This is the EMEO, and it is Freaking Cool
I have been dabbling with wind synths for over 15 years, I’ve owned and tested most of what’s been around in that time, and in this video I’m going to tell you why the EMEO is a total game changer.
I’ve had this thing for a couple months now, and it’s been on my desk every day during that time and I’ve played it on most days, which is more than I can say for any other wind synth I’ve ever owned. Now it certainly isn’t a perfect instrument, and I’ll cover a few ideas I have for how it could be better, but the true test of how good any given instrument is, is whether or not you are motivated to pick the thing up to play it and how long it keeps you playing.
I have lots of real saxophones to play and of course I prefer those, but when I pick the EMEO up I find myself playing it for long sessions. And I’m telling myself, bro just get a real sax out if you’re going to play. The point is I enjoy playing this instrument. Not as much as a real saxophone but more than any other wind synth I have owned and by a lot.
So let’s talk about what this thing actually is and how it works.
What Is The EMEO?
On their website it says The EMEO is the world’s first digital practice horn for saxophone players. They are very clear about saying this is not specifically intended to be a performance oriented wind synth like the Akai EWI for example. It is meant to be a practice saxophone and the design is laser focused on just that.
Obviously, the most notable thing about this instrument is that it is a brass body tube with the keywork of a real saxophone. Well sort of. You see they didn’t just take a saxophone body without the bell and neck and stuff some electronics inside. This is a special, very unique design with a lot of modifications to make everything work.
The tube itself is about the same size as an alto body tube. The key work feels very much the same as a real saxophone because it basically is, but there’s less of a gap between the LH and RH keys making it more similar to a soprano in that regard.
Have a look at the clever design on the left and right hand pinky keys which allows for everything to fit in a lot less real estate, and also the octave key mechanism. These keys function just like real saxophone keys. They are brass and have key pearls on them. The mechanism functions with the same blued steel springs you find on real saxophones, and they even have the same leather pads that close over tone holes just like real saxophones.
This is really important and a big part of why it’s enjoyable to play the EMEO if your are a saxophonist. When you close a key on this thing it feels like the real thing. Your finger is traveling the same distance, you get the same resistance that you’re used to, and when the pad makes contact with the tone hole, it feels and even sounds like it’s supposed to. The palm keys and side keys are all there, we have a neck strap ring and an adjustable thumb hook, you even have a lyre holder which might be taking things a bit too far.
And yes, you can make adjustments to the mechanism. I have already loosened up the spring tensions to make this one play more the way I like it. You could even adjust the key heights with corks and felts just like on a real saxophone if you wanted to make one of these really match your setup preferences as much as possible.
How It Works
Now, you may be wondering how it works?
The keys are all triggered with magnets I believe and they are set to activate at a particular distance. This is also really clever because once again, it gets us that much closer to the way an actual saxophone works. The note doesn’t change until I’ve almost completely closed the key. For keys that open it’s the same thing in reverse. The note changes before the key is completely open. The result is a surprisingly natural feel when it comes to the timing you’re used to.
A rather big issue with other wind synths is the key glitches. The Akai EWI and Roland Aerophone, for example, have very different mechanisms from a real saxophone that take some getting used to and are prone to a lot more glitches. On the EMEO, the glitches you get are pretty much the same ones you will get on your actual saxophone depending on how you play, so practicing with this thing is going to help improve your technique.
I did make an adjustment to the octave key on mine that significantly reduced glitches I was getting there. I just love the fact that I can tweak this thing to fit my personal playing style just like a real saxophone. The idea behind the EMEO is to help saxophone players practice technique in a meaningful way when they can’t play a real saxophone. And it does this very well.
Now the EMEO is not going to feel exactly like your Selmer Mark VI or whatever sax you have, but the mechanism does feel pretty standard and comfortable.
The onboard sounds included with many digital saxophones are, let’s face it, not great. The EMEO notably does not have any onboard sounds. It does come with a sound library but you need to have it connected to another device like a computer, tablet or smartphone to use them.
You can use any 3rd party patches with the EMEO and I’m demonstrating several of these throughout the video. At first I was disappointed by this and I would still like to see a future version of the EMEO that includes a few basic internal patches and a headphone jack.
