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Other Yamaha YDS-150 Digital Instrument in a Sax-like Body

Under Yamaha YDS-150 Digital Saxophone review

The Yamaha YDS-150 Digital Synthesizer in a Saxophone Body


The YDS-150 Digital Instrument


There have been plenty of demos and discussions about this, and much of the discussion has been negative.
I do not consider this a saxophone at all, any more than my midi keyboard is a piano.


There are now 20 audio tracks, and a few YouTube videos after several days with the YDS-150.

I have had about two hours total to play around with this, and I intend to do several other tests, but this is an initial first look.

The instrument has its weak points, amply discussed elsewhere (sounds aren't particularly good, it doesn't do MIDI,it doesn't have a lip sensor, etc.), but I will try to discover the less obvious things and hands-on feature evaluations. It's obviously a solution to practice when your living conditions don't allow you to play your saxophones. I think practicing with this is useful, but others may not. What you are able to practice is fingering and coordination between breath and hands.

[EDIT: it does MIDI via USB and it works very well]

It comes with a soft case, an extra 'reed' and a set of three 'O' rings for the neck that holds the mouthpiece.

For all the technical information, you can get the owner's manual
PDF in several languages from Yamaha. I will try to answer any questions anyone has.

There's a tube in the bell that releases the condensed moisture, see the little round thing in the photo. I mention this because certain trumpet or soprano stands, like the Hercules have a knob at the top that will interfere with the tube. I bought the K&M "Legs in Bell" trumpet stand which is a good fit. The tube is flexible and will move a little to accomodate the stand.

TDS-150 moisture outlet tube

The feel of the instrument

It's nice and light, but feels very sturdy in build quality. In the hands, it's very close to the feel of a saxophone. I find it feels very nice. I also think that it should have been in a bright color, but I can think of many reasons they wouldn't do that. The mouthpiece seems to identical to a Yamaha 4C alto piece. Pulling the mouthpiece off reveals no cork, but three O rings holding it on. There's a reed and ligature. The manual tells us not to use any other mouthpiece, so naturally, we tried, and it plays fine with my Syos 3D printed piece. I mention this because maybe some players would prefer to use a mouthpiece they are used to. It makes no difference to the sound, because the reed isn't vibrating or controlling the sound. In fact, it played the same with a one centimeter gap between the tip and the mouthpiece tip! Disconcerting, but nothing matters but wind.



Pairing needs to be fixed.


Setting up with the app

I had and still have trouble pairing the bluetooth connection in order to make changes to voice settings. I don't know if it's normal, but the app re-pairs with the instrument every time you try to connect. There is a check box asking if you want the YDS-150 to have access to your contacts and call history. I can only think that this is something to do with standard Android apps, because it would be insane to check that box!












Sound (voice) parameters YDS-150
You can save sets of voices and fingerings

Because the YDS-150 has space for user-configured sounds, it also has a way to save them under a name, so it's possible to have several sets of user sounds. Unfortunately, this would only be of interest if they update the firmware some day with better or different sounds or effects.

The interface to set these voices (user sounds) is pretty buggy and glitchy. Buggy in that the transpose thing doesn't always update the number of half steps of transposition. Glitchy, because it's easy accidentally hit the extreme end throwing you to the highest or lowest note. This needs to improve. The sliders should be replaced by someother mechanism.

I'm guessing the app itself will be updated for that, and hopefully soon. This is how beta products usually evolve. Picture the size of a phone and your finger on the transpose gadget in the voices settings in the screen shot below.






The Sounds

Well, here we are. Only a few are usable as is, and unhappily, they do NOT include a saxophone! That's right, there are a couple of flutes and harmonica sounds that I actually like. The rest are far inferior to a Yamaha sound module like the VL7m, but then, that's a box you have to drag around with a power supply, an amp and a proprietary cable. The YDS-150 is, if nothing else, very portable!

Playing with the speaker and Recording with a microphone

The effects don't appear to be on when using the speaker. I recorded two short segments for demonstration. They are probably as good (or bad) as any first-day tests. I added reverb and distortion to get sounds I "like". But they're not really saxophone sounds, are they? Also, note that when recording with a microphone, there may be key click sounds because the TDS-150 speaker output level is much softer than a saxophone, even at low ballad levels.



