Wind Controllers


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
I haven't posted about something like this in a lotta years.

Back about 18 years ago, I owned a bevy of electronic instruments: Roland D-50 synth, Roland D-5 synth, Roland U110 sample module, Yamaha FB01 synth module ... and a Yamaha WX11 wind controller (you can read about the WX7, the "improved" version of the WX11, here).

Now, I have often said that the best kind of sax would be one that's one piece and has Resoblade "pads" (or an equivalent) -- plus one that's designed in such a way that the intonation is more-or-less perfect. That's kinda the definition of a wind controller, with the bonus of being able to play multiple instruments without havening to learn a new fingering.

However, even if I used my sample module, the sound wasn't that great. Perfect intonation, of course, but samples didn't sound ... that real.

The WX11 also didn't work quite how I wanted. For instance, if I wanted to finger a G, I didn't HAVE to finger it as 123 (which is simular on sax, clarinet and other woodwinds). I could just finger 3. Which meant that if my fingers were a tad slow, unexpected notes would sound.

Yamaha now has the ... interesting looking ... WX5 (which is 10 years old). Akai has the EWI4000s (which is 3 years old).

So, anyone play these newer controllers with newer samplers/synths? What have your experiences been? What's the best new setup?
A buddy of mine owns a studio, and I did get to play a Yamaha WX5 briefly. They're cool, but I'm not going to replace my horn collection anytime soon. What people have to understand is that a wind controller is its own entity. A WC to a saxophone is like a synthesizer to a grand piano. There are some similiarities to how they play, but the sound and overall experience is completely different. Some people prefer the sound of WC's to the real thing. I think that they sound better in certain styles of music (eletronic/ecclectic stuff), but are inferior in traditional styles. One other thing I've noticed is that WC players tend not to play anything overly complicated. I'd imagine that this is due to the tricky fingerings.

I really love it when a non-player says something like, "Oh this WC/Synth sounds JUST LIKE A SAXOPHONE!!!". I try really hard not to chuckle. :emoji_smile:

There are two audiences here, both of which need to be considered.

One is made up of us. I can pick out a synth patch from an actual bass clarinet, clarinet, saxophone and flute each and every time, and I assume that many of you are also in that category. (Oboe and English horn, maybe not.) And, if the patch is used with articulations (as in actually playing a melody), I assume that many other can join us. No matter how "perfect" the sampling can be, there are still flaws in the final implementation.

All well and good. However, we are ignoring the audience that really matter, and that is everyone else. And, sad to say, they are the ones that pay the majority of the bills.

A traveling show passed through here a couple of years ago, one based in Quebec. Big production involving a lot of horses and acrobatics. More little French Canadian girls than you can shake a stick at.

WIth one of my then-employees, I visited the show to resolve a safety and health complaint. As the issues involved were comprehensive, we visited every square foot of the place. And, aside from seeing some incredibly well groomed horse and a lot of electrical gear, we also got to hear the "musical group" for the show as they rehearsed.

Keyboards, guitar and "bass guitar", of course, along with a huge drum kit. From what I saw on the bandstand, there were also at least one trumpet (mutes on stand) and trombone (horn stand). And, there was a wind player as well.

Actually, he was also a sax player - soprano, of course. But, everything else (and I heard alto and tenor, flute and English horn while we were in the area of the rehearsal) was done on the wind controller. Competent enough, this in a Kenny G sort of way, but most of it was certainly done on the machinery rather than a "real" horn.

So, just how did the performance get received by those who viewed it. The honest answer was (from all that I spoke to about what they saw and heard was "It was excellent!" And, they were the ones who paid to see the final product, so their opinions ought to have more than a little weight.

The big stumbling block that most musicians cannot get past is that most folks don't look at music in the same fashion as we do. They've come there to be entertained, and music is only a part of that - an important one, to be sure, but still only a part. And, to be fair to them all, synthesized music has come a long, long way since the first day that a waveform generator was placed into use. (That would have probably been the theremin.)

