Istanbul Azure Cymbal Review

 Performing Musician and Live Sound World 

Istanbul Agop Azure

Hand-made cymbals

Istanbul Agop have launched a brand-new range of distinctively focused-sounding cymbals that are designed to offer an alternative to their more traditional models.

Dave Holmes

When the last of the Turkish Zildjian factories ceased production in 1978, moving lock, stock and smouldering castings across to the other side of the Atlantic, they left behind Istanbul and several members of staff who didn't want to leave their Turkish homeland. Two of these former employees, Agop Tomurcuk (former foreman of the 'K' factory) and partner Mehmet Tamdeger found themselves out of work, but instead of facing the Turkish dole queue, chose not to waste the skills as artisans they had both acquired since a very early age and, in the early 1980s, started their own cymbal manufacturing company under the brand name Zilcier (Turkish for 'blacksmith'). Shortly after, Zilciler re-branded to become Istanbul, and the moniker rapidly became synonymous with traditionally crafted, high-quality cymbals. In 1996, tragedy struck when Tomurcuk Agop died in a boating accident, and the two sons of Tomurcuk Agop (Sarkis and Arman) and Mehmet Tamdeger chose to divide Istanbul into two separate companies — Istanbul Mehmet and, makers of the cymbals under review this month, Istanbul Agop.

Having fairly recently reviewed an impressive horde of hand-crafted cymbals from Istanbul Agop, I was very excited about the prospect of testing out some more of their inspiring Turkish wares. The previous review featured a selection of models from Istanbul Agop's Traditional range, which, I believe, exemplified all that is uniquely Turkish. This month, however, the Istanbul Agop examples I have are from their Azure series. This is a brand-new range, which is specifically designed to be "a more focused alternative to the traditional-sounding cymbals". Surprisingly, as yet, there are very few models in the Azure range — in fact, I have only six cymbals to check out here and these include a pair of 14-inch hi-hats, a 20-inch ride, a 22-inch ride, a 16-inch crash and an 18-inch crash — and that is basically the lot!

So, just what are these less "traditional-sounding" models like? Well, just like all Istanbul Agop cymbals, these models are cast from a B20 alloy, then they are hand-hammered, hand-lathed and, in fact, totally hand-crafted using age-old methods passed down through the generations — literally from father to son. With a cursory glance, they do look very similar to the former review models of the Traditional series and have a similar natural, non-buffed finish. Some of the models here also appear much, much lighter — my usual 20-inch ride weighs almost twice as much as its review counterpart! Closer inspection reveals they are indeed quite a bit thinner than the previous review models, which hopefully goes some way to explaining the weight loss. Istanbul Agop wanted to create a range of cymbals that have a 'cleaner' sound while retaining musicality, and have created these thin to medium-weight cymbals as a result.

With the exception of the fairly shallow bell upon both the 20- and 22-inch ride cymbals, they have all been subject to extensive hand-hammering across the whole surface, though the indentations are nowhere near as deep as I noted on the Istanbul Agop Epoch Signature model from a couple of months ago. The tone grooves on all of the cymbals here are provided by a series of irregular-width, hand-tooled lathing, and run around the entire cymbal surface, getting progressively finer towards the centre hole. The logo and model designation is silk-screen printed upon the surface of each cymbal, with the Azure logo directly at the centre of the bow, while directly underneath this, the size is represented in both imperial and metric measurements — for example, "16"/41cm Crash". Further down, towards the lower edge, is the familiar Istanbul Agop logo (with the Turkish star rather cleverly incorporated into the design), which is also screen-printed in black. Stamped directly into the centre of the bow is the official company name and, as a finishing touch, the signatures of Sarkis and Arman on the underside of the bell of each cymbal.

Oddly, the hi-hats do not feel quite as light as their size might suggest, and although the lower cymbal feels much heavier, there are only a few grams in it. The matched pair of hi-hats and set of crashes feature noticeably deeper tone grooves across the whole surface, while the profile of each of these models doesn't appear to be quite as low as that of the rides.

Performance

A few gentle taps upon each of the crashes revealed smatterings of the customary Turkish warmth, but it was a whole different story when played with heavier stick strikes. Out went the dark and in came the light like some huge, explosive and very satisfying glassy shatter. This sounded so good, I found myself compelled to strike again and again in order to wallow in the result. If my memory serves me well, the overall volume of these models is slightly louder and with perhaps a touch more initial bite than the Traditional models, but strangely the hi-hat doesn't quite appear all that loud when pedalling down on the hi-hat pedal — I even found myself looking to see if the angle was set correctly on the tilt. However, striking with a stick gives such a great sound, and all the usual hi-hat tricks come across cleanly and with clarity.

Crest of the wave

I approached the testing of the rides in much the same way as I did with the crashes, beginning with gentle strikes gently around the various sections of the bow and edge. As I concentrated my stick velocity upon the bow of the large 22-inch ride, it developed into a full and rapid wash. I detected quite a dark undertone but then suddenly (and surprisingly) there was a very noticeable change in its character as it reached its sweet spot. The change seemed so dramatic it actually made me doubt my ears, so I decided to choke the cymbal and begin the build process once again. This time, however, I made a concerted effort to ensure the stick was striking upon the same place each time (a little more of a scientific approach perhaps!) — and no better place than the manufacturer's stamp, which is just about as central to the bow as possible. Once again the build rose rapidly and exactly the same effect happened. Even through the fullness of the washy overtone, the stick definition could be heard with clarity, producing the perfect balance between the wash and stick strike. The bell has a fairly shallow profile but this still proved a useful tool in defining those 'Armageddon' guitar moments while managing to keep the band in the pocket.

Conclusion

More than any instrument in a drummer's arsenal, the cymbal relies on the materials employed and method of manufacture, which ultimately impart each model with its character. With these particular models, each one is as individual as the craftsmen who create them and as such each model will be totally unique. Some may like to see every little imperfection buffed out and have a set of gleaming polished models to blind those on stage, but each tiny 'feature' caused during the casting and manufacturing process bestows every model with its very distinctive personality.

I have used these cymbals in a whole variety of gig situations, from a couple of acoustic pub gigs to a fully miked-up on-stage environment through a 16kW FOH PA system. While we were setting up for a soundcheck at the larger venue, the sound guy wanted me to hear what the cymbals sounded like out front, so he played around on the cymbals for me while I stood, open-mouthed, at the front of the stage. I was gobsmacked then, but when I heard the results from a test recording (the sound engineer insisted he set the EQ flat, and that his microphones "do not lie"), the sound produced was simply astounding. Having tried literally the whole range out in one review, it has been a joy to play each of them, and I can only come to one possible conclusion — these cymbals are superb.