Sabian XS20 Cymbals Reviewed!


Cast Cymbal Sounds At Sheet Cymbal Prices

18" Rock Crash

With its revamped XS20 series, Sabian is offering a combination of professional-quality B20 cast bronze with a semi-professional level mid-range price tag. That’s very unusual, and here’s why.

Differences From Top To Bottom

All of Sabian’s most expensive professional cymbal lines — like the AA, AAX, HH, HHX, Vault series, and so on — are made from B20 cast bronze, which contains 80-percent silver-bearing copper and 20-percent tin. When cymbals are “cast,” they are worked and shaped into their final form through both secret and not-so-secret processes. Although cymbal manufacturers are loath to disclose those secrets, most of them acknowledge that casting bronze involves more handwork and expense than stamping bronze cymbals from flat metal sheets. Cymbal prices confirm that to be true. If you go to your local music store shopping for less-expensive beginner or intermediate cymbals, they are typically not cast. Rather, those lesser expensive models are stamped into shape from flat sheets of alloy and therefore often called “sheet-metal” cymbals.

Although some would argue with me on this point, I find sheet-metal cymbals are slightly more prone to cracking and less durable than more expensive cast-metal models. For that reason, really cheap cymbals are almost always made from sheet brass, whereas mid-priced cymbal lines are usually made from sheet bronze with lower tin contents than B20 bronze, such as B8 bronze (92-percent copper/8-percent tin) or B12 bronze (88-percent copper/12-percent tin).

In recent years, as manufacturing processes have gotten increasingly more sophisticated, the distinctions between casting processes and bronze alloys, in terms of what makes cheap or professional-quality cymbals, have blurred. For example, many sheet-metal cymbals seem to be more durable these days than they used to be. And some cymbal manufacturers make it a point of explaining that even sheet bronze has a degree of casting in its manufacturing process. Moreover, some manufacturers make professional Euro-style cymbals from B8 sheet bronze. For example, Sabian’s B8 Pro line is made from — you guessed it — B8 “uni-rolled” bronze.

Oftentimes, you’ll find B8 model cymbals (made by Sabian or other manufacturers) showing up in professional rock drummers’ setups because B8’s lower tin content can sometimes provide some higher-pitched, cutting frequencies that are not quite as prevalent in the B20 cast bronze cymbals.

With that said, in the past, many professional manufacturers’ cymbal lines reserved cast B20 bronze for their elite professional lines. For example, Zildjian’s As and Ks, Paiste’s discontinued 602s and recent Twenty series, Istanbul’s Agop, and Meinl’s MB20 lines are all professional B20 bronze cymbals. For its part, Sabian still claims that the B20 bronze it uses in all of its professional lines, other than the B8 Pro series, is its most musical and durable alloy.

A Recent Facelift

When Sabian originally introduced its XS20 line in 2003 (after 10 years of research and development), it proclaimed the XS20s to be the “world’s first and finest budget-priced cymbal cast from B20 bronze.” Initially, the XS20 cymbals had a lathing pattern with spaced stripes. Sabian received feedback from consumers that they wanted the XS20 line to have a more “professional look” by dropping the stripes. I find that request to be a bit odd, given that several of Sabian’s professional B20 AA Metal-X models have a striped lathing pattern, which I think looks pretty cool. But nobody consulted with me, and to its credit, Sabian recently responded to its consumers’ demands by revamping the XS20 line with a tonal groove lathing pattern that removes the stripes and makes the XS20s look virtually identical to Sabian’s natural-finish non-striped AA models. In fact, on close inspection, the only visual difference I can see between the XS20s and Sabian’s AA line is that the XS20s bear the XS20 logo and appear to have much less hammering marks than the AAs.

Sabian would not disclose the secret details of the proprietary process involved in making XS20 cymbals, but it was willing to reveal that the XS20 manufacturing process involves less handwork and hammering than that which is required for Sabian’s other more expensive professional B20 lines like, for example, the AAs. Moreover, despite the visual similarities to Sabian’s professional B20 lines, the XS20s’ price tags look much more similar to the price tags of its B8 Pro line. For example, if you were looking to buy a 20" Medium ride cymbal, according to Sabian’s 2007 list prices, a B8 Pro model goes for $219, an XS20 model goes for $256, and an AA model goes for $403.

For The Ears And The Wallet

I received virtually every cymbal in the XS20 line for this review. At the same time, I also happened to be reviewing a full arsenal of Sabian’s various professional B20 bronze models for DRUM!’s sister magazine, TRAPS. As a result, I was able to compare the quality and sound of Sabian’s XS20s to that of its more expensive B20 bronze lines. To my ears, the XS20s fall into three categories: 1) Excellent professional-quality cymbals for any price. 2) Pretty good professional cymbals, which are even better when you consider their price. And 3) Decent-sounding cymbals acceptable for semi-professional use, which end up being a bargain when one considers their price and the extra durability that the XS20’s bronze can offer. I’ll start with the best models first.

10" Splash


The XS20 10" splash shocked me with its superior sound quality. It barks with an instant, explosive burst of papery highs and mids that quickly disperse without any weird lingering overtones. This splash sounds better than many other professional splashes I’ve heard that cost much more. The 12" splash, in similar fashion to the 10" model, also quickly explodes with a papery splash. Yet this 12" model’s sound is filled with a much fuller range of mids. I loved this splash so much that I took it to a few of my professional gigs, and I would still love this cymbal if it listed for $202 like an AA 12" splash. But the XS20 12" splash lists for only $138. What a deal!

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