Sabian FRX Frequency Reduced Cymbals
By Phil O'Keefe |
What do these cymbals and a 20W guitar amp have in common?
This is a review about cymbals. Right off the bat I should let everyone know that I'm really not a drummer. Sure, I have a studio kit and I occasionally bang around on it, but drums are not my primary, or even one of my secondary instruments. But I am an audio engineer, and I know what good cymbals should sound like. I have put in countless hours working with drummers in various situations over the years - as a live sound engineer, recording engineer and as a musician. So why am I reviewing this new line of cymbals from Sabian? Because when I heard about them, I thought they very well might be the solution to some longstanding issues that I (and many drummers) have occasionally faced - sometimes the drum kit - especially the cymbals - can be too loud for the situation at hand, requiring the drummer to "hold back" in order to avoid overpowering the other instruments, the room, the audience, and in some cases, even the rest of the kit. Most of the drummers reading this can probably relate, and know what it's like to be asked to "turn down a bit" from personal experience. So what exactly are FRX cymbals, and how can they help with these issues?
What You Need To Know
Sabian's new line of FRX cymbals shouldn't be confused with "practice cymbals" (like Sabian's new line of Quiet Tone cymbals) - the FRX series is intended for performance use, and not just for practicing at home.
Currently, the FRX line consists of a variety of different cymbal sizes, including 14" hi hats, 16", 17" and 18" crash cymbals, and 20" and 21" ride cymbals. Each is offered separately - there are currently no "bundles" available, although I suspect Sabian will offer them in cymbal packages eventually.
The hats pair a light top with a medium weight bottom, and they feel fairly quick and articulate to this non-drummer. The ride cymbals have good stick definition and a nice clank to the bell, and good ping when played closer to the edge. I really like the bell sounds on both rides, as well as on all three crash cymbals too. Crashes are bright, crisp and explosive, but they don't rip your head off or leave you with ear fatigue. The feel is a bit on the soft side, and the pitch of the three crashes complement each other very well.
Similar to practice cymbals, the FRX cymbals are perforated with a variety of small holes, but not nearly as heavily. Where nearly the entire surface area of Sabian's Quiet Tone cymbals have holes, the FRX cymbals have holes covering less than 20-25% of their surface area, at most.
The hole pattern is different for each cymbal type, with only one small ring of holes around the base of the bell on the top hi hat (and none on the bottom), seven (16") or eight (17" and 18") rings of holes on the crash cymbals (covering about half of the bell and moving outward from there) and two perforated areas on the ride cymbals - with eight rows of holes that start about half way down the bell, and another three rows spaced about one inch from the cymbal's edge.
While they are quieter than regular cymbals (according to Sabian by about 4 dB, on average - which I confirmed in my own studio with comparison tests using regular cymbals and a SPL meter), they're not nearly as quiet as practice cymbals, which can be 30-40 dB quieter than regular cymbals.
While a 4 dB reduction in volume is audible, don't make the mistake of thinking it's a huge reduction like you'd hear from practice cymbals. For the non-engineers out there, the decibel is a non-linear, logarithmic ratio; the human ear perceives a 10 dB increase in SPL (sound pressure level) as a "doubling" of volume or as being "twice as loud", so while noticeable, the 4 dB volume difference between FRX and regular cymbals is not as drastic as a practice cymbal's sound pressure level reduction.
Lower volume doesn't mean lower quality. Sabian didn't go cheap here. These are not inexpensive sheet brass cymbals - they use the same B20 bronze as their AA/AAX, HH/HHX, Paragon and Artisan cymbals.
- These are traditionally finished cymbals with a natural glow, as opposed to a highly polished surface. The bells are left raw and unfinished.
They're fairly "fast" - not only do they have the explosive attack you want, but they decay fairly quickly too - but again, not nearly as fast as most practice cymbals. The faster decay helps them to "get out of the way" of other things in the mix (including the drums themselves), but there's still enough sustain and shimmer to be satisfying and to avoid giving the listener the impression of an un-naturally muted or dead cymbal sound.
Unlike practice cymbals, the sound of the stick attack isn't overwhelming or unbalanced compared to the cymbal itself. This is a particularly important distinction when recording.
