Hi-hats are probably the most important cymbal on your drum kit. You’re going to be playing them the most. You’ll even see drum setups with ONLY a pair of hi-hats. Every drummer has a pair of hi-hats, except for the drummer from Alt-J, but that’s just him being unique.
Since they are your most important cymbals, you’re going to need a good pair of them. A pair that fits your playing style and fits right into the type of music you play. Each style of music calls for a certain type of hi-hat sound.
So, I have put together a list of my favorite hi-hats and grouped them according to which style of music they’re good for.
8 Best Hi-Hat Cymbals for Different Genres
The Zildjian A New Beat hi-hats have been one of Zildjian’s top sellers for years. The reason for this is that they are arguably the most versatile pair of hi-hats on the market. They work relatively well in all styles.
They have a tight sound with a solid crispness to it. It has a medium top and heavy bottom, which is what gives it the distinct “chick” sound. The tone is bright, meaning it will cut through a mix easily. There’s a fair bit of sustain when these hats are played loosely.
These hats will work well for most styles, except for Jazz, since they cut through a mix instead of blending into it. The closed sound may also be a bit dull for funk. In summary, they fit well, but they don’t fit perfectly.
They are made from Zildjian’s secret alloy formula which guarantees that they are durable and will last you a long time.
Meinl’s Classics Custom Dark series of cymbals were pretty much designed specifically for heavy metal drummers, meaning they work well for metal or any style that is heavier.
The 14” hi-hats are bright and chirpy when closed, with a nice short sound. The sustain when they are open is clear and has a defined slosh. The overtones sound really good when open as well.
The standout feature with these hi-hats is their finish. They are black with some gold parts, adding a very unique and cool look to your cymbal setup. A black cymbal, what’s more metal than that?
These hi-hats are loud, so don’t get them with the intention of playing soft music. You won’t have a good time. The brightness makes them cut sharply through a mix.
They’re at a mid tier range of price, making them quite affordable for a pair of high quality hi-hats.
Paiste’s PST7 series offers high quality cymbals at a mid-tier price range. The 14” hi-hats are crispy, sizzly and easily cut through a mix. They really project when played hard.
They have a heavy bottom and a lighter top, giving them a pronounced “chick” sound. They also have that high-end sizzle that you can expect from Paiste cymbals.
Their pitch is high, making these hi-hats good for styles such as funk or gospel. They aren’t very loud, making them a good option for softer styles such as jazz or indie rock. These hi-hats are pretty versatile!
They’re one of the best pairs of hi-hats on the market at their price range. They don’t sound quite as good as higher priced hand-made cymbals, but they’re seriously great for what they are.
The only downside of these hi-hats is that they’re slightly lacking tonally when they’re in a more open position.
The Zildjian K Sweet 15” hi-hats have been one of my favorite pairs of hi-hats for years. They are oversized and extra dark, giving them a musical complexity that is truly unique.
They have a light top, which gives them a smooth and musical wash. Their heavy bottom adds projection and makes them produce a solid foot pump. This foot pump is perfect for keeping time with your hi-hat foot, especially in styles such as jazz swing.
The hi-hat top has an unlathed bell which gives a penetrating sound when hit. Drummers don’t really play hi-hat bells too often, but it’s going to sound really good when you hit this one.
I’d use these hats for jazz, since they are warm, dark and blend well into a mix. They’re very versatile though, fitting nicely into rock, pop or hip hop. Their sound will get lost in a heavy metal setup.
The downside to the K Sweet 15s is the price. They are probably some of the most expensive hi-hats you’ll find. Highly worth the investment though!
It’s in the name, these hi-hats were designed for rock music. They’re part of Zildjian’s S series, which is Zildjian’s beginner to intermediate series of cymbals. The S Series Rock hi-hats are engineered to have a feel and tone that will sit perfectly in a rock setup.
They’re heavy and focused, but mellow enough to not get on anyone’s nerves. The brightness and loudness will cut through a mix, making these things very fun to bash.
They’re made from a B12 alloy which makes them sound balanced, but also makes them very durable. An intermediate drummer might not have developed solid cymbal hitting technique yet, and these hats have grace for that.
