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Vibratosax A1S (1st Edition)

Vibratosax A1SOrigin: Thailand
Guide price: £450 (without case)
Weight: 890 grammes
Date of manufacture: 2012
Date reviewed: August 2013

Billed as "The world's first all-polymer sax" - a new angle on the Grafton legacy

Ever since the demise of the Grafton acrylic alto, speculation has been rife as to whether the world would see another synthetic-bodied saxophone - and if so, what form it would take. There were clear lessons to be learnt from the Grafton, the most prescient being that it shouldn't be made of a plastic that had all the impact-resistance of a wine glass - and with all the scientific and industrial developments there have been in the intervening 50 years, the prospect of a latter-day synthetic horn seemed quite exciting.

In fact it's arguably a surprise that there was no successor to the Grafton, given that modern plastics are ubiquitous these days. From clarinets to cars, there seems little that can't be built from one polymer or another. How hard can it be, then, to make something as simple as a saxophone body?
Not very hard at all, really - at least in terms of producing a curved, tapered tube with a few holes in it and a flare on one end - but things get a bit more complicated when it comes to figuring out how to mount the keywork on it.
The Grafton got around this knotty problem by virtue of a vaguely traditional set of keys which were mounted on metal lugs which were then fitted to projections moulded into the body - and so it was assumed that a '21st century Grafton' would be built along similar lines.

And then in 2007, or thereabouts, the intention to build the world's first all-polymer sax was announced.
Not just a synthetic body - all synthetic...keys, pads, the whole shooting match.
It caused quite a stir within the saxophone community. Players were eager to find out how it played and sounded, dealers were keen to know how much it would cost - and technicians wondered how a set of plastic keys would work.

It seemed a very bold move to use plastics for the keywork, chiefly because of the difficulties in building a set of keys that would have the required stiffness. We'd already seen how tricky this could be in the guise of the Lyons C clarinet (now known as the Nuvo Clarinéo), which at least had the advantage of having quite small keys - but sax keys would have to be very much larger.
And then you've got to figure out how to attach them to the body, and power them.

Well, prototypes were built, soundclips were produced - and a market price of around $200 was punted. Then it all went a bit quiet, and then it was announced that aluminium rods were to be used for the keywork as there had been some issues with making the keys sufficiently stiff. Uh-huh. And now, of course, it wasn't quite all polymer.

Things went quiet for a while, again, and then some new soundclips were released and further tweaks were announced...and then it went quiet again - but finally, in late 2010 the first models began to ship.
And that's when it became clear that it was still 'a work in progress'. I think it would be fair to say that it received mixed reviews, and some early buyers felt that they'd been sold prototypes rather than fully-fledged production models.

Yet more tweaks were made, but finally the Vibratosax went mainstream - but at significantly higher prices than were first touted and the range eventually settled on the A1, which is the cheaper model (at £400) and the lightest - with the body made from a blend of polycarbonate and ABS; the A1S with a body made from solid polycarbonate and the A1SG, which has a glass reinforced body. There's also a Special Edition transparent model.
It should be noted that the the current models are now designated "2nd Edition", and it would appear that this relates to various tweaks to the tuning.

Vibratosax jointsSo that's the 'admin' sorted, now it's time for the 'meat and potatoes - what's it like?
The body is made from several tubular sections, which becomes quite clear when you shove a leak light down the bore. Naturally there's a need for the joints that hold these sections together to be quite strong, so the ends of each section are thicker. However, rather than have the joints on show they're hidden away inside the bore - which means it's not smooth. Whether that makes a difference or not is up for debate (if you think its worth it).
The bottom bow, bell and crook differ in that they're made in two halves which are then glued together. Incidentally, this photo is a good example of how a translucent body renders a leak light almost useless as a diagnostic tool. With this much 'spillage' of light it's all to easy to miss a fairly significant leak.

One thing that's missing is a bell to body brace.
I would imagine that the designers felt it was unnecessary. The extremely light weight of the instrument coupled with the impact-resistance of the body material should mean that any knocks and drops are absorbed, and the worst that might happen is the horn might bounce a couple of times if dropped.
I would have liked to have tested that, but as this isn't my horn I didn't think it was worth the risk of having to hand a box of broken bits back. I do feel, though, that even a rudimentary brace should have been fitted - it wouldn't cost a great deal and it would add a touch of stiffness to the bell and provide a little peace of mind.

