Sound Pure specialist Paul Spencer covers the differences between cast vs. sheet cymbals in this short video (with sound examples). For those of you unfamiliar with the cymbal-making process, cymbals begin life as a molten copper alloy of some sort, typically bronze (copper/tin) or brass (copper/zinc). The traditional cymbal production process involves pouring molten metal into a mold, which produces a single blank disc that will be rolled, pressed, hammered and lathed into a finished cymbal. This process is extremely labor-intensive and requires a high degree of skill from all hands involved in the production line. Cast cymbals, then, tend to carry a higher price tag because of the laborious process involved in their production.
Sheet cymbals, on the other hand, are stamped out of a larger piece of sheet metal, which is typically fabricated outside of the cymbal production facility. Sheet cymbals are relatively inexpensive to produce, and generally don’t carry as high a price tag as do their cast cousins. It should be noted, however, that not all cast cymbals are professional grade, and not all sheet cymbals are beginner/intermediate budget pieces. For example, Sabian‘s XSR cymbals are cast from B20 bronze, but are priced as intermediate cymbals, while Paiste‘s professional 2002 series of cymbals are stamped from a sheet of Paiste’s CuSn8 alloy (which is actually B8).
Because of advances in manufacturing technology, the difference between cast and sheet cymbals has become less about overall quality and more about consistency. Since cast cymbals are each poured into individual blanks, slight differences in the alloy composition, as well as variances through each stage of the production process, mean that each cymbal will possess its own unique sonic fingerprint… which, as desirable as it sounds, is not necessarily something you want! Sheet cymbals, by contrast, are subject to less variance across a production batch due to the uniform nature of the original sheet metal they were stamped from. The upshot is this: two Zildjian 18” K Crash cymbals will each produce a slightly different tone, while two Zildjian 18” S Crash Cymbals will sound virtually identical.
Drummers who want to possess a cymbal that is uniquely theirs will want to try out several different cast crash cymbals, even among the same model, in order to find their unique sound. But if you want to get a cymbal that sounds exactly like the master sound demo, then a sheet cymbal might be for you—especially if you’re a hard hitter and you need to replace your cymbals regularly. Check out the full video to hear some sound samples… but keep in mind that sheet vs. cast cymbal construction is only one of the many factors that determines a cymbal’s sound!
Check out the next tutorial in this series on cymbal alloy properties, and stay tuned for future posts discussing hammering and lathing patterns, and finishes.