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Author Topic: Phil joins the 21st century / Review of the Yamaha YDS-150 digital saxophone  (Read 976 times)

Offline philpedler

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    For those that don't know me, I am the absentee landlord of ClarinetPages. Greetings to you all!

    Some of you old-timers here may remember that I play many Sunday's in the worship team at my church. When I go to Indonesia, I have instruments there that I play in churches also. This is really fun for me. At 71, I am always the oldest member of the music team, so I count it a great privilege to play along. I play clarinet, Irish folk flute, soprano sax, penny whistles and recorders.

    I have always valued playing real acoustical instruments. But these days, I may be the only one playing a non-electric instrument. So, I get 'miked', (or, er, 'microphoned'). Somehow it never seemed to bother me that my beautiful acoustic tone was now plasticized by amplification. Meanwhile, the sound booth people have always had headaches with me, because it's hard to mix my sound with the rest of the team. If I play the soprano saxophone or even the alto recorder in the high range, it can easily over-power other instruments and the singers. On the other hand, if I listen to the results in a recording, I am disappointed that no one would have heard lovely musical lines that I played in the lower register of any of the instruments listed above.

    So, recently, I suggested to our worship leader that I could solve that persistent problem with an electric instrument, the Yamaha YDS-150 Digital Saxophone. Evidently he liked the idea of solving "the problem with Phil's playing," because he found funds to buy it for me! I have played it for three Sundays now, so it's time for me review it here. Even though this is not a sax forum, I know some of you will be interested.

    If you really are interested, you will want to check out reviews by Jim at Sax.co.uk on YouTube. He has two reviews that were very helpful to me.

    Here are the things that appeal to me in the YDS-150:
    • It is shaped like a soprano saxophone, with a low A key on the lower part of the button for the left thumb. Play any of the 70-some sounds with sax fingerings. Wonderful!
    • It allows you to set fingerings for the altissimo range of the saxophone. This is the first time I have learned how to play a high F# and G on a soprano sax.
    • You can set any of the four saxophone sounds to play in the key of C. This works best for the soprano and tenor sax sounds, because Bb is, of course, a close neighbor of C. I have prided myself at being able to transpose and play C parts on my Bb, A, and G clarinets, but I can definitely see that I do better when I don't have to transpose. It eliminates one stress factor for me. Using C fingerings for the alto and bari sax sounds sounds strange in some registers, because the sound makers didn't envision people trying stretch them that far.
    • You can modify and save 20 favorite sounds using the phone app for this instrument. The app is also useful for changing between your favorites.
    • Use a head set with the YDS and enjoy practicing a saxophone while never making a sound that will be heard by neighbors.
    • Saving the best for last: I didn't realize how my playing style on 'real' acoustical instruments was restricted because of avoiding certain inherent problems on those instruments! For instance, I avoid playing the lowest and the extreme highest notes on my soprano sax. I simply can't play those notes in those registers at a pianissimo level (and admittedly have not spent the time needed to master those notes). I only get to use the extremes of my instrument in the contexts where it makes sense to play at a medium or loud volume. Now with the YDS, it has been delightful to end some songs with an impossibly pianissimo high or low note! And guess what! The note is perfectly in tune.

    About the Yamaha YDS-150 app:
    It shows that it is a first version. I would hope that Yamaha will update it soon. The feature for naming the favorite sounds/voices did not work for me on the Android app. And it sure would be nice if they could add some more controls and settings for voices.

    The weakness of this saxophone is that Yamaha did not seriously attempt to make the instrument sound like any of the 4 acoustic saxophones, specifically in the subtle changes when one hears in different registers. The sound definitely seems artificial to me. That criticism must be balanced by the fact that the playing experience is so different from playing a real sax. When I play my soprano sax, I hear not just the sound, but overtones sent through my bone structure. I miss that sensation! There are 13 soprano sax sounds in the YDS. These start with Jazzy, Straight, Bright Pop, Classic, Rich Classic, and Smooth, plus things like Distortion Effect and Phaser Effect. One thing I dislike it that MOST YDS sounds contain automatic vibrato. The sound intensity is solely controlled by wind pressure. There is no lip pressure sensor as in many wind synthesizers. Note in the list of soprano voices above that the second one is 'Straight', which in this case means 'no vibrato'. (Well actually, I detect a tiny rather rapid vibrato. But the sound is straight enough.)

    In addition there are just a few other interesting sounds. The best two, in my opinion are the harmonica and pan pipes sound. How I wish there were more! Why didn't they include a flute and a bassoon?! (Given what they did with saxophone, it is better that they didn't try to add the clarinet.)

    Don't judge any sound on the YDS by the tiny built-in speaker. Plug in headphones or get an amplifier. Plugging into a bluetooth speaker with a cable, works well.

    From the 70-some YDS voice/sound choices, I came up with around 9 that I thought I could use, and four favorites. Settings from the app for my favorites are attached to this post. Two more pictures will be in a reply post below.
    • 1 Straight, electric-sounding, oboe d'amore'
    • 2 sweet oboe d'amore
    • 3 straight soprano sax
    • 3 straight soprano sax
    • 4 soprano sax with vibrato
    • 9 tenor sax ballad (straight) LPF (dark)
    • 10 tenor sax HPF (bright)

    Of course the YDS does not have a sound named 'oboe d'amore'. But that is the name I gave to a modified sound. In the lower register, it reminds me of an English Horn. Both the oboe-like sounds and the soprano sax sound have the delightful quality of being able to cut through the mix of other instruments, just like oboes normally do. It has been such a pleasure to softly play alto range harmony parts with worshipful songs, yet to have the notes so subtly make their presence heard in the mix.

    I hate to admit one more advantage of the YDS. I expected criticism from my wife (formerly and oboe player) about the artificial sound. Instead she said, "I liked that you were perfectly in tune." (Ouch!) Well if one plays lots of instruments, and is getting old and not practicing enough, guess what happens!

    Here's something I learned: Playing the YDS with other electronic instruments, of course one will play with headphones on. I found that the trick was to set the mix for my channel so that my sound was somewhat soft in my headset, so as to encourage me to play a bit louder than I normally would on low notes. When playing in the higher range, I had to be conscious to not play as loud as I want to.

    I love the advantages of playing the YDS, so I'm going to miss it! I am sending it back. On Tuesday I will be receiving a Rolland AE-30 Aerophone Pro.

    Expect another review. The Aerophone Pro has literally thousands of sounds, and hundreds that emulate real acoustical instruments.
« Last Edit: September 05, 2021, 03:55:20 PM by philpedler »

Offline philpedler

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My two sound settings for the tenor sax are below.

Offline windydankoff

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Thanks Phil! That's a deep and useful review, from a helpful perspective.
Windy at BLACK • HOLE Clarinets
"User-Friendly" clarinets in Bb and C

Offline Gromit

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Hi Phil, I'm thinking of buying one of these. I started to play Alto many years ago but like you I now play Irish trad on a wooden keyed flute and play with folk muscians. My question is can I transpose the YDS 150 to play in "folk" keys ie. G, D and A.


Offline DaveLeBlanc

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I don't see why you wouldn't be able to transpose, in theory. In practice, you'd probably need to have some skills that I don't have to transpose on the fly.
David Watson of the original The Clarinet Pages
Irvine, California, United States