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Wanted: feedback on synthesizers suitable for use with wind controllers

SOTSDO

Old King Log
Staff member
CE/Moderator
With my continuing soft palate issues not showing any signs of improvement, I have switched over to a combination wind controller/synthesizer setup for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, it's time to go shopping.

While I have pretty much settled on the Yamaha offering for the controller, along with all of its good features and bad (I hate the hair trigger octave keys, for one thing, and the thumb rest is positively abysmal), the Yamaha synthesizer that I have borrowed has one of the worst simulations of a saxophone tone that I have ever heard. Through most of the range of the baritone "patch", it sounds more like a baritone oboe with a bad case of asthma. The clarinet and the bass clarinet are better, but they could still use some improvement.

With that in mind, I'm interested in the opinions of saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet players as to which synthesizers produces the best simulations of real instrument tone and timbre. If you have some thoughts on the controller as well, by all means air them here as well.

If I have to buy one of these things to continue participation in music, I'd rather not make it a half K per step learning experience, preferring instead to get it as right as possible the first time.
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
As a disclaimer, the sax sound on samplers and/or synths sucks. Roland used to make samplers that actually had a decent sax sound, but you could tell it wasn't a "real" sax. Clarinet and flute sounds are much easier to create. Also, you need to remember that whatever you get has to support breath/wind controllers. If you don't get one that supports them, you're going to be missing out on things like volume control, pitch bending, etc.

(If you weren't aware, the Yamaha WX-5 has two mouthpieces: one that's "recorder like" and one that's "saxophone like." That can make a difference for you, too.)

The Yamaha Motif XS and/or XF are the synth/samplers that I generally hear is "the best" thing to go with the WX5. You can get one with or without a keyboard. And they're expensive. Around $1200 new. However, the XF was introduced in 2010 and the XS was introduced in 2007, so it's very probable to find one that's on eBay or someplace else online.

I've heard some good things about the Virus TI and TI2, but I don't know if they support breath controllers. Ditto with Roland Integra.

There are a lot of demos of all of the above on YouTube. To get the specs on each, you can Google or you can contact the various manufacturers.

One other route is to get a software sampler/synth. These vary significantly in sound quality and features, but they usually have one good thing about 'em: you can download trial software. They're also generally cheaper. Take a look at Kontact and the add-on demos here. I think these are some of the nicest sax samples available.

Finally, remember that you need to have a good amplifier and other audio hardware.
 

SOTSDO

Old King Log
Staff member
CE/Moderator
The amplifiers I already have, along with the speakers to funnel the sound out from "behind" me on the bandstand. I'm not too keen on screwing around with a software based system, preferring one that comes packaged and ready to go.

I've already rejected the windpipe mouthpiece in lieu of the "reed" one, although I'm not over-much wedded to lipping things around on horns. In an incredible occurrence yesterday, I even picked up a "splinter" from the reed on the controller.

I'll have to try the Youtube route to listen to some of your suggestions when I get some time next week. I'm not a fan of the service, but I can stand listening to it if there's a purpose in doing so.

One thing's for sure - it's a lot simpler to just purchase a horn and plug your mouthpiece into it than it is to get all that's needed to do this right.
 

SOTSDO

Old King Log
Staff member
CE/Moderator
The samples listed...

I've listened to these, but there is just too much going on at once to evaluate a single "patch" (or whatever they call one instrument these days) for its stand alone suitability.

Oh, and the one trombone feature sounds like it's being played on a valve trombone...
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
I'm not too keen on screwing around with a software based system, preferring one that comes packaged and ready to go.
The idea behind just about all of the things I mentioned is that you CAN tweak if you WANT to. Again, I think the sax sound on all synths/samplers suck ... but you've gotta think of it as spending $800 as opposed to $1000 -- if you want all the instruments -- or around $300 for just the sax, man.

there is just too much going on at once to evaluate a single "patch"
Try this.

