Best Hi-Hat Cymbals

Updated April 2021
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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 all opinions about the products are our own. 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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How we decided

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

32 Models Considered
28 Hours Researched
2 Experts Interviewed
182 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 hi-hat cymbals

Hi-hat cymbals aren’t the flashiest parts of a drum kit, but they’re arguably the stars of the show. Arranged as a pair on a foot-controlled stand, hi-hats serve as a drummer’s personal metronome, keeping the beat while fills and accents are played. They’re also among the most dynamic elements of the kit, producing a wide range of sounds depending on how much space exists between them. 

That space is controlled through the aforementioned foot pedal. When pressed, the hi-hats are closed tightly and produce a short, quiet “chk.” When the pedal is not pressed, the cymbals come open, producing a louder “tss” with increased sustain.

Hi-hats can be used in any genre of music in countless ways, making them an integral section of any drum set. They’re generally fashioned from brass or bronze alloy and are sold in several sizes and shapes. So whether you’re a veteran percussionist or just starting out, the hi-hat is a tool you should familiarize yourself with. Let us help with that.

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Some hi-hat cymbals are simply sheeted and stamped out, while others are cast and rolled. Once that is done, the so-called “blanks” are pressed and hammered into shape, with a lathe being used to add grooves and other tone-shaping elements. Cymbals are sometimes, but not always, finished with a protective coating.

Key considerations

Composition materials

With few exceptions, hi-hat cymbals are made from brass or bronze, the latter being an alloy of tin, copper, silver, nickel, and other metals. There are various nuances within those categories.

Brass: A hallmark of entry-level and starter drum kits, brass hi-hats are inexpensive and easy to find. They have a softer attack and lower volume output than other options as well as a less complex sound.

B8 bronze: B8 cymbals contain 8% tin and project a crisp, bright sound that cuts through other music well.

B10 bronze: B10 hi-hats contain 10% tin and have high volume output as well as bell-like warmth.

B12 bronze: B12 cymbals contain 12% tin and boast a nice balance of crisp control and warmth. They are shimmery and glassy in tone.

B20 bronze: Reserved for top-of-the-line cymbals, B20 bronze contains 20% tin and produces a dark, complex sound.

Thickness

Outside of the material itself, cymbal thickness is one of the primary factors that affect overall tone. Generally, thicker cymbals produce higher-frequency sound, which gives them a volume output advantage as well as a bright timbre. Thinner cymbals vibrate with a lower frequency and take more effort to create the same amount of volume. The tone is lower as well, which could be positive or negative, depending on your style.

Diameter

The diameter of a hi-hat helps determine pitch. Assuming the materials and overall design are the same, cymbals with smaller diameters generate higher pitches and brighter tones. Larger versions do the opposite, providing darker, warmer sounds.

Hi-hats in the 13- to 14-inch range are the go-to. They’re highly versatile, sitting in a safe tonal space for different music types. Several sizes are available, with the majority measuring 12 to 16 inches wide.

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Did You Know?
Cymbals consist of a main circular plate and a domed structure in the center called a bell. The plate itself is also curved, but at a shallower angle than the bell. The measurement of the main surface is called the profile.
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Features

Hammerings

Once a hi-hat cymbal is created, whether it be stamped or cast, it receives a treatment to give it a unique sonic profile. Among the most common is hammering. Hammering can be done uniformly across the cymbal for a pure, consistent tone or more irregularly for a dynamic, “musical” result. If you’re itching to hammer your own, however, be warned — excessive deformation of the surface can lead to excessive noise and “dirty” responses.

Lathings

Lathing offers another way to add nuance to a hi-hat. The lathe allows the cymbal to spin in place, enabling the operator to put record-like grooves into the surface. This affects the way the cymbal vibrates, and it also physically removes material for a difference in pitch. Generally, the wider the grooves in the cymbal, the darker and warmer the tone.

Rivets and holes

Adding rivets or holes to a cymbal isn’t as common as hammering or lathing, but it is done. Rivets are a particularly unique inclusion, as they add a metallic “sizzle” to the base tone. Rivet cymbals are commonly used in swing music. Holes are broader in their application, as they can help eliminate air lock, reduce volume, and even add a harsh, thrashy profile to the sound.

Drummers often utilize multiple hi-hat setups to produce different tones. Assuming all things are equal, larger, thinner cymbals produce lower pitches than smaller, thicker ones. Experiment with different setups, and if you have room, use multiple hi-hats to serve different roles in your music.