Whilst the tone holes are moulded into the body, the pillars and fitting mounts appear to be glued on - though I think it's worth pointing out that in this case 'glued on' doesn't mean stuck on with a bit of hobby glue. The fittings are securely bonded to the body, and I think it unlikely that they'll fall off any time soon.
I'll admit I was surprised to see they'd built it in this way, I would have thought it would make more sense to mould these things in (like the tone holes) - but then it's not my field of expertise and there are probably some very good reasons, both technical and economic, why the manufacturers chose this method of construction.
The bell key guards, trouser guard (which doubles up as a mount for the lower stack springs) and the thumb hook are are screwed onto lugs that are glued to the body.

The thumb hook is semi-adjustable - because you can have it set in one of three positions; too far to the left to be of any use, dead centre and too far to the right to be of any use. Probably best just to leave it centred - it's not as if it will have to take much weight anyway.

Vibratosax crook jointThe crook is a push fit into the body. There's no locking clamp, instead the joint relies on a rubber O-ring to both seal and tighten the joint. Actually there ought to be a pair of them - you can see the groove for the second ring on the lower end of the tenon sleeve - but it's either broken or been pushed out of the groove in the past and has long since disappeared.
I shouldn't imagine they're very expensive, and prospective buyers might want to consider getting a few spares in...

I found the joint quite stiff to assemble - which is perhaps why the lower ring went missing - and had to resort to using a spot of silicone grease to ease things up. Better that way round than for it to be too loose though.
Vibratosax octave key pinOne thing that concerned me was how fiddly it is to fit the crook. It has to be done in a particular way otherwise the 'hook' for the crook key will foul on the pin that sticks up from the body. In this sense it's a bit like assembling the main joints of a clarinet, and having to watch out for the bridge keys. Given that the Vibratosax is targeted at beginners I would have like to have seen a more foolproof mechanism here.
And the problems don't stop once you've got the crook on...because there's nothing to prevent the crook from being swivelled right round. This isn't so much of a problem if you swivel the crook to the right, but if you go to the left the hook will drag and bend the pin.
Will it break? I don't know, and I didn't want to find out - but I doubt it bodes well.

Staying with the crook for a while I think it has to be said that the design of the octave key is very interesting.
Vibratosax crookIt's a true 'underslung' style affair - which is to say that the octave key hole is on the underside of the tube rather than on the top, as seen on the Conn 6M. Note that this isn't the same as the pseudo-underslung key, which merely has a portion of the key running under the crook tube but still has the octave key hole on the top - as seen on many Yanagisawa horns.

What I particularly like about this design is how incredibly light and responsive it is. Yes, I've seen a similar design before (on a Cannonball alto), but it's more fiddly and exposed. The beauty of the Vibratosax's octave key is in the fact that it's semi-enclosed - so it's far less vulnerable to being bent through careless handling of the crook - but it's the lightness of the plastic that makes all the difference.
It's also a lot quieter than a traditional metal key (and it will stay that way too).
There are some drawbacks; with the octave key hole on the bottom of the tube it's more likely to suffer from waterlogging, and the plastic key can't be bent should you ever need to make any small adjustments - but I still feel it's a great design, and one that could easily be adapted to fit on a standard metal crook.

Vibrarosax G keyOn to the keywork now, and this is where the fun really starts.

I mentioned earlier that I had some doubts as to whether a set of plastic keys would be stiff enough, and the decision to change the key barrels to aircraft-grade aluminium shows that the manufacturers also felt it was problematical - but is it enough?
In a word, no.
The actual design of the keys pretty much follows those found on a traditional sax, with a metal central rod or barrel to which the plastic key arms and feet are fitted - though rather than being soldered on, they're glued.
You can see on the underside of the G key touchpiece arm that much use has been made of structural design principles and that rather than using solid pieces of plastic, the key arm is made from a channelled section. Similarly, the underside of the touchpiece features stiffening braces and the key stop likewise has additional support.
Note though that the pad arm is solid, being that much shorter than the touchpiece arm.

