Eastar Alto Sax Review – Can you Hear the Difference?

One of these saxophones is a top of the line professional instrument costing thousands of dollars. The other one I got off of Amazon for $259 bucks. In other words my professional Yanagisawa alto saxophone and the Eastar alto sax.

I’m going to do a blind test and I want you to tell me if you can hear a difference. This is going to force you to rely on your ears rather than your eyes. I’m even using the same mouthpiece and reed setup on both instruments

Check out this play test around 00:46 in the video, and let me know in the comments below which one is the cheap saxophone, and which one is the professional instrument.

YouTube video

If you take a listen, it’s pretty tough to tell the difference right? There are no tricks here. That audio was recorded back to back on the same track, with the same mic, in the same room. Just on two instruments that have very different price tags.

I honestly might get this wrong myself if I didn’t know which order I put them in while editing this video.

How is this possible?

Why would you ever spend thousands of dollars on a professional level saxophone, when the cheapest one on Amazon sounds almost identical? I’ve been playing for you my professional Yanagisawa alto sax which sells for around $4500 new, and this Eastar alto sax which is priced about as low as it gets for a saxophone on Amazon.

I haven’t made any adjustments to this instrument, I literally pulled it out of the packaging and started recording.

Everyone gets so hung up on which instrument to buy and the unique sound characteristics of each brand of saxophone, and the magical qualities of certain vintage instruments. But at the end of the day, what we are usually doing is blaming our equipment if we don’t like the results we’re getting.

This isn’t just for saxophones and musical instruments. You could apply this concept to lots of things where results depend much more on skill than the gear you are using.

Now this Eastar sax is nothing really special. It’s very much like all the other Chinese import saxophones. The parts very likely come from the exact same source as some of the others I’ve unboxed on this channel.

And that’s part of the reason why they are so inexpensive.

Cutting Corners – The Eastar Alto Sax

First thing when opening up the case, we see that the case itself is as cheap as it gets, offering very little protection to the instrument. A good case costs money and you should expect a quality case to come with a more expensive saxophone.

Eastar Alto Sax

The next thing I noticed was the pads. The pads they use in this horn are cheap, but they are installed very well and they have metal domed resonators. All saxophone pads can get sticky, but the cheap ones much more so.

On this instrument, you’re going to get a lot of pads stuck closed while playing. There are ways to deal with this, but a more expensive instrument should have higher quality pads that will last longer and not get so sticky. Good pads are rather expensive though.

I cannot tell what kind of brass was used to make this saxophone, but I can only assume that it is the cheap kind. Having said that, I have tried bending it in several spots with my hands and can tell you that it is quite strong and resistant.

As much as people talk about the metal a saxophone is made out of having a big impact on the sound, the truth is the shape of that metal matters far more. This brass has been shaped to the exact same dimensions as a professional instrument. It’s probably identical to a Selmer.

The other materials used like the springs, corks, felts, lacquer and key pearls are pretty standard and I don’t think there’s any significant cost savings there.

Assembly and Mechanical Play

Faux mother of pearl inlaid keys

One area that I usually see a lot of cut corners is in the assembly. Often with these cheap Chinese saxophone imports you’ll see the corks glued on crooked or the wrong thickness of corks which result in improper key heights and a lot of play in the mechanisms.

No joke, the Eastar alto sax has the best setup I’ve seen in this price range when it comes to all this. There is 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.

The neck has a very nice fit into the body and even the octave key on the neck has a tight fit, this is not usually the case with these instruments. The neck cork is also installed quite well I must say.

Some Extras

The mouthpiece it comes with is a plastic copy of a Selmer C* and it works fine. A more expensive instrument should come with a better quality mouthpiece though.

It does come with a handy set of white gloves… Which as you know are absolutely essential for playing the saxophone. *sarcasm

It also comes with 2 swabs, one for the body and one for the neck and mouthpiece. You’ve also got cork grease, a polishing cloth, a bunch of reeds and a neck strap. The Eastar alto sax also came with a saxophone stand, which is a nice accessory to include.

So really, apart from the sticky pads and terrible case, this saxophone is a great value at $259. If you’re on a tight budget, and want to get a saxophone, you can play whatever you want on this horn.

It’s in the Details

There are a lot of details that go into why a professional saxophone player like myself would rather play on a top of the line instrument like the Yanagisawa than a cheap saxophone from Amazon. If you’re serious about playing saxophone and can afford a better instrument you should get the best you can within your budget.

But for a beginner or someone who just wants to play casually or anyone on a tight budget, the Eastar alto sax will do the job.

It Will Not Fall Apart in Your Hands…

Now, every time I do these videos, there are always a bunch of comments saying that the instrument will fall apart after playing it for a short time. That’s simply not true in this case.

Musical instruments imported from China often have a bad reputation. When they first started producing saxophones decades ago, many of the instruments literally fall apart in your hands. They were so poorly produced!

Things have changed drastically since that time. The reality is that there are many quality products being produced in China. They’ve gotten quite good at making alto saxophones.

Final Thoughts

Jean Paul AS-400

If you have a bit more to spend, my favorite budget alto sax is the Jean Paul AS-400. This comes with a very good case and excellent customer service.

Now take another listen to the two saxophones again (around 09:01). This time I’ll let you know which was which. Let me know in the comments below if you were right!

Interested in more saxophone reviews? Check out “The BEST Saxophone in the World…For Me.”

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.

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18 Comments

Mike says:

Why only alto? Can you do a comparison with tenors? Thanks.

