Are you looking to upgrade your cymbals without spending a fortune?
You’ve come to the right place!
In this essential buying guide you’ll learn the following:
- Why Should I Upgrade My Cymbals?
- What Should I Look Out For In Budget Cymbals?
And much more!
Below is a quick list of all my top picks. Keep scrolling to learn more about my best buying tips and tricks for budget cymbal packs.
Meinl HCS Cymbal Box Set
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Zildjian S Family Cymbal Pack
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Sabian SBR Promotional Cymbal Set
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Meinl Cymbal Classics Custom Dark Box Set
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Sabian B8X Performance Cymbal Pack
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My Overall #1 Rated Pick
The Meinl HCS cymbal box set is the perfect upgrade for any aspiring drummer.
For a very modest price you’re getting a full-sized set consisting of 14” Hi-Hats, 16” crash, 20” ride and they’ve even thrown in a FREE 10” splash!
These cymbals punch well above their weight with bright, crisp tones that will be leaps and bounds better than the dustbin lids that came with your first drum set!
Why Should I Upgrade My Cymbals?
Most entry-level budget drum kits will come with very basic poor quality cymbals that are in most cases one notch up from dustbin lids! If there’s one sure-fire way to instantly improve your entry-level kit, it’s to upgrade the cymbals.
Cymbals are incredibly important when it comes to the overall sound and enjoyment you’ll get from your drum set.
Professional drummers will spend years searching for their perfect cymbals and are a very personal choice depending on your style of music and what you like to hear.
For this reason, getting into the enormous world of cymbals and cymbal shopping can seem like a daunting task.
With numerous brands clamoring for your hard-earned cash, it’s hard to know where to look and what’s going to get you a good sound at a modest price.
Don’t worry! In this essential review, I’ll take you through everything you need to know to get the best deal on your cymbals, without having to shell out mountains of cash.
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What Should I Look Out For In Budget Cymbals?
The size of your cymbals will have a big impact on their sound and overall volume.
It also depends on what type of music you play and your budget, as bigger cymbals are generally more expensive.
All cymbals are measured by the diameter in inches.
Most cymbal packs come in a pretty standard configuration:
16” Crash cymbal
20” Ride Cymbal
...and will often include a ‘free’ extra cymbal, such as an 18” crash or 10” splash cymbal.
This configuration is the most common and versatile cymbal set up. It will allow you to play pretty much any genre of music and aims to cover all bases. Therefore, if you’re new to the world of cymbals then I would start here.
However, sometimes you may find cymbal packs that opt for smaller, more compact setups such as:
15 or 16” Crash
Configurations such as these are usually much cheaper which can entice some drummers into going for them, however smaller cymbals may end up restricting you in some ways.
In general, smaller cymbals are quieter and higher-pitched which personally I would only use in smaller live settings or for playing tighter funk-based music. If you’re into rock then don’t even bother!
Cymbals are made from metal (obviously!), but the type of metal used for their manufacture has a huge impact on their overall sound.
The vast majority of modern cymbals are made from ‘Bronze’, which is an alloy made up of copper and tin.
There are two main types of Bronze, which are B20 bronze and B8 bronze.
The number refers to the percentage of tin within the alloy mixture. So B20 bronze will have 80% copper and 20% tin, whereas B8 bronze will only have 8% tin.
B20 bronze has a balanced character to it, making it tonally versatile and warm without losing sustain.
It’s also the main alloy used in expensive cymbals, so don’t expect to find many B20 Bronze cymbals in the ‘budget’ price range.
However B8 (or even B10 or B12) Bronze can often be found in lower-end/mid-range cymbals. (Such as the Zildjian S Family of cymbals).
B8 Bronze gives a brighter higher-pitched sound that is a little more cutting than B20.
Finally, Brass is the other main material used for cymbal manufacture. Brass tends to be used for beginner cymbals as it’s cheaper to manufacture.
Sheet brass cymbals are the most common type of cymbals you’ll find in the entry-level area of the cymbal market.
They are cheap to manufacture and compared to B20 and they have a slightly more muted and less resonant sound.
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This will be the biggest determining factor when it comes to the quality of cymbals you can get for your drum kit.
As a general rule, I would always advise you to get the best cymbals that you can afford. If that takes saving up a little longer, then be patient, it’ll be worth it in the end.
Often what may seem like a great deal for a cheap set of cymbals will not be of the best quality and you’ll end up wanting to upgrade pretty quickly once you played them for a few weeks.
If possible, I would always advise drummers to go to a drum shop and try all the cymbals they can (even the expensive ones!).
This will give you a really good idea of the type of cymbals that you like, whether that be big bright and cutting, or small dark and trashy.
Then you can go home and decide on how to get as close to that sound as possible whilst staying within your budget.
Also don’t forget, if you want to transport your cymbals you’re going to need a cymbal bag...so make sure you factor that into your budget.
The ChromaCast padded cymbal bag is a solid affordable option.
