Yamaha YDS-150 Review – UNPLAYABLE
When I first saw the Yamaha YDS-150, I said to myself that’s got to be good.
I mean Yamaha makes good stuff right?
OK, there was that Venova thing, but apart from that, Yamaha makes good stuff.
When you see it with the brass bell, you get this idea that it is really saxophone like right?
Until the first time I picked it up… My first reaction: why does it seem to way a lot less than it should? And oh, it’s all plastic except for this metal bell.
I mean it has to serve some purpose right?
It can’t just be there to trick me into thinking this is somehow like a saxophone can it?
This is not a sponsored video and it will very soon become obvious why. I am going to give you my very unfiltered opinion on this instrument since so many of you have been asking for a review.
While I really wanted to like the new Yamaha wind synth, there are some issues I have to point out to anyone interested in buying one.
Overall, I think the concept of this instrument is excellent. But the execution is a bit disappointing.
Let’s begin with the key layout which is just like a saxophone in a lot of ways.
All of the saxophone keys are there in the same places as you would expect them. One difference is that there are not rollers for the pinky keys. Not a big deal, but I wonder why Yamaha chose to leave that detail out.
They used these attractive dark synthetic pearl key touches that feel saxophone-like. There’s even a convex bis key.
On the back you have an octave key, a low A key and an extra joystick which triggers various expressive effects.
Typically on wind synth instruments, there are additional octave keys to extend the range. This is one of the things wind synths can do easily that acoustic instruments cannot. The Yamaha YDS-150 only has the one octave key though which, in my opinion, is a very strange, and poor design choice.
Yamaha has included a pre-programmed alternate fingering set which allows you to play 5 octaves. But, it’s very awkward to use since you have to add a palm key to your normal fingering.
I would strongly recommend that Yamaha adds a second octave key to a future version of this instrument to get into the altissimo range, and instead of using this key here for low A, make it a lower octave key to very simply add an additional octave of bass notes.
However, you can program your own altissimo fingerings, which is good!
You can use a REAL saxophone mouthpiece, but…
Another pretty cool thing about this instrument is that you can use a real saxophone mouthpiece with it. When I saw that feature, I was like, finally someone has figured out how to do this.
But once I had the instrument in my hands I realized that this just something that looks good, but serves no practical purpose and in this case it actually takes away from the playing experience of the YDS-150.
Let me explain…
One of the best things about wind synth controllers is the expressive capabilities. We can control the volume of notes with the velocity of our air. So blowing harder makes the note louder and blowing softer makes it softer.
We also have the ability to bend notes up or down and add vibrato thanks to a bite sensor in the mouthpiece. That is, on any wind synth apart from the Yamaha YDS-150.
However, left out the “wind synthiest” thing – which is the bite controller.
There is absolutely no difference between me just blowing in the end of this thing with the mouthpiece or without the mouthpiece.
And speaking of superfluous…
A brass bell – good or bad?
The Yamaha YDS-150 has a brass soprano saxophone-like bell on it.
It looks cool right? Sort of a saxophone hybrid – like a robosax.
The bell is striking and from a purely aesthetic design perspective it’s great. At least visually, it looks as though I am playing some sort of saxophone-like thingy.
However, the bell doesn’t provide any function, at least as far as I can tell. This is a digital instrument that gets played through an amplifier or through the internal speakers.
When playing through the internal speaker, it sounds a bit like a toy.
Now I want to plug this into my amplifier to show you what it sounds like, but there isn’t a 1/4 inch line out jack on this thing so I have to use an adapter to mini jack.
The YDS-150 is clearly not intended or equipped for live performance of any kind other than a casual gathering with friends or family.
On the Yamaha website it says this:
“Blowing into the mouthpiece resonates throughout the entire instrument—a sensation you can feel in your lips, fingertips, and even your heart. The Integrated Bell Acoustic System, created by the fusion of acoustic and digital technologies, delivers an incredibly authentic, gorgeous sound that feels and responds as if you were playing an acoustic instrument.”
Who else thinks that they are overselling it a bit with that statement? Let me know in the comments below.
To be fair, when you play through the internal speaker, yes you can feel the vibration. But all speakers vibrate when they are playing sound and those vibrations will be felt through the container of that speaker in this case the Yamaha YDS-150.
