The new hats, which gave us ripples of excitement (I lied, I can’t help myself), are called X-Celerator Hats and include 13", 14", and 15" sizes in both AAX and HHX models. The bottom cymbal of these models has a wavy pattern along its edge.
This is a design approach started by one of the other Big Three cymbal makers back in the ’70s, when there were only two “Big” cymbal makers to speak of, and then adopted by a second, and now, finally, available as part of Sabian’s hi-hat selection. Hallelujah.
It’s safe to generalize a few points about paired hi-hats featuring ripple-edged bottom cymbals. The chick sound is clear and crisp. As a result, it’s nearly impossible to make the foot-chick small. Playing the pair with the shoulder of a stick makes a big sound, but so does playing on the face with the tip of the stick, because the ripple edged bottom cymbal helps activate the whole top cymbal whenever and wherever you play it. Opening the hats slightly gives a very slithery, sizzly sound. These points can be good or bad depending on what you want, but they are strong points, and they are added, so to speak, to the characteristics of each particular cymbal pairing.
The 13" AAX X-Celerator hats include a heavy bottom and medium top. Their small diameter keeps the pitch on the high side, but they remain buttery and funky, with the clean, bright, classic sound that distinguishes the AAX line. These cymbals boast full dynamic representation.
The same 13" diameter in HHX X-Celerator, on the other hand, has a dark, dry sound that is helpfully articulated by the rippled bottom cymbal. The thin top cymbal, with its un-lathed bell, contrasts with the quite heavy bottom cymbal to make a very clean foot-chick that complements the old-school, darker and drier tone.
And don’t think we didn’t try swapping around a bit; putting the 13" HHX top on the 13" AAX bottom for instance. All the meat, with a little less sweet. Super!
The 14" HHX X-Celerator hats are low and dark, like a wise old mule coming down the road. The foot-chick had a surprisingly mellow attack with a hint of a low pitch-bend overtone (audible up close but you’d never hear it in a band setting). These would be formidable cymbals bashed in a setting of dark music or stroked within the setting of an old-school big band.
The 14" AAX X-Celerator hats we played were by far the prettiest in the bunch but also the loudest and least articulate. Foot-chick was clean and strong, but playing the medium-heavy top and heavy bottom cymbals produced scant clarity of stroke, creating instead a very wide attack sound with an abundance of mush. They were a bit uncontrollable. Maybe that would work well in a really loud setting. We found this particular pair disappointing because Sabian’s brilliant finish looks hot and we think we would love it on a better-matched pair of cymbals.
Speaking of love, the 15" AAX X-Celerator cymbals we played were as sweet as those AAX 14"s were clunky. These are big cymbals, and they’re low-pitched, glassy, and smooth. We had a little trouble getting these big suckas to sit flat on the hi-hat stand’s felt (with ripple bottom hats, flat is best, not tilted), so there was some chunkiness in the foot-chick until they settled in. On the bandstand, they idled as powerfully as any Cadillac, and when spanked they spoke right up.
In the HHX line, the 15" size didn’t fare as well. The basic tone of these hats is dry and dark, and that part was fine. But there were some odd overtones to the foot-chick (when we pumped our foot real fast we got sort of a didgeridoo effect). Playing “pea soup” or a Basie hat pattern produced low, unwanted wah-wah notes every time the hats came open. Regular half-open sizzle was great, though, and we’re not ready to give up on this model or size — just this particular pair.
We are delighted to see Sabian offering hats with rippled bottoms. We are reminded, though, that hi-hat selection takes a bit of hands-on work, and that not every pair is a winner. This batch came out in a ratio of 1:3 dogs and darlings, but hey, your experience may differ. And we remind you to be adventurous when shopping, and to try mixing AAX tops with HHX bottoms and vice versa, ad infinitum. The O-Zone crashes surprised us with the variety of sounds within the line. The 20" is not just the 16" pumped up, nor is the 18" just the same thing but “in the middle.” We enjoyed them all, not as “regular” crashes but as viable add-on extras or specialty items. We do think the O-Zone splashes should be considered alongside “regular” splashes and will do fine as an expanded choice of voice.