I've made mention of "lower volume" multiple times in this review, but that's something that Sabian isn't really emphasizing in their marketing. They are quick to point out that while they are a bit quieter, what they're shooting for with the FRX series is not just about the SPL readings on a meter, but our perception of the sound. Sabian says that FRX stands for Frequency Reduced Cymbals. What's the difference? Sabian's design aim wasn't just to make the cymbals quieter, but to do so by manufacturing the cymbals in such a way as to modify their overall frequency response - reducing some of the excessive midrange and high frequencies in order to reduce frequencies that tend to mask other sounds, cause ear fatigue and make cymbals seem overbearing in some situations.
Does it work? Yes, it does. The FRX cymbals have an almost pre-EQ'ed sound to them that makes them sit in the mix much more comfortably and in a way that sounds much more polished - especially in smaller rooms or situations where regular cymbals might be a bit too overbearing - yet they still sound like "real" professional cymbals - because they are.
- Dynamic control is unaffected. You won't be able to get quite as loud with them, but you can still crescendo, you can still get louder on the chorus if you want to, and you can still be totally musical with your playing dynamics.
The long-term durability of some other perforated cymbals has been a concern for some players, and only time will tell in terms of how well the FRX series will fare in that respect, but as of this time, I have no reason to think that they'd be any more prone to cracking than any other relatively thin cymbals. The fact that there is a substantial area at both the edges and near the center of the bell that is left unperforated on the FRX series means that these critical areas are less weakened than the same locations on some heavily perforated practice cymbal models. That, along with the standard B20 bronze metal formulation, should help them stay in it for the long haul.
- They're considerably more expensive than practice cymbals and are priced similarly to other professional grade cymbals in the Sabian line.
Sabian has really come up with something unique, special and very much needed with their new FRX line of cymbals. Finally, drummers don't have to hold back anymore - you can play naturally, while still controlling your SPL levels and reducing the chance that people will think you're too loud or playing too hard. With Sabian FRX cymbals the sometimes overwhelming broad spectrum wash of white noise that you get from most other cymbals is gone, leaving a more balanced, better focused, less overpowering sound in its place.
Guitarists don't always need a 100W amp, nor will a 5W practice amp always be enough - which is why we've seen a rise in popularity of amps in the 15-20W range in the past few years. The FRX cymbals are the drummer's equivalent of a 20W guitar amp - loud enough to be practical for use in the types of venues where most of us play without being overpowering. If you find yourself regularly playing at wedding receptions, in the pit orchestra for musical theater or stage plays, at an amusement park, on a cruise ship, in a casino lounge, or for a church praise and worship team - or anywhere else where you have to be constantly vigilant about how people will perceive your volume level, then you'll appreciate what the Sabian FRX series has to offer.
Drummers are not the only ones who might want to consider purchasing these cymbals. Smaller venues such as clubs and coffee shops, musical directors, school stage and jazz band programs, churches, and recording studios may want to invest in a set of Sabian FRX cymbals and keep them on hand for use when the drummer's regular cymbals are too loud and overpowering. They record exceptionally well, and if you've ever had a drummer come into the studio that beat the snot out of the cymbals constantly but barely tapped the skins, you know how frustrating it can be to try to get a well balanced drum sound. As I had hoped, the FRX cymbals are ideal for these situations, allowing for a more impactful drum sound and more balanced mix overall without compromising the subjective sound quality of the cymbals. While I wouldn't always automatically default to using them in the studio, I don't ever want to record drums again without having a set of Sabian FRX cymbals on hand in case they are needed.
While they're not inexpensive, the same is true of all high-quality cymbals, and no other cymbal currently on the market that I'm aware of (no matter how expensive) does quite what the Sabian FRX series does. If you're looking for a very musical set of cymbals that blows people away based on their sound rather than on their volume, you owe it to yourself to give them a try. I predict that they're going to be very popular with a lot of drummers - and a lot of other people too. -HC-
Want to discuss the Sabian FRX series frequency reduced cymbals or have questions or comments about this review? Then head over to this thread in the Drum forum right here on Harmony Central and join the discussion!
Sabian FRX series frequency reduced cymbals ($299.99 - $479.99 MSRP each, depending on size and model)
Sabian's product web page
You can purchase the Sabian FRX series cymbals from:
(More demonstration videos and audio clips, including examples with each separate cymbal, can be found on the Sabian product web page)
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.