Best Crash Cymbals

Updated July 2020
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

19 Models Considered
5 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
126 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best crash cymbals

Last Updated July 2020

Crash cymbals add character and pizazz to music, but did you know that no two cymbals are alike? If you’re in the market for new crash cymbals, it’s helpful to know exactly what you’re looking for before you make a purchase.

The details behind the manufacture of crash cymbals material, size, and shape, to name a few contribute to the unique sound of each instrument. Perhaps you’re a jazz musician looking for a dark and rumbling sound. Perhaps you’re a rocker looking for a bright, responsive crash. Perhaps you’re still searching for your own unique sound. The right crash cymbals can help you achieve your musical goals.

In this buying guide, we discuss the numerous factors that go into the creation of quality crash cymbals. We answer your questions, offer tips to make your musical experience more satisfying, and point you in the direction of some of our favorite instruments.

Cymbals belong to the percussion family of instruments. A person who plays the cymbals could be called a cymbalist or a percussionist.

Key considerations

Material

Most cymbals are made of copper alloy. The cheapest of these materials is brass. The sound of a brass crash cymbal isn’t considered to be all that great, but if you’re shopping for a child or a beginner, you might not mind. In terms of sound quality and durability, note that even the best brass cymbals pale in comparison to cymbals made of bronze, the most popular cymbal material.

Most bronze cymbals consist of a mixture of copper and tin. The ratio of copper to tin should be reflected in the product specs. For example, cymbals containing 80% copper and 20% tin are known as B20 cymbals. Cymbals containing 92% copper and 8% tin are B8 cymbals. In fact, B20 and B8 cymbals are the market’s two primary offerings.

Faced with a choice, how would you choose between B20 and B8 cymbals? Generally, the more tin in the cymbal, the more versatile the sound. B20 cymbals have a wide frequency range that appeals to professional recording artists. These cymbals tend to be more expensive than B8 cymbals, which have a brighter sound. Most beginners and intermediate-level players would be satisfied with a pair of B8 cymbals, but professional players should consider B20 cymbals, especially if they intend to perform or make recordings.

Notably, some manufacturers also make B10, B12, and B15 cymbals. If you’re interested in one of these and plan to order online, perform an internet video search to hear some sound samples first so you know what you’re getting.

Size and thickness

Size: Crash cymbals range from 8 to 24 inches in diameter. Most “beginner” cymbals fall in the middle of this range, between 14 and 18 inches. The pitch varies depending on size; larger cymbals tend to have a lower pitch, and smaller cymbals tend to have a higher pitch. 

Thickness: The thickness of a cymbal is often referred to as its “weight” by manufacturers. Thicker cymbals produce faster vibrations and thus a higher sound; thinner cymbals produce slower vibrations and thus a lower sound. A rock musician may prefer thicker crash cymbals, whereas a jazz musician may be more pleased with the subtle sound of thinner crash cymbals.

Hammering and lathing

In addition to material, size, and thickness, the hammering and lathing of a cymbal affect its sound. Before a cymbal leaves the factory, it is hammered and lathed. Let’s take a look at what this means.

Hammering: The hammering may be done by hand or with a machine; high-end cymbals are often hand-hammered by professionals. Now, you may be wondering why someone would want to take a musical instrument and hammer dents into it. After all, you wouldn’t take a hammer to a trombone or trumpet! The answer: hammering adds depth to the sound of a cymbal. Because the metal surface is imperfect, the tone becomes more complex and interesting, exuding overtones and warmth that an unhammered cymbal simply cannot produce. 

Lathing: After a cymbal has been hammered, it goes through a lathing process in which concentric “tonal grooves” are shaved into the cymbal. These grooves further contribute to the complexity of the sound. Grooves in a cymbal may be close together or far apart. Close-together, or “tight,” lathing tends to produce a more focused sound, whereas wide lathing tends to create a wider, darker sound.

Bell, bow, and edge

There are three parts of a cymbal that also play a part in its sound quality: the bell, bow, and edge. Let’s take a look at each.

Bell: The bell is the raised area in the center of the cymbal. It may be steep, flat, or somewhere in between. A steeper bell creates a higher pitch than a flatter bell. If you want lots of ping, look for a cymbal with a pronounced bell. If you want something more subtle, look for a cymbal with a flatter bell.

Bow: The way a cymbal curves outward from bell to edge is called the bow. A pronounced bow produces a brighter, higher pitch. A flatter bow is slower to respond and exudes a lower pitch.

Edge: The delicate edge of the cymbal, also known as the rim, is the thinnest and most responsive part of the instrument. In fact, the thinner it is, the more responsive it will be. The edge of a cymbal can be surprisingly fragile. Yes, this instrument is made of metal, but played improperly, the edge could crack.

DID YOU KNOW?

In addition to hammering and lathing, some cymbals have holes or rivets that further contribute to the complexity of the sound.

