Cymbals, whether part of an orchestra, marching band or drum kit, are key elements in much of the music we love. There are a wide variety of cymbal types and applications and plenty of companies that manufacture them.
In this article, we'll discuss the best cymbal brands in the world with a focus on the “big four,” along with 7 other impressive brands that are deserving of a shout-out.
Though obviously subjective and prone to biases, I’ve done my best to list out these brands based on the following metrics (in no particular order):
- Company reputation
- Variety of cymbals produced
- Sound of the cymbals
- Longevity of the cymbals
- The company/brand must currently be in operation
With all that being said, let’s list out the brands.
The Top 11 Best Cymbal Brands Are:
- Meinl Percussion
- Istanbul Agop
- Soultone Cymbals
Let’s get into each of these brands in greater detail and explain why they belong in the top 11 best cymbal brands. I’ll share their country of origin, a bit of history, an example of a notable cymbal or cymbal set, and a link to their official website.
Zildjian was founded all the back in the times of the Ottoman Empire, in 1623, to be exact.
Since then, the company has become the largest and most renowned drum stick and cymbal manufacturer in the world. The man behind the empire started making cymbals as far back as 1618; his name was Avedis Zildjian.
Avedis was a metalsmith and alchemist at the service of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, who was set free in 1623. From that year until today, the metallurgic secrets of the cymbal alloys have been kept in the Zildjian family from generation to generation.
Today, the 14th generation of Zildjians runs the company from Norwell, Massachusetts, USA. The brand name Zildjian is synonymous with the best of the best cymbals in the world.
Notable cymbal(s): Zildjian K Sweet Cymbal Set
The K line of cymbals started in 1865 and can still be seen today, representing Zildjian in stages around the world. Moreover, it is regarded by players as the top of the crop. This cymbal set is no exception, a group of bestsellers ready to take over the world.
Those who love the sweet, dark sound of the K line will find the 17” and 19” crashes to sound punchy and bright but fast. The 21” ride is remarkably ‘crashable' since it is medium-thin and fast. Nevertheless, it features a powerful bell, too.
Finally, the thin-top, heavy-bottom combination of the 15” hi-hats allows for a great wash, remaining tight in that solid “chick” sound as well.
Intended for the seasoned player and the semi-pro drummer, you can’t go wrong dressing your drum kit with this set.
The story of Sabian could not be told without Zildjian. This brand originated in Meductic, New Brunswick, Canada, in 1981, where its headquarters are still located.
After a fight with his brother Armand over a leadership role in the Zildjian company, Robert Zildjian founded Sabian, which would soon become Zildjian's main competitor.
By 1982, the factory, named after Robert’s three children (Sally, Billy, and Andy), was already manufacturing 45,000 cymbals a year. By 1989, American jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette became Sabian's first endorser, using custom Sabian hi-hats and rides.
As a musician born and raised in the small province of New Brunswick, I have a soft spot for Sabian. Biases aside, I'd be remiss if I didn't give Sabian the number 2 spot on this list. The brand's cymbals are world-class, and the great variety of products means you'll be able to find whatever cymbal you need with a Sabian logo stamped on it.
In January 2015, Sabian bought Crescent Cymbals, which is also mentioned in this article. They moved all production to Canada, where they still manufacture their cymbals to this day.
Notable cymbal(s): Sabian HHX Complex Performance Cymbal Set
This four-piece set includes a 15” pair of medium hi-hats, a 19” thin crash, and a 22” medium ride. All the cymbals feature a combination of HH and HHX hammering and raw hammered bells. This mixture of technology gives the cymbals a dark yet sweet and complex quality and sound that is perfect for dynamic music styles.
The large diameters and thinness of the cymbals make them sound full-bodied but also allow for fast attack and decay.
Furthermore, the 22” ride can propel any chorus to stardom. Finally, the raw hammered bells make them perfect for low-volume arrangements.
Whatever musical style you play, if you like dark, sweet, and fast cymbals, you can’t go wrong with this kit.
Meinl Percussion is a German company founded in 1951 by Ronald Meinl. They not only make cymbals but all kinds of percussion instruments. From humble beginnings exclusively producing wind instruments, Meinl has grown to become one of the most well-respected cymbal manufacturers in the world.
The first Meinl employee was hired in 1964, and ten years later, Meinl was the first cymbal company to offer pre-packed cymbal sets. Although the first years of production, Meinl focused only on low-budget cymbals, it all changed with the Profile Series of professional-oriented cymbals in 1984.
Roland Meinl passed away in 2004, but the company continues to manufacture and sell world-class cymbals around the globe, basing its production entirely on renewable energy.
Notable cymbal(s): Meinl Cymbals Classics Custom Dark Ultimate Set
This is the perfect cymbal set for the energetic drummer trying to find consistency in his or her sound. It includes a pair of 16” dark hi-hats, a big and powerful 22” dark crash/ride, and a fast 18” dark crash with its 20” dark crash heavy companion.
