One of the greatest challenges for drummers working in smaller rooms and on quieter gigs is figuring out how to keep the volume under control while still delivering a powerful, intense performance. The cymbals are often the most difficult pieces of the kit to contain. Part of the burden falls on us; we need to develop a nimble and sensitive touch that can quickly switch from full strokes on the drums to light flicks on the cymbals. But the instruments themselves carry part of the blame.
Most cymbals are designed to project a full spectrum of frequencies that becomes more expansive and washy as the dynamics increase. The problem is that when playing in quieter situations, the cymbals often overpower the music or don’t open up fully. Sabian has sought to solve that issue with the new FRX (Frequency Reduction) series cymbals, which feature bands of small holes that are strategically placed to remove overtones, soften the attack, and quicken the decay. We were sent a complete set of these unique specialty cymbals to review, which included 16″, 17″, and 18″ crashes; 20″ and 21″ rides; and 14″ hi-hats.
All FRX cymbals have a traditional finish and feature AAX/HHX-style raw bells with finely lathed, subtly hammered bows. The 16″, 17″, and 18″ crashes are paper-thin; they flex very easily with the hands. The 17″ and 18″ models have eight bands of small holes that start about a third of the way up the bell and extend about 1.5″ into the bow. The 16″ has seven bands of holes spaced within a similar pattern.
When compared to similarly sized crashes without holes, the FRX models had a comparable bright-yet-warm tone with a quick, breathy attack and shimmery sustain. However, they felt a lot softer, they decayed a bit faster, and they were devoid of muddy midrange overtones. The holes in the bell gave it a softer, integrated tone.
In the studio, the FRX didn’t sound radically different from other paper-thin crashes, other than having a more contained and focused tone. I did notice that there was less cymbal bleed into the drum and room mics, which allowed for a tighter and punchier mix.
When I used the FRX crashes with a band, the differences were much more significant. The attack was very soft, the decay was quick, and the perceived volume was much lower. Think of the difference between the sound of hitting a crash with no hearing protection versus the quieter and less harsh experience you have when wearing high-quality earplugs. These are some of the most ear-friendly crashes I’ve played that also produce a full, professional-grade sound.
The 20″ and 21″ FRX rides have eight bands of holes that extend 1.5″ over the transition from the bell to the bow, and there’s a second three-band ring of holes about 2″ from the edge. These are a bit firmer than the crashes, but they still have some flex. Although there’s no indication of their weight class, I’d characterize them as medium-thin rides.
Compared to some lighter b20 rides I typically use when I want a warm but clean and shimmery sound, the FRX rides produced fewer low overtones, and the sustain—albeit smooth and balanced—decayed more rapidly. These are fairly washy rides, and the bell sounds are soft and controlled. But the wash shut down quickly as my playing dynamic decreased, producing a similar tight sustain to that of a flat ride.
Lighter strokes elicited clean and clear articulation, while harder strokes brought out some crash-like overtones. These rides have a volume ceiling, which makes them a great choice for quieter gigs where you want to be able to play at a comfortable level without feeling dynamically restrained.
The 14″ FRX hi-hats are the least processed of the series. They feature a light top cymbal with a single band of holes at the base of the bell and a medium-weight bottom with no holes. These hi-hats are designed to deliver clean, crisp articulation. I felt they had an interesting mix of the breathy, warm tone of thin hi-hats and the chunky, tight attack of modern cymbals.
Played solo, the FRX hi-hats didn’t sound too different from typical all-purpose models. Within the context of a band, the dynamic range was noticeably more compressed. Closed sounds were sharp yet slightly trashy, and open tones were bright but focused. They didn’t roar too loudly when played partially open, and the foot chick was clear. Like the crashes, these FRX hi-hats reminded me of the slightly muted timbres you experience when wearing pro-quality headphones or earplugs.
If you notice people wincing every time you hit a crash, ride bell, or open hi-hat, you might want to give this new frequency-reduced FRX series a try. The cymbals sound clean, warm, and expressive, and they won’t hurt anyone’s ears when you really lay into them. That’s a win-win in my book.