It's all an exercise in balance - between the need to provide a workable amount of stiffness and durability in the keys, to reduce the weight and to keep the costs down - and if all other things were equal it would work. But they aren't, as we'll see shortly.

Vibratosax keysThe standalone keys are held between the pillars by self-tapping screws, which rotate with the key barrel. To alleviate the inevitable friction and to keep things running smoothly, each pillar is drilled to take a small plastic bush. The screws are Allen-key headed, as are various other adjusting screws, and it would have been a nice touch to have seen a small set of Allen keys included with the horn. I did look, but couldn't find any in the box.
As far as lubrication goes, none is needed (apparently). The bushes are said to be slippery enough, but I couldn't help feeling that a drop of suitable grease here and there might have cured some of the more annoying squeaks and rattles.
Vibratosax pivot screwThat said, I wouldn't advise slapping any old grease on the keys just in case it attacks the plastic. A silicone grease should be OK, but that's something I'd want to check before recommending.
It's a crude pivoting system but given the other inaccuracies in the keywork it's good enough for the job - and along with the spare crook O-rings and a set of Allen keys I would have liked to have seen a few spare bushes thrown in for good measure. These things are very easy to lose if you're ever tempted to take a key off - and should you do so I'd advise you make sure you retrieve both screws and bushes as quickly as possible (before they roll away and disappear under the sideboard) and pop them in the ends of the relevant key for safekeeping.
Keep in mind too that you cannot remove the keys unless you first remove both pivot screws - unlike a typical sax where it's often only necessary to remove one screw.

Vibratosax top stack keysThe main stack keys are slightly different in that they have a steel rod that runs through the centre of the aluminium barrels. This rod holds the stack keys on, with the keys at each end of the stack being used to anchor the whole lot onto the body (with the aid of a supporting pillar mid way along the stack). In this case the anchoring keys are the A key at the lower end and the front top F touchpiece at the upper end - which I've removed for this photo.

Now, I say 'rod' but it's actually closer to a bit of thick wire. It's not very hefty at all.
It seemed to be rather roughly finished on the end, as though it had been snipped off a longer length and then just stuck on the horn. It's also not long enough; I was able to push the stub right back into the Auxiliary B key barrel, which then left me with nothing to hang the front F key on.
I then had to move the stack keys over to expose a bit of rod so that I could ease it back out, and then found that the springs popped out of their holders on the keys...and it was just like the Grafton all over again.
Fortunately the springs didn't fly off into the distance...

Speaking of which, I'm sure you'll have noticed by now that they're coil springs - rather than the usual needle and flat springs you'll find on a standard sax.
The very first models were fitted with a combination of needle and coil springs, but somewhere along the line it was decided to stick with one system - and now it's an all coil-sprung action.
It's not a particularly new idea - you can find a few woodwind instruments that make use of coil springs, though few that use them exclusively - and I think it's fair to say that they never really caught on with the playing (and paying) public. I can't say that I blame them; I'm sure it's possible to fit a key with a coil spring and have it feel as reliable and snappy as a needle or a flat spring, but hardly anyone seems to have cracked it.
There's also the issue of replacements; you can walk into any repair workshop have have a new needle/flat spring replaced on the spot...but a coil spring? Nah.
Perhaps that's another thing that ought to be added to the 'complimentary spares bag' that should be provided with the instrument.

Vibratosax coil springHere's an illustration of why coil springs are rarely effective for this kind of application.
The photo shows the foot of the low D key. There's a stub on the key foot over which the spring sits - and a corresponding stub can be seen fitted to the trouser guard.
When the key is at rest the spring is straight, but when you press the key down - as in this shot - you can see that the spring deforms.
This is the heart of the matter; if the spring were to be compressed evenly you'd get the full benefit of whatever zip, zing and snap was built into it - but when the spring bends it opens up a whole new can of mouldy worms.
Rather than trying to push directly down, in a line through the centre of the spring, this one is having to push down and backwards at the same time. No big deal, perhaps, when all the spring is doing is returning the key to its open position - but the same forces are in play when you press the key down. You're distorting the spring, and that lends a key a stodgy, 'progressive' feel (it feels like you're having to push against an ever-strengthening force, as opposed to the feel of a needle spring that just seems to give way).
This bending of the springs explains why some of the keys work to the accompaniment of a chorus of squeaks and clicks, as the coils writhe and buckle with each key press.