When traveling I do like to practice on a wind synth in a hotel room with bluetooth audio from my phone that comes out of the instrument’s headphone jack while I’m playing the internal sounds. This way I can play along with tunes or backing tracks and the only wire is the headphones. I have not yet traveled with the EMEO but when I do, I always have my laptop with me anyway and I’ll connect to that.
You can use the EMEO with your phone or tablet as well via bluetooth. This actually works with pretty low latency, but if you are an advanced player you are going to notice the very slight delay in response.
The other thing that is notably missing from the EMEO is a bite pressure sensor. It has a very sensitive breath sensor but I cannot bend notes on this in any way. Again, at first I was disappointed about this missing feature, but then I realized that I don’t actually miss it with the way I play, and in truth I don’t use the bite sensor on the Akai EWI or the Roland Aerophone all that much when I play those. I do think this is something they may add in the future but considering that this instrument is not really meant for performances I understand why they left it out for now.
You’ve got some options for the mouthpiece with the EMEO. Since there is no bite sensor, the basic mouthpiece is just a hole you blow into. You can fit a saxophone mouthpiece on this piece if you want. I don’t see any point in putting a sax mouthpiece on it though, so I don’t. It also comes with this 3D printed mouthpiece that offers an alternative shape if you prefer that. And there is this angled tube you can add for comfort.
I’m using both of these in order to extend the length of the instrument, and one improvement or accessory I’d to see them offer is a longer neck extension. I play this thing resting on my thigh without a neck strap and it’s just a bit too short so that I have to bend my head down and hunch a bit when playing. I’d love to be able to play this with better posture.
Speaking of accessories, the EMEO comes with a very nice case but I wouldn’t hesitate to just wrap it up in a towel and put it in a carry on bag. It’s got a rechargeable lithium battery in there that lasts for several hours which is very nice, and it comes with the USB C connection cable.
Another very cool and unique feature of the EMEO is that there aren’t any buttons or switches on the instrument. You change settings using the normal keys in special combinations. So, for example, I can change the transposition by holding down the Eb and C pinky keys, blowing into the mouthpiece and then choosing one of the side keys. Side Bb gives me Bb transposition like tenor or soprano, Side C is concert key and Side E gives me Eb transposition like alto and baritone. This takes 1 second, no looking at a tiny screen or fiddling with little buttons.
You can also change the range of the EMEO in a similar way. Very quickly I can extend the range to multiple extra octaves. We can also adjust the air resistance this way. The EMEO has 3 settings soft, medium and hard, I’ve got mine set to medium and it feels very nice.
It’s a really nice minimalist design. There is very little to distract you from just practicing and having fun.
As of the recording of this video, the EMEO is listed on their website at $1550 plus shipping from Israel. This is still a very small operation and as I understand it, each month they prepare a limited number of these instruments and deliver them to those who are waiting. So, I believe you may have to wait a couple of weeks to get it after you place your order.
I did not purchase mine, it was sent to me by the company with no strings attached. I’m reviewing it on the channel because I’ve had countless requests for an EMEO review, and because I really like the instrument and think it will bring a lot of value and happiness to some of you. I have arranged for a special discount for BetterSax subscribers who would like to purchase an EMEO. If you mention that you saw this review and give the code BetterSax/EMEO you will get a 5% discount, which is like $75 bucks.
I’ve met the team that makes these and they are passionate saxophone nerds like the rest of us, working hard to make the best product they can and help saxophone players who need a tool for practicing when they can’t play a real horn. Definitely check out their website here. They’ve got lots more info there, and reach out to them if you’ve got any questions.
I know this costs quite a bit more than some of the other options out there, but if you need a practice saxophone that you can play anytime, anywhere that feels like the real thing, there is no comparison. The EMEO in my opinion is a better value than the Akai EWIs, Roland Aerophones and Yamaha YDS-150. It’s really made for saxophone players by saxophone players with a very specific function in mind.
Rather than trying to do a bunch of things poorly, the EMEO focuses more narrowly on doing one specific thing very well. You can definitely use it for performances if you wanted to, but I’m going to use this for silent practice and traveling going forward.
You can also check out this video next where I demonstrate the Roland Aerophone AE-20 which is my recommendation for a digital saxophone under $1000 it also has some features that the EMEO does not.