Alto Saxophone Play Test Reviews & Buyers Guide – Better Sax

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Top Alto Saxophones For All Budgets
Top Alto Saxophones For All Budgets

People are always asking me what my favorite saxophones are, what saxophones are best for beginners, what saxophones are more affordable, is it safe to order a saxophone from a particular website… So I created this list of saxophone reviews to help you navigate your saxophone shopping experience.

As I continue to review different altos here, I will constantly be updating this page as a reference and guide to help you shop for the perfect soprano saxophone.

You can find all of these recommendations and more in the BetterSax Amazon Shop here. If you’ve played any of these horns, please comment below and let us know what your experience has been with any of these instruments.

Saxophones For Beginners

For beginners who are starting out I would consider the Yamaha YAS-280. This instrument sells for about $1,100 and some saxophonists have actually played on Yamaha Saxophones for their entire musical careers. Unless you’re at the highest level of saxophone playing, this instrument is all you could ever need. It is the cheapest Yamaha saxophone you can get and it is truly an excellent instrument.

Save Some Money and Buy the YAS-280

It is basically an identical instrument to the YAS-26 that is sold in the United States but has gold lacquered keys rather than the nickel plating. The reason for the large price difference has to do with set dealer pricing agreements in the US. So if you want to save some money, use this link to purchase one of these “European” model Yamaha saxophones that have been imported to sell on Amazon.

Personally, I much prefer the YAS-280 over the YAS-26 for the consistent lacquer color. For me the nickel plated keys say “student” model!

Saxophones for People on a Budget

It is really easy to think that buying a saxophone is going to be a huge investment, but I’ve found three fairly viable options for you to purchase without breaking the bank

  1. The Eastar Alto Saxophone, aka the cheapest saxophone on Amazon – $259.
  2. The Ammoon/Lade Alto Saxophone, another very inexpensive model – $270.
  3. The Jean Paul AS-400 Alto Saxophone, which I consider to be the BEST saxophone currently available for under $500 – $490.

The Eastar Alto Saxophone

While this instrument actually plays fairly well, it comes with a very cheap case, and cheap, sticky pads. However, it had the best setup I’ve seen in this price range. There was virtually zero mechanical play in the keys. I found a minuscule amount in the low C key and the front F key is a bit wobbly, but since there is no pad attached to that key, its impact is minimal.

There is of course no guarantee that the one you purchase will be as well setup as the one I got. Usually in this price range consistency is an issue.

Lade Alto Saxophone from Amazon

Back in February of 2019, I bought the cheapest saxophone on Amazon to see what you could get for $270, and I was rather surprised with the result. I purchased the Ammoon/Lade Alto Saxophone, a Chinese made saxophone and discovered that it was actually a pretty good value for your money. The pads sealed very well and the sound is surprisingly nice. It plays well in tune and doesn’t look half bad. I was surprised at how well it plays considering the price.

While it doesn’t come with any cork grease, it does come with a playable mouthpiece, a set of reeds, a neck strap, some cleaning supplies, and a cheap case which is terrible and should be replaced if you need to move around with the instrument a lot.

If you have a budget of under $300 and really want to get a saxophone then the Ammoon/Lade Alto saxophone is a viable option.

Jean-Paul USA AS-400

If you can spend a bit more, I recommend the Jean Paul AS-400, which I consider to be the Best Student Alto Sax Under $500. Jean-Paul USA has been providing great customer service and have repair centers set up around the country to service the instruments. It comes with a good beginner mouthpiece, and all the other necessary accessories to get started. The case that comes with the Jean-Paul AS-400 is excellent and helps make this a fantastic value.

Intermediate Saxophone with a Vintage Vibe

Wilmington Alto Saxophone Engraving

The Wilmington Alto Saxophone is an intermediate Alto imported from China, but setup and backed by the renowned Music Medic workshop. This instrument sells for $1,335 with an excellent case and full guarantee. The Wilmington Alto Sax has a rich and dark tone which is uncommon for imported saxophones in this price range. The vintage look, nickel-silver body and unique engraving complete the package. You can check out the video below for the full review and unboxing of this saxophone

The Best Saxophone in the World… for me – Saxophones for Professionals

Now if you’re looking for a top of the line saxophone, for me the Yanagisawa Saxophones are the best in the world. The build quality, sound, intonation, design, ergonomics and playability make them second to none in my estimation. In this video I discuss some of the differences between the 2 WO series saxophones Yanagisawa makes. The WO10 elite model vs the WO1 professional model. But don’t be fooled – they are both incredible saxophones and the elite model only has a few minor extras added to it that differentiate it from the professional model.

