Ride cymbals are available in a number of materials, shapes, and sizes whose combinations offer an endless variety of flavors and tones to choose from. As such, we believe choosing the best ride cymbal often comes down to personal preference. With that said, we took 13 rides that most drummers consider great, and we compared their performances. After listening to audio recordings of each cymbal played in different genres and styles, we'd have to say the Sabian HH Rock Ride offers the greatest performance under any and all conditions. With that said, if you don't feel like spending big money on a ride, the Zildjian ZBT Ride offers a killer bang for your buck. Article Summary
Ride cymbals play a major part in almost any drum set configuration, no matter what genre of music you’re playing. Being the largest type of cymbal, a ride has a dynamic to it which is very different than a crash. When you hit it, sound will resonate for longer, so these cymbals undergo strict standards while being made to ensure they offer flawless sound that’s full of character.
The thing about rides is that everyone has different taste (not to mention different budgets, these things can get expensive!), so it’s hard to pinpoint just one model and say “this is the best ride cymbal to buy.” The spectrum of flavors and tones we have access to today is simply overwhelming, plus the size, shape, and material can all affect the actual sound you get as well. In our opinion, choosing your ride is better done by finding a group of quality cymbals, listening to each one, and then choosing the sound that you like best.
With that thought in mind, we gathered details on 13 popular rides to try to narrow down the highest-quality cymbals you should consider. The general idea was to find a few rides that would fit most common drum setups, regardless of what genre you play. We looked at all the top brands (Zildjian, Sabian, etc.), and even considered different experience levels so that we could provide solutions to everyone whether you’re a complete beginner or a 10-year drummer. After comparing sizes, materials, and listening to audio recordings of each cymbal for ourselves, we’d have to say the three options below are the best ride cymbals to choose from.
The best ride cymbal overall
Sabian is among the few brands that most drummers would consider legendary status. They’ve been around forever and their cymbals are almost always pure quality. Sabian’s 22″ HH Rock Ride belongs to a rather distinctive set of cymbals that were designed for those with a very refined taste, and we think this is by far one of the best rides money can buy. One glance at its surface should tell you pretty much all you need to know about what kind of cymbal we are dealing with here.
The profile of the HH Rock Ride leaves a powerful impression. Right off the bat, you can determine it has a pretty powerful, shimmering tone. Sabian designed this model for rock, jazz and funk drummers who need their rides to have a bit of character. What is the best way to give a cymbal some character? To hammer forge it by hand, of course.
If you look at the surface of the HH Rock Ride, you will see that it features a pretty odd texture. It’s not uniform, nor is it completely smooth. Some would even say it looks pretty raw. That’s the signature of hammer forged manual work – an unmistakable sign of quality. The alloy used is their standard B20. We have seen this type of alloy in many of their successful cymbals over the years. This time around, a skilled master forger gave what is generally a solid base, a pretty complex character. Sabian’s HH Rock Ride comes with so many different layers of sound and a tone that is simply a pleasure to work with. Being a 22-inch model, you are guaranteed to experience that girth only a chunky cymbal can deliver.
The tone of this ride is hard to put into words. It is fair to say that it belongs to the darker category of rides. However, it is capable of cutting through just about any kind of mix. Its loud, penetrating nature makes it a great choice for both stage use and studio recording applications. When you hit the bell, the response you get is a bright and wide tone. There is plenty of sustain and the projection is just perfect. As the vibrations die down, you can pick out different overtones, which is pretty amazing. The bow is a similar story. It packs a lot of girth with a pretty defined edge to it.
Some would say that placing a hand-hammered cymbal in the first place on a list such as this one is not a smart move. If it was any other ride, we would completely agree. However, Sabian’s track record of providing consistent performance even with their hand hammered models has been stellar so far. The HH Rock Ride is not cheap, but the type of performance you get is more than worth the investment in our opinion. This truly is one of the best ride cymbals you can find on the market these days.
A great bang for your buck
Zildjian cymbals have been the cornerstone of proven sound for a long time now. They just know how to make a good cymbal (their A Custom Mastersound was our top pick in our hi-hat cymbals guide). The ZBT Series 20″ Ride is something else, though. Zildjian has managed to find a very fine line between optimal price and great performance. This way, you have access to an impressive sound even if your budget isn’t all that flexible. Compared to the Sabian we have talked about just now, it is much more neutral in nature. However, that isn’t always a bad thing.