As an aside, I used to be a fan of the Korg products. However, the thing is that they take an "ok" sound and run it through a bunch of other stuff (equalizers, reverb, etc.) to create the "final" sound. It sounds good, but it gives me pause because it's hard to tell if the source is good. Or it's another way of saying that the patch sounds a lot better when there's other stuff going on.
 

SOTSDO

Old King Log
Staff member
CE/Moderator
Well, my "synthesizer advisor" (Jim Brugman, he of the blowout preventer industry and appearance in Disney's Bedknobs and Broomsticks as a saxophone playing member of the Royal Tank Regiment) has found one that has decent alto and tenor (yuk!) patches. I've yet to hear a baritone, but I'm sure that the patch there is of equal quality.

The thing can be found here:

http://www.dynasample.com/home-en.html

Once again, the website is full of ensemble playing that masked way too much of the 'instrument's' "tone". Just how you are to judge a patch when it is overlayed with twenty others, I don't know. Fortunately, there is a equal music demo track that has the synth play the chart, followed by the real thing playing the chart.

I don't like the instant vibrato that they have saddled anything over an eighth note with, but I understand that it can be removed. I also haven't heard the clarinet and bass clarinet patches yet. But, it seems doable. Stay tuned.

I go to the speech therapist early next week. No end of trouble getting one that is in my network, but we finally resolved that with about ten phone calls and two emails. Again, stay tuned...
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
I'd rather not make it a half K per step learning experience, preferring instead to get it as right as possible the first time.
The Xpression is $1900. They do have a $100 off coupon on their Facebook page, tho.

There is a point where you start talking about trade-offs. In this case, I can hear that the Xpression is much more, well, expressive in how it performs, but I think the sound isn't near as good as anything else for $1900. FWIW, the sound and response of the Xpression actually remind me a lot of the 20 year old Yamaha VL70M. Check out patchmanmusic.com. You might hear that the Motif I mentioned earlier or the VL70M really is more to your liking -- and not as expensive.
 
Frankly, I hadn't had any follow up of the best practise in sax "imitation" since the days of the original module which used to come with the first EWI....and which was horrendous, including the so called "Mike Brecker" choice. Even if the unbelievable variety of sounds a good saxist is able to produce will (happily enough...) let the imitators way behind, the present results as shewn with these examples are impressing (have you tried the "Mr. Sax T." of Sample Modeling ?). Another threat for the few real sax players still working on the live or recording fields.
But, at the end of the day, wouldn't it be better for the talented musician to follow, precisely, Mike Brecker's advice and use the wind controller as...a wind controller of one's own and personal sound, better than trying to imitate the inimitable ?
J
 
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Carl H.

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
I view the wind synth like Taco Bell. It isn't good Mexican, but I like it and have no problem with it. Take it/them for what they are, not what they aren't.
 

SOTSDO

Old King Log
Staff member
CE/Moderator
Going for "one's own sound" is all well and good, as long as the sound mandated by the chart is not specific. I am primarily a pit and ensemble player, with the rare solo usually in the raucous R&B or rock genre. A baritone sax patch that sound like a synth creation isn't what's expected in such situations.

I have faint hope that the speech therapist can come up with something for this problem. It's getting so (at times) I have trouble keeping the nose sealed off enough to talk, let alone play "Punkin, Punkin" on the big horn.

With the wind controller, I was able to handle a two hour rehearsal for a show with only a very little leakage at the end of the session. As we were playing a bit more intensely than we would have been if the show was going on, I should be able to make it through the whole pit.

Lucky for me that all I have on tap beside the show is one show with the big group (and they always have a lengthy pause that eats up a set and a half - between the live auction and the windy bigwigs speaking, I'll get a long break for more than a meal) and a couple of short six horn gigs.

Pray that you are never so afflicted as long as you wish to play a woodwind (or, for that matter, talk (uncomfortable most of the time) or 'chortle' (quite painful, and as it comes as a reflexive response to humor, quite hard to control).
 
