The three rules of getting a good drum sound are 1. Use a good kit, 2. Set it up well, and 3. Don't work with anything less than a fantastic drummer. But the days of dodgy drum sets are now pretty much over. You can buy a drum set of fully professional quality for less than $1000, and if you are serious about your work that certainly isn't too much to pay. A drummer might aspire to a more expensive set, but the extra value in terms of sound quality will be small. It will look nicer though, and the chrome plating on the hardware might be better quality.
No matter how good, any drum set needs work in terms of getting rid of the inevitable rattles that develop through components working loose. Also, the drum heads will need a certain amount of damping to reduce the 'ring' that doesn't sound at all good on a recording. But once that is done, the perfect drum sound is within reach.
Cymbals are different however. Cymbals have an intrinsic 'goodness value'. There is absolutely nothing you can do to improve the sound of a poor quality cymbal. Yes, you can try taping the cymbal to damp it. Many people have tried that but few have any degree of success to report.
So no matter what you do to perfect the sound of the drums, poor quality cymbals will ruin your recording.
Of course there is a simple answer - buy good quality cymbals. No, buy the best quality - nothing else will do.
High class cymbal manufacturers such as Paiste and Zildjian have the knowledge and technology to produce excellent cymbals, which they sell at their highest prices. But as any manufacturer would, they need a range of products so that less well-off drummers can buy into the brand.
But to create less expensive cymbals, they have to intentionally degrade the sound quality. If they didn't, there would be no reason to buy the top range models. So be prepared to pay high and don't compromise.
The trouble with drummers however is that they choose cymbals that sound good to them (and look good too, considering the range of textured finishes now available). A drummer's judgment is not necessarily all that well aligned with a recording engineer's judgment. So a drummer might buy expensive cymbals, and they will sound good when heard acoustically, but they might not work well on a recording.
If you commonly record bands, then you will experience an endless stream of drummers coming into the studio with cymbals that sound like trash can lids. What is the answer to this problem?
Buy your own cymbals!
You might consider that your spare cash is for buying the latest equipment and plug-ins, and perhaps expanding your RAM a little. But if you work with bands, then possibly a greater sonic difference could be made by having your own cymbals to fall back on should the drummer's own not be up to standard.
Persuading the drummer to use your cymbals might not be the easiest task in the world, but if it helps get the job done, then buying him a couple of beers might be an excellent investment too.
And although a good set of cymbals - hihat, crash and ride is all you need - may cost significant money, they will last a lifetime. It's true that cymbals can break, but your cymbals won't be subject to the normal wear and tear of rehearsal and gigging. It's an investment you will never regret.
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