Practicing with the speaker is handy. You don't need headphones, but you don't disturb the other people around even playing through the built-in speaker, because it's not loud at full volume, and you can adjust it even lower. I believe practicing with the instrument is helpful, but many will probably not find it so. I tried playing with headphones, and that sounds better, as you have the effects. Unfortunately, like the sounds, the effects are not great. And one really bad thing is that vibrato automatically comes in on longer notes on most of the patches. There are only a few that do not do this, and they're all saxophone patches. This is a terrible idea, there should be a switch to turn that off! I understand that it would be more fun for beginners, though.

The Keys

The keys feel great. Surprise, there's a low A 'key'. Also surprise, you get low A by using the bottom part of the octave key. The WX5 has octaves both up and down, but the YDS-150 is up or low A. The YDS-150 plays an A when you finger it that 'key' with a low Bb. Another bad decision in my opinion, although I do like having a low A. The octave key takes a lot of getting used to, which is why first day trials won't be briliant, but I know you can get used to it.

Analogue controller
The Analog Controller

This is how you can bend notes, but that effect is definitely in synthesizer land, not a scoop. It's at 1 half step by default, but you can go full synthetic and set it to more distance. This is going to take a lot of practice, as it is next to the thumb rest. I found it harder than the WX-5, but it is certainly doable after some practice. I'd like to see Yamaha add a 1/4 tone and maybe even an 1/8 tone option to this parameter. That would make falls and scoops more realistic.













Odds and ends

I don't know how long the batteries last, but you can adjust the time before the instrument goes into standby mode. This is important, because if you go to answer the door or turn off the kettle, you might forget the instrument is on. There are several other things
I want to test and will add to this review:


  • Use with a wireless transmitter/receiver pair.
  • Use with effects pedals
  • Getting familiar with using the keys for configuration. I only was able to turn on bluetooth with difficulty! There are other configuration parameters like breath strength-related settings, tuning, etc.
  • Using the app in all possible ways
 
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saxyjt

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Excellent! Thank you Randy. Looking forward to the next episode of your adventures!
 

h4yn0nnym0u5e

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Excellent to have some real-world impressions of what it’s like, thanks randulo.

I guess the low A is intended to emulate a bari, not act as an octave down key like the WX. Presumably you can configure it with the app to work with the low C fingering, i.e. not have to use the pinky low Bb? That’d be closer to many baris, I believe. I don’t know how many alternative fingerings you can put in - you might be able to turn it into an octave down key that way, with a lot of effort...

According to the manual it complies with Bluetooth low energy MIDI, but I guess that’s hard to test without a receiver.
 

randulo

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Thanks for those tips, I will look into that! I hadn't yet tried the USB connection either, but I have the impression that it's only for power.

EDIT: No, USB MIDI does work.
 
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Wonko

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Thanks for those tips, I will look into that! I hadn't yet tried the USB connection either, but I have the impression that it's only for power.
On one of the video's I got the impression that the USB-connection was used to connect it to a midi device, or perhaps it was to an amp?
 

randulo

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Under Yamaha YDS-150 Digital Saxophone review

Yamaha YDS-150 Digital Saxophone Hands-on Review DAY TWO

(All audio files are here)

Audio out

I connected a cable to my mixer and into Logic with no plugin effects to record the YDS-150 audio from its headphone jack. I didn't both with stereo, so I don't know yet is the reverb is stereo, but I doubt that would make a huge difference

Comparison

This is an exercise on scoops and falls from Eric Marienthal. I posted this video a while back, playing it on my Yamaha YAS-480. If you look carefully at the sheet, there are a lot of scoops and falls. At the end of bar 8 (at 00:00:16 in the video) are the falls.

View: https://youtu.be/cMJUoOZcdwc


Now, here's the same exercise played with backing or metronome on the YDS, underlining the many differences. Note in passing, the EWI require a lot of precision, so that part is very good for practicing accurate fingering and coordination. The slightest flop of a finger is very clearly heard.


Scoops and falls will be one of the hardest things to get right, using that little button next to the thumb rest, but they will be possible. Variations on them that are not easy on saxophone will also be possible.

Breaking News

Connecting the YDS to a computer shows that there is MIDI after all!
For some reason, there is no mention of midi or how to use it in the manual, just a passing reference to Bluetooth LE.

Here's a quick test of the midi input with a Logic Horns patch

and another with an organ patch

This means you can connect MIDI from the YDS-150 to a sound-producing device by USB, and apparently, somehow by Bluetooth, though I have no way of testing this.

