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Electronic or electric drum kits have been the go-to for quiet drumming for the past few decades. However, a number of alternative technologies are becoming increasingly popular in the last few years.
One of the main drawbacks of cymbals on electric drum kits is the response, as these cymbals are usually rubber/plastic and much thicker/clunkier while simultaneously being less wide than a standard cymbal.
While this is a fantastic technology for convenience, being compact and quiet for practice (and sometimes, even performance), it can be challenging to translate this practice to an acoustic kit as the feeling can be so radically different.
Enter low-volume cymbals! These vary by company, but all follow a similar design. Low-volume cymbals are cymbals that are perforated (have tiny holes throughout) to decrease the weight and volume overall.
They are also not made of standard cymbal alloy (bronze). These cymbals are acoustic—so they do not need to be plugged in to produce sound but rather have sound at a specific (lower volume) range compared to traditional acoustic cymbals.
Initially, low-volume cymbals were limited to hi-hat, ride, and crash cymbals but have expanded to include splash, china, and other effect cymbals!
In 2023, most major cymbal manufacturers will have their own line of low-volume cymbals. This article will go through 5 of the most popular low-volume cymbal lines to discuss each brand’s differences and pros/cons.
Zildjian L80 Cymbals (14″-16″-18″ set)
The Zildjian L80 line is the best-known of the quiet cymbals on the market and the first set I owned. They are aptly named, as they are said to have a noise reduction of up to 80% compared to standard cymbals.
They are the most popular to this day and are sold at the majority of brick-and-mortar and online music stores. There is a large variety of L80 cymbals–there are sets with different size combinations, as well as a splash and china that can be bought separately.
The main set that Zildjian sells is a 14″ hi-hat pair, 16″ crash, and 18″ crash/ride, which retails at approximately $400.
Compared to the other cymbals on the list, the Zildjian L80s have a great dark and washy tone. The attack may not be as sharp as some other low-volume cymbals, but they are arguably the quietest and have a great response.
One drawback of this set is that you only get a crash and a crash-ride cymbal instead of 2 crashes and a full 20″ ride, as with the rest of the cymbal packs on the list. At $400, this is quite costly.
My experience is that they lack durability and may only last a few years of regular practice. Still, it should be noted that “you get what you pay for” and that the Zildjian L80 set is a solid choice for experienced drummers who need a consistent sound and feel in their quiet practice.
Material: Proprietary Alloy (Brass)
All Sizes Available: 10″ splash, 13″/14″ hi-hats, 16″ crash, 18″ crash/ride, 18″ china, 20″ ride
Pros: Easy to find, great sound, one of the quietest options.
Cons: Not very durable, comparably poor attack, expensive.
Sabian Quiet Tone Cymbals (14″-16″-18″-20″ set)
Sabian is another of the best-known brands in the world of cymbals, and the 2nd largest cymbal manufacturer in the “big four” after Zildjian (the other brands being Meinl and Paiste). That being said, you can rest assured that Sabian cymbals are exceptional!
Sabian’s Quiet Tone cymbals are the main competitor to Zildjian’s L80s. However, there are quite a few differences between the two. Sabian also offers several differently sized packs, albeit without an additional splash or china option. The most obvious difference is that these are made from stainless steel, made with durability in mind.
While I’ve personally marked these up, I’ve yet to find the tiniest of chips or dents, unlike with the Zildjian L80 cymbals. In terms of tone, the sound is very crisp and bright, with great stick definition, and the cymbals have a fantastic bell sound and hi-hat “chick.”
However, this is a trade-off to the volume, as these are a little louder than many other quiet cymbals on the market. At $470, the price is the highest in this list, but cheaper than the Zildjian L80s if one buys the 14-16-18 set with the 20″ ride separately.
All Sizes Available: 13″/14″ hi-hats, 16″ crash, 18″ crash/ride, 20″ ride
Material: Stainless Steel
Pros: Very durable, great stick definition, reliable/comparable to Zildjian.
Cons: Louder and higher pitched, most expensive.
Wuhan ORA Cymbals (14″-16″-18″-20″ set)
While not as large as Zildjian or Sabian, Wuhan is well known worldwide as a manufacturer of affordable, functional cymbals. Their ORA series (Outward Reduced Audio) is no exception to that standard. Because of their affordability, Wuhan cymbals get a lot of use in the practice room and more low-pressure musical environments. The ORA series increases that functionality by making them more universal for quiet practice.
