Last year I reviewed the Yamaha YDS-150 and while I really wanted to like that instrument, I found it to be a big let down. Since then, Yamaha has released another version, the YDS-120, which I’m going to review for you in this video.
Let’s find out if they have fixed the problems I found in the first version and if this is the digital saxophone you’re looking for.
Two big criticisms I had of the original YDS-150 were the completely useless metal bell and the real saxophone mouthpiece. So I was very happy to see that they ditched both of those for the new YDS-120.
Improvements and Differences
The whole thing is now significantly smaller and weighs a bit less, making it much more practical as a quiet saxophone practice tool especially if you are traveling. I particularly like the new mouthpiece design which is comfortable and functional. There’s no need for a fake reed and ligature here.
Apart from that, the new version is nearly identical to the original YDS-150, so there was not a lot of development work here. Just slashing the bell off as well as the price. The YDS-150 sells for about $900 and the new YDS-120 sells for about $500.
Wait a second, are you telling me that removing this little piece of brass knocks $400 off the price?! There’s got to be more differences right?
There are. This new version doesn’t come with a case and it doesn’t come with one other feature that I really wish they hadn’t removed. Why did you do this Yamaha? They removed bluetooth.
On the original YDS-150 you can wirelessly connect to devices so that you can have music or backing tracks play through headphones or the speaker. This is how I would use this instrument most of the time. Whether it’s for practicing with a metronome or play alongs this is fun and practical so not having bluetooth is a major issue for me.
There is an audio input though, so you can play your backing tracks or metronome through a wired connection. It still doesn’t really add up to a $400 price difference though.
Hats off to Yamaha
Real quick, Yamaha did not sponsor this video but they did send me this instrument for the purpose of reviewing it for you. I recently visited Yamaha in Hamamatsu Japan to tour their saxophone factory and I have to give them a lot of credit. Not only do they make mostly amazing products, but they are also extremely gracious. When I met with them, they thanked me for the past reviews I’ve done which haven’t always been very kind and they asked me if I would consider reviewing this new YDS-120.
I was quite surprised and said yes, absolutely, but understand I’m going to be just as honest as I have been in the past to which they replied, “Of course, that’s what we want you to do.”
So hats off to Yamaha. This video is sponsored by you watching.
Key Layout and Responsiveness
On my YDS-150 with the useless bell, I have a major issue with key responsiveness. I have to press really hard or else it’s constantly playing the wrong notes.
The new YDS-120 I have is way better when it comes to the key response, but still not perfect. There is one spot where normal finger pressure doesn’t work and I have to press hard. On this instrument it’s my low B key.
So once again I’m disappointed that this problem is still there. I imagine it varies from one instrument to the next. As long as I don’t have to play low B this one is fine.
Now I’ve been reviewing digital saxophones for a while, and the trend over the last few years has been to create instruments intended as quiet practice tools rather than for performance. I’m looking at the YDS-120 as strictly a practice tool and for that reason it is a major improvement over the more expensive YDS-150. It’s smaller, lighter and cheaper.
The key layout is just like a real saxophone and feels pretty comfortable. The keys are pretty quiet which is nice but I have a couple that make a pretty annoying squeak. Maybe a little key oil would fix that?
Battery, On Board Sounds, & Connectivity
My other complaint with both versions of the Yamaha YDS is that neither one has a rechargeable battery. They opted for old fashioned triple A’s which really don’t last very long especially if you’re using the external speakers. You can power it with a USB cable but then it’s no longer wireless.
The on board sounds are the same as the YDS-150. There are 56 different saxophones, none of which sound much like a real saxophone to me so it all seems rather pointless. Why have so many? There are a few other sounds in there as well.
Like the original, the new YDS-120 can also be controlled by a dedicated app, but since they removed bluetooth, you would have to connect with a cable. Ok, that sucks but whatever.
Oh, it’s a micro USB cable. Are we still using these? I have like 7 million different cables, but not one of them is micro USB to lightning, so if you have an iPhone with a lightning connector you probably have to order a cable to connect to the app. The app is the only way to program altissimo fingerings which I think is pretty important so that’s a bummer.
The Yamaha YDS-120 is a big improvement over the original YDS-150. You’re getting nearly the exact same device for 45% lower price. It’s going to be easier to travel with or just leave in reach on your desk since it’s smaller.
The only drawback is that it does not have bluetooth which is a pretty big drawback for me.
Still with a couple of cables you can do everything on this device as you can with the much more expensive version, so it’s a no brainer which one you should get.
The key response is a little iffy on these but if you get one that works well, it’s a good, reasonably priced saxophone practice tool that a lot of people will really enjoy.
I suggest that Yamaha adds bluetooth functionality, improves the key response so that it is rock solid, switch to a USB C connector and switch to a rechargeable battery. Those changes would make this a great product.
Someone has already made an even smaller digital saxophone that has all of those features and comes with a case. Go ahead and watch my review of the Travel Sax 2 to see if that might be the better choice for you.