The S Series Rock hi-hats aren’t as good as Zildjian’s A or K series, but they’re far better than the ZBT or ZHT series. So, if you’re a beginner to intermediate rock drummer, these hats would be a great option for you.
The Sabian AAX Freq 14” hi-hats are one of Sabian’s top-quality pairs. They’re often used in recording studios because they produce a great sound and are highly versatile.
They have a present and full-bodied sound. There are no funky overtones when playing lightly or hard. There also isn’t any pitch bending when you put pressure on the hi-hat pedal.
These hi-hats have a quick gated attack, with little sustain. This is thanks to the dual-lathing process that they go through. They also have a decent wash that won’t get too out of control.
They’re great for jazz, funk and pop. These hi-hats might be a bit too soft for rock or metal.
Overall, these hats are a great high-tier option for many different styles. The raw bell looks good in a cymbal setup as well.
The Meinl HCS 14” hi-hats are Meinl’s entry-level pair of hi-hats. They are designed to give drummers a highly affordable hi-hat option.
They look and feel sturdy. The bright “chick” sound gives them a crispy vibe. The sound is seriously clear when they’re closed, but doesn’t sound too great when they’re open. Thinner hi-hats will usually sound better when open, and these hi-hats are very thick.
They’re highly inexpensive, so there’s a few features that they just won’t have. They’re not dynamically responsive, meaning they’re not going to respond well to soft playing. This makes them a great option for styles of music that don’t have a huge dynamic range such as rock, punk and metal.
The Meinl HCS 14” hi-hats are great for beginners and drummers who just like to casually jam out in a garage. If you’re an experienced drummer, these aren’t going to be your best option.
The Sabian SBR 13” hi-hats are made from a B20 brass material. This puts them in the low-tier category of cymbals. They’re good for beginners and students.
They’re a medium weight and produce a bright sound. They’re very inexpensive, meaning they’re obviously not going to have the best sound. However, I have a pair of these that I use in my teaching studio, and they work seriously well on my student drum kit.
The 13” size makes them feel quite unique and works especially well for my younger students who have smaller frames.
A little bonus to these hi-hats is that they work surprisingly well within cymbal stacks. I’ve experimented with quite a few setups and the 13” size just compliments a cymbal stack very well.
These aren’t expensive at all, making them a great option if you’re not looking to spend a lot of cash. Don’t expect them to be good enough for a high quality recording though.
Things to Consider When Buying Hi-Hats
The standard size for hi-hats is 14”. Most hi-hats on the market are going to be that size. However, there are going to be exceptions, and modern music has evolved to a point where hi-hats can range drastically in size.
The next two sizes are 13” and 15”. These don’t stray too far from the normal, but they do add a bit of variety. A 13” pair of hi-hats will feel crispier and sound higher pitched, while a 15” pair will feel looser and sound lower pitched.
Any pairs of hi-hats that are smaller than 13” basically become effects cymbals. They’re not the standard thing that you’d use for your main hi-hat. A lot of drummers use smaller hi-hats as auxiliary cymbals.
Hi-hats that are larger than 15” will create a huge sound, bordering on becoming effects cymbals as well. I personally use a pair of 16” hi-hats. Something about the large size just feels super fun to play.
Style of Music
Music is very broad, making different sounds better for certain situations. You should get a pair of hi-hats that suits the style of music you play. Some companies make cymbals that are specifically designed for different styles, making it easy to distinguish what will work and what won't.
If a pair of hi-hats aren’t made for a specific purpose, just think that heavier cymbals are better for heavy music, while light cymbals are better for lighter music. Styles like rock and metal need hi-hats that have an aggressive attack that cuts through a mix. Styles like jazz and funk need hi-hats that blend well into a mix and have a good washy sound.
Modern styles such as hip hop, electronic and trap usually need hi-hats that are smaller than normal. A pair of 12” or 13” hi-hats would work well in a trap music setup.
Some hi-hats are really versatile and will work well for many different styles of music.
Hi-hats are one of your biggest tools in drumming. They keep the time and hold the band together. So, it’s important that you get a good pair of them. A pair that fits the style of music you’re playing and helps you develop your personal voice on the drums.
There are so many good options out there. Go out and choose wisely!