However, as soon as you plug in headphones, which is kind of the whole point of an instrument like this, the vibration is gone. I’m not feeling the sensation of the entire instrument resonating in my heart unfortunately.
For me the bell and saxophone mouthpiece on this thing only serve as some bizarre saxophone placebo.
They make the instrument unnecessarily longer and inevitably disappoint you once you figure out it’s all just for show.
So, at first glance you think you are getting this hybrid instrument that is very much like a real saxophone, but instead you’re actually getting a pared down wind synth with superfluous parts.
The bell itself, while it does look cool, adds an additional 15cm of length and the mouthpiece adds another 9. So if you were looking for a travel instrument for quiet practice in hotel rooms or on the go, well, you’re going to need a bigger bag.
Which brings me to the case.
Other features of the Yamaha YDS-150
I actually love the case, that’s one thing they really nailed. It’s sturdy, light, and discreet with a single shoulder strap. It has a very nice design, but this thing is not fitting inside your carry on luggage.
There is also a nice app for this thing, which allows you to choose and modify the sounds, program alternate fingerings, and change some settings.
It works on 4 triple A batteries or can be powered with a USB cable.
It also has bluetooth connectivity, so you can play music through it while listening in the headphones. Great for playing along with recordings or a metronome.
These are standard features that are common on other wind synth controllers.
It comes programmed with a lot of different saxophone sounds. They really went all in on this hybrid saxophone concept.
I played through them all and big surprise, none of these samples could fool my deaf aunt into thinking she was listening to a real saxophone.
At this point, I’m not sure if creating an accurate digital saxophone sample will ever be possible, or if it’s just the case that nobody has ever tried very hard. On most wind synths you’ll get 4 or 5 saxophone patches that you’ll never use. On the Yamaha YDS-150 we get 56 lame impersonations of a saxophone sound.
Up until now, my criticisms of this instrument are nothing too serious. If the only issues were no bite controller, a pointless brass bell and crappy internal sounds, I could still recommend this thing to a certain type of player who wants a digital instrument that closely approximates the tactile feeling of playing a real saxophone.
However, while play testing this thing I quickly realized it has one deal breaking fatal flaw.
The keys don’t trigger the desired notes consistently.
All wind synths are prone to finger glitches. When you get a new instrument you need to spend some time with it to get used to the mechanism and any idiosyncrasies there may be.
I’m not talking about typical finger glitches though.
On my instrument, I have to press very hard in order to register the desired note. If I play with my normal light finger pressure, it doesn’t work.
Some keys are worse than others, bis, front F, and the octave key are atrociously bad to the point where the instrument is basically unplayable and extremely frustrating.
But, even using light pressure, you can see that pretty much every key on the instrument has to be forced down hard to increase the chance that you’ll get the note you’re looking for.
Now at first I assumed that the instrument I got brand new was just defective, but then I began asking around and several people who own one of these told me they had the exact same issue with theirs.
Then I went on the internet and found numerous forum threads and facebook posts complaining about the keys not triggering the notes properly.
Maybe this issue only affects a certain percentage of the instruments but that percentage seems to be abnormally high. Either way the issue is either a serious design flaw or a quality control problem that Yamaha needs to fix.
If you have a Yamaha YDS-150 please let us know in the comments if you’ve noticed any issue with the key response or anything else.
If the keys responded with light pressure as a real saxophone should then again, I could recommend this instrument to a certain type of player who wanted a tool for practicing saxophone technique quietly.
Thing is for less money, you can get a Roland Aerophone Go or AE-10 both of which have bite control sensors, a line out jack and excellent key response even if it’s a bit noisy.
If you are looking for a silent practice tool or a digital wind synth for performance, I would skip the Yamaha and go with one of the Aerophone models from Roland. I have all of them and can say that I always enjoy playing these instruments. My favorite place to order music gear is Sweetwater.com.
In the meantime we can only hope that Yamaha gets their act together on this thing and releases an improved version.
Right now, it’s nothing more than a $900 gimmicky sax gadget.
Mind you, not all gimmicky sax gadgets are bad. In fact some are really cool like the ones in this video right here which you should watch next.