The drum industry is a highly competitive one with several different cymbal manufacturers producing high-quality products for drummers. Every company has its strengths and weaknesses and some companies cater to certain types of drummers more than others.
With that being said, here are the best cymbal brands on the market.
Top 4 Cymbal Brands
Zildjian is arguably the most popular cymbal brand there is. Most musicians know of Zildjian cymbals, even if they aren’t drummers. The Avedis Zildjian company was founded in Turkey in 1623. The company is now based in Norwell, Massachusetts.
Their most famous lines of cymbals are the K and A lines. The K and K Custom cymbals exhibit darker and dryer properties with musical overtones. They’re well-suited for recording in studios and playing in jazz and mellow settings.
Some notable artists who endorse Zildjian cymbals are Dennis Chambers, Travis Barker, Larnell Lewis, and Aaron Spears.
The only complaint that I see about Zildjian cymbals is that their most popular signature cymbals are on the pricier side.
Their budget cymbals (take the Planet Z cymbals as an example) lack the qualities that made their higher-end products so popular in the first place. I think this is why Meinl has managed to occupy more of the budget section of the market share in recent years.
Zidljian has managed to maintain their popularity thanks to their excellent social media projects. Some of my favorite things to watch on YouTube are the videos where Zildjian artists are playing in the cymbal factory. It’s something that I haven’t seen other cymbal brands do, making it a unique feature of the brand. Check this video out to see an example.
They also uploaded Ziljdian LIVE performances throughout the year of 2020 which turned many eyes towards Zildjian and the drummers connected with the brand. These videos had top drummers playing with professional bands. A few years ago, you would have had to pay money to see something like this.
Sabian has always been the direct competitor to Zildjian. The company was established in 1981 in Canada and is still based there. The founder of Sabian is actually the brother of the founder of Zildjian. They had a conflict that ended in Robert Zildjian creating his own cymbal company.
The most mass-produced high-quality lines of cymbals from Sabian are the AA and HH series. The AAX and HHX can be compared to the A and K Custom lines from Zildjian. The AA cymbals are bright and loud while the HH cymbals are darker with more musical tones.
Sabian cymbals aren’t as popular as they were a decade ago. However, they’re still endorsed by some great drummers such as Brian Fraser-Moore, Dave Elitch, Anderson Paak, Jojo Mayer, and Chris Dave.
I think the biggest reason for Sabian’s cymbals losing popularity is that the company doesn’t push social media campaigns as well as Zidljian or Meinl do. There aren’t as many high-quality videos of drummers playing Sabian cymbals. Their YouTube channel isn’t as populated as the other top cymbal brands.
This shouldn’t stop you from checking out Sabian’s cymbals, though. They’re still one of the top brands with highly competitive products, and still the favorite among heavy hitters (especially metal drummers). I just wish they posted more professional videos of their artists playing them so I could get a clearer idea of what they all sound like.
Meinl hasn’t always been as popular as the previous brands. They’ve gained a lot of popularity in recent times thanks to social media and having a lot of well-known drummers endorse their products. The company was established in 1951 in Germany.
The Meinl movement started with popular German drummers such as Jost Nickel and Benny Greb using their cymbals. Once the world started seeing the unique unlathed finishes and hearing the dry and short tones, Meinl started gaining a large amount of traction.
Their most popular line of cymbals is the Byzance Series. Most of the cymbals in this series are easily recognizable thanks to their unlathed surfaces. The earthy aesthetic is loved by a lot of drummers.
Many drummers that are popular on social media endorse Meinl products. Some notable drummers are Anika Nilles, Benny Greb, Adam Tuminaro, Gabe Helguera, and Chris Coleman.
My favorite thing about Meinl is that the company puts a lot of support into online drum educators. In the past, most cymbal brands would only endorse drummers who were going on tours and playing in front of large crowds. Meinl saw the potential of the online space and did a lot for online teachers. This is why you’ll see many top online drummers using Meinl cymbals.
Rounding out the list of the top 4 cymbal brands is Paiste. Their headquarters is in Switzerland and the company was established in 1906. Paiste cymbals have a bit of a reputation for being more expensive than the other brands.
However, their expense is completely justifiable in that their cymbals have immaculate sounds and qualities.
The most popular lines from Paiste are the 2002 Series and the Signature Series. The 2002 cymbals are used by a lot of rock and metal drummers while the Signature cymbals are used by jazz drummers and recording studios.
The most famous drummers that endorse Paiste are Vinnie Colaiuta, Stewart Copeland, Daru Jones, and Steve Jordan.
I’ve seen a large number of Canadian drummers using Paiste cymbals. They’re quite popular over there, especially thanks to the guys at Drumeo who run the biggest drum education platform in the world (if you're interested, you can check out my top picks among online drum lesson platforms).
One thing that Paiste has for them is the rich history of legendary drummers that played their cymbals. One of the biggest pioneers of their brand was John Bonham. He was the drummer for Led Zeppelin and he’s still regarded as one of the best rock drummers to ever live. Many drummers who are influenced by him gravitate towards Paiste.
If you ever need some cheap cymbals that sound great, Wuhan is the way to go. The downside to Wuhan cymbals is that they aren’t made consistently. You can get two of the same cymbal and one will sound fantastic while the other won’t sound as good.
The most popular line from Wuhan is their Traditional series. These cymbals have a classic cymbal tone with a bit of a trashy element added to the mix. They’re bright and will cut through most mixes.
They also offer a Rock series of cymbals which are a little bit brighter than the Traditional series.
