I live in a flat, and would like to practise without disturbing anyone around me. For this reason, I have bought this mute. I am reviewing it here so that others can judge if it is worth getting one.
The E-Sax Mute is made in Japan by Best Brass, who also make silent practice systems for brass instruments such as trumpets. It is a lot easier to mute a brass instrument than a woodwind instrument, since all the sound of a brass instrument comes out of the bell, while with woodwinds the sound comes out of tone holes down the side of the instrument as well as out of the end. Therefore in order to effectively silence the saxophone, it has to be encased.
The Best Brass E-Sax Mute is more of a muffler than a mute. It greatly reduces the volume, but can still be heard. However, it takes the volume down to that of a television, so the sound insulation in modern apartments should be able to cope with it. As well as preventing conflict with the neighbours, it enables you to practise without feeling self conscious of others hearing your mistakes.
This mute is available in the UK for around £500, although they do sometimes come up second hand as owners move into more forgiving accommodation.
The saxophone is held in place in the mute by three supports. One is at the top of the saxophone by the crook socket, and another is around the bow. There is a bumper above the bow support that rests on the key guard and prevents the saxophone from coming loose. This mute is designed for modern saxophones with the bell tone holes on the right hand side as you hold it. The position of all three supports can be adjusted. The mute is lined with a sound insulating layer. This is pushed into place rather than glued in, so can come adrift around the hand holes.
One problem that I have found when using the mute is that the low notes are more difficult. To reduce the problem, I have positioned the saxophone in the mute so that there is as much space in front of and above the bell as possible. In order to achieve this, the crook is as far forward as it can go before the cork hits the outside of the mute, and the bow is as far back as the sling ring will allow it to go. It is difficult to sound the notes from low C# downwards, and a lot of long notes practice is needed. However if you can get them to sound in the mute, they should be a doddle when playing without the mute.
There are three sling rings on the case itself. The middle one lines up closest with the ring on my saxophone, so that's the one I use. The case plus saxophone combination is very heavy around the neck, so I have bought a Vandoren harness to use with this mute. This allows me to practise for longer.
When putting the saxophone into the mute, I rotate the crook to the right slightly so that it won't hit the mute.
Then I put the saxophone bow over its mount, and lower the crook socket into its mount. Finally I loosen the crook socket screw and rotate the crook into position through the opening in the mute. The end of the crook should be as horizontal as possible where it goes through the opening, and the cork shouldn't touch the mute.
Once everything is lined up, the mute can be closed and latched shut with the five latches. After finding the ideal position for the mounts, the saxophone goes into the mute easily. Bottom bow, crook socket, rotate the crook, close the mute. The mute has insulated hand holes on either side giving access to the keys. Movement is restricted, but all notes are possible, and you're forced to keep your fingers close to the keys. This trains you against "flying fingers". By practising in the mute, your fingering becomess more disciplined.
I use the mute with over the ear headphones. These reduce external distractions and let me focus on my playing. I plug the headphones in and put them on before picking up the mute. Then I hook on the sling, put my hands through the hand holes and pick up the sax/mute combination. Make sure you remove the mouthpiece cap before putting your hands through the handholes, unless you don't mind pulling it off with your mouth and spitting it out like the end of a cigar. When playing, the saxophone is completely encased with only the cork and mouthpiece showing. This prevents you from becoming distracted by admiring the lovely finish on the octave key, for example. Everything is done by feel.
The mute has a built in microphone, which is powered by a pair of AAA batteries. The headphone volume is adjustable. When playing, you get a clear tone through the headphones. A major advantage is that this is the sound that someone in front of the sax would hear, and it gives you a new perspective on your playing. When the batteries are running low, the reverb indicator light flashes. The batteries last for several practice sessions, but rechargeable batteries would be more economical.
As well as the microphone, headphone socket and volume control, the electronics unit has line in and line out sockets, reverb control and a metronome. The line in socket allows you to play with backing tracks, and the line out socket allows you to record. I have found that when recording through an audio interface into a PC, the audio interface should be set to instrument mode (as in a guitar input) rather than microphone mode. The gain can be backed off, and noise (hissing) is reduced. However the quality doesn't compare to using a stand-alone microphone. I have also plugged the line out into an external tuner, and don't see why it can't go through effects pedals. All of the sockets are stereo mini-jack sockets.
The metronome allows the speeds displayed on the electronics unit, but also allows speeds half way between these displayed speeds. The reverb can be set to small, medium and large rooms. I find that small is enough when practicing. Medium gives the sound of an empty hall, and large sounds like a cathedral.
One problem I am having when practicing with the mute is when turning pages. To remove my right hand from the hand hole, turn the page and put it back in takes about half a bar at 90 bpm. I need to practice speeding this up, or else photocopy extra pages and line them up on the stand.
- The mute muffles the sound enabling practice in close proximity to others
- You can play without feeling self-conscious of others listening to your practice
- You hear your sound as if you were in front of the sax
- You don't get distracted by the mechanics of the saxophone
- The mute prevents "flying fingers"
- You can plug the mute into a tuner or audio interface
- The low notes need extra practice (this may be a plus)
- Low recording quality
- Heavy - recommend Vandoren harness
- Restricted hand movement means palm key notes need practice
- Turning pages while playing is slow
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