Adding to those, the ultimate set also features an 18” dark trash china for those rocking transitions and fills, a 16” dark trash stack, and, as a bonus, an 18” dark trash crash with a 12” dark trash splash.
All of them come in black and make a great acquisition for drummers who want a powerful, rocking, heavy sound with complexity and the right amount of darkness to the timbre.
If you are an energetic, rocking player, you’ll love these. For a more laid-back cymbal set, Meinl has you covered with plenty of other options.
Paiste is the final of what people know as “the big four” cymbal brands globally (including the three previously-mentioned companies: Zildjian, Sabian and Meinl).
This company was founded in the times of the Russian Empire in St. Petersburg in 1906 by Estonian musician Toomas Paiste. It is the cymbal brand of choice of many drummers in the heavy metal, hard rock, and punk scenes.
But let’s rewind because the Paiste family had to endure all the European conflicts of the 20th century, fleeing dangerous territories to continue their craft.
Indeed, they moved from Russia to Estonia, from Estonia to Poland, from Poland to Germany, and finally settled in Switzerland in 1957.
From Nottwil, Switzerland, the 4th generation of the Paiste family manages the worldwide operation selling some of the best cymbals in existence.
Notable cymbal(s): Paiste Giant Beat Cymbal Set
Let's start this set’s description by saying that Paiste was the cymbal of choice of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham and The Who’s Keith Moon. The company presents this mighty, rocking, and dynamic set of cymbals as a journey in time back to those days.
From the sizes (24” ride, 20” and 18” crashes, and 15” hi-hats) to the heavy, washy sound, this set is ready to infuse some old-school Rock into the playing of any drummer. Furthermore, you can order 18” to 26” cymbals and 14” to 20” hi-hats.
If you favour that heavy brilliance so common in the 60s and 70s sound, you have to give this set a chance. Here’s a great video of it in action.
Four drummers got together to create a new brand of cymbals that would satisfy their taste. The year was 2012, and Stanton Moore, Michael Vosbein, Bill Norman, and Jeff Hamilton created Cymbal Masters in Kennesaw, Georgia. The company started selling high-quality Istanbul-made cymbals under the name of Crescent cymbals.
By 2015, after small notoriety gained because of the quality of the products, Sabian stepped in and bought Crescent Cymbals and Cymbal Masters, moving all production to Canada.
Nowadays, Sabian commercializes several lines created by Jeff Hamilton and Stanton Moore named Signature, Vanguard, and Elements.
Notable cymbal(s): Sabian Crescent EL22CH 22-inch Element China Cymbal
This is a great example of how you can transform a cymbal into a completely unique instrument with some minor design tweaks.
To begin with, this china is duo-lathed (half-lathed top and bottom) and features 24 rivets, which make it sound like nothing you’ve heard so far.
Furthermore, it is built utilizing Sabian B20 Bronze and hand-hammered in the Sabian vault in Canada. The result of this odd combination of specs is a china that largely exceeds the purpose of an FX cymbal and opens up a new colour palette to play in any style.
If you are looking for a cymbal with sky-high versatility, warm attack, and a ton of definition, you have to try this china.
Few music brands in the world can share Hammerax’s profile. This cymbal brand was created in 2006 in Clearwater, Florida, by audio engineer John Stannard. The company produces odd-sounding cymbals that can provide a whole new dimension to the playing of any drummer.
Moreover, Stannard’s studies of sound led him to create countless prototypes that gathered the attention of drumming legends like Terry Bozio (Zappa) and Danny Carey (Tool). Although some controversy surrounds his creative endeavours, there is no denying his cymbals are uncanny.
Not for the faint of heart, but truly percussive wonders: if you want different flavours for your playing, you have to visit the Hammerax website.
Notable cymbal(s): Hammerax Crash Course
This Hammerax creation is an 11” cymbal that utilizes three independent layers. Together, they generate a rather quick and raspy tone. Moreover, a thin, extremely resistant black finish is applied to every unit to add to the odd factor.
It is a great cymbal to do some quick fills or create a trashy effect. Here’s a clip of it in action so you can get a sense of what it can do. Can you imagine including this cymbal in your set?
To say that Istanbul, Turkey, is the cymbal capital of the world isn't contentious. Indeed, the tradition says that since the times of the Ottoman Empire, master cymbal smiths have redefined and perfected the art of cymbal-making for centuries.
One of these master cymbalsmiths, who had been in the business since he was 9 years old, was named Agop Tomurcuk. He became the chief cymbalsmith at Turkey’s only cymbal factory until its closure in 1977.
In 1980, he decided to create his own company, Istanbul Agop, to continue the tradition he had learned from his ancestors and as a way to fight back against the means of mass production that had taken over the cymbal world.
Agop died tragically in an accident in 1996, and the brand, Istanbul Agop, is now run by his children Arman and Sarkis. They manufacture superb cymbals by hand in Turkey, utilizing his father’s secret alloy formula, and export them to the rest of the planet.
Notable cymbal(s): Istanbul Agop XIST Brilliant Cymbal Set
For players who prefer simplicity and good sound to special effects and odd creations, this is a great-sounding pack with no bells and whistles, just the basics to sound great.