There's also the issue of how these spring are secured.
Remove a key from a sax and you don't have to worry about the spring - it stays firmly put, either in its pillar or attached to the key. If you remove one of the Vibratosax's keys you might find that the spring pings off into the distance. This was a bit of a problem with the early models - in some cases the springs simply came off in use - but for the most part it looks like they've addressed the problem, either by making the spring stubs taller or by glueing one end of the spring to the body or the key.

Vibratosax padTime now to take a close look at the pads.
It's tempting to say something along the lines of 'and now we come to the most radical feature of the Vibratosax', but in truth the idea of a free-floating self-levelling pad is an old one. A very old one.
Go back a few centuries and you can find flutes that used 'pewter plugs' - a design very much similar to what you can see here, except that the 'pad' was a vaguely cone-shaped lump of soft metal. Exactly the same principle though; there was no pad cup, and the plug was free to move about, being loosely fixed to the key by a stub. When the key was pressed down the plug would drop into the tone hole and seat itself. That was the theory, at least - it was seldom that simple in practice.

Skip forward a few hundred years and you can still find examples of self-levelling pads - I even found a cheap Chinese horn sporting them at the Frankfurt Musik Messe in 2008. It wasn't bad either.
Where the Vibratosax differs is in the construction of the pad itself. Many earlier incarnations failed because the pad was too stiff. Sure, they came down reasonably level but because they always come down in a slightly different place with every key press, the pad itself must be soft enough to take up any minor discrepancies. Achieving the right balance between a pad that's stiff enough to provide a positive feel and one that's soft enough to adapt to a changing seal is extremely difficult. Even the best examples I've seen of the genre have not been perfect - which probably explains why the idea never went mainstream. I mean, why bother?

In the case of this horn the reason for bothering was probably a combination of the desire to produce a wholly synthetic sax, to keep the weight down and to be able to build it to a price. It also means that swapping out damaged pads is easy and can be done by anyone who's able to push a piece of silicone rubber through a small hole in a piece of plastic.

Vibratosax low B keyI did wonder whether pressing the keys down hard enough to distort the pads (something that's inevitable given the vagueness of the action) would cause them to leak, but I can't say that it made them any worse. Yes, they will distort, but because they're soft they'll deform into the key cup and maintain a seal on the inside of the tone hole rim. More or less, anyway.
Slightly more disconcerting was the way in which some of the pads only just covered the tone hole.
Here you can see the low B pad, and if you look to the rear of the pad you can see that the tone hole rim is visible.
The rims really aren't much thicker than this, so this pad is just about doing the job. Granted, the pad comes down in a different position each time, and although I operated the key a number of times I never actually spotted a gap - it still leaves very little margin for error.
Why it's like this is anyone's guess - but perhaps the bell has been glued on a bit wonky, or maybe it's had a knock, or perhaps the pillars have been glued on a little bit askew. Whatever the reason it's not brilliant...and perhaps it's another good reason for fitting a bell brace...just to make sure everything lines up, and stays that way.
Incidentally, note the grub screw for regulating the height of the low B pad. You can also see the plastic plate that extends from the centre of the key, which serves as a key stop.

But does it all work?
Well, sort of.
There's no real precision to the action, although this in itself isn't a complete disaster - there's many a cheap horn out there with wobbly keys that still manages to work (just). There's also the issue of the amount of flex in the keywork, and it's here where things start to go wrong. Even brass keys will flex a bit, and this can be enough to cause regulation faults, which leads to leaks. It's a very much more serious issue on the Vibratosax - and then you've then got to factor in the softness of the pads.
Let's be honest; you have a horn that has a wobbly action, with keys that bend when you press them and springs that have all the snap of a damp biscuit - and if you couple that lot to a free-floating pad that's as soft as a baby's bottom...well, what d'you think the result is likely to be? It's not a complete disaster, it does work - after a fashion - but just don't expect any finesse.