Jay Metcalf says:

that is coming soon

Bob says:

Hi Jay,
I enjoy your topics. They are always informative. I just started again with a tenor sax. I took lessons when I was in 6th grade. I am now retired and needed a hobby. My question is what is your opinion on the brand Etude. It listed for 800.00 US dollars, it was on sale for 400.00. As I improve and develop my skills, I will purchase a better one. Thanks.

Jan de Vlaming says:

This reminds me at the 60’s and mid 70’s (I was born 1953). Then there was the exact same discussion about Japanese products: cheap imitations, fall apart, explode, etc….. Later Japanese products became top of the bill, reliable and a standard for quality , for example : Yanagisawa, Yamaha etcetera. The least in musical instruments.
The development of Chinese products are the same. The reason why they can produce for this absurd low prices are mainly in the fact, that labourcosts are far below ‘western’ labour. The materialcosts between ‘east’ and ‘west’ do not differ so much, but labour makes the price. This does not necessarely mean that quality is lower. Maybe the quality is even better, because of the fact, that ‘time is money’ does not effect the asian prices as in ‘western’ countries. I dare to claim, that a Selmer Mark VI, produced in China would cost a fraction of the sax produced in France (if they still would produce of course).
The sound difference is not in the metal, but in the wood!

Jay Metcalf says:

absolutely. In the west we have been fed a protectionist line that imported products are inferior because they are cheaper. While not everything made in China is produced to a high standard, it’s not fair to compare quality and price on the same scale. As you said, the economies producing these goods are very different. As with Japan, musical instruments made in China are now on the cusp of being considered high quality AND less expensive. Unfortunate for some, but over the decades these inequities will balance themselves out a bit I expect.

David Street says:

Nice you are willing to tell the truth about Chinese saxes. I feel we have entered a new era where very high quality instruments are available for a fraction of their previous cost. These will be interesting times. Selmer’s new Supreme alto has a street price of US$7500.

Kevan larick says:

The second ,B is the Yana ?
Thanks for all the info..My old clarinet its Vito just cracked and I haven’t been able to get it fixed yet..
I found a Eastar and got online looking for info ..So,Thanks a bunch for everything I could possibly want to know …This lady wants 190 bucks and we both live in Alaska a few hours apart ..
When Insturments pop up I try and grab them .You could make me an excellent sax player just buy watching you ..You Rock…
Teacher I had played with Benny Goodman and he told my family that, I was the only guy he heard play like BG …My Dad told me years later .. my claim to fame ,sadly I never pursued it much…I have played years on and years off and always wonder why I ever stop…
Let me know if you feel like teaching me some more tricks ..I have a few riffs I wanna learn before I get much older ..

You might find this interesting…
After a long break, I noticed that suddenly ,I could play by ear alot better ..and it changed everything….

my Vito sounds great and I totally get how it’s the skill that matters 🙂

now as far as the mouthpiece..I think you should use the mouthpiece that came with the sax …lol Otherwise it’s cheating ha ha

Jason says:

I played the Alto from 7th grade all the way into my sophomore year of college, and was pretty decent at it. I held first chair throughout high school at a 7A school with a band of over 250 students and always made All-Region band. I never got to pro level, obviously, but I wasn’t a beginner, either. My Alto is an old Vito, and I always envied other kids with fancy Yamaha’s and Selmer’s (even though I consistently beat them with my Vito! lol).
But, I gotta admit, I totally got it wrong on this! I guessed that A was the Yanigasawa and B was the Eastar! I’m genuinely impressed. I haven’t played in years, but I always wanted to get a soprano sax, so I did some looking around on Amazon. I’ve been pretty skeptical of these cheap Amazon “knock-offs,” but thought I’d read some reviews just in case, because I really don’t have $1,000+ to spend on a high quality soprano sax. Maybe one of these cheepies would actually work!?!? My biggest concern would be sticky or loosely glued pads, because that can really get in the way of a good sound and get really frustrating.

Chance says:

So this may be an odd question, but i am just starting to try and learn the saxophone and i am on a bit of a budget which is how i found this page. I live in Canada and unfortunatly the prices of saxophones seem to be all over the place on amazon this Eastar and the Jean paul you reccomend are failey close in price at a little over 600$ and i am just wondering if the accesories you get with the Eastar are that important or if the Jean Paul is still the significant pick or if there is a seperate budget sax for the canadian market.

Jay Metcalf says:

The accessories that come with these horns are nothing to get excited about. I wouldn’t let that factor into your decision.

Chance says:

Excellent so the Jean Paul at a fairly similar price is the easy pick.

James Beattie says:

Just turned 73 and never learned to play an instrument. Thought this would be something I’d love.

Dave says:

Fixing an Easter Sax now. Where would you find parts? Can you find parts? Little help please!

David C. says:

Hey Jay, I bought an Eastar alto sax on Amazon and, it plays great. I also watched your review, and comparison to your Yanigasawa alto sax. That helped me to decide, to make the purchase. I wanted a practice horn, to back up my Yamaha 62. This did the job nicely. And by the way, you commented on those strange white gloves that come with it. I wondered about them too. My only thought is, that they could be for marching band.( LOL ) Thanks for the straight up info.

Patrick Ballard says:

An experienced sax player can make almost any sax sound good. I have played since 1963. I have a conn alto but it has been sitting in its case for yrs now and needs a overhaul. Pads and some springs but it will cost me $600-700 to get it done. I am wondering if it is better to buy an inexpensive sax till I can afford to have it fixed. Would this be a good one to buy?. I really couldn’t tell much difference

Patrick Ballard says:

Thanks Jay. I am looking for a sax like this. I currently have a 1963 Conn but it needs some work to be done. It’s going to cost me @$700 to be redone and I just don’t have the money right now

Michael says:

Thank you I U for your comments. Is that an Estar ASII or an EAX 21??

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