I've fooled around with real wind controllers, plugged into decent synthesizers, and they are both fun and pretty good at what they do. (I also used to take a Casio DH-100 on vacations - it was fun to noodle around on while I was resting and the earphone meant that I could do so without bothering anyone else.) And, looking at them objectively, they do a pretty good job. (I even used the DH-100 for the English horn part in Guys And Dolls once.)

And, for the most part, they're good enough. Sorry, but it's true. The people that pay the bills, the ones willing to pay $40.00 a seat for a performance where the clarinet part is artificial, don't seem to mind that much. (The show was sold out for a sold three weeks of performances.)

In a way, it's a lot like furniture. You can have someone put together a solid wood dresser, with dovetail joints and inlay work, or you can buy something the same size and shape at Ikea that does just about as good a job, and pay one fifth the price. And, we see a lot of Ikea furniture move out the door, much more than at the regular places that we visit. (The Swedish meatballs are pretty good as well - and just as inexpensive!)
I had an acquaintance that did essentially the same thing with a DH-100 for essentially the same reason: he had to cover some odd woodwind part and, well, he had the DH and it had the patch, so he gave it a shot and it worked well enough.

Mind you, the DH-100 was more or less a toy. The WX-series were/are marketed as "serious instruments".

I'm not an expert on sampling. I did teach a class on electronic music for extra college credit once (I had the toys, so why not?). I do know that you can make a really good sample and have a lot of different characteristics *if* you've got the memory for it. Hey, I remember hearing a sample of a sax on Roland's highest-end model way back when and it sounded pretty decent. Would have even been better if the player used a wind controller.

Brecker used to play one. There are are a bunch of his videos on YouTube, like (EWI 40000) and (EWI 1000).

You need fast? Well some guy plays "Giant Steps" at

However, I find it somewhat odd that I can answer my question on which controller is best -- the EWI 4000s -- but no one's trying it with a sampler.

FWIW, one of the most common samples is something that Terry mentioned: the piano. But there's two halves: the FEEL of the instrument and the SOUND. The feel can really only be replicated through a very high end piano that has weighted action -- the sound, though, isn't bad. Hey, I challenge someone to tell me the difference between a "real" piano and a Kurzweil -- even back in 1986.

I'm just wondering if the technology has improved. Hey, I LOOKED for samplers. Doesn't seem to be that many, anymore.
I was reading an article not too long ago where a prominent keyboardist contended that the quality of the oscillators in today's keyboards were for the most part inferior to those made 15 years ago.

I have looked at wind controllers from time to time but it's a slippery slope with all of the electronics.
My point, as much as it can be said that I have one, is that it does not matter how the sound impresses you or I, but rather how it impresses the ultimate consumer, and how this impression registers with the person doing the hiring of the "musicians".

Any moron (says this moron) can produce fair sounding sax, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, oboe, bassoon and tuba tones on a wind controller (along with other esoterica like "orchestra hits" (one of my favorites) and "thunder"), as well as being able to play them with one interface (instrument keying) and one horn. For those who haven't tried one, it's quite an experience, as you have complete breath and tongue control, as well as a lot of electronic abilities in the way of portamento and transposition. (For example, changing from Bb clarinet to A clarinet requires only a single touch of a button; then you are ready to play, perfectly in tune with no mouthpiece switch at all.) Great? No, not yet. But very, very good these days, particularly when the listener is the layman.

Theatrical operations are already slashing string sections with gay abandon, since one keyboard with a competent musician can replace ten assorted string players. As economy seeking is never really finished, the next and logical place to look is at all of those woodwinds, which are not only hard to fill but also more expensive than your typical trumpet or trombone player (due to all of the doubling).

Even figuring a 10% spif for each additional horn that the wind controller "plays" (not far off of the current local's contract), the producers would still be saving big bucks. And, while not the same as a string section, it's a pretty good substitute at a tremendous savings. There's a lot of logic in making that choice, no matter how much we deplore it in our final analysis.

