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Zildjian Azuka Cymbals Tested!

zildjian azuka

Some time ago DRUM! asked if I’d like to review Zildjian’s new Azuka cymbals. Always eager to check out some new bangables, I said, “Sure I’ll check ’em out.” Patiently, I waited for them to be delivered to my doorstep. Several weeks passed and still no cymbals. Phone calls started flying around the country between me, DRUM! and Zildjian. After countless dollars in long distance charges and some careful detective work, it was discovered that two digits in my address were inverted. The cymbals had landed three doors down from my house. After making several visits and leaving a note, I met Helen.

Helen, a retired English teacher with failing eyesight and about half a dozen cats, was a very interesting old lady. In our lengthy conversation she told me she had no talent for anything musical. When she was very young her older sister had taken piano lessons, and it was Helen's job to sit next to the piano, turn the pages of the music and count for her sister so she wouldn’t lose her place. This was so objectionable that she never again had anything to do with music. Anyway, Helen and I had a long and interesting trip down memory lane, but more importantly, she had the cymbals and I got them.

What I had received was the entire new Azuka line of cymbals from Zildjian. Apparently these were designed in conjunction with renowned percussionist/drummer Alex Acuña with Latin music and percussionists in mind. The line consists of an 18" Timbale cymbal, two 15" Latin Multi-Crashes (one with three rivets) and a 13" Latin crash. After the long wait for their arrival, I was eager to check them out. Luckily, one day after the cymbals and I connected, I had a gig with a band that also includes a fine percussionist. So I weighed down my cymbal bag with the new brass and headed to the club. I gave the percussionist one of the fifteens to use, as the usual cymbal in his rig is a 15" Zildjian Thin crash. I used the Timbale cymbal as a ride and the other 15" and 13" as crashes.

Unsure of the sound and results I’d get from the Timbale cymbal, I kept my usual ride close by. But the Azuka 18" stayed on my kit all night long. I absolutely fell in love with the bell, which cuts through and really projects without piercing. The bell has a warm quality and doesn’t overexcite the rest of the cymbal when you ride on it. Playing the bell elicits just the right amount of overtones from the rest of the cymbal. A light “ahh” is generated in the background, filling in the cracks without getting in the way of your pattern.

The flat of the cymbal is fairly bright and articulate. And the overtones from the rest of the cymbal, which, as you would expect, are more prominent here than when riding the bell, never get in the way. After slamming the cymbal with the shoulder of my stick, the sound would open up and explode in a rich crash. But as I continued riding, it would come back down and the stick ping would rise above the wash of overtones fairly quickly. In other words, it was very controllable and musical.

I brought the Timbale cymbal to several gigs – the most fun being a Latin jazz job. It sounded beautiful playing bell patterns in that context and having them enunciate so well. But I was playing it with a 6A stick, which is heavier than your average timbale stick, so I checked it out with several different weights of timbale sticks. With the heavier versions the results were very much the same as what I had experienced with the 6As, but since timbale sticks don’t have a bead, more overtones built up when I played ride patterns on the flat of the cymbal. This would still be pretty cool in a loud band where a heavier stick would be the more sensible choice. The smaller timbale sticks gave me a higher pitch but lighter sound, with exactly the opposite results in terms of overtone buildup.

The 15" Azukas come marked with the designation “Hand & Stick,” so, of course, I tried them both ways. They certainly look friendly to your fingers. The fifteens and the 13" all have slightly downturned edges – kind of a “comfort curve” approach to cymbal design. After slapping these cymbals senseless with our bare hands, neither I nor the other drummers and percussionists who tried were overly impressed with the amount of sound they produced. Even though these are pretty thin cymbals, you have to spank them pretty dang hard to make them move some air. My percussionist friend, who had used one of the Azukas on the gig, found it easier to coax a crash out of his old 15" cymbal with his hand. However, one of the two I received did come with three rivets installed, and for low-volume situations, friendly little nudges to the cymbal produced a nice sizzling sustain.

I also played them with sticks, of course, and they produced a thin, airy quality, which is neither good nor bad. They just have their own personality that lacked the rich array of overtones normally found in most Zildjian cymbals. These cymbals also have a fairly quick decay time when compared to your average 15", so they could be just the ticket for a percussionist who wants to add a splash of color at the appropriate moment.

On the other hand I adore the little 13" Azuka, and can find no flaws in its personality. It has a sound that lands somewhere between a splash and a China, which I attributed to its rolled-over edge, but who knows? This guy made it to a lot of gigs with me and has damn near orphaned my usual splash. It’s bright and punchy with a quick decay time. I even used it on a recording session and loved the recorded sound – like a splash with a bit more body and fullness.

Zildjian has taken another step to fulfill a few more possible cymbal applications. If you’re looking for something different, these Azuka crashes are worth checking out. (And the Timbale cymbal’s bell and bright ride sound should make any timbale player’s charge card quiver in fear.)

Specs

Model: Zildjian Azuka Cymbals
Sizes: 18" Timbale cymbal;
15" Latin Multi-Crash, Hand & Stick;
13" Latin crash.
Finish: Timbale cymbal: standard; Crashes: brilliant.
Weights: Timbale cymbal: medium-thin; Crashes: paper-thin.
Extras: 15" and 13" crashes have downturned edge;
15" is also available with 3 rivets installed
List Prices: 18" Timbale cymbal, $272.00; 15" Latin Multi-Crash, Hand & Stick, $210.00; 13" Latin crash, $172.00

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