Vibratosax lower stackThe setup wasn't particularly good, even allowing for the fact that the owner had fiddled with a few of the adjusting screws in an effort to make the horn play better. I'm sure he won't mind me revealing that this consisted mostly of screwing down the bell key adjusters, to the point where the keys hardly opened at all. This was easy enough to rectify, though it did mean that the grub screws now stuck out of the guards by some margin once the keys were set to their optimum height. Some shorter screws would be good, or perhaps some little rubber caps (a job for a packet of Sugru, maybe?)

There's very little scope for adjustment elsewhere - just three screws on the lower stack to set the regulation and a pair of adjusters for the G#/Bis Bb links. Everything else is 'dialled in' at the point of manufacture, and you'll be hard put to find any buffering felts or corks anywhere on the instrument. It's this 'feature' that adds to the key noise - the relentless clicking of plastic on plastic. If you had the time and the inclination I suppose you could take a file to the keys and make room for a few bits of cork here and there, which would certainly go some way to quietening things down a bit.
I would hesitate to say that it also might even make a spot of regulation possible, simply because you'd be fighting a losing battle. Every repairer knows the pain of trying to adjust a horn with a worn or loose action, even if it's just to get things going for a test blow - but at least there comes a point where the pads hit the tone holes and stop, and then it's a case of balancing out the discrepancies. In effect you work backwards from the pad seal. It's not ideal, but it can be done. You don't get this definite stopping point with the Vibratosax - so not only do you not have anywhere to start, you also don't have anywhere to end. And if that doesn't make any sense then you should definitely not fiddle with the action on one of these horns.

The Vibratosax comes in a cardboard box with polystyrene innards. It's essentially a shipping container and can't really be thought of as a case, in spite of having a rudimentary carrying handle (which broke). If you decide to use it as a case you'll find that little balls of polystyrene come off after a while and find their way into the horn, where they have a tendency to stick (due to static charge). I spotted a couple of bits on one or two of the tone hole rims, which might lead to some consternation should they prevent a pad from closing. They make a dedicated case, which costs around £50 - but it's possible to find alternatives in spite of the manufacturer's claim that the sax won't fit in a standard case.

Under the fingers the action feels - well, I'll be honest - bloody awful. The coil springs aren't snappy, and combined with the flex in the key arms and the squishiness of the pads it's all a bit like groping a rubber chicken (a popular pastime in some areas of the world).
Vibratosax sling ringThe action doesn't feel balanced in any way, there's no sense of a natural progression as you go up and down the horn - and it's noisy. If it's not the creaking of the keys it's the clunking of plastic hitting plastic...and if that's not enough there's the occasional chirping from the coil spring. It put me in mind of an old sprung armchair.
In terms of layout there wasn't anything I tripped up on...everything seemed to be where it was supposed to be. The bigger problem was that none of the keys have a definite stopping point - so you lose that sense of being able to 'push off' from one fingering to the next. Think of trying to polish a table while standing on a mini trampoline.
I also felt the sling/strap ring was in the wrong place. When hitched to a sling the sax tends to lean to the right, which put the mouthpiece about two inches to the right of my mouth. You'd think this wouldn't be much of an issue given the light weight of the horn, but it soon begins to grate. It's one thing having to keep a horn tilted backwards or forwards because the centre of gravity is off, but it's quite another thing to have to keep it twisted. The owner clearly thought so too, and fashioned a better-placed sling hitch from a piece of string.

At this point I would have had a bit of a moan about the size of the sling ring - it's tiny - but then again the horn hardly weighs anything so there's no need for a beefy sling with a suitably-sized hook. That said there's still a chance that a seated player might stand up to do a solo and find that the sling's hook has slipped out of the ring...and this is usually when a horn hits the deck, hence the advisability of using a locking hook. Unfortunately I don't know of many such hooks that would fit through the ring (I was thinking perhaps the deJacques strap might work, but the ring might be too thick).

