First Look: Zildjian ALCHEM-E Series Electronic Drum Kits

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First Look: Zildjian ALCHEM-E Series Electronic Drum Kits

Zildjian ALCHEM-E Series
Words by Andy Lloyd-Russell

Cast your mind a few years back in the second decade of the 17th century.

An Armenian alchemist in Constantinople is soon to discover the true secrets of cymbal making, creating such fine tuned expressive instruments brimming with unparalleled clarity and sustain, it will go on to change the world of cymbal making forever. After this discovery, Avedis I is given the family name Zildjian (literally meaning cymbal maker) by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and in 1623, the first Zildjian cymbal foundry is born. 

From such humble beginnings, the sacred Zildjian cymbal formula has now passed down fifteen generations, still to this day is a tight knit family secret, uttered only between a select few. But for a musical instrument company spanning over 400 years, steeped in the family tradition of cymbal making, the recent announcement of an entirely new product line, the ALCHEM-E Series of Electronic Drum Kits is indeed the hot topic – at least in the drumming community.

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Anyone with even a remote understanding of electronic drums will understand there have always been certain limitations in the inherent design of these instruments with one specific element being particularly difficult to replicate convincingly: cymbals. Aside from the obvious physical challenges of making a cymbal suitable for an electronic drum kit, a la quiet yet touch sensitive, weighted yet sized not too small, accurately replicating the sound of an acoustic cymbal is no small feat, with near endless amounts of nuance and feel associated with these thin, musical  sheets of metal. 


Being the cymbal making pioneers that they are, Zildjian knew all eyes and ears would be on their approach to cymbals, and they certainly didn’t disappoint, having gone to extreme lengths to preserve the experience of this acoustic phenomenon. Thankfully Zildjian had a bit of a head start in crafting their new electronic cymbals, with their existing line of low volume cymbals – the L80 range being an integral leg up when it came to piecing together the ALCHEM-E range. 

Being metal in composition – a first for the world of electronic drums which up until now have predominantly been rubber pads or similar, the new Zildjian ALCHEM-E cymbals are almost a little too good to be true, nailing not only the feel, size and sound but splitting this across the three zones of the cymbals for a distinctly different feel and sound whether playing the bell, bow or edge, which brings me onto the samples themselves. 

Having played numerous electronic kits myself over the years ranging from basic entry level right through to absolute top tier flagship models, it’s the cymbals that always seemed to suffer in their ability to produce a three-dimensional sound and experience, at least by comparison to the pads and drum and percussion sounds in any given module. Hearing various crash, ride or hi-hat cymbal sounds (with the hi-hats having the ability to accurately splash with the foot pedal – within the E VAULT module is truly inspiring, giving that classic Zildjian sparkle and sheen, without sounding like a bunch of the same samples with a handful of different velocity’s all pre configured and stacked atop each other. Over 100 cymbals can be chosen from right off the bat, with each of the three kits available in the range all sporting the same fully featured ZEV1 module. The variety of parameters at one’s disposal for adjusting sensitively, moving around of sounds in connected pads and cymbals is just the tip of the iceberg and is kind of crazy – with too much to mention properly in one article. Paired with a plethora of preset kits and massive sounding drums to boot, not one of the new ALCHEM-E kits is left feeling a little lacklustre in the sounds or features department. The choice of RJ45 ethernet style connectors for the cymbals is very much a deliberate (and clever one I might add), providing plenty of data transfer juice, as well as being lockable for a more secure connection. 

Zildjian ZEV1

The connectivity of the ZEV1 module is huge – absolutely crucial and ideal for both studio recording and live performance scenarios. Six TRS 1/4” are available for pads and there are 6 RJ45 inputs for the cymbals. In addition to the main LR mix out, 8 additional TRS 1/4” line outputs are available as well as MIDI I/O, 3.5mm aux input as well as USB-C for firmware updates etc. as well as a USB-A connection and Bluetooth connectivity. 

I mentioned three models and they each bring something unique to the table. The Compact ALCHEM-E Bronze EX  is a 5 piece 18” kick, 2x 10” toms and 12” floor, 14” snare with 14” hats and 16” and 18” cymbals, sporting single head toms. The matte black wrap is awesome, poplar/basswood hybrid shell composition plus the ZEV1 module. With included hardware of two cymbal boom stands, three tom mounts and module stand. The included accessories are surprisingly well thought out with a USB flash drive, module mounting plate, cleaning cloth, kick drum pillow and hoop protector, 2x kick drum head patches and a pair of Zildjian ALCHEM-E sticks all included. The ALCHEM-E Gold is a four piece set. Available in the gorgeous Black Gold Foundry Shimmer Gloss Lacquer finish – modelled from the floor of the Zildjian factory, which is speckled with cymbal floss – The ALCHEM-E Gold kit is a genuine 7-ply American Maple shell pack in a 18” kick, 10” rack and 14” floor toms and 14” snare configuration which are all full sized shells with batter and resonant heads. Sporting full sized 14” hats, 16” and 20” cymbals this kit is a true hybrid, with the ability to swap out drum heads and use these gorgeous shells as a traditional acoustic kit. The Flagship ALCHEM-E Gold EX is a five piece beast set in Black Gold Foundry Shimmer Gloss Lacquer finish. Full sized shells of 20” kick, 10” and 12” rack toms,14” floor and 14” snare with 14” hats, and 16”, 18” and 20” cymbals too boot, this flagship kit is absolutely brimming with hardware and looks the absolute part both in studio and live stage settings. 

From a musical instrument brand spanning a history of over four centuries, it should come as no surprise that Zildjian’s completely new ALCHEM-E product line not only pushes the bounds of the existing market of electronic drums in as a whole but is genuinely redefining what a hybrid drum setup can look like. Filling the gap of where the majority of other electronic kits fall short, the ALCHEM-E cymbals are truly inspired. Not only sounding incredible with their wealth of available sounds from the E-VAULT but they also provide the genuine feel of cymbals, an enormous feat in the world of e-drums. With this line marking the beginning of a new venture for Zildjian, who knows what other product innovations lay ahead, but for now we’re incredibly excited to see these new electronic kits settling into the studio and live environments for all to enjoy.

For local enquiries, visit Dynamic Music.