USB audio connection

For both MIDI and audio inputs on my iMac, the device "Digital Saxophone" appears. When used for an audio input, there are none of the YDS-150's effects, which is a good thing. WHen you use headphones, the speaker is off, which is what you want. When using USB audio out, the speaker is on and can be used as a monitor, but you can turn the volume down or off with out affecting the output to the USB "host", as Yamaha calls it.

Should you buy one? It's complicated.

This review is not over, but let's save some time. If you want to start playing saxophone and have a place to practice that won't be a problem, you can buy a brand new Jupiter JAS700Q Alto Sax for less than the price of this "Digital Saxophone". You can probably find used or cheap tenors for around that price, as well. It's the better path for an adult who is serious about learning to play the saxophone. If, on the other hand, you want to play in a rock band, already know how to play the sax, and the band would like wacky synth sounds, this is a great choice! Easier to carry, less of your net worth in danger out in the world, ability to have no sound at all when conncted to phoes or an amp, and a MIDI interface, this is for you.

Syos 3D printed alto mouthpiece on the YDS-150

Reeds and mouthpieces

By the way, look at the way this mouthpiece and reed are set up, wrong and crooked. There's no difference to the sound. That means you can further adjust sensitivity to airflow by allowing more space between the tip of the reed and the mouthpiece tip.

Makes no difference to the sound. I only did this to prove a point, though. I actually am hoping there will be some firmware and app updates in the near future. Perhaps a subsequent, more expensive model with incorporate the main thing missing, the lip sensor.
















Effect pedals

There's a big difference here and a favorable one for the YDS-150: it makes no natural sax sound when using the audio out jack. With a real saxophone, this is a problem at lower volumes or in small rooms. So, here, finally is an 'electronic saxophone', sort of.

Let's go crazy! Testing a wireless hookup, Zoom Effects Pedal and a keyboard amp which also has builtin effects. What could possibly go wrong?

Effects pedals with the YDS-150


I spent no time creating any effects and I haven't used this pedal much on guitar for a few years. The result is some awful stuff. I think the only thing that we can learn from this is that if you have an effects box that has things you like, it will work well, possibly better than it would with a saxophone for the reasons I mentioned earlier. There's no special reason a wireless transmitter won't work with the YDS-150, but you'll have to find a system that doesn't dangle, get in your way, or hurt the audio out jack.

I was asked to demo the 'rock' sax sound.

Direct recording, no added effects on Logic.

Disclaimers galore: I've been playing the YDS-150 for only two days. In this kind of music, you would have to practice enough to know what sounds good. Staccato, for one thing, does.

Every once in a while, I think I hit something that was ok. A lot of it, though, it sounds really bad because of breath control which is so different on this instrument. Still, I believe it can be mastered, and made to sound good eventually. Right now, here's what I got on patch T02. The tenor 'Rock' patch has that awful forced vibrato that ruins any long note. They HAVE to fix that!


Here's a recording of soprano patch s02 with the speaker and a mic to Logic on my iMac. I added a little reverb like I would with a real saxophone. I tried a few scoops and falls, and mostly ended up in a ditch. Takes time!


Finally, the rechargable batteries just died. I don't know what chared state they were in, but I plan to get some regular AAA and try to measure the time they allow. Added note: my stopwatch only went to 3 hours. So I still don't know about the battery life.
 
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randulo

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On one of the video's I got the impression that the USB-connection was used to connect it to a midi device, or perhaps it was to an amp?
See ABOVE, DAY TWO, I was very surprised since there's no mention of this at all in the manual and many were complaining about the lack of midi output on "other sites".
 

saxyjt

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Thanks again for this report Randy! Much appreciated.

I have some questions.

On some of your clips we hear a lot of clicks. So are the keys noisy? I guess that was recorded with a mic.

Does playing with your mouthpiece make any difference, to you, perhaps just in terms of comfort? Feeling at home or none at all?

Finally, since it requires a slightly different technique, do you think it's helping or do you have trouble going back to your real sax? Maybe it's too early for that question...

I'm starting to consider waiting perhaps for V2 ... or will they have firmware updates?
 

randulo

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On some of your clips we hear a lot of clicks. So are the keys noisy? I guess that was recorded with a mic.
Yes, that depends on mic, how loud you're playing, etc, exactly like a real saxophone. There's no good reason to record this instrument that way. In fact, in the studio, it's best to use USB, that way there's no battery drain.

