This review originally published in the April 2015 issue of Modern Drummer magazine. Order a print copy here or learn more about the issue here.

Sabian Big & Ugly Ride Collection

Large, raw cymbals designed to deliver a darker and richer old-world-style experience.

Sabian recently released an interesting lot of giant, raw-looking rides that span four different series. This unique collection includes the HH Pandora, King, and Nova; the AA Apollo; the HHX Phoenix; and the Xs20 Monarch. The HH and AA models come in 22″ and 24″ sizes, while the HHX Phoenix and Xs20 Monarch are available only in 22″. These cymbals are designed to produce a range of dry and complex tones, with each possessing a distinctive voice.

AA Apollo (22″ and 24″)

The highest-pitched models of the collection, AA Apollo rides are designed for versatility, whether hit hard for cutting yet musical tones, struck quickly for a strong and woody stick attack, or played more delicately for more nuanced textures. They provided utmost articulation at all volumes and had a controlled, semi-bright shimmer.

The 24″ version was drier and had a muted crash sound with a very quick decay. The 22″ provided more sustain and explosiveness but was still very dry. The bells on the Apollos were musical and clear (probably my favorites of the collection). The Apollos stood out in their ability to elicit super-complex, vintage-like tones without sounding too dark or trashy. (Bass players would appreciate how they didn’t muck up the lower frequencies.)

The top surface of the Apollo has a heavy pink/green patina, wide but light lathing, and widely spaced circles of tight hammer markings. The underside is traditionally lathed, with a raw bell.

Xs20 Monarch (22″)

Slightly lower in pitch than the 22″ Apollo, the medium-thin Monarch is designed to deliver a cleaner and glassier sound with greater crash potential. The top surface features rings of raw and lathed bronze, while the bottom is identical to that of the Apollo (traditionally lathed with a raw bell).

Despite its bold appearance, the Monarch was the most all-purpose of the Big & Ugly collection, with a brighter Max Roach/Mickey Roker–type ride sound; a clean, “chimey” bell; and a powerful, shimmering crash. Fast swing patterns on this cymbal brought to mind images of stones skipping across a pond, rather than the dusty, chiseling-through-ancient-ruins feel I got from some of the other models.

HHX Phoenix (22″)

Sitting on the opposite side of the color spectrum is the 22″ Phoenix, which had a darker, rawer, and more complex tone, plus greater cutting power. This was the most “modern sounding” model of the collection and is sure to be a favorite among contemporary jazz/funk/fusion players who prefer the rich, dry flavor of vintage rides but require something that’s more aggressive and nimble and is able to handle higher volumes without washing out.

The Phoenix was very dark and articulate, but it also had some fiery sustain that helped elevate the tone at higher volume levels. Its crash was quick and metallic. The top surface is raw and dark and features large hammer marks that emanate from the bell in somewhat straight lines. Like the Apollo and Monarch, the bottom of the Phoenix is lathed and has a raw bell.

HH Pandora, Nova, and King (22″ and 24″)

Of the three HH Big & Ugly models, the Pandora fell in the middle, in terms of pitch, tone, and decay. Both Pandora rides provided a rich, dark, complex timbre with a strong, woody stick attack and subtler and more integrated bell sounds. The 22″ version had a dark, controlled sustain, while the 24″ was bone dry with almost no sustain (think Jack DeJohnette), but you could get some cool, quick Bill Stewart–like shoulder crashes from it without worrying about the sustain washing away the definition.

The Pandora bells are pretty wide and flat, and the top and bottom surfaces are randomly hammered and lightly/sparsely lathed. The 24″ model we reviewed has a rustic red appearance, while the 22″ features more greens and browns. Both models have a light grid pattern torched on the bottom.

The Novas were a touch brighter than the Pandoras, with the 24″ offering a more metallic bite and a flashy yet extremely dry sustain. Crashing the 24″ was almost comical, in that no matter how much force I exuded, it simply refused to budge beyond a dusty “puff.” Again, it was good for quick shoulder crashes but offered very little for full crashes.

The 22″ Nova opened up a bit more, and it had a raspier and breathier tone than the 24″. The bells on the Novas are smaller and more elevated than on the other models, so they offered a brighter sound but were also a bit more difficult to hit accurately. The finish on the Novas is very similar to that of the Pandoras, including the grid-pattern torching applied to the bottom.

The 22″ and 24″ King rides were super-dark and complex sounding, and they had the same great articulation as the rest of the series, without being as dry as the Pandoras or Novas. The 24″ had a slightly muted and more silvery undertone, while the 22″ sustained a bit more and had a more open and unobstructed timbre. Both King rides were very responsive to dynamic shifts and changes in playing style.

Choosing between HH Big & Ugly models was like picking a favorite ice cream; each one brought a different but equally awesome flavor to the party. The Novas leaned more toward salty than sweet, while the Pandoras were a bit spicier and the Kings were a dark-chocolate lover’s dream. Of course, you could also mix and match among the three, or throw in some of the brighter notes of the AA, Xs20, and HHX models, for an even more rewarding experience.

Michael Dawson

April 2015 Issue of Modern Drummer featuring Bernard “Pretty” Purdie