Most drummers and percussionists will have come across them: ‘low-volume’ cymbals – also-known-as ‘mute’ cymbals. The big names as well as smaller names have released their own take on the low-volume cymbal, but what exactly are they and what can and can’t you do with them? Why would you even need a set of low-volume cymbals? In this blog, we lay it all out for you.
What Are Low-Volume Cymbals?
Here’s a short and sweet summary: low-volume cymbals often have a perforated design which, in some cases, reduces the volume by up to 80% when compared to normal cymbals. Low-volume cymbals are usually made of some kind of special alloy to keep the structure strong while offering the same rebound and playing feel as normal cymbals and, just like normal cymbals, low-volume cymbals come in a range of different colours, so you can finish off your kit with your own vibe.
The Good Bits
There are a lot of advantages that come with playing with a set of low-volume cymbals. The most obvious one being that the cymbal volume of your kit drops considerably, making them great for practising at home without starting a war with the neighbours. But you can also use them outdoors as well. Say you’re shooting a music video with your band. Playing normal cymbals at full volume doesn’t really work in a posh film studio or in an urban location. Mute cymbals and other smart tools like damping pads or mesh heads can be a great solution, since you won’t notice them in the video. Your band mates will be a lot happier as well, since they’ll actually be able to hear the track and play in time to it without your crashes and effect cymbals stomping all over it.
There are a couple of disadvantages to using low-volume cymbals, one of which is that you just can’t take them on most stages. They’re designed to deliver as little volume as possible so they simply won’t be loud enough and, next to that, you’ll be forcing the sound engineer to deal with some pretty weird and annoying frequencies. The gain of the overhead microphones would also have to be cranked up quite high and the crosstalk that comes with that just wouldn’t work sound-wise. You’ll also notice that, while low-volume cymbals are literally quieter, when you play them at full power during a show or loud rehearsal, the sound can still feel pretty uncomfortable when you’re not wearing any hearing protection.
Can You Record with Them?
You can definitely record with low-volume cymbals, but don’t expect the sound to be as good as normal cymbals. For example, if you’re working at home with a hybrid drum kit fitted with mesh heads and triggers, you can definitely record a good quality demo with your low-volume cymbals, but in any other situation, regular cymbals are always going to be the better option. With some low-volume cymbals, like the Gen16 cymbals from Zildjian, you can use triggers! Using triggers, you can add a sample later (or in real-time) via your computer or a drum module. This can make it a touch easier to make a recording sound more natural.
Can You Play Gigs with Them?
As we already mentioned earlier, playing a gig with low-volume cymbals is usually not the smartest idea but, of course, there are some exceptions. If you’re playing a small club, a jazz cafe or just a really small space where the audience are going to be really close to the kit, then a set of low-volume cymbals can really work. They definitely come in handy for more stripped back, acoustic shows where a normal set of cymbals will easily drown out the rest of the band. We also mentioned earlier: you could use low-volume cymbals as triggers so that samples are played through the PA. This can be a great solution if you prefer the look and playing feel of acoustic cymbals over cymbal pads.
Electronic Cymbal Pads or Just Low-Volume Cymbals?
For any drummers experimenting with building a hybrid drum kit at home using gear like mesh heads and triggers and so on, the question “Aren’t electronic cymbal pads just better?” might have popped up. This question is actually a bit hard to answer simply because both options come with some great advantages and some very specific disadvantages. In the end, it’s whatever works best for your setup and playing style…
High & Low Frequencies
Let’s assume that low-volume cymbals are even quieter than electronic cymbal pads. This is because the impact of your sticks hitting the rubber of the pads does make a pretty loud sound, so if your housemates are sitting in the next room, they will be able to hear it whether they want to or not. Low-volume cymbals also vibrate at a higher frequency when struck, and higher frequencies move more slowly through walls than lower frequencies. I.e. It’s the lower-frequency contact noise of the electronic cymbal pad that your housemates and neighbours are going to hear. But, with low-volume cymbals, you do also have to deal with a longer sustain, which can also produce lower frequencies. This is why, in both cases, the best option is to somehow raise your kit off the ground with a sort of platform so that it’s a little better isolated and your neighbours and housemates are bothered as little as possible by the contact noise.
More Accurate Triggers
So what are the benefits of using electronic cymbals? The biggest plus is that, while you can use some low-volume cymbals with triggers, the triggering tech of a cymbal pad is far more accurate. You can also ‘choke’ an electronic cymbal pad (clamp it between your fingers to stop the vibration and cut the sound), and a triggered mute cymbal won’t have all of the different ‘zones’ that a cymbal pad often has. While you can gain the volume differences and dynamics when using a volume-cymbal as a trigger, you will start to miss certain sounds and effects. For example, playing accents on the bell is suddenly impossible. So if you are planning to make digital recordings using triggers, then electronic cymbal pads are likely to be the better option.
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