Does playing with your mouthpiece make any difference, to you, perhaps just in terms of comfort? Feeling at home or none at all?
No difference I can tell right now with any mouthpieces, or how the reed is attached. I put the one that came with it back on, as I see no point in changing.
Finally, since it requires a slightly different technique, do you think it's helping or do you have trouble going back to your real sax? Maybe it's too early for that question...
It's a different instrument entirely. I think it will help with two things: Fingering accuracy and coordination, and air stream control, but specific to the instrument. There is far more difference between the YDS-150 and any saxophone as there is between any of the members of the saxophone family. Soprano, tenor, alto still have the same relation to breath, embouchure and even sound. This is not anything like those.
I'm starting to consider waiting perhaps for V2 ... or will they have firmware updates?
At the moment, no one knows anything! There will hopefully be firmware and app upgrades.

I haven't been back to the alto yet, so I can't answer the question about the effect messing around with this toy synth on playing a saxophone. I certainly hope my brain can keep the separate.
 

randulo

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Set a few altissimo fingerings


AppYSD.jpg
This is nicely done, not much trouble setting G5 to A#5. (Unlike a real sax, you'll always hit these, and in tune.) The next two were already there. You can then save the fingerings. Have sets of voices and fingerings is a very strong feature. In the voices, the transposition value is set, so you could have a bunch of one voice in different tunings, that is use the same fingering for bari and soprano, or simply play a song fingering it in one key, but having the notes transposed to another. There's a lot of flexibility in this feature and it's not hard to do.

Fingering: You hit the plus sign (add) grab the fingering you want and hold it a second, then set the note and octave. On the right some things I called out above. More on this later.
 
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randulo

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DAY THREE - Yamaha YDS-150 Synthesizer

I played though a full song with different sounds. Playing with the instrument while trying to make notes etc, isn't great practice, so plenty of little glitches, but still shows what can be done (for better or worse).

YDS-150 Playlist


What is left to do is to adjust more personal things to get the sounds closer to the music I'd like to play.
 
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saxyjt

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Why the thread was closed.

Then I realise your clip above shows a picture of an actual alto sax. :rolleyes:

Yeah, I know I'm a pain...

On the positive side, it looks like you're starting to master the beast.

:yess:
 

randulo

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Programming your favorite fingerings


Screenshot_20201025-143535.jpg


In the Fingerings tab, you press the + key grab the fingering you want to record. Then you select the note you want it to play. In this case, moving the selectors to G5.



















Screenshot_20201025-143622.jpg



Now, in the Fingering tab, if you press the fingering, it shows it.


The Voices part doesn't know it's supposed to be altissimo, so the timbre is the same but on the high note. This contributes to the lack of 'saxophonicity' of the sound.

I would say that the price of this instrument would need to be double (just under $2,000) to pack the needed sophistication into a small space, so it knew to change the timbre of altissimo by added a check box to the fingering settings, for example).
 
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SaxJack

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Thank you for your diverse outcome! It was nice to read the pros and cons of this digital instrument.

I'm turning soon 50 years and my hope has been a long time to start to play saxophone. What is your opinion to start playing with this to learn fingering and save wife ears and maybe later go on real saxophone? I don't have any experience any musical instruments. I think this instrument is also easier to sell than saxophone if I lose interest in playing.
 

randulo

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What is your opinion to start playing with this to learn fingering and save wife ears and maybe later go on real saxophone? I don't have any experience any musical instruments. I think this instrument is also easier to sell than saxophone if I lose interest in playing.

First, I don't think it will necessarily be easy to resell. There are two good answers to your question about learning, though.

If "noise" is going to be a problem, you can definitely learn on this with earphones, or even low speaker volume. That's actually one of the best reasons for it to even exist. The downside is, you will still need to learn how to use embouchure and breath if you move to a real sax, because it's different on this digital instrument. The best possible, would be to have both a sax and the silent practice instrument. That's a lot to take on though.

If sound is not a problem, it's better to rent-to-buy an alto for three, six or 12 months to see what you think, if that's possible. That depends on your location and the pandemic these days. But if you want to continue, most rentals will sell yoiu the instrument with a refund of the rental counting as down payment.

I don't want to be cruel to Yamaha, I own one of their alto models, but the YDS-150 is a far cry from a real saxophone because of the lack of lip control. I would in that case say that the WX-5 MIDI controller is better, but needs a sound module. Plus, I don't think they make the WX anymore, but perhaps available used?
 
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