Our list of the best hi hat cymbals available today will help you choose a pair that fits your signature sound as a drummer.
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By Contributing Author Dango
Hi hats are one of the most crucial cymbal sounds on the drum kit. They are used for roughly 70% of the grooves we play in most styles of music.
Finding the best hi hat cymbals that fit and compliment your sound is an important part of your unique sound, second only to your snare drum.
There are several cymbal companies these days, and most making great products as I always mention. Today I will focus on some of the best hi hat cymbals that offer the most versatility for today’s music.
7 Best Hi Hats
For the options that make the cut on this list, I’ll stick to the big 4 cymbal companies, which are Zildjian, Paiste, Sabian, and Meinl.
Realistically, Istanbul Agop could arguably also be on this list, but due to the nature of trying to find versatility, I consider them to be more of a niche company. They offer mainly dark products that may not work as well in some styles of music, and they’re just a much smaller company than these four.
The big four all offer many niche lines to reach every style of player, but these 7 hats I’ve chosen remain largely popular because they are so accessible and so easy to cross genres with. By no means are these the only options to consider from these companies.
Zildjian New Beat Hi Hats
- Cast Bronze
- Pure, bright and expressive
- Features symmetric hammering and traditional finish
Zildjian is the oldest cymbal company by far and they still are at the top of the pack as far as sales and popularity.
They have been used throughout history in every genre and had world class players in jazz, rock, pop, country, and so on.
The New Beat hats are possibly their most longstanding, versatile hats. They were my first pro level hats as a kid and they are just as popular today, despite all the trends in thinner and darker models.
They are medium-heavy weight and have a pronounced chick sound. This model was designed by drumming legend Louie Bellson and is available in sizes: 12, 13, 14, & 15 inches.
You can’t go wrong with New beats and they will work in almost any style.
Paiste 2002 Sound Edge Hi Hats
- BRIGHT & BRILLIANT TONE - Paiste Sound Edge Hi-Hat Cymbals deliver a medium bright and full sound with warm and brilliant overtones. Its wide frequency range provides a fairly complex mix so you can...
- FAST RESPONSIVE FEEL - Experience an incredibly fast response intensity that is lively yet not overpowering. The medium sustain will give off just enough vibration to bring out the fullness of sound...
- 2002 SERIES DESIGN - These legendary cymbals are built on the foundation of the original classic cymbals and have been expanded for today’s progressive popular music.
Paiste is the second oldest cymbal company and has always been popular for their unique shimmer they add in a mix, as well as being the only cymbal company capable of making identical models sound the same (Zildjian and Sabian boast each cymbal to have it’s own unique characteristics, while Paiste boasts that if you’re replacing a specific model and size, it will sound exactly the same).
Paiste launched the 2002’s in 1971 and Bonham and Alex Van Halen were some of their earliest players to popularize the line.
These hats are bright and crisp and yet very versatile. You won’t ever mistake Paistes when you hear them in a mix.
These are the original wavy bottom hats before anyone else made them, uniquely offered in sizes 13, 14, 15, & 17.
I have owned and toured with these cymbals and they definitely have that classic Paiste/ Bonham sound.
Sabian HHX Complex Medium Hi Hats
Sabian is the second biggest cymbal company in the world today, and they offer several lines and models for the active player.
HHX Complex hats are a newer model in the Sabian family that have gained immense popularity for their dark rich tones, while still offering a solid chick with the foot.
HHX uses some hand hammering and some machine lathing. These hats are among Sabians top choices, as well as others from the Evolution and Artisan lines.
These are a little more expensive and maybe a little more niche than some on the list, but they are great sounding hi hats.
Available in sizes 14 & 15 inches. The only Sabian hats I like better are the Artisan 15 lights, but these HHX’s are more popular and more versatile.
Sabian AAX X-Plosion Hi Hats
- Award-winning AAX X-Plosion design guarantees these hats will sound amazing
- Open and loud, or tight and articulate -it’s up to you!
- A Cymbal Vote 2013 Winner
Possibly one of Sabians most popular hi hats are the AAX X-Plosion hats, which are brilliant finish and very bright.
They are only offered in 14 inches and are used by many drummers in rock and pop, as well as Gospel.
Sabian says they are tight, articulate, and loud. If I were choosing Sabians, I would personally lean towards the HHX or Artisan lines, but these hi hats remain extremely popular and are a good all-around choice.
I think Sabian should introduce these in 15’s and they would see even more sales of this popular option.
Zildjian K Light Hi Hats
- 15" Hi-hat Cymbals (Pair) with Medium-thin Top/Medium Bottom Configuration - Traditional Finish
The K Series is extremely popular in the Zildjian family and has been around for decades.
Zildjian started offering the K Lights because players were requesting thinner and lighter models. These are available in sizes: 14, 15, & 16.
I love all of the K hats, but the thin models are definitely my favorite. They are still very versatile and can be used in rock and pop, and jazz, but not as dark as some of the Kerope or Konstantinoples.
Zildjian says these have a dark and delicate feel, but in today’s market with super dark Turkish companies, these hi hats are still very “middle of the road” sonically.