That being said, what sets this kit apart from the rest is the brilliance in the attack and the dark, warm overtones, especially in the 16” crash, which sounds round and full despite its size.
The 14” hi-hats are very modern-sounding. The 20” ride provides the right blend between an utterly bright bell and a full, washy-sounding ride that can be easily set in motion.
Finally, the company included a free hard case to carry them around. You can check this video to see them in action.
Iki Levy was already a popular name in Los Angeles before founding Soultone Cymbals in 2003. He is the owner of The Drum Connection, a drum shop in the city, and after struggling with major cymbal manufacturers and getting frustrated by it, Iki decided to create his own cymbal line.
His strategy was to leave them on the acoustic drums displayed at his shop so drummers could try them every day.
The result of such an endeavour has made Soultone Cymbals respectable musical instruments for drummers across the world.
Notable cymbal(s): Soultone Abby Cymbal Pack
This is another quintessential set that will bring endless joy to those looking for a basic combo to dress their drums with.
To begin with, the Abby cymbal pack offers B20 hand-hammered cymbals with a raw bel,l adding more dynamics to the overall sound of any drummer.
Secondly, the 14” hi-hats, 16” crash, and 20” ride are exactly what you need to cover most musical styles.
Finally, they come with a free gig bag to take them to your first shows and recordings.
If you want to cover the basics without breaking the bank and still sound great, this might be a great choice. You can see this set in action in this video.
UFIP is an acronym that stands for Unione Fabbricanti Italiani Piatti (Italian Cymbal Manufacturers Union in English). It was created 90 years ago in Pistoia, Tuscany, Italy.
When the company began, it started providing cymbals to major drum manufacturers under other various names such as Zinjian, Ajaha, Pasha, and Super Constantinople, among many others.
The company created the rotocasting technique, which is unique to their products when applied to the higher tiers in cymbal production. This revolutionary technology consists of a cymbal mould (with molten bronze inside) mounted on a centrifuge spinning at 1,000 RPM.
According to the company, after this process, the resulting alloy features higher purity, fewer air pockets, and a better bell-to-bow ratio.
By the early 90s, they started calling their cymbals UFIP and selling them worldwide to great success.
Notable cymbal(s): UFIP Vibra Series 21″ Crash
The Vibra series was created as a joined effort with Adriano Molinari (drummer for Italian Blues superstar Zucchero). It is a big crash; some might approach it as a crash/ride, while others will use it as a ride/crash.
Indeed, this heavy, rocking cymbal packs tons of dynamics and power and has a very explosive sound.
Nevertheless, it is also suitable for rhythmic purposes. Since it’s got a medium decay coupled with great attack, you can hit it, and it’ll fill up the room with harmonic overtones and musical vibrations.
This is a special cymbal that has been hand-hammered to perfection. If you want a heavy crash that can work as a ride, you might be on the right track with this one. You can see the whole set in action in the hands of Adriano Molinari himself in this video.
Created in Canada in 2005, Dream Cymbals set out on a journey with a defined goal: to provide quality cymbals at affordable prices.
Moreover, they decided to achieve it while taking care of their environment; hence, the company has a firm recycling policy.
The policy goes like this: You can bring your unwanted, old cymbals to any Dream dealership, and they will give you a dollar (in the purchase of another Dream cymbal) per inch of cymbal you’ve brought.
So, if you have two unused 22” rides, you’ll get a $44 discount on the purchase of a new Dream cymbal and can help save the environment as well.
You can learn more about the company policy here.
Today, the company sells affordable yet durable and good-sounding cymbals to a new generation in over 14 countries around the world.
Notable cymbal(s): Dream Ignition IGNCP4
This initiation pack by Dream Cymbals is accurately named ignition. The company aims to create pro-level instruments at affordable prices to turn learning drummers into lifelong customers.
With this in mind, they’ve packed the essentials (14” hi-hats, 16” crash, and 20” ride) with an additional 18” crash, which is the perfect set to start learning and expanding. For those who want to start on the right foot with hand-hammered cymbals at an affordable price, this is the way to go.
It all started in the year 1995 in Brussels, Belgium. Stagg manufactures a wide variety of inexpensive, entry-level-oriented musical instruments. The line that includes cymbals also features string, brass, percussion, tuned metal, and reed instruments.
As a part of the EMD Music Group, Stagg manufactures and sells affordable options for starting musicians in over 70 countries. The headquarters are still in Brussels, but production is carried out in Asia.
Notable cymbal(s): Stagg AX Series Deluxe Cymbal Set
The ideal beginner cymbal set should look something close to this. The first item, a 14” pair of hi-hats, is the perfect sound for any music genre. The 16” crash is great for learning fills and incorporating that brightness and fast attack into your playing.
Finally, no cymbals set will ever be complete without a ride, and this set offers a well-balanced 20″ model for our musical endeavours.
If you are a beginner at playing drums, this set will get you through the basics with ease.