We’re going to get into the tone in a greater amount of depth below, but rest assured that this cymbal set offers a very good quality of sound. All Sabian cymbals are hand hammered and lathed, which means that there’s an experience craftsman maintaining quality every step of the way. While this results in a better tone, it also does a lot to enhance the overall durability of the product because the craftsman can check it for flaws or defects. Also, something that confuses a lot of customers is whether or not they’ll be receiving an individual cymbal or a hi-hat cymbal set. When you purchase this model of cymbal you do receive a set.

Sabian’s AAX X-Plosion Cymbals are voiced for modern applications. They deliver a very bright and rich tone with plenty of volume. These cymbals are definitely a good fit for any percussionist who’s looking for a professional level of tone, as evidenced by the brand’s multiple celebrity endorsers.

Another major selling point of these cymbals is that, while they do have plenty of volume on hand, they’re also able to be controlled. These cymbals retain a rich and dynamic tone at any volume level, which will definitely come in handy if you rehearse in cramped areas. This will also be a huge plus during recording sessions, because you have a much larger dynamic range than you would with a cheaper hi-hat set.

Sabian’s AAX X-Plosion Hi-Hat Cymbals Brilliant 14 in. offer a good value to the musician looking for a hi-hat set that offers a professional level of quality. Beginning musicians probably aren’t going to need cymbals that are this professional, but if only the best will do, you definitely can’t go wrong with Sabian.

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Paiste 2002 Classic Cymbal Sound Edge Pair Hi-Hat 14-Inch

Paiste 2002 Classic Cymbal Hi-Hat 14-inch

Paiste, the third largest manufacturer of cymbals in the world, is one of the oldest manufacturers of musical instruments currently in operation. The brand actually stretches all the way back to 1906, when it was incorporated by Michail Toomas Paiste in St. Petersburg, Russia. The first cymbals made by Paiste were hand built in his instrument repair shop as custom orders for local musicians. Michail actually retired in 1901 to open a music publishing business and a music shop, though once the original founder left his son (who shares his name) took over the business. The business had to relocate several times due to WWI and WWII, eventually landing in Switzerland (its current base of operations).

Paiste, besides being a mainstay in the industry, has also been a driving force behind the innovation of percussion instruments. The company has a host of notable innovations under their belt, such as: The Flat Ride, The Sound Edge Hi-Hat, B8 Bronze Alloy, Colored Cymbals, and Unlathed Cymbals. Given the company’s long standing reputation, it should come as any surprise that the Paiste 2002 Classic Cymbal Sound Edge Pair Hi-Hat 14-Inch cymbals offer a good value to musicians. To learn more about the product, as well as how it stacks up against the competition, check out the specifications below.

Paiste’s 2002 series is made from 2002 bronze, which is close in composition to B8 bronze. This alloy of bronze isn’t quite as highly regarded as 80/20. With that being said, Paiste is generally considered to spend more time hammering and lathing their cymbals than many of their competition, so while the alloy itself may not be highly regarded don’t dismiss these cymbals because of their composition.

Another thing to note about these hi-hats is that they’re fairly middle of the road when it comes to size. This is neither a good nor bad thing, though it is something to be aware of as cymbal size has a notable impact on tone.

Paiste does have a warranty, though it isn’t very comprehensive. Because of the abuse most cymbals are subject to, the only way you’ll get a replacement is if the company finds that there was a notable flaw in workmanship or materials.

The voicing of these cymbals can only be described as “lively.” They’re very brightly voiced, which means that they have an impressive amount of pop and they’ll do a great job of cutting though a loud mix. The brighter voicing of these cymbals will also translate well to a recording session.

A possible flaw is that these cymbals can be a bit hard to control when compared to those that are voiced a bit more mildly, though your experience on this is going to depend on the genre(s) you play. If you’re looking for something that can bounce between genres you may be better off with a different cymbal. However, if you generally play modern music you’ll be extremely pleased with the sound you get from these cymbals.

John Bonham of Led Zeppelin was a huge fan of Paiste cymbals. And unlike a lot of other brands, Paiste is generally considered to have maintain a high level of quality ever since their inception. So while these cymbals may be expensive, they justify their cost by being a reliable and great sounding addition to your rig.

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Zildijian A Custom 14” Mastersound Hi-Hat Cymbals

Zildjian A Custom Hi-hats 14"

Though it’s undoubtedly a very modern company in every respect, Zildjian is actually one of the oldest manufacturers of instruments in the world. In fact, it’s one of the oldest companies in the world. The Avedis Zildjian Company (generally just called Zildjian) was founded in the 17th century by Avedis Zildjian during the Ottoman period.

To put the period that the company was established into perspective, Avedis Zildjian (the namesake and founder of the company) was actually an alchemist looking for a way to turn cheap metals into gold. The first cymbals were a result of his experimentation. The surname Zildjian was bestowed upon Avedis by Sultan Osman II, and comes as a combination of the Turkish words for bell and seller/maker. The original cymbals were actually a war device, intended to create sounds that would intimidate the enemies of the Ottoman empire.

The company actually split in the early 1930s. Members of the family left for America, and once they arrived they established The Avedis Zildjian Company. The newest incarnation of the company produced some of the finest cymbals of the time, and they were actually the first company to produce cymbals exclusively for drum kits. Once the company gained enough capital they purchased the original European trademarks to the Zildjian name.

Though it’s seen a bit of a departure from its roots, the company is still manufacturing some of the best accessories and cymbals available to musicians today. No exception to this trend, the Zildjian’s A Custom 14” Mastersound Hi-Hat Cymbals present a great value to any percussionist.

The feature of this cymbal set that differentiates from its competition is that there are grooves around the cymbal’s edge which vent air. Because air is the vehicle through which sound travels through, these grooves help to increase projection and sizzle. We’ll get into the sound of these cymbals in more depth below.

In many of their cymbals, including this one, Zildjian uses a 80 percent copper and 20 percent tin bronze alloy. Tin is generally considered to have a very positive impact on the tone of a cymbal, though because it’s a harder alloy to work with it results in a more expensive cymbal.

An important thing to know about Zildjian keeps the manufacturer of their alloys in house, which helps to guarantee the quality and consistency of the alloys used to manufacture their cymbals.

Cymbals made with Zildjian’s B20 (their 80/20 bronze) are generally considered to be incredibly versatile, which is why they’re so highly regarded by the musicians who use them. This cymbal in particular is prized for its bright response as well as its projection.

With that being said, this hi-hat cymbal in particular may not be as versatile as others in the series. The reason for this is that the grooves on the bottom cymbal make it a lot brighter than it would be otherwise. This somewhat limits its utility for musicians looking for a darker sound, though experiences are going to vary based on the tone you’re looking for and the drumsticks you use.

Zildjian A Custom set is one of the more responsive cymbals widely available and are a great option for any percussionist looking for a bright cymbal with a modern voicing.

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About the authors
Mason Hoberg

Mason is a freelance music gear writer that contributes to Equipboard, Reverb, TuneCore, Music Aficionado, and more. He plays the guitar and mandolin and resides in Wyoming. Read more

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