Tonewise it's a bit difficult to describe. This isn't due to any mystical properties of the body material - as much as the puff on the Vibratosax website would have you believe to the contrary it really doesn't matter what the body is made from - rather it's because the flaws in the construction knacker the tone. With much blood, sweat and tears (and a considerable amount of swearing) I can get a Grafton to play so well that it's indistinguishable from a decent brass alto - but there's bugger all I can do for this horn.
So that's the tone...wheezy, imprecise and washed out.
This was a bit of a puzzle as the examples I played at Frankfurt in 2011 were better (though the tuning wasn't so good up the top end), so perhaps these are very 'individual' horns. OK if you get a good one, not so OK if you don't.

It's a bit of a waste of time putting a leak light down the horn, as we saw earlier, and there really isn't much point going around the pads with a feeler because they'll seal differently every time they come down - so unless there any obvious leaks you're bit stuffed.
Vibratosax leaky crookBut I had a hunch, and gave the crook a leak test. This is easy to do - just seal up the mouthpiece end of the crook with the palm of your hand, put the other end to your lips and blow. If you can hear or feel air escaping, tap the octave key pad with your thumb to make sure it's not leaking. If the pad isn't leaking then it means you have a leak from one of the joints - and on a normal sax this would most likely be from where the tenon sleeve is fitted to the bottom of the crook. However, it's also possible that you might have a hole in the tubing - over time the metal can corrode, especially along the seam, and dent repairs can sometimes lead to small cracks appearing where the metal has been (over)worked.
The seam on the Vibratosax's crook is clearly visible, and I reckoned it was a prime suspect for leakage. I was right.
As you can see in the photo there's 'smoke' (it's actually vapour from an e-cig) pouring out of the seam with just a gentle air pressure. Upping the pressure increased the leakage dramatically.

Fixing this leak is a bit fiddly - you don't really want to go pouring glue down the joint because this could end up getting very messy very quickly, but a white silicon sealant should do the job nicely.
Once sealed, the horn's response improved a great deal - though it still lacked focus, and the slightly flat mid/low D seemed even more out of kilter with the surrounding notes.
And even when compared with a slightly leaky Venus alto that came in at the same time it became all too apparent that the Vibratosax was struggling to put on a show.

There's also the issue of the buzzing.
It's exactly like the sort of buzzing you get when one of your ligature screws is loose - that annoying vibration that makes your teeth rattle.
It's undoubtedly due to the effect of the plastic key feet resting on the plastic body. If you took all the corks and felts off the keys of a brass sax it would have exactly the same effect. Some might say that this proves how 'resonant' the horn is - but in fact all it proves is that they're talking rubbish.

I've heard people comparing its tone to that of the Grafton plastic alto. This is complete nonsense. There may be some mileage in the fact that very few Graftons ever worked properly due to leaks from the pads bought about by a woefully inaccurate action - and the same is true of the Vibratosax. Hence both horns end up sounding a bit wheezy - which isn't really something I'd consider to be a quality to shout about.

The tuning is...odd.
I'm used to playing a wide variety of horns, both modern and vintage, cheap and expensive - and I know there's always the need to tailor the embouchure to suit a particular horn's approach to the unavoidable tuning compromises that are an inherent part of the saxophone's design - but this is something that usually comes quite naturally and takes barely a few minutes before I've 'nailed' the scale. This didn't happen with the Vibratosax, it seemed to me to be fighting back.
I would get, say, the top E bang in tune and then reference it against the lower octaves, and then against the thirds and fifths...and by the time I got back to the top it was out.
Now that's odd for me, because I tend to feel that once you've 'placed' a note, you should be able to have a rough stab at the rest of the notes and be able to get pretty close to the mark. From then on it's about tidying things up and perhaps learning to deal with the odd iffy note - and this is what you'd expect to have to do with any wind instrument.
Trying to do this on the Vibratosax felt like trying to hit a moving target. To be fair I'm sure I'd nail it eventually (and it did improve as I worked with it, though mid/low D kept making me wince), but it felt like it would be hard work. I have a feeling that much of it is down to the somewhat vague tone the horn produced - it's as though the bulk of the energy going into each note was being used to prop up the tone rather than manage the tuning.
I've seen quite a few comments about tuning problems on these horns - which suggests I'm not alone in my findings, though I note that there's some variation in where players say they are experiencing problems.

