Monday, 8 September 2014

Review: Sabian Paragon Cymbals

Produced by Sabian for Neil Peart of Rush fame ...

In 2003, after a lifetime playing Zildjian cymbals, Neil Peart starting working with Sabian on a new range of cymbals that were to become the Paragon line.

This was a big deal in the drumming world.  Neil had changed drum manufacturers a few times over the years (currently with DW) but his cymbals had always been a constant.  As probably the World's best and most respected drummer, this was going to get people's attention.

It's always been known that Neil is a perfectionist, and understandably the opportunity to work with one of the best manufacturers on his 'perfect' cymbal sound wasn't something he could pass up.  The result of all the hard work isn't just a signature ride or a sub-genre like the HHX 'Evolution', but an entirely new range which is the cymbals that Neil himself plays every day with Rush.

Enough with the background, you can find much more from the Sabian site or Neil's site, what you're interested in is what they sound like and how they perform.

I've worked through almost all the cymbals in the range.  13" and 13" hats, 16", 18" & 20" crashes, 8" and 10" splashes, 22" ride and 19" china.  There is more to the range, but not much ;-)

I expected a traditional sound, something like AA's but with a modern take, and I certainly wasn't disappointing.  I won't go into the metal mix or the complex hammering processes, but to my ears these sound like AA's with AAX hammering.  The original castings were all in natural finish, but after people saw the highly polished look of Neil's touring set-up (hand-buffed by Neil's drum tech) they wanted the same look - so they are now available in brilliant finish as well.  Unlike some of the HHX range, I couldn't tell a difference in the sound between natural and brilliant.

The 14" hats have a slightly wetter and rockier sound than the 13" hats, which have a bit more of a faster 'fusion' sound to them.  I understand that Neil used to play the 13" hats as his mains with some 14" Vault hats as his auxiliary pair.  For Clockwork Angels, neil used the 14" Paragons as his main (not sure if he changed his aux hats).  Personally I preferred the 14" as main hats, and the 13" as my closed auxiliary pair.  Even half open, both pairs resisted the 'clanging' noise that AAX's tend to give, but weren't quite as washy as say, HHX Groove Hats.

The 16" crash is probably your main 'go-to' cymbal.  Certainly that's how I found it and had two of them - one either side.  Even from the same batch they had a sufficient tonal difference that it didn't just sound like I was hitting the same cymbal twice.  The 18" crash I tended to reserve for big impact and to be quite honest, the 20" was too much of a beast for me.  I did try it as a light ride for a while, but with anything other than light jazz your sticking would vanish under a tidal wave of ride wash.  Not really surprising - it's not supposed to be a ride cymbal!

As far as ride's go, the 22" is peachy.  A highly defined 'ping' that becomes more prominent the further up the cymbal you play.  It is predictable, but not in a dull way.  It does exactly what you expect it to, which included not being the slightest bit crashable!  Now, I'm not Neil and have to buy/carry, set-up and store my own gear.  This means that as far as cymbals go, I ideally want a cymbal to do at least one thing perfectly, preferably two!  This means that I like a ride cymbal to be crashable and this definitely isn't in my opinion.  Not really a fault, just worth bearing in mind.  The ride is currently available in a gorgeous 'Steampunk' finish which is the same as Neil's touring set on Clockwork Angels.  Snag one of those if you possible can!

The splash cymbals were very easy to sort.  The 10" is a nice, focussed splash that cut almost as well as a regular crash (although much quieter of course).  The 8" seemed utterly pointless to me.  I know it's only a size down from the 10", but that seems to make a world of difference.  Barely audible at any volumes, all of the 8" splashes should be fashioned into attractive ashtrays in my humble opinion :-)

Opinions on the china cymbals seem to be pretty divided.  Most reviews I read, and people I spoke to, maintained that the 19" is the best china ever made so I got that one.  And you know what, I think it is.  I'm one of those people who love the idea of a china, and favour playing them for rapid accents.  The only issue I had with it was the same as I had with the ride, it's the perfect china, which means it can't really disguise itself as anything else, like an occasional crash.  Nope, it's a china - live with it!

In summary, I would describe the Paragon like as a traditional cymbal brought up-to-date.  Whether you favour Zildjian's A's, Paiste 2002's, Sabian AA's, or whatever your 'classic' range of choice happens to be, I think you will enjoy the Paragon's and that fact that they will move you gently into the 21st century.  The whole set is available as a limited edition in a replica flight case - very nice.

Personally, having lived with them for over a year, I think I've come to the conclusion that although I love their medium-to-heavyweight rock credentials - I tend to favour cymbals that are a tad more flexible (no pun intended!) ... ;-)