Features

Hand-hammering

As mentioned, cymbals are hammered at the factory to create a complex and interesting tone. Some cymbals are hammered by hand; others are hammered by machine. Hand-hammered cymbals tend to wear higher price tags because, for one thing, they cost more to produce. What’s more, the sound quality of a hand-hammered cymbal is arguably better and worth the higher asking price.

Aging

“Aged” cymbals are thought to have better tone. Some cymbals are allowed to age at the factory before they are sold. If you don’t want to pay a premium for factory-aged cymbals, you can age your cymbal yourself. There are plenty of online tutorials that can show you how to do this. For example, “soil aging” is a process in which cymbals are buried underground for a period of time. The longer a cymbal is buried, or “soil aged,” the darker the tone will be when it is later played.

Thankfully, you don’t have to bury your cymbal to age it. There are chemical methods you can use to add a “patina” to your cymbal that changes the sound. If you choose to do this, note that some risk is involved. You might love the results of your chemical experiment   but you might not.

Finish and color

The finish of a crash cymbal may be “brilliant” or “traditional.” This is largely an aesthetic choice. Brilliant cymbals look shiny and flashy, whereas traditional cymbals have a more muted appearance. Brilliant cymbals do tend to show fingerprints more easily.

In addition to finish, there are several colors to choose from in the cymbal world. Gold and copper hues are popular. Silver is another fairly common choice. If you want something unique like purple, you can probably find it, but you may have to scour the market a bit and once you find your uniquely colored cymbal, there’s no guarantee that it will be of the material, thickness, or size that you prefer.

DID YOU KNOW?

Due to a number of variables including material, diameter, thickness, hammering, lathing, and age, no two cymbals sound exactly the same.

Crash cymbal prices

Inexpensive: For $20 to $40, you can get an inexpensive cymbal made of brass or copper alloy. If you’re not picky about sound quality, a cymbal like this might serve your purposes. Some cheaper cymbals have been described as sounding like a gong or cowbell. The volume, resonance, and durability of these cymbals may not be as good as those of a pricier cymbal. 

Mid-range: For $40 to $80, you can get a quality crash cymbal made of bronze (usually B8) that ticks most or all of your boxes. The quality and complexity of the tone will be sufficient for amateur concertizing and practicing at home. The majority will be satisfied with crash cymbals in this range, though professionals and those with serious musical aspirations will want to consider spending more.

Expensive: For $80 and above, you will find many B20 offerings (and some B8 products as well). If you’re willing to spend $200 or more, your chance of finding handcrafted (or at least hand-hammered) cymbals with excellent lathing and a complex tone increases dramatically. Professional performers and recording artists will want to look at this highest price tier for the very best.

EXPERT TIP

If you’re a percussionist, invest in disposable earplugs to protect your hearing. Tuck them in your gig bag, your backpack, or wherever you might need them.


Staff  | BestReviews

Tips

  • Understand the anatomy of your cymbal. It will help you be more creative with your sound. Strike your crash cymbal on its bell to achieve a high, clear tone; the metal is at its thickest here. Strike your crash cymbal on its edge, where the metal is at its thinnest, to achieve a more responsive crash.

  • Experiment with your equipment. If you have more than one type of cymbal, try stacking them one on top of another to create new tone colors.

  • Follow best practices for keeping your cymbal clean. Fingerprints and dirt can be wiped away with a microfiber cloth. If you moisten the cloth, be sure to dry the cymbal thoroughly afterward, as unchecked moisture can degrade the metal.

If you want to minimize the number of cymbals in your arsenal, consider investing in a hybrid crash/ride cymbal that can be used for both purposes.

FAQ

Q. My friend says I don’t have to buy a crash cymbal because I can use his splash cymbals. Are crash and splash cymbals the same?
A. Crash cymbals and splash cymbals are not quite the same. It’s true that both can be used to create a crashing effect, but splash cymbals are smaller and thinner than crash cymbals. In a pinch, you could definitely use your friend’s splash cymbal instead of a crash cymbal, but the sound won’t be as full, loud, or complex. 

You could also use a hi-hat cymbal as a crash cymbal. In fact, some people use them all the time. However, a hi-hat cymbal (responsible for the “chick” sound you often hear from a drum kit) doesn’t create the unique crash that a dedicated crash cymbal makes.
 

Q. Does it matter whether the crash cymbal I buy is made of cast metal or sheet metal?
A. If you’re picky about sound, you will definitely want to pay attention to the method with which a cymbal was made. Some cymbals are “cast” cymbals and others are “sheet” cymbals. This distinction has to do with the manufacturing method: cast cymbals are formed in a mold, whereas sheet cymbals are stamped from sheet metal. Sheet cymbals are cheaper, but the level of sustain isn’t as good as that of cast cymbals. A beginner may not mind, but a professional should probably stick to cast cymbals.

 

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