I tried the stock mouthpiece. It's OK, nothing special but it's at least adequate. A better piece would pep things up a bit, and the industry-standard Yamaha 4C would be a good bet for beginners.

So what's the verdict?
Well, it's certainly an innovative product - and despite some obvious technical difficulties surrounding the design and production I still feel that much credit is due for having the sheer determination to get the project off the ground and to keep it (more or less) flying.
I can see many obvious similarities with the Nuvo Clarinéo - an instrument I was very sceptical about in its early years, but which has since proved to be very successful - and in both cases I think it's only right and proper to celebrate such endeavours.
But is that enough?

Vibratosax A1S rearThe original aim of the Vibratosax was to provide a light and cheap but usable instrument for beginners, and one that existing players would find attractive as a fun-to-have standby horn.
Unquestionably it succeeds in being light and, with some reservations, quite sturdy. This makes it ideal for very young players, and for older players who struggle the bear even the weight of a brass alto around their neck. However, the payoff for that lightness is an action that feels spongy and imprecise, and that in turn translates into difficulties producing consistent notes.
I'm also inclined to feel that there's a natural relationship between the size a child has to be before they can get their hands around an alto and their ability to support the weight of it around their neck. Granted, there will always be a cohort that fall outside that definition, but it's likely to be a small one. The Clarinéo at least has the advantage that the clarinet is a small instrument, so the size/weight equation works in its favour.

Because of its (nearly) all-polymer construction it's pretty much impervious to water damage, so it could be the ideal horn for marching bands or busking in Scotland - but the price, in terms of cash and playability, seems very high when all you really need is a standard sax, a couple of cloths and a bottle of key oil.

Then there's the issue of how well (or otherwise) it plays.
It's often been said that it's beginners who need top-of-the-range instruments - they need all the help they can get when it comes to the mechanics and playability of the instrument staying well out of the way of the learning process. Any hindrance at this stage is likely to put them off, perhaps for life. Experienced players can recognise and work around even quite large faults - they might moan a lot, but they can still make an iffy horn play.
The combination of the inaccuracies and the flex in the keywork coupled with the less-than-perfect seal from the pads and the structural leaks found in the review example would make the Vibratosax less of a musical instrument around a student's neck and more of an albatross.
And then there's the tuning, though I dare say that's something that can be worked on by the player.

But all of that pales into insignificance when the question of the price is brought up. This is what kills it dead for me - it completely loses its point.
At £400 for the basic model it's already around twice the price of an ultra-cheap Chinese horn. Fair enough, you won't get much of a horn for £200 unless you're very lucky...but you can get quite a decent one for £300 - and although these may well have their own build-quality issues, they're unlikely to be quite so problematic to deal with as the issues found on the Vibratosax. If weight is an issue there's the TJ Alphasax to take into account. Yes, it weighs twice as much and has fewer notes - but it's £400 and it's a pretty decent bit of kit, and is around half a kilo lighter than a standard alto. And it comes with a case.

The Vibratosax had to be at least as good as a cheap Chinese horn, or at least as cheap, but it's neither of these.
For sure, it has a novelty value. If you whip one of these out at a gig I'm pretty sure that people will be ooing and aahing...for a while anyway. But if you bought an ultra-cheap Chinese alto, sprayed it with day-glo green paint and hung a selection of cheeses off the bell, it would have much the same effect...except that it would be a better blow, and you'd be able to eat the cheese after the gig.
You could argue that it's unique, a modern design icon, a noble cause - and yes, you have to admit that there some design aspects that are inspired - but when all is said and done it has to be able to perform the function for which it was designed, and in its current form it falls short of the mark.

It says on the box "Sax for all" but it seems to me that what they've ended up with is a sax that, on spec, would appeal to a very small group of people; the very small, those who have neck/back problems, those who might find themselves having to play in the rain a lot - and the funsters. And yeah, it is fun...but it ain't £450's worth of fun.

Copyright © Stephen Howard Woodwind 2015