What Are The Differences Between Crash & China Cymbals?

The cymbal market is heavily assorted, making some aspiring drummers feel intimidated by the number of choices available. Two particular types of cymbals stand out due to their similar use case: the crash cymbal and the China cymbal. These may seemingly get confused to the untrained eye (and ear).

What are the differences between crash cymbal and China cymbal? The differences can be explained as follows:

  • China cymbals are normally heavier and larger than crash cymbals
  • China cymbals have no taper, and their edges are tilted upwards. Crash cymbals have a very pronounced taper.
  • China cymbals produce louder and “trashier” sounds than crash cymbals.

For this article, we'll be covering these distinctions while also mentioning some similarities. First, let's elaborate a bit on both cymbals' backgrounds.

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The Backgrounds Of Crash Cymbals And China Cymbals

One of the first impressions you might get upon seeing both crash cymbals and China cymbals is that one is derived from the other. However, this is not entirely accurate. While it's often the case that the China cymbal is classified as a “type” of crash cymbal, the truth is a bit more convoluted.

Cymbals started being produced around 3,000 B.C. within the region between East Asia and Asia Minor. China has been a particularly competent cymbal producer from the earliest days, though the use case of these cymbals was largely limited to the realm of religious worship services. One of these cymbals, the “bo”, is said to be the direct precursor to the modern China cymbal, though the latter would appear much later.

The Saracens would be responsible for bringing the cymbals to Spain and Italy back in the early middle ages, around the period of the formation of Al-Andalus. However, because the art of hammering had waned in those parts, cymbal production eventually halted in Europe. It would not appear again until the time of the Turkish wars, which resulted in the Ottoman occupation of a great portion of Eastern Europe and Asia Minor.

This will segway into the creation of the first prototypes of our modern crash cymbals. Avedis, an Armenian blacksmith/alchemist who embarked on a quest to create gold from lead by blending various metals, ended up with an alloy that rang like a bell and bounced like a ball. Excited about his discovery, he sought an audience with Sultan Murad IV, who was impressed by Avedis' invention.

Until that point, the Ottoman armies had already made heavy use of cymbals to instill fear in their enemies. Still, no cymbal extant at that time in the region could match the powerful and menacing tone of Avedis' cymbal. These cymbals were mainly played by smashing them together using both hands and would create a distinctively harsh crashing sound that would earn them the nickname “crash cymbals”.

After Murat IV gave the green light to Avedis for the mass production of his cymbals, he was given the title “Zildjian”, which means “cymbal smith”. Zildjian soon became an emporium and, to this day, is the oldest manufacturer of musical instruments worldwide and one of the oldest companies as well.

Nevertheless, in the 1900s, Chinese cymbals began competing with Zildjian cymbals for dominance in the American and European markets just as the first drum kits started being developed. Early Chinese models were very rudimentary owing to their hand-hammered nature, but, with time, they would get more refined, matching the polish and quality of their Turkish counterparts.

For the record, Billy Cobham would be especially fond of China cymbals, and he would install them with the tip pointing downwards to create very peculiar sounds.

The Similarities Between Crash Cymbals And China Cymbals

It's important to note that crash and China cymbals are very reminiscent of each other and are deemed the closest relatives in the cymbal family, if not by virtue of any shared background, at least on account of their use case.

As said earlier, it's common to find the China cymbal classified as a type of “crash cymbal”. Nevertheless, the very term “crash cymbal” is of recent date, and it's often meant as an umbrella term that encompasses cymbals with a similar function.

With all that said, these are some of the similarities that stand out the most between both cymbals:

  • China cymbals and crash cymbals are utilized for accents and effects rather than for timekeeping purposes.
  • Both crash and China cymbals are made of different metals and metal alloys.
  • Both cymbals are made mostly in the shape of round plates (with notable exceptions).
  • Both instruments can be played with beaters or by clashing them together with both hands.
  • The China cymbals have a bell at the center, as is the case with most crash cymbals.

The Differences Between Crash Cymbals And China Cymbals

Next, we'll review the distinctions laid out at the beginning of this writing. Be mindful that we're expected to find fewer points of discrepancy here than in other comparisons. Nonetheless, there are the following differentiating attributes:

Difference 1: Size and Weight

These distinctions are rather marginal, and while they might affect the sound profile of both cymbals, they may not be as influential as their differences in the overall design.

In many cases, China cymbals tend to be large, reaching up to 24″ (approximately 60 cm) in diameter. It's not hard to find smaller “mini” China cymbals, going as far down as 12″, but they are a bit rarer to find than conventional China cymbals.

Conversely, crash cymbals reach up to 22″ (roughly 55 cm) though they're typically smaller than that. The “Crash Ride”, which merges the traits of both crash and ride cymbals, may reach those larger dimensions.

Difference 2: Design

Even though crash cymbals can vary in design, a common characteristic they share is their prominent taper, which is the gradual shift in thickness from the bell to the edge.

Crash cymbals are prone to carrying even thicker bells than their ride counterparts, while the bow and rim retain a “paper-thin” conformation. Still, the bells on crash cymbals are a bit less protruding than on the China cymbals.

China cymbals, on the flip side, have virtually no taper. Rather, their design is heavily irregular, with a convex bow creating the impression of a “double bell” at the center while the rim is slightly bent upwards. Their design is very similar to that of the Chinese Bo and the gong.

Naturally, these traits will influence how these cymbals generate sound, as we'll see next.

Difference 3: Sound

Now we come to the most important distinction: the sound. This particular aspect sets these cymbals apart even more than any of the others mentioned, and for good reason.

We'll start by stressing how crucial those other attributes are in shaping the sound profile of these instruments, especially the body's design and structure. This is due, in great part, to both instruments being idiophone instruments. Let's briefly explain what this term means for those unaware:

Idiophones are instruments whose sounds essentially hinge upon the vibration of their body and don't require the aid of any other component (strings, membranes, airflow, etc.) to that effect. For that reason, their body's build and design are of utmost importance, as these factors will determine how the instrument vibrates and generates sound waves.

Going back to our original subject, comparing the sound of both China and crash cymbals, we can come to the following conclusions:

  • The China cymbal creates a distinguishingly louder sound.
  • The China cymbal likewise produces a wider range of overtones with a “trashy” effect.
  • The China cymbal has a slightly quicker attack, meaning it reaches full intensity in a shorter timeframe than the ordinary crash cymbal.

Despite our above assessment, the China cymbal does not automatically outplay the crash cymbal in what both are set out to do, for the China cymbal's tonal qualities may not be of everyone's liking. While it's true that the China has gained general acceptance among many Western musical circles (particularly in the rock and jazz-rock genres), it's not set to replace the crash cymbal as a whole fully.

For that reason, both cymbals are often featured together in drum kits to offer unique sound palettes. The China cymbal, for all its redeeming qualities, still tends to sound “foreign” to Western ears and, thus, the crash cymbal – along with the hi-hat and the splash cymbal – retains a primary role in the creation of accents, with the China providing an additional flavour to the mix.

Read How Crash Cymbals Compare To Other Instruments

Read How China Cymbals Compare To Other Instruments

This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.


Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and the author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or producing music. For more info, please check out his YouTube channel and his music.

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