I have an alto saxophone playing friend, a damn'd good musician who is also hell on wheels on clarinet, flute and bassoon, and gets along well enough on bass clarinet and tenor. As good as he is, of late he has been passing on borrowing a bass clarinet and instead playing the parts on the wind controller. (That one of his once had the batteries swell up inside of it is of no matter.) And, as the clients in this case are private schools paying about $400 for three or shows, they are just happy to get someone willing to do the work for them.

And, as I am the guy lugging around the two or three saxes (one of which is always the baritone), the soprano and bass clarinet and the bassoon, I can see his logic; he carries one briefcase that can do a pretty good job of reproducing the sounds of my eighty pounds of horns and cases and stand. I'm not getting any stronger these days...

Then too, there is a world of difference between the early synthesized sounds (which were uniformly pathetic, resembling a "trumpet" only in the geeked up, well-addled "New is everything; look what I've invented" minds of their promoters, and the ones that are bouncing around these days. Massive strides have occurred in the last ten years, mostly due to huge increases in processing power and the ability to massage sampled sounds in a sort of analog signal that is controlled by digital means. When Moog started making his/their impact, they were only pale imitations of the "real thing" As time moved on, they have gradually improved to the point that a pretty good string section can be imitated by a solo violin, solo 'cello and a guy at a keyboard. (And, like it or not, we in the woodwind world are next in the sights.)

That's a long way to have traveled in forty years or so. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?
Well, back in the 80's, I not only had the various electronic gear, but I had a Mac SE/30 to drive it all: not only didn't you need a string section, you didn't even need the players.

In my opinion, the best sounds a synth/sampler can make are string SECTIONS, keyboards, clarinet and flute. I think most make hash of saxophone and mid to high brasswinds.

Which is why my D-50 usually played a bass line and the U110 did strings. Hey, it filled up the band.

The technology is certainly better and there's no reason why synths/samplers couldn't be better ... but, Terry's right: in my brief searching today ... they're not better than what I had 18 years ago. They're definitely more expensive. I think the 'boards by Kurzweil and others to replace pianos are very good, but nothing else.

Roland seems to no longer even have a sampler for sale. Kurzweil has one, but their high-end orchestral version is ... lacking (the demos are OK, but my U110 was equally as good, IMO).

I get Terry's point ... but, IMO, the sounds is just not good enough from these samplers and synths. Y'know, they don't have a good excuse for that. There should have been more progress!


As far as the wind controller goes, I mentioned that very few of the folks I saw that are "known" for playing woodwind are using the controller for woodwind sounds. I think one of the problems (which was minimized on my WX11) is the fact that the mouthpiece on the EWI4000, for instance, isn't exactly like any woodwind you've ever played. The Yamaha controllers are very sax/clarinet like (and the WX5 offers both a "clarinet-like" mouthpiece and a "recorder-like" mouthpiece), but they're arguably not as good as the EWI -- and they're pretty old designs.

Now, there is the Synthephone, which was a wind controller built into a YAS-275, 62 or -- in some cases -- a S80. It used a sax mouthpiece. A mildly fake, but simular reed to regular sax ... but was too darn expensive.

It's a shame. It would be very convenient to learn one set of fingerings and be able to play an entire group of woodwinds, in flawless intonation.
My take fwiw... I've had a WX5 with a VL70m + the Patchman TurboChip for about 6 years now. While it's mostly gathering dust these days, I have used it extensively for gigs and recordings. The real problem I see with a wind controller is that new users try using it to replace or replicate a real instrument. It's best use is for exploring what a wind player can do with a synth. Being able to access the world of midi without using a keyboard while exploring the expressive possibilities of a wind controller in ways that can't be done with a keyboard make a "wind synth" a different class of instrument. Guys like Brecker IMO approached and used them in this way. Wind players tend to be locked up in the years of training it's taking them to get their sound. So much so, they don't want loose the ability to create it on their own. This makes a wind synth hard to except because the basic tone is not of their own design. If you're someone who's looking for new sounds that can't be created in the "real" world, a wind synth is your ticket. It's in these situations I've found it most useful.
There's still a point here that I think is not being absorbed by most.