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Hi-hat cymbals: prices

Inexpensive: Hi-hats start at $65 to $100. This entry-level price usually yields brass cymbals with less character and less sustain than bronze equivalents. They’re great for practice kits or new drummers.

Mid-range: Spend $100 to $250, and you’re well into the range of quality bronze alloy hi-hats. These materials have deeper character than straight brass and are usually louder and more dynamic. High-end brands start to make their appearance in this segment as well.

Expensive: Budget $400 and up to access the best materials and designs available. Expect to see unique B20 bronze hi-hats here with clever lathing, hammering, and anti-air lock designs with picture-perfect tone.

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Did You Know?
There are a variety of terms to describe the tone of hi-hats. “Bright” cymbals have clear, high-pitched tones that cut through surrounding music. “Warm” cymbals have oodles of mid-range tone with less attack, while “dark” cymbals boast even lower tones that blend in.
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Tips

  • Drummers are at their best when they’re relaxed. Tense, stiff muscles fatigue quickly and may be imprecise when doing big fills. Remember to breathe. We also recommend you stretch and loosen up before playing, focusing on your arms, legs, and back.
  • Don’t apply too much pressure to your hi-hat’s foot pedal, even when playing in the closed position. Doing so effectively “chokes” the cymbals, removing all vibrations for very flat results. Apply just enough pressure to close the cymbals together.
  • In the open position, your cymbals should be lightly touching, allowing them to work off each other. If there is too much space between the cymbals, you will have a very high-pitched, imbalanced tone.
  • Hi-hat cymbals are similar to crash cymbals in shape and size so much so that drummers often use two crash cymbals in a hi-hat setup. If your hi-hats are out of commission, or you just want to experiment with different timbres, try two crashes. You might just add a whole new dimension to your drumming.
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Unless you’re a stickler for consistency, your hi-hats and cymbals don’t need to match. In fact, mixing different brands and styles allows you to create a kit that’s unique to you, and you’ll be taking advantage of the different strengths of different brands.

FAQ

Q. What’s the best way to clean and maintain hi-hat cymbals?

A. Cymbals have a tendency to collect dust and oil from handling over time. There are myriad cleaners available that can remove unsightly marks and grime, with some leaving a protective coating behind to protect the cymbal.

That said, many drummers don’t clean their cymbals at all, preferring the look of a nicely aged patina. The tone difference between clean and “dirty” cymbals is negligible, leaving it down to personal preference whether you use these products or not. If you enjoy clean, brightly shining cymbals for a huge stage presence, go for it! If you like the aged look, have no fear: your instrument will sound no different. With that in mind, there are a couple other ways to help keep your cymbals in healthy condition for the long haul.

First, put some thought into how you place your hi-hats on the hi-hat stand, confirming you have quality felt or neoprene washers on the top and bottom of each cymbal. Doing so prevents abrasive damage between the metal pieces. Take care not to overly tighten the nuts around these pieces, as it will restrict motion and affect durability. In addition, we highly recommend investing in a padded cymbal bag with internal dividers for safe transport.

Q. Outside of a hi-hat, what are the other essentials of a drum kit?

A. The core elements of a drum kit are hi-hats, a snare drum, and a bass drum. In this simple setup, the hi-hat keeps the beat constant, while the bass and snare punctuate upbeats and downbeats. We recommend at least one crash or ride cymbal to round out the kit, as it opens up the possibilities for accent work.

Of course, drummers often go above and beyond with fleshed-out kits that expand in all directions. A common example of a “big” kit would be the hi-hat, snare, and bass drum along with multiple toms of different sizes and various cymbals arrays. Some drummers even utilize xylophones, double bass drums, and electronically programmed elements to fully realize their sound.

Q. Is there a benefit to using asymmetrical hi-hats?

A. Traditionally, hi-hat cymbals are the same diameter and sit flush atop one another. This is not always the case, however. In some cases, drummers use a smaller top hi-hat over a larger bottom one, as this produces a unique tone and prevents the dreaded “air lock.”

What is air lock, exactly? It occurs when your hi-hat cymbals come together so tightly that the air inside cannot escape, killing your volume as well as your tone. Using different-sized pieces eliminates this issue; there are also hi-hats with ridges specifically designed to let air escape.
 

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