I played on Wuhan cymbals for the longest time when I was a bit younger and they served me incredibly well. They were cheap to replace, so I was never worried about hitting too hard and damaging them.I still look for Wuhan cymbals to get trashy sounds for stacks. I feel that they’re fantastic for that.
The Dream brand of cymbals was established in 2005 and their products are manufactured from a factory in Wuhan, China.
Their most popular series is their Bliss range of cymbals. These cymbals are hand-forged and hand-hammered to produce beautiful tones. They’re warm and have dark overtones that scream musicality.
The Dream Ignition cymbals are another popular series of Dream cymbals.
Whenever I play on Dream cymbals, I’m always surprised at how well they open up when you dig into them. Most of the jazz cymbals are quite thin, but they have a huge impact when you hit hard. They’re great for crash/riding on.Even though they’re mostly jazz-focused, you can find some dream cymbals that are brighter and work better for heavier styles of music.
Istanbul Agop was established in Turkey in 1980. The thing that makes this company unique is the alloy they use for making the cymbals, the formula of which is only known to the owners of the company.
This alloy gives the cymbals a unique sound that is different from all the other cymbal brands.
Similar to Dream, Istanbul cymbals are used by a lot of jazz drummers thanks to their musical overtones and nuances. However, they’re loved by many rock drummers as well.
Some well-known drummers that endorse Istanbul Agop cymbals are Carter McLean and Yussef Dayes.
One of the most popular cymbals from this brand is the Clap Stack. This effects cymbal is widely popular amongst drummers as it’s one of the few cymbals in the world that closely resembles the sound of a hand clap.
Soultone cymbals were established in 2003 and the company is based in Los Angeles, California. They’re most popular amongst the Gospel drummer community as a lot of their cymbals produce bright tones that are great for high-energy playing.
The company has a bit of a bad reputation for giving out low-quality endorsements to drummers. This means that drummers will get endorsed, however, they’ll still pay almost the full price for their cymbals.
With that being said, there are still some high-profile drummers that endorse Soultone such as Steven Adler, Nick Smith, and Jerohn Garnett.
Stagg is arguably the least popular cymbal brand on this list. You’d typically find some Stagg cymbals on an entry-level drum kit that don’t sound all that great.
However, the company does produce higher-quality ranges of cymbals that can be quite competitive in the cymbal market.
The company was established in 1995 and produces a lot more than just cymbals. The fact they produce all kinds of instruments makes it understandable that their cymbals aren’t highly popular.
If you’re a beginner or a drummer who just wants some cymbals that won’t break the bank, Stagg is a good company to look out for.
Bosphorus cymbals almost exclusively cater to jazz drummers. The company was established in 1996 in my 3 Turkish cymbal smiths. All the cymbals are hand-made, giving them unique and personal qualities.
There are 4 lines of cymbals that they offer which are the Traditional Series, Turk Series, Master Vintage, and Syncopation Series. All these cymbals have the same earthy appearance as the Byzance lines from Meinl.
One highly accomplished drummer that endorses their cymbals is Ari Hoenig. Ari is one of the most innovative jazz drummers in the world at the moment.
Unlike Dream cymbals, I’ve never seen anyone other than jazz drummers use these cymbals. You’re unlikely to find any cymbals from their lineup that are thick, heavy, and bright.
How to Choose the Right Brand & Cymbals
Picking a Brand
With so many options out there, it can be daunting to decide on what cymbal brand you should go with. I encourage everyone to test out as many cymbals as they can before sticking to one particular set or brand. The best thing you can do is experiment and decide what kind of sounds you prefer.
Choosing what cymbal sounds you like is the one aspect of picking a brand. The other aspect is deciding whether you like how the brand is run. You should ideally love what the brand is about before going with their products.
Brands like Meinl and Zildjian are highly active on social media and they support their artists heavily through that. If you’re a frequent social media user, brands like these would be the best ones for you. If you don’t care about stuff like that, then you can definitely consider other brands as well.
Brand loyalty is something that drummers will fight over until the end of time. To be honest, I think the only people that need to be loyal to a cymbal brand are the drummers that are endorsed by those brands. If you aren’t tied to a brand in any way, there’s nothing wrong with mixing and matching cymbals from different brands.
Some brands just don’t offer the same sounds as others, so you could get the sound you want from a Zildjian cymbal and mix it with your set of Sabian cymbals. You should first look for the sounds you want before looking for the aesthetics of your cymbals.
Some drummers will disagree with me here, but most will agree in terms of sound mixing.
One thing I will say, though, is that you need to stay loyal to one brand if you ever hope to get an endorsement deal with them one day. Showing them that you love their cymbals exclusively before getting any discounts will help dramatically in the endorsement process.
While Paiste is the brand with the reputation for selling the most expensive cymbals, most brands have cymbal lines that are priced the same. Remember that these brands are trying to compete with each other, so prices are going to be very competitive.
You can find highly expensive cymbals from every brand as well as budget cymbals from most of them. Pricing shouldn’t be an issue when you’re looking for a cymbal brand to go with.
You just need to decide what your budget is and see which lines of cymbals from each brand fall within that.
We’ve covered most of the cymbal brands available on the market at the moment. There are some smaller brands and cymbal makers around the world that also make great products. However, they just haven’t sold them on a global scale just yet.
Some drummers like to stick to one brand while others prefer to mix it up based exclusively on how the cymbals sound. When choosing cymbals to buy, just remember to get ones that will suit your sound and playing style.
Bosphorus cymbals won’t work too well for rock whereas Zildjian A Customs won’t work for jazz. As drummers, we’re very spoiled for choice when it comes to cymbals!