Totally sympathetic with you. Since my (rather early) retirement, I've been extremely lucky to, at long last, be able to play intensively, mainly baritone. Apart from neck and shoulder pains obviously caused by the dragging of said heavy beast, no noticeable health problem so far but I do imagine how difficult it must be to fight against physical obstacles like yours. Back to the technicalities, the spectacular progresses in the synth sounds displayed above in this thread really seem to open the doors of any sax section for wind controllers (for the time being, as long as they remain a - loud ? - minority in the section !).
Keep blowing.
J
 
Things have changed

With my continuing soft palate issues not showing any signs of improvement, I have switched over to a combination wind controller/synthesizer setup for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, it's time to go shopping.

While I have pretty much settled on the Yamaha offering for the controller, along with all of its good features and bad (I hate the hair trigger octave keys, for one thing, and the thumb rest is positively abysmal), the Yamaha synthesizer that I have borrowed has one of the worst simulations of a saxophone tone that I have ever heard. Through most of the range of the baritone "patch", it sounds more like a baritone oboe with a bad case of asthma. The clarinet and the bass clarinet are better, but they could still use some improvement.

With that in mind, I'm interested in the opinions of saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet players as to which synthesizers produces the best simulations of real instrument tone and timbre. If you have some thoughts on the controller as well, by all means air them here as well.

If I have to buy one of these things to continue participation in music, I'd rather not make it a half K per step learning experience, preferring instead to get it as right as possible the first time.

The best virtual instruments samples are by samplemodeling:

http://www.samplemodeling.com/en/index.php

Here you can listen to example of their instruments which include

1 Sax family
2 Clarinets
3 Double Reed family
4 Trumpets, Trombones, Tub, and French Horn

They are the only company that builds in specific support for Yamaha and Akai (EWI) wind controllers.

These instruments are far more responsive than any others I have tried over the last 15 years whether hardware or software based.

Hope this helps.

Thanks,

Dan
 
The demo's that most manufacturers have on their web pages are often very skillfully made by people who know how to make anything sound the best it can, and rarely show the instrument playing solo which is really needed to evaluate the quality of it's sound. You can getaway with less than stellar timbre when 5 instruments are playing at the same time.

Now, I'm willing to bet that most of you are far better players of your instrument than I am, so please pay more attention to the sound quality than to the playing skill, as much as possible : ). These pieces were single takes using either an EWI-USB (under $275) or an EWI-4000s (under $700) wind controller with samplemodeling synth patches.

Tenor Sax
https://soundcloud.com/dstong/nature-boy-by-eden-ahbez
https://soundcloud.com/dstong/cant-help-lovin-that-man-by-j

Saxes and Clarinets
https://soundcloud.com/dstong/flamingo-by-e-anderson-ted

Bari Sax
https://soundcloud.com/dstong/cancao-do-amanhecer-played-by

Alto Sax
https://soundcloud.com/dstong/batucada-pra-voce-played-by-ds

French Horn
https://soundcloud.com/dstong/sheep-may-safely-graze-from

English Horn & Oboe
https://soundcloud.com/dstong/a-morte-de-um-deus-de-sal-by

Trombone
https://soundcloud.com/dstong/prelude-to-a-kiss-by-duke

You can find more on my soundcloud page.

Thanks for listening,

Dan
 
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pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
FWIW, dstong, I think the demos I pointed out earlier sound a bit better. That bari sax alone demo you link to doesn't sound much like a bari. It does sound better on the Saxes and Clarinets demo, though. Of all the sax sounds, I think the tenor is the best and it wouldn't surprise me if the "bari" isn't just the tenor sound "transposed down" and the alto sax sound is just the tenor sound "transposed up." I also think that the bass clarinet sound is in the same category. Ditto the English horn.

However, the trip to Soundcloud wasn't in vain. I listened to some of these tracks when your demos stopped playing and I didn't hit pause fast enough.
 
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