From a distance, ZBT series ride looks just like an average piece of brass. Honestly, this impression doesn’t really change that much even when you get closer. If it weren’t for the ZBT designation on the cymbal itself, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell what you are looking at. Zildjian chose their standard finish for this model, which is perfectly fine considering it is one of the best in the industry. Unlike the Sabian from above, this ride is machine hammered to perfection. While that means you don’t get a very complex tonality, this type of manufacturing process more or less guarantees consistent performance in every one they make.
The alloy in question is Zildjian Bronze Technology, which explains the name of the entire series. It is lower in grade compared to the B20, but it sounds almost as good. In all seriousness, you can put this ride up against a much more expensive model and you will find it perfectly capable of competing in that type of environment. How is this possible? Well, aside from the ZBT alloy having a very specific set of properties, Zildjian’s manufacturing process amplifies certain attributes of the ZBT alloy to a point where they dominate the entire sound signature.
When put into use, you will find that this ride packs a lot of shimmer and brightness. Some will say that 20″ rides are generally bright by default, but that isn’t necessarily true. This model combines a distinct mid-pitch with the type of brightness that you don’t often see. When installed on a drum set, it is a razor. The bell is just piercing in nature. It responds well even to low velocity strikes. If you start riding it hard, you will get impressive volume and sustain just from the bell alone. The bow follows the same ideology, although naturally with a lot more girth to it. The attack you get is very piercing and drops off gradually.
The best part about the Zildjian ZBT 20″ Ride is its price. You are looking at a highly affordable ride that packs enough heat to compete with cymbals which are four times as expensive. If we had to classify it by genre, we’d say it’s a great rock and metal piece with some potential in blues.
A solid beginner’s ride
Last but not least, let’s talk about a high-quality beginner model from Meinl. Their HCS 20″ Ride is a true pinger that might come across as rough around the edges but is generally a blast to work with. Truth be told, Meinl’s entire HCS series is pretty awesome. There are three things that are particularly great about this ride: its durability and forgiving nature, its consistent sound, and its affordable price.
One of the most important things for beginner drummers is to learn technique. Playing cymbals correctly is a skill that takes a decent amount of time to develop properly. In the meantime, you are fully expected to do some damage. The question is, how much abuse can your practice set take? Meinl’s HCS series are particularly good in this aspect, to a point where you can just relax and not worry about hitting the cymbal at an awkward angle. With just a little bit of care, one of these can last you a very long time.
When it comes to its tone, we are looking at a very bright and piercing cymbal that might not boast the complexity of our two previous picks, but it definitely has a lot to offer. You could say that Meinl’s HCS ride is a true ping model, with its clinically sharp bell and a very bright bow. The sustain is there, although in limited amounts. With that said, if you are a metal drummer, this cymbal is the perfect tool for some fast paced, driving rhythms. Meinl claims that you can even use it for jazz, although it might just be a bit too bright for that type of music. The feedback you get is a true learning tool. As you perfect your technique, this ride will reward you with more consistent and defined tones. In this regard, it behaves as well as some professional rides.
It’s also worth noting how versatile the HCS ride is. Beginner cymbals are generally not something you would want to use on stage. This one breaks that unwritten rule. There is more than enough quality here to be used both on stage and to some extent in a studio environment.
Everything we have told you so far is great, but it would be nothing to write home about if it weren’t for the price tag attached to this ride. It is not the cheapest thing in the world, however the amount of performance and durability you get makes it a bargain. There are rides in this price range which will give you maybe a fraction of what the Meinl HCS 20″ Ride has to offer. If you are a beginner or an intermediate player looking for a reliable workhorse, this is the model you want to have on your kit.
How we picked our top three
As mentioned at the beginning of this guide, there are currently a lot of awesome rides to choose from on the cymbal market. Narrowing down our list to a top three was fairly difficult. To do so, we set up some standards that each cymbal would have to pass in order to earn a spot on our list. Our standards were a little more generalized since we were trying to appeal to multiple experience levels and genres, but check them out below to see how we chose.