Paiste Formula 602 Modern Essential Hi Hats
- The Formula 602 Modern Essentials Hi-Hats provide warm sound, satisfying "give" and ample cut
- These extremely versatile hi-hats are perfectly suited for dynamic, articulated playing in a wide range of styles
Paiste launched the Modern Essential line in 2013 when Vinnie Colaiuta joined the family and helped create the sound.
They are an all-purpose, versatile line that work in any style, but they are a good bit darker than Zildjian A Customs, which Colaiuta was a big part of designing several years prior.
Available in 14- and 15-inch sizes, these cymbals are entirely handcrafted in Switzerland. Paiste describes them as deep, warm, and buttery.
I have owned these hi hats for several years and they are my favorite all-around hi hats from any company.
Meinl Cymbals Byzance Traditional Medium Hi Hats
- Hand hammered in Turkey from cast B20 bronze alloy — Byzance Traditional 15” Medium Hihats deliver bright definition with low undertones and a sizzling wash — the frequency mix and crisp...
- Fully lathed surfaces — Byzance Traditional cymbals are fully lathed to give them a classic sound and look — some of the deeper hand hammer craters are visible, but the surface has been lathed...
- Composed sound — clarity and articulation come through with these hats along with a mix of darker, complex tones from the extensive hand hammering — the result is a refined hihat sound that...
Meinl is a German company that offers very high-end cymbals and a lot of dark options, as well as a lot of unique effects cymbals.
The Byzance line is their mainstay and probably most versatile line they offer.
These medium hats are hand hammered in Turkey and have a crisp dark tone. They are offered in 13, 14, 15, & 16 inches.
I have personally toured with these cymbals and they’re my favorite Meinl hats.
If you love these but want something even a bit darker, check out the Byzance Foundry Reserve hats, which are also amazing.
What Size Hi-Hats Should I Choose?
Hi hat size is mainly dependent upon personal preference, as well as the music you play.
In the 90’s there were guys like Dave Weckl really making 13-inch hats popular. Historically, 14-inch hats have been the most common, and every company offers most of their models in that size.
Over the past decade, cymbal sizes have gotten bigger and darker.
Personally, I find 15-inch hats to be the best sounding to my ears, and size-wise, the easiest to play. They’re slightly bigger than what I grew up on, and yet aren’t massive.
Steve Jordan has popularized huge hats while recording and touring with his 17-inch Paistes.
For this list of the best options, I chose all 15’s except for the model not offered in 15.
I have toured with 14, 15, and 16 hats. I always come back to 15’s and use them in the studio 90% of the time. But really, the choice in size is totally up to you and your personal preference
Sheet vs. Cast Construction of hi hats
Cheaper cymbals are made from sheets that combine multiple kinds of metal, which are then cut to specific sizes.
They are typically heavier and, as a result, higher-pitched and more clangy and harsh to the ear. Sheet construction is a cheaper process, allowing companies to keep prices down when offering entry-level cymbals.
Cast cymbals are made in a mold by melting down bronze, then hammering the bronze to the desired size and shape. It’s a painstaking process and a true art.
While modern machines can do this process, the highest-end cymbals are hammered by hand.
Zildjian used to offer cymbals made both ways, but now all of their lines are machine-hammered. Paiste, Sabian, and Meinl all offer cymbals hand-hammered still.
These companies also offer lines partially-machine and partially-hand hammered.
Things to Consider When Buying Hi Hats
If you get a great pair of hi hats, they will likely last you several years and be usable in many applications.
If you only own one pair, try to get something versatile like the ones on this list.
All these companies make other killer sounding hats in other lines, but they’re tailored to more specific uses.
For example if you get a super dark, thin pair of Meinls that you love for your Americana or Indie band, they might not work later in a corporate cover band as well.
Or if you get Sabian metal hats that are super heavy and loud for your metal band, they may not be the best fit when you take them to a songwriters night.
Build your collection as you can, but it’s always a good idea to have one solid, versatile pair of hats, and cymbals in general.
And of course, choose a quality cymbal bag or case for protecting your gear.
Our Top Picks for the Best Hi Hat Cymbals
They actually don’t sound very similar, but both are extremely well-made and extremely versatile.
For my money, I could do everything with the Paistes the rest of my career and be happy. But I always love playing both of these.
As usual, all of the hi hats on this list are excellent and you need to find what fits you best. There isn’t truly a best one out of these.
These are simply my favorites from my 15 year career playing professionally and touring in a lot of different settings.
I also didn’t dive into the Turkish companies because they haven’t been around as long, and some of them probably won’t be here in another 10 years. But if that’s your thing, by all means, check those out also.
Buying Hi Hats on a Budget
The best hi hat cymbals will cost more than the entry-level options available from the major companies.
So if you’re on a tight budget or are buying for a beginner, just know that inexpensive cymbals will sound cheap and can be difficult to listen to.
Honestly, I’d recommend buying any pro cymbal–even if it’s used and beat up–over new budget cymbals.
With that said, if you can’t find a used pro-level cymbal, all the major companies do offer budget hi hats, which I’ve included below.
All of these will work for a kid just starting out. They all will be similar quality and price, so feel free to pick one according to whatever brand loyalty you may have.