The Best Cymbal Starter Sets For Beginners

My Picks for the Best Cymbal Packs for Beginners

As a new drummer (or the parent of a drum student), going to the “Wall of Cymbals” can be a staggeringly overwhelming experience when all you need is a basic set of cymbals.

Luckily, most cymbal manufacturers have recognized this problem and have come up with several ‘Starter Packs’, intended to provide new drummers with easy access to affordable, decent quality cymbals without the confusion of facing ‘the wall’!

I’ve decided to go a step further to make this process even easier for you by collecting my favorite cymbals packs here, as well as some additional advice for which ones to choose. The way I came to these conclusions was by actually playing all of these cymbals, looking at online customer reviews and general prices. And so, in my opinion, the best cymbal starter packs for beginners are:

  1. Meinl HCS Complete Set
  2. Zildjian ZBT Starter Bonus Cymbal Pack
  3. Sabian SBR Performance Set

Let’s dive into the details on my recommendations. IMPORTANT NOTE: My intent here is to rate the best Starter Packs out there, intended to help beginners start off on the right foot. These are generally more affordable packs than some of the higher end offerings out there. Please let me know in the comments if you’d like me to also rate some of the more expensive / pro level packs out there.

Sabian SBR Performance Pack

+ 14″ Hi Hats, 16″ Crash, 20″ Ride
+ “Sonically matched” by Sabian
+ Hi Hat and crash sound a bit thin at times

Zildjian Cymbal Starter Pack

+ World’s #1 Cymbal Brand
+ Bright with a long decay
+ 2 year manuacturer’s warranty

Meinl HCS Cymbal Starter Pack

+ 14″ Hi Hats, 16″ Crash, 20″ Ride
+ Great sound for the price
+ 2 year manufacturer’s warranty

I’m going to go in detail about my recommendations below, but first…

A Note On Cymbal Manufacturing

Cymbals are made in one of two ways: cast or sheet. The traditional method of manufacture which dates back centuries consists of molten metal which is poured into casts, cooled, then lathed and/or hammered to produce specific tonal qualities. It goes without saying that this method is typically called the cast method of producing cymbals. Most, if not all high quality, professional cymbals on the market are still made this way as it produces a rich and complex sounding instrument.

The second method produces what are usually called sheet cymbals because they are stamped from sheets of metal and formed into their shape. The manufacture of these cymbals is much more economical, which is why most starter sets and low-cost cymbals are produced this way. These cymbals tend to offer a thin and ‘tinny’ tone, which is why they are easily written off in the industry, but their production techniques have been improved over the years, resulting in some decent sounding cymbals which are easily attainable for beginning drummers!

You’ll often hear folks talking about the secret alloy formula used in the manufacture of cymbals. It’s actually not such a huge secret as to ‘what’ metals cymbals are made of, it’s ‘how’ those metals are mixed and manipulated to form a cast cymbal that’s the big secret among manufacturers. This is especially true for cast cymbals. Sheet cymbals tend to be a bit more straight forward, focusing on less expensive materials such as certain types of Bronze and Brass.

There are basically four main cymbal manufacturers out there: Zildjian, Sabian, Paiste and Meinl – with a whole bunch of smaller producers bringing up the rear including Bosphorus, Crescent, UFIP, Soutone and Wuhan. While the major manufacturers all produce a wide variety of instruments, a lot of the smaller players tend to be a bit more niche in terms of the types of cymbals they produce and the market they serve.

My Ratings Explained

As I mentioned above, in preparation for writing this article, I played all of these cymbals and did a fair amount of research online in order to bring you the consensus of industry professionals as well as actual reviewers of these products. I condensed my findings for you above, but here I’d like to dig into some more details for you.

Meinl HCS Extended Set

For the money, I found this set to be the most rich sounding cymbals of the three I’ve included in this article, not to mention that they included a 10″ splash cymbal in the set, which just gives the set even more color. At this price point, you’re not going to be buying high-end cymbals, but you might as well have a decent set to start with. Meinl is a German cymbal maker, known for their precise engineering and manufacturing techniques.

The alloy used in making these cymbals is MS63, a brass alloy used by a lot of manufacturers for their entry-level cymbals. After the cymbals a pressed into shape, Meinl then lathes and hammers the top of the cymbal before polishing them up.

Playing these instruments was quite enjoyable. Overall, I found the attack to be instantaneous with a gradual but rapid decay. It was quite easy to get a good articulation out of these cymbals, both with wooden and nylon tipped sticks.

Zildjian ZBT Starter Bonus Cymbal Pack

I have a soft spot in my heart for Zildjian cymbals as I just naturally tend to gravitate towards their sound. As for starter packs, Meinl did produce a better ‘budget cymbal’ in my opinion however these came in a close second for me. The general sound quality produced by the ZBT line of cymbals is quite bright and shimmery, with a nice long decay and similar articulation of the Meinl set described above.

It is common for brass cymbals to suffer from very fast decay after being struck, however I was pleasantly surprised at how long these cymbals carried their sustain, likely due to Zildjian’s decades of experience in lathing and hammering techniques. Again, Meinl had a slight edge over this set, primarily due to the inclusion of the 10″ splash cymbal, but also sonically. The Zildjian ZBTs tended to be a little bit ‘thinner’ sounding and not quite as sonically pleasing. That said, I quite enjoyed playing these instruments and would incorporate them into my current setup without blinking an eye.

Sabian SBR Performance Set

Sabian has produced a decent set of cymbals for beginners with the SBR series, though they do suffer from some of the typical challenges of producing sheet cymbals out of brass, mainly a very bright attack and short decay. These instruments seem to be very well made, with care and attention given to the hammering and lathing process. I found the crash and hi hats were both a bit thin sounding, however I enjoyed the tone of the 20″ ride, which carried quite well on top of the kit. In fact, I feel as though the short decay complemented the bell sound of the ride quiet well.

Overall, this set is not only affordable, but a really good first cymbal investment for a beginning drummer. That said, I do feel as though the tonal qualities leave a lot to be desired if that is a factor in your buying decision.

Recommended Reading

For more detailed information on cymbals, check out this article I wrote on how to make cymbals sound better and unique.

I hope this article on my cymbal pack recommendations was helpful to you. If you end up buying one of them, please consider using the links and buttons on this page. If you do, I’ll receive a small commission at absolutely no extra cost to you, and you’ll essentially be rewarding me for the hours I’ve poured into creating these resources for you! You can read all about my reviewing ethics in my affiliate disclosure. Thanks so much!