We continue to look at the synthesizer from the point of view of the musician. Nothing wrong with that, but the problem is that everyone else looks at them as a "commodity", one that is (in some less skilled hands) is capable of delivering good enough music at a discounted price (which, ultimately, has an impact on the ticket price, the real bench mark of what "the playing is worth") .

They don't care two hoots about whether or not we spent six grand on a vintage Mark VI tenor. They just want to hear music to go with whatever they happen to be attending. That's how the lay public looks at what we do.

We can go on maintaining that our skills are worth a lot more than that guy with the pony tail who was playing the synth and soprano sax at the Cavala show I mentioned up above, but he's the one with the gig (a steady, two year long contract with some fantastic living conditions (residential hotels, all meals provided, two weeks a year paid vacation)), playing that damn'd machine (for the most part; the soprano sax playing that I heard was adequate, but only that).

And, no, they aren't up to the levels of a "real" horn - not yet. They are a lot farther along than they were ten years ago, however. When the day comes that they approach a "real horn" (most of the improvements for which will have to come in the synth patches, in my opinion), then all of that time spent cultivating the embouchure will be worth a lot less.
Terry, you said mouthful. As a musician, I know it's not the same as the real thing and that's why I don't try to make it be one. OTOH, many times while using it on stage, I found the audience was more entertained by the whole novelty of the thing. The never heard a guy play drums or funk bass on an "electric liquorice stick" as one viewer put it to me. For a while, I had to convince my other band members that I didn't want to use it on every tune. They saw it's effect on the show. I refused because I felt the novelty would wear itself out and I really wanted to play my sax more.
SOTSDO said:
There's still a point here that I think is not being absorbed by most.

We continue to look at the synthesizer from the point of view of the musician. Nothing wrong with that, but the problem is that everyone else looks at them as a "commodity", one that is (in some less skilled hands) is capable of delivering good enough music at a discounted price (which, ultimately, has an impact on the ticket price, the real bench mark of what "the playing is worth") .

They don't care two hoots about whether or not we spent six grand on a vintage Mark VI tenor. They just want to hear music to go with whatever they happen to be attending. That's how the lay public looks at what we do.
Yes, I agree with you.

No, I don't agree with you.


I completely understand that this is the opinion of "the general public" -- but I'm not general public and I'm not posting from that angle. I'm posting from the angle of, "Gee. I wonder if I could get a new wind controller and tone generator that'd actually play and sound as decent as an acoustic instrument. I wouldn't have to worry about buying a flute and a bassoon, etc. much less learn how to finger the things."

And I don't necessarily think they've come a long way in 18 years. I wish they did.
I've got the WX5 w/ the standard VL70m.

It's an interesting break from sax playing and it's nice to be able to play under headphones when the family is in bed. I've found it useful in getting a new tune somewhat under finger w/o getting a sax out.

The sax patches give no satisfaction me as a sax player. Some of the other horn patches are more fun to use but it's still a synth.

Here's a few songs I've done with it over the last couple of years with the thing (sorry about some of the cheezy backings):

Bossa Mood (AnaSoprn)

Stolen Moments (LyricOff)

Little Sunflower (Trmbone!)

Georgia (WXjzgtr)

Small Talk (WXjzgtr)

Anyone getting one of these units would do well to review Bob Norton's WX tips page found here:
Great information.

We will soon be rolling out a section dedicated to Wind Generators now that the move is done.

Anyone ever try the Lyricon? I ran across one of these in a music store, back when I was in high school. The store actually let me take it home for the weekend. :emoji_astonished: I bought a patch cord, and plugged it into my stereo for amplification (not having a guitar amp at the time). I remember it being fun to play, but way out of my price range then.

... I'll tack on that Peter Ponzol was involved with the Lyricon ...

Casting Threadus Resurrectus, I was reading in another thread about using an iPad as a sound generator. Well, while it can be used as such, with some limitations, I started thinking about the comparatively inexpensive AKAI EWIUSB ($300 US): it uses your computer as the tone generator. However ... it sounds about half as good as the EWI4000 (which has a built in tone generator). In my opinion, neither have anywhere near a decent sax, flute or clarinet tone.

