I’ve played drums long enough that I can remember back in the early ’80s when Sabian was considered the small new upstart cymbal company from Canada. It’s hard to imagine this now, but at the time, Sabian had a very small market share. Now in its 30th anniversary year, Sabian has evolved into one of the largest and most successful cymbal companies in the world. With its current level of success, Sabian might be content to rest on its laurels — offering the same cymbals as it has in the past, but with different marketing or gimmicks. That could work, or it could get boring, but at this stage, there’s no need for such speculation. Resting on its laurels does not appear to be what Sabian has in mind.
I’ve reached this conclusion based on the latest batch of new cymbal offerings I received from Sabian: two Omni cymbals (sizes 18" and 22") and two Holy China cymbals (sizes 19" and 21"). Although these new models are unrelated to one another, both are some of the more innovative cymbals I’ve seen from any manufacturer in a while.
The Omnis and Holy Chinas arrived at my home free from any prejudgment or preconceived notions on my part. This is because I had no awareness of these new models, nor had I read anything about them. Out of the box, my first impression was that these are some very attractive bronze disks.
The Omnis follow a visual trend I have noticed a lot lately in both cymbals and drums: stripes. With the Omnis, the stripes result from the visual contrast between lathed and raw (un-lathed) portions of the cymbal surfaces. The Omni lacks lathing on its bell and continues with that raw finish across approximately half the bow. The remaining bow to edge of each Omni is lathed with perfectly even, not-too-deep concentric circles. Multiple hammer marks populate the raw surface area, but none of those hammerings have much indentation. As a result, the overall look of the Omnis is smooth and sleek. Black Sabian and Omni logos complete these cymbals’ aesthetic.
While the Omnis are unique and attractive, the Holy Chinas have a much bolder, more striking visual appearance. Like the Omnis, the Holy Chinas start with raw bells, but the similarities end there. The entire bow/playing surfaces of the Holy Chinas are lathed, including where the cymbals invert to their edge. Dense, slightly indented hammer marks populate the 3"–4" width around the cymbal bell. Approximately 1" before the cymbal inversion/bend, there is a noticeable lack of visible hammering. Then, from inversion to edge, less dense, but slightly more pronounced hammering is clearly visible.
The Holy Chinas’ varied hammering pattern might, on its own, give these cymbals an interesting look, but it’s what’s missing that makes these cymbals truly unique. That is, the Holy China namesake is for visual, not religious reasons. The playing surface of the 19" Holy China includes 51 holes, while the 21" Holy China receives 64 holes. Each hole is approximately 0.5" in diameter. (Yes, I measured.) As a result, unlike Sabian’s O-Zone models, there is no risk of accidently throwing your stick through the cymbal, unless you play super-thin 7As.
Sabian completes the look of the Omnis and Holy Chinas with black signatures on the undersides of their bells. Until I began writing this review, I assumed these were signatures of Sabian’s craftsmen. This is because I had not realized that the Omnis and Holy Chinas are each the product of design collaborations with famous drummers. Upon closer inspection, I see that the signature on each Omni is a painted version of Swiss drummer Jojo Mayer’s signature, while the Holy Chinas each have a painted signature from Red Hot Chili Peppers’ drummer Chad Smith.
In my view, Sabian deserves kudos for putting these painted signatures in an inconspicuous place like the underside of the bell. I realize there is a huge trend toward offering signature models of cymbals (and, for that matter, sticks and drums). That’s fine and possibly even preferable for some drummers who want to advertise that they’re playing an instrument made or endorsed by one of their drumming idols. For me, however, I view cymbals as a very personal part of my sound, and I like to retain my own identity as a player.
Sabian makes both the Omnis and Holy Chinas from the tried-and-true bronze alloy it uses for most of its professional cymbals, B20 cast bronze (80 percent copper and 20 percent tin with traces of silver). Because the Omnis and Holy Chinas both have rather random hammering patterns, I initially wrongly assumed they were made with some hand hammering.
Sabian uses AA hammering for the Holy Chinas and AAX hammering for the Omnis — neither of which involves hand hammering. Sabian describes AA hammering as “automatic hammering in concentric patterns using hundreds of small-peen hammering hits to shape the cymbal.” As for AAX hammering, Sabian will tell me only that this is a proprietary hammering process that is not hand hammering. Apparently, if the folks at Sabian tell me anything more about the AAX process, they may have to kill me. Despite the fact that neither the Omnis nor the Holy Chinas employ any hand hammering, the random hammer marks give these cymbals a handmade look. Truth be told, I don’t really care much how cymbals are made (by hand or machine) so long as they sound and look good.