When you’re looking for a set of cymbals to replace your beginner pie plates, it’s easy to get bogged down in details. That’s why I’m going to review individual series from different cymbal makers to give you an overview of the general characteristics of each.
In this Sabian XS20 cymbals review, I will take a look at a line of cymbals that Sabian claims is not a budget line. And, to be honest, I believe them, despite the attractive low prices on these cymbals.
The XS20s are B20 bronze alloy cymbals, just like Sabian’s much more expensive AA, AAX, and HH lines. With wallet-friendly prices, let’s see how they compare in terms of sound and quality.
Before I dive into the XS20 line, it’s a good idea to introduce Sabian to those who aren’t familiar with them. The company was founded in 1981 by Bob Zildjian.
Wait – Ziljian!?
That’s right. The legendary Armenian cymbal maker passed down the company through the family for centuries. But this time around, disgruntled son Bob Zildjian wasn’t chosen as the company’s heir and decided to do something about it.
He opened Sabian cymbals on the east coast of Canada and began to produce cymbals to directly compete with Zildjian. Sabian uses similar bronze alloys and cymbal-making technology to produce very competitive lines from beginner to pro models.
They’re known for being innovative and experimental in the cymbal world. So Sabian is essentially both a continuation and a competitor of Zildjian. Family Feud, eat your heart out!
Sabian’s XS20 Series – Overview
I have to start by pointing out that the XS20 series has been discontinued by Sabian. In 2016, the XS20 line was revamped and re-designed in the XSR line. I’m not sure what the ‘R’ stands for or why they dropped the 20 (the XSRs are still B20 bronze), but the new series seems generally lighter and brighter across the board.
You can still definitely get your hands on the XS20 series, though. Cymbals don’t exactly have a best before date. You can pick them up new through online shops or from the stock of your local drum shop. And, of course, the second-hand market will have a plethora to choose from.
So what is this B20 I’m yammering on about?
Cheapo pie plate cymbals are generally made from thin stamped brass and sound like all your hopes dying. If you get a free set with your first kit, try your best to replace them ASAP before you get turned off drumming forever.
Quality beginner cymbals are generally made from B8 bronze alloy instead, like Sabian’s B8, B8X, and B8 Pro series. You generally get heavier, more durable cymbals. However, the 8% tin in the bronze mix isn’t enough to allow for lots of dynamic range and lush overtones.
Enter B20 bronze alloy…
Like Zildjian, Sabian uses 80 (silver infused) copper and 20% tin for their B20 mix, which generally results in cymbals with lots of body. Along with both high and low overtones giving a lot of character to each cymbal. Sabian’s AA, AAX, HH, and HHX series are all made of B20 and are great affordable professional cymbals.
It’s a nice surprise to find that the XS20s are made from the same material. However, their prices are somewhere between 50-70% of the more expensive lines. This can make a big difference for the drummer looking for some of the best value for money cymbals on the market.
Another big surprise with the XS20 cymbals…
They are cast and not stamped cymbals. As a general rule, cheaper cymbals are stamped from sheet metal and then machine lathed and hammered into shape. Whereas cast cymbals are cast into their rough shape, then lathed and hammered.
However, cast cymbals require more hand-tuning since the casting process might not produce as uniform a sound. So these cymbals are more labor-intensive than cheaper models. As a result, you get much richer, purer tones and more overtones from a cast cymbal than a cymbal made from bronze rolled and pressed into a sheet.
How do the XS20 series cymbals sound?
In general, they offer solid, pure tones in the mid-range of each cymbal. They have a degree of overtones that put them into a much better-sounding category than stamped cymbals. However, and Sabian admits they spend less time on them, they haven’t got the luscious overtones of the more intensely hand-hammered HH or HHX series.
For more specific sounds, let’s look at a few products that I tried out for this Sabian XS20 Cymbals Review…
The XS20 series put out hats of different sizes and weights. No, I’m not talking about a dress-up party. I’m talking 12” and 14” hi-hat cymbals in Medium, Rock, and X-celerator models.