So, I did some more research.

The jury is a bit split as to whether the EWI400s or Yamaha WX-5 is the best wind controller, but the WX-5 happens to have a very (bass) sax- or (contrabass) clarinet-like mouthpiece. You can see it under "YAMAHA WX5 Reed-Style Mouthpiece" HERE. That's a definite plus. However, again remember that the WX-5 came out in 1998. It's also still almost $600.

So, you've got the controller, but what about the sound? Well ....

The #1 recommended tone generator for the WX-5 seems to be the Yamaha VL70-M, which was also released in 1998. It's still for sale ... at about $700. Although, it looks like places like are pushing the Yamaha Motif synths. For $1300. Ouch. $1900 investment for something that sounds sorta-kinda like an acoustic instrument, maybe.

I'm also going to mention this: the Yamaha Motif has a whopping ... 720mb of samples in ROM. Erm. I've got a memory stick sitting on my desk that's 8000mb (aka 8gb). It cost $4. There's something wrong there.

I'm going to look further into software-based synths and see if there's one out there that you can use a WX-5 with.


Going back to some of the comments by our own Paul Coh... er ... SOTSDO, I've been thinking about doing some minor playing again. However, I know that if I press too hard, I'm gonna blow a hole in both my lungs and my head. A wind controller is much easier on me to use, plus you have the added plus of always being perfectly in tune. Unless you don't want to be.
Most of the wind controller information on this thread seems quite out of date.

A company called samplemodeling has been slowly coming up with the best software based synth samples of wind and brass instruments not only for keyboards but specifically for wind controllers. No other company, that I know of, has specific support for wind controllers (both Yamaha and Akai EWI's). These virtual instruments have far better responsiveness and tone than anything I have ever tested. I have been looking at hardware and software synths for over 15 years and have used the very first WX-7 Yamaha wind controller when it came out. Later I used the Akai EWI 3020 and now use the EWI-USB and EWI-4000s. I used Roland JV-10180 with various Orchestral expansion cards, as well as some excellent software patches made by Patchmanmusic. One of the best and least expensive hardware synths was the Ketron DSD2, but once I tried the samplemodeling instruments, there was no going back.
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Sounds like a commercial to me...

I have real problems with the key action on all of the controller "sticks" that I have tried. Not at all like the keywork on a horn. And, the lightning response on the octave keys is a real bummer. Too close together to suit me.
Sounds like a commercial to me...
I'm starting to get that feeling, too. I'll only allow it edit out the ad to make it more-or-less on-topic, but, dstong, cool it with the commercials for samplemodeling.

You say that the info in this thread is "out of date," yet you don't mention another wind controller.

As far as tone generators go, I don't mind virtual instruments, like the one from the company you mention, but I've mentioned that some of the "secondary" patches, like the bari sax on the saxophones collections, sound like a pitch-shifted version of the original patch and not much like the acoustic instrument. I'll also mention that if you wanted a standard reed section of clarinet, flute, oboe, bassoon, you'll be paying a lot of $ really quickly -- IIRC, the cheapest set of patches was in the 150 Euro range -- so the total cost of the virtual instruments may make you want to buy something like a Yamaha Motif, instead.
Helen mentioned to me about a new controller that I had thought I had listed here, but I guess I didn't.

* Kinda like the Synthophone (which is still available): all electronics are built into a "real" soprano sax that is bell-less.
* The Travel Sax 1 & 2. These are essentially a mouthpiece attached to a shortened, plastic soprano sax body.
* Yamaha YDS-150. All electronics built into a plastic soprano sax body (fingering to low A), but it has a "real" bell that "resonates."
* The re.corder. Mentioned because a) I hadn't heard of it and 2) it's the cheapest thing on this list, at $199 US.
* The eCorder. Not to be confused with the above (currently sold out).

I also wanted to mention, which is selling a new kind of wind controller modeling software. It's supposed to be very much like and better than the Yamaha VL70M. I'll also mention, which has been around for a while. Note that while both of these companies' flagship software is on the pricy side, their iPad apps are free/cheaper.
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