Performance and versatility
Trying to name all of the music genres where a standard drum set is still important would be pretty hard. Trying to find a ride that fits all of those would be borderline impossible. Because of that, we have focused mainly on what an average drummer would need. In other words, we wanted to find rides that can be used for rock, blues, and jazz, as these are the most popular genres that require use of a solid ride. Believe it or not, this filter alone didn’t really narrow down the selection all that much, but it definitely helped eliminate a few niche models that couldn’t perform well under all conditions.
When you are shopping for cymbals, no matter what kind, there is a point where throwing more money at it stops bringing a proportional increase in tone quality. After a certain price level, every additional dollar you invest will bring a specific finesse. This is the reason why there are no $500+ rides on our list – even though some of them are just spectacular. What we were looking for was the best bang for the buck ratio, which all of the models on our list definitely provide.
Rides, just like every other cymbal, come in a variety of sizes. Seeing how we chose our picks with an average user in mind, it was only logical to go with 20″ and 22″rides. In our opinion, anything larger than that is entering a somewhat niche territory, and anything smaller than that is crossing the line into the crash department. Rides around the 20-22″ range tend to carry the best performance.
Things to consider before buying
Rides are generally more complex in nature than other cymbals on your drum set. This is because they are often times the largest cymbal and one that is used to accentuate specific moments in the song. Because of that, you need to consider a few extra things to ensure you’re choosing the best ride cymbal for the style of music you play.
Correlation between ride and bass
One of the general rules of thumb with ride cymbals is that you want them to fit the nature of your bass drum (Steve Smith, legendary drummer of Journey, talks about that here). Rides are often times the darkest cymbal on a drum set, which is why it’s a good idea to pair it with the color of your bass. Now, this isn’t a rule that is set in stone, and in some cases, it actually needs to be broken. However, it is a good starting point that will help you shape up your kit.
Hand-hammered vs machine-hammered
This is one thing that depends on your personal preference. A hand-hammered ride is going to have a bit more unique character compared to a machined-hammered one, while the latter offers more consistency. The deal with hand-hammered cymbals is their price. Since there is a fair bit of manual labor involved, you can expect to pay a lot more for that kind of ride. In our opinion, if you are just starting out, a machine-hammered model is the way to go. Chances are you won’t even be able to recognize the various subtle details of a hand-hammered ride, so why waste your money when you can invest that into something more important at the moment?
Rides come in a variety of shapes. You have probably heard of crash rides or flat rides. These designations are related to the profile of the cymbal. Unless you are playing exclusively metal, we strongly suggest that you stay away from crash rides. This profile pretty much defeats the purpose of a ride, not to mention that a decent crash will do the job just as well. A standard profile is usually the best way to go, at least until you figure out what is it that you want.
Every ride out there is designed to bring a specific type of tone color. Some are mid-pitched, some are dark, and some are bright (this is mostly dependent on which materials are used and the hammering process). Finding out which one of these works best for you is something that will take some experimentation. If you are not sure what to get, going with a standard ping ride is the best way to go. These will give you that recognizable bell sound and a fairly bright rim tone. When you figure out which genre of music is going to be your main gig, then you will have no issues finding a ride that fits the bill. One thing to remember here though is that grime build-up over time can affect your ride’s tone, so be sure to keep it maintained using a proper cymbal cleaner.
Choosing the right size for your playing style
Size plays a significant role in how the cymbal will behave, and what kind of tone you will get from it. While we chose rides in the 20-22″ range because we feel they are the most versatile, the key here is to get something that fits the genre of music you are personally playing. Larger rides, like the 22″ one we have shown you above, are more suitable for jazz and classic rock. They are darker, warmer and offer a more concrete feedback even when played lightly. On the other hand, smaller rides are brighter and more responsive. Having a 20″ is great when you absolutely need to be able to cut through the mix.
Wrapping it up
Rides offer a resonating sound that’s instantly recognizable, and the slightest variations in material, size, and shape can all affect the tones and pitches your ride will produce. This is why it’s important to take your time and really consider your options and playing style before buying. Choosing a ride cymbal is almost an art form, just like making one is as well. We were very selective in choosing the top three for our guide, but we think we’ve nailed it when it comes to three of the best ride cymbals available. Have a listen to each one and decide for yourself which is best for you.