The Medium hats are – surprise – medium in weight and come across loud and bright. They offer great stick articulation and a nice tone with a goodly amount of high and low overtones. They don’t wash too much when crashed but have a fairly quick fade.
The Rock hi-hats…
A very heavy set of hats. They’re meant to play hard on and look thick enough to stand up to any abuse. They give a nice heavy sound when you stomp your hi-hat pedal that will show up well in heavier music. On the other hand, the overtones are dulled here compared to the Medium hats, and therefore I don’t think they sound as good.
Then there’s the X-celerator Hi-hats. These are essentially the Medium hats in thickness and tone. However, the bottom hat has a crimped edge that makes its rim not come into full contact with the top hat.
This allows you to pump your foot or strike the hats when they’re closed tight and still get a nice tone. The crimped rim allows air to escape, so you don’t get any air lock. I think these are the best of the three hats, with a bright, crisp sound and just the right amount of ring.
Like most Sabian series, the XS20 offers rides in different weights for different styles. Again, there’s a Rock ride that is thick and heavy. This guy gives a great tone if you’re hitting it hard enough. Otherwise, it can be quiet and a bit unresponsive. Except for the bell – you get a ton of bite and all the volume you need there.
The 21” Medium ride is a bit more of an all-rounder. It’s big and heavy enough for most styles, but still clear and bright with good stick articulation. It hasn’t got a great deal of wash unless you crash it as hard as you can. So the volume level and tone are well moderated.
While you’re missing some overtones, this is one of the best sounding ride cymbals you can buy. And the bell here is excellent. You get a pure, solid tone with tons of volume.
Splashes and Crashes
The XS20 crashes were made in 16″ and 18” sizes. And once again in different weights like the Medium and heavier Rock models. In general, the Medium crashes explode loudly and brightly and then fade away quickly. A little too quickly, if you ask me. The Rock crashes have deeper tones and less attack, and they sound a bit more muffled even if their sustain is longer.
Splashes were a better bet in this series. The 10” Splash is extremely quick to scream out with decent mid and high tones and then fade away quickly. The 12” Splash is as responsive, just like you want a splash to be, but offers a superior tone. You get a lot more mid-range here and a fuller, louder sound. This is probably the best cymbal in the Sabian XS20 range.
Come on, who doesn’t love a trashy, clangy Chinese cymbal? Sabian made an 18” Chinese for the XS20 series that has a high-end sound that you won’t normally find in a cymbal this cheap. I’m talking tight, raw, and aggressive. And I’m hearing a lot of mid-tone and some nice low overtone ringing in this cymbal.
It may not be the trashiest Chinese you’ll ever play on. But it does a great job of screaming out and then disappearing into the mix without a lot of extra ring.
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Sabian XS20 Cymbals Review – Final Thoughts
From what I can figure, Sabian did a great job putting out this series. The XS20s give a lot of overtones to flesh out the sound of your kit. They’re not the brightest cymbals. But rather, stick to a more middle tone that can blend in well for most playing styles. In general, they have good volume, nice tone, and great responsiveness.
So why were they discontinued or morphed into the XSR series?
I have a hunch. Cymbals this good and this durable for a little more than half the price of the high-end AA, AAX, HH, and HHX series might have ended up sabotaging Sabian. After all, if you can get most of the durability and performance of high-end cymbals for a fraction of the price, many budget-conscious drummers would choose these.
Instead of saving up for slightly better but way more expensive cymbals, many drummers might compromise. So Sabian probably painted themselves into a corner. I assume they reduced the quality of the XSR series to lower the chances of missing out on sales on their better cymbals.
So for this kind of process and quality, XS20 is a bargain. They’d be great practice cymbals for pros or an excellent upgrade from beginner cymbals for intermediates. Either way, try to snap them up before they’re all gone!
Until next time, may the beat go on.