Like the Zildjian L80s, the Wuhan ORA series has several size/cymbal options. However, they only offer two sets—one with the full hi-hat, ride, two crashes, and one without the extra crash cymbal.
The most notable difference between these cymbals and other low-volume cymbals is that they are one of the loudest—still significantly quieter than traditional cymbals, at around one-third to half the volume reduction, but noticeably louder than the other cymbals on this list.
They also lean towards higher pitch/frequency and are more piercing (unwanted overtones) than what we look for in quiet cymbals. The excellent bell sound and definition are where these cymbals shine due to their more aggressive tone. These cymbals are best for drummers on a budget who are more interested in practice than quality tone.
All Sizes Available: 10″ splash, 14″ hi-hats, 16″ crash, 18″ crash, 18″ china, 20″ ride
Material: B20 (bronze)
Pros: Cheapest option, good bell/stick definition, durable.
Cons: Piercing and bright, loudest choice
Trick Drums Low Volume Cymbals (14″-16″-18″-20″ set)
Trick Drums is likely the least-known drum brand on the list, partly because their products focus on innovating hardware and accessories (mainly drum pedals).
But that hasn’t stopped them from innovating with their own set of competitive low-volume cymbals. The fact that Trick Drums works hard on developing effective products, coupled with the low cost of these cymbals, makes them a big contender.
Unfortunately, the fact that this is a smaller company makes these cymbals less accessible, such that it’s difficult to find them to test out at a local music store or find demos online.
At just $20 more than the equivalent Wuhan low-volume cymbals (ORA), you’d expect these cymbals to be of lower-end quality. The tones are similar to the Sabian Quiet Tone low-volume cymbals but slightly more aggressive.
There is a good response and rebound when struck, and the cymbals are solidly made and aren’t overly bright. Trick Drums does an excellent job of providing low-cost quiet cymbals with marginal differences from the big names, however, at least sound-wise, the bigger brands are objectively better options. Nevertheless, trick Drums Low Volume cymbals provide a good alternative for their price without completely sacrificing the tone.
All Sizes Available: 14″ hi-hats, 16″ crash, 18″ crash, 20″ ride
Material: Stainless Steel
Pros: Great value, not as dissonant as similarly priced models
Cons: Only 1 set available, more challenging to find, still more piercing than Evans/Zildjian
Evans dB One Low Volume Cymbals (14″-16″-18″-20″ set)
Evans is a brand that most drummers know very well—but the company is most known for its drumheads, being one of the largest manufacturers alongside Remo and Aquarian. This is an important thing to note, as unlike the competitors on this list, the Evans dB One Low Volume cymbals were designed alongside matching (quiet) mesh drumheads. The trade-off here is that this pack (14-16-18-20) is the only option for their low-volume cymbals.
Evans dB One cymbals are a beautiful shade of dark grey with a carefully designed pattern of perforations that look AND sound fantastic. One of the most notable aspects of these cymbals is that relative to many low-volume cymbals, they are on the darker side, rather than piercing or bright, while retaining a fantastic stick articulation and response.
A notable difference is that the bell is weaker than other low-volume cymbals. Still, a big part of the low-volume cymbal market is centered around functionality, which often comes at the expense of sound. Evans manages to strike a nice balance. On this list, Evans dB One is a clear competitor to Zildjian’s L80s in terms of sound and at a competitive price.
All Sizes Available: 14″ hi-hats, 16″ crash, 18″ crash, 20″ ride. Matching drumheads are also available.
Material: Stainless Steel Alloy
Pros: Matching drumheads from a reputable brand, less piercing than most competitors, great response
Cons: Bells are small/low, only four sizes available & sold as a single set
Drumming is becoming more accessible with incredible innovations, like low-volume cymbals, introduced to the industry. While there used to be just a small handful of options, just about every major drumming brand has come out with their own models of low-volume cymbals; this is not an exhaustive list, and I encourage drummers to use this as a starting point but to explore the various options that continue to become available.
Of the brands discussed, I find there to be a pretty clear tier list:
- Zildjian L80s and Evans dB One for the best sound.
- Sabian Quiet Tone and Trick Drums for good quality and decent sound, with a few trade-offs.
- Wuhan ORA for functionality.
Which cymbals do you find to be the most effective for quiet practice? Are there any brands listed elsewhere that deserve a thorough analysis and review? Thanks for checking out the article, and keep practicing hard!