Plus for only a few extras, the price difference is over a $1,000. The elite alto model runs for about $4,600 and the professional alto model goes for around $3,400. Many professionals actually prefer the less expensive professional models finding them to be more free blowing, lighter and less resistant.

You can find my FULL playlist of saxophone reviews here on my YouTube channel.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to saxophone, the most important thing is to have one that works. There is not as much of a difference between them as marketing hype would lead us to believe. Sounding good on the saxophone comes down to practice, not how much you spend on an instrument. A cheap but workable saxophone is better than no instrument at all, or a more prestigious brand that is in poor condition.

Always play test instruments if you can, but don’t be afraid to buy sight unseen from reputable sources. Almost all of the instruments I own were purchased this way. Manufacturing processes are very consistent and generally there is little difference between instruments of the same brand and model.

Interested in more recommendations? Check out my Saxophone Buyers Guide for Students and Parents.

Also be sure to follow BetterSax on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube to stay up to date with us for news, giveaways, and other saxophone tips and tricks.

17 thoughts on “Alto Saxophone Play Test Reviews & Buyers Guide”

  1. Hi Jay, As of right now I am still waiting for confirmation on whether or not I made it in to my school jazz band for my junior year of high school. But if not. I will joining my school’s symphonic band. No matter the case I will be needing a new saxophone (I have been playing on school rentals ever since I started 5 years ago). I’ve read up about and watched some of your videos on saxophones, but I find the range of ‘good’ saxophones really broad. I’ve read up people saying go for Yamaha, Conn-Selmer, and Yanagisawa (but I don’t think I need to go that high). If I don’t make it into the jazz band I’ll be sticking to the alto saxophone, but if I make it into our jazz band I will most likely get assigned as a tenor player. I’m not planning on going professional on the saxophone, but I don’t see myself quitting the saxophone anytime either.

      1. UPDATE: Just got my results recently and I made the cut! Time to practice and hone in on my skills during the summer.

  2. John Venables

    Bought the cheapo Eastar on your say so. Awesome. Much easier to play than my previous YAS 25. Especially at the top and bottom. Pads don’t stick. No issues at all. Sounds isn’t quite as sweet as the Yamaha but that could be playing with a JJ HR mp. It sounds nicer with my Yamaha 5c. Plastic reed and I’m happy.

  3. John Venables

    I see the Ammoon is currently (mid May) on Amazon at 186 English pounds, whatever that is in your money. That is a fairly crazy low price for an alto that works.

  4. Personally I’m blown away how well the YAS-200 AD ll made in Indonesia plays. In fact I don’t have the heart to tell her she’s not a top of the line Selmer !

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  7. I’m an older gentleman who played woodwinds when I was younger (both single reed and double reed) and am thinking of buying a sax and just playing for fun and to keep me young. Been considering buying a new Jean Paul USA AS-400 Student Alto Saxophone (that you seem to recommend) or a professionally refurbished Yamaha VITO YAS-23 in really good condition from 2ndending. Curious what you opinion would be of those choices (or of a better choice if you want to offer one). I guess I’m also keeping in mind resale value if I wind up not having as much fun as I thought… lol… Any recommendations?

  8. Well, I did a LOT of research before deciding which saxophone to buy (thanks for your recommendation Jay, by the way). Wound up buying a Julius Keilwerth ST90 Series III in great condition from George at 2ndendings for around the same price as a refurbished Yamaha YAS-23 or a new Jean Paul AS-400. George has a great reputation and he’s gonna do a full workup/refurb on the horn to make it look, perform and sound fantastic). While not as popular as the Yamaha, many seem to consider the ST90 a better horn with a fuller, lusher sound and better keywork than the Yamaha. What do you think of my choice?

  9. Richard Goffin-Lecar

    I agree EXACTLY with what you say about Yanagisawa saxophones. I have two – an A992 alto, and a B992 baritone. I will shortly be selling my Selmer Reference 54 tenor, and buying a Yanagisawa tenor! I love these horns!

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