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From sharp pings to rising swells, a good crash cymbal adds that burst of energy or perfect finishing cadence to your song or performance. Considered one of the oldest percussion instruments still in use today, cymbals have been traced back to ancient Asia, where Chinese performers would strike round plates of metal with a mallet or clap them together as a form of celebration, and as part of both religious and physical exercises.
Eventually, cymbals expanded to the rest of the world, and the instrument began to take on different sizes and uses. The most commonly used cymbals are crash cymbals and ride cymbals. Both are now an essential part of any percussion setup today, seen — and heard — in everything from rock bands to marching bands to orchestras.
The difference between a crash cymbal and a ride cymbal is actually pretty straightforward. Ride cymbals tend to be larger, and are used to keep the beat or to play a specific rhythmic pattern. They usually give off short, sharp sounds. A crash cymbal, on the other hand, is used mainly as an accent, producing a loud “crash” or a sustained swelling to add dynamics and expression to your song. Ride cymbals are played using sticks or brushes; crash cymbals can sometimes be played by hand (note: all the picks on our list are crash cymbals for drum sets).
The best crash cymbals will have loud, well-defined sound that cuts through the rest of the instruments on the track. You also want to the sound to be clean, not muddled, and resonant rather than muted.
The heavier or thicker your cymbal, the higher the pitch; sound is also denser. Thinner cymbals are brighter and more powerful; sound is more defined and full. The best cymbal size is somewhere between 14″ and 16″. The larger the diameter, the greater the projection of sound. Pay attention to the “bell” or the curved area in the center of your cymbals too – a larger bell will have more projection and be louder.
We’ve rounded up some of the most popular crash cymbals that you can purchase online. These picks are well-made, easy to play and will help ensure that your next recording or performance is, well, a smashing success.
1. Meinl 14” Crash Cymbal
These 14” Meinl plates are great for beginners who need a versatile set of cymbals or who don’t have room for a full percussion set. Get the swelling sounds of a crash cymbal with short sustain for faster, crisper accents.
Manufactured in Germany, Meinl makes its cymbals from a durable brass alloy that holds up to years of use without losing its tone or luster. The brass is sensitive to all playing styles, responding well whether you’re hammering at the edge (say, in a rock song) or tapping the bell on a jazz track.
PROS: Versatile cymbal that works with sticks, mallets and brushes.
CONS: If you want something with a longer sustain and more resonance, you’ll want to consider other options on our list.
2. Zildjian 16″ Crash Cymbal
We like this Zildjian crash cymbal, which uses a B8 alloy (made from a copper and tin mix) rather than traditional brass, to deliver a more durable playing experience.
Sound is loud and clear, and projects well, whether you’re using sticks or brushes. Zildjian says its “hammering technology” means you get great response no matter where you’re striking the cymbal, which makes this great for beginners trying to learn the instrument. Sound is reliable and consistent, even after years of use.
These cymbals are made in the USA. The Armenian-American brand, Zildjian, has been making percussion instruments for centuries, with some records tracing the family-owned business back to 1623.
PROS: Bright, high-pitched sound that cuts through. Cymbals made by a well-respected leader in percussion manufacturing.
CONS: The copper and tin material is durable, but sound won’t be as detailed or crisp as with brass cymbals.
3. Foraineam 14″ Crash Cymbal
This 14-inch crash cymbal gets you decent sound that’s surprisingly loud and resonant for its size.
This cymbal is made of brass for a more classic look, feel and sound. The smaller size makes it great for compact set ups, like a garage band or high school performances.
This is a great starter set for beginners or younger players, who want consistent sound but don’t need a whole range of dynamics or tones.
PROS: Compact size, sensitive surface, made of real brass.
CONS: This is the smallest option on our list; sound won’t project as far as larger cymbals. Sound is responsive but “flatter” than other options on our list.