My Reviews Of The Best Budget Cymbals
These great sounding cymbals from Meinl are sheet cut from a Brass Alloy that helps to retain warmth and tone, without the hefty price tag.
The hammering pattern also helps to make the sound crisp and lively (they almost look hand-hammered!).
A lot of entry-level cymbals tend to be quite harsh or brittle sounding, with very minimal sustain. With the HCS cymbals, this is not the case.
The crashes are lively and cutting, the hi-hats feel crisp and the ride has a rounded pleasing tone, meaning this is a great versatile pack for a beginner.
Ok, you’re not getting the same complexity and depth as Meinl’s Byzance line, but for the price, these are great cymbals!
They also have loads of add-on cymbals available, including a China cymbal!
They’re absolutely ideal for a beginner buying their first cymbals or for someone on a very tight budget that needs a wallet-friendly upgrade to their current setup.
That’s what makes the Meinl HCS cymbals my Top Pick.
- Very affordable
- Clear cutting sound
- Not much at this price point
With Zildjian cymbals, you know you’re in good hands.
The S series has been brought in to replace the Zildjian ZBT line of cymbals, and Zildjian has spent a good few years making improvements to their design.
These are primarily intermediate cymbals so sit at a slightly higher price point than my purely ‘budget’ offerings.
They are made out of B12 Bronze, which sits in between B8 and B20 tonally.
They have a brilliant finish with extensive hammering and lathing and overall the sound of these cymbals is impressive for the price.
The mastersound hi-hats have a satisfyingly chunky stopped sound and they cut through well in louder environments.
The same can be said about the ride and crashes, there’s a pleasing warmth to their sound which is often not the case in mid-range cymbals.
The ride still has a little of that high pitched unwanted overtone you get with cheaper cymbals, but at this price point, it’s to be expected.
If you can afford to invest a little more money then these cymbals will be a great investment.
Unlike some of the cheapest cymbals on this list, these cymbals will last you a long time, until you’re ready to start piecing together your own ‘pro’ cymbal set up! (such as Zildjian A or A customs).
- Pleasing tone
- Good quality
- Hefty price tag
They suffer a little from lack of resonance and tend to decay quite quickly (common to budget cymbals), but their tone is bright and overall quite pleasing.
Compared to the Sabian Solar line which these replace, they are a HUGE improvement (those things were like dustbin lids!).
These cymbals aren’t going to win any awards sonically, but if you’re looking to upgrade from the cymbals that come with your first drum kit, these will be a solid step up and will ultimately improve your drumming experience.
- Highly affordable
- Free splash
- Good starter cymbal pack
- Dull sounding
The Classics Custom Dark series of cymbals offer Meinl’s excellent craftsmanship at a price that won’t break the bank.
Similar to the Zildjian S series, they aim to bridge the gap between entry-level/budget cymbals and more expensive high end cymbals.
These cymbals come in a generous pack featuring 14” hi-hats, 16” crash, 20” ride as well as an extra 18” crash cymbal!
Meaning you’re all set to get stuck into some heavy beats.
Plus they look seriously cool with the black finish, which will probably appeal to drummers that play heavier rock and metal styles of music.
The sound produced by these cymbals is bright and cutting, without sounding too harsh or brittle...which is exactly what you want when playing in louder musical environments.
The crashes are full and punchy, hi-hats are crisp and cutting and the ride can act as a loud crash ride if you need it to.
They may not have the same extreme level of volume as higher-end options (such as the Meinl Mb10’s) but they are a great place to start for any aspiring rock drummers on a budget.
- Look awesome
- Good sound quality
- Large range of sizes
- Higher price point
- Finish might not suit everyone
This set comprises a pair of 14” hi-hats, 16” and 18” crashes and a 20” ride, which is very generous considering the price.
These cymbals do a great job of providing rich, cutting cymbal tones without sounding clangy or overly dull (like a lot of other budget options) and are a great option for a drummer that wants a set that’s a notch up from the standard entry-level options.
They have a similar quality to the high-end AAX range by Sabian...which is no bad thing!
- B8 Bronze
- Good value set
- Cutting sound
- Some unwanted high-pitch overtones
Our Top Pick: Meinl HCS Cymbal Box Set
The hats are tight and open with a lovely bright wash, the crashes are clear and cutting, and the ride is incredibly versatile...what more could you want from a set of budget cymbals!
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Final Thoughts On The Best Budget Cymbal Packs
Replacing those old clunky lumps of metal that were leftover from your first drum set will be the best upgrade to your drumming experience.
Not only will they sound better but YOU will sound better, which will mean you’re more likely to sit down and actually play (and practice!).
I remember upgrading to a set of Zildjian Planet Z cymbals when I was about 13 years old and it was like I’d entered another world!
The difference compared to my cruddy old cheap cymbals was insane and I couldn’t get enough.
Also for more great budget cymbal sounds, check out Wuhan or Stagg cymbals...especially if you want a trashy or dark sound compared to some of the brighter options reviewed here.
Remember, get the best cymbals you can afford and if possible go any try out as many as you can so you know what sounds you like!