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My wife is a music teacher. She's a classically trained saxophonist, and has been playing almost all of her life. Recently she saw a video which included an electric woodwind, and she just about went nuts when she saw it ("I want one!!!").

I took note as a birthday present, and am now trying to find a bit of information about what is necessary for her to use it if I were to get one for her. I understand that she'd need the following:

  1. The horn
  2. A monitor/amp

What else? Does she need a mixer? Does she need to purchase soundfonts?

Specifically I am looking at these 3 models, depending on what she ends up needing: http://www.musiciansfriend.com/woodwinds/akai-professional-ewi-usb-electronic-wind-controller http://www.musiciansfriend.com/woodwinds/akai-professional-ewi4000s-electronic-wind-controller http://www.musiciansfriend.com/keyboards-midi/yamaha-wx5-midi-wind-controller

Any help would really be appreciated. Thank you!

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I answered some of these on reddit where you posted essentially the same question. However, it occurs to me that if your wife wants to start experimenting, you might want to look at the Pico from eigenlabs. It's a completely different approach but with the Fingerer Agent (part of their software) you can probably make it approachable to someone familiar with the Boehm fingering. –  David Jul 29 at 20:52

8 Answers 8

I have the EWI USB. As mentioned by Meaningful Username, it doesn't have any in-board sounds, so I can't play it stand-alone -- it has to be plugged in to a computer. While it does come with its own softsynth program (based on Garritan's Aria Player), and a decent set of samples, it can also be used as a generic MIDI controller, which is what I usually do. I use it with my DAW (Reaper), which hosts SFZ (a VST soundfont player), and whatever free soundfonts I've happened to find online. I don't know if the ones with in-board synths can be directly reprogrammed (I'd guess not), but I'd be shocked if they couldn't also operate with a computer as above.

When I do play it like that, to control soundfonts, I have to program Reaper to interpret the MIDI signals in a way that makes more sense. For instance, I completely turn off the "Velocity" response, and route the breath signal to control the Expression CC. This allows my to play a note that starts out quietly, and slowly swells in volume. With the velocity response turned on, it would start out with a softer overall volume, and would be unable to swell to full volume. I could probably also set this up in the EWI software directly, but I have a template track set up in Reaper that does it all for me.

One extra thing to note about the playing technique -- and it took me a long time to realize this -- you don't close your mouth all the way around the breath sensor when playing. It lets very little air through, so if you try this for very long, you will end up needing to take a breath while your lungs are still full, which feels a bit like suffocating. Instead, the recommended technique is to "leak" air out the corner of your mouth while playing, in a controlled fashion. Coming from a woodwind background, it feels weird to do it the first couple times, but you get used to it. The sensor is based off of breath pressure, not velocity, so the air doesn't have to be moving very fast. You just time your "leak" rate so that your lungs are sufficiently empty by the time you need to breathe.

One final note: I'm so used to controlling expression via breath, that I've also bought a breath controller for my MIDI keyboard. Yamaha used to make these, but discontinued them for some reason. But there is now a new product being made in Europe. Now I can play my keyboard like a MIDI melodica!

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Although EWIs are MIDI controllers, capable of controlling any MIDI devices, some also have built in sounds and headphone sockets. @Meaningful Username has been more diligent than me and checked out your links (!) - he says the middle one has built in sounds. Therefore, with this, you should be able to get started with just the instrument and headphones. This will allow you to play "silently" and get used to the instrument. When you want to start playing out loud, with other people for instance, you need to get an amplifier and a lead. I reckon a keyboard amp would be best to respond to the pitch range and range of sounds of a MIDI instrument.

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Thank you so much! So, based on the responses, it looks like the 4000s would give her the most flexibility. I could see her having fun with it, but I think she'd also be using it to put together scores for her students (anything that lets her spend less time sitting in front of finale/garageband/musescore for hours), so I think just a straight midi controller would be too limiting. It also sounds like I should be picking up a midi cable and a keyboard amp. –  Matthew Jun 9 at 14:12
    
Does your wife already input music onto her computer using a MIDI keyboard? If not, she may need a MIDI interface, if she wants to use the EWI to input music into Finale etc. –  Bob Broadley Jun 9 at 14:17
    
She had an ancient midi interface somewhere (though she may have given it away since it wasn't getting used). I'll have to take a gander around her studio when she's not here. I know she DOES have a midi/USB cable, so maybe that's a possibility depending on the software. Otherwise, I don't think MIDI interfaces are that crazy expensive. –  Matthew Jun 9 at 14:54
    
The EWI USB (which doesn't have in-board sounds) just uses a USB cable, but looking at the specs for the 4000s, it seems that's not the case, so yes, you would need some way of getting MIDI signals into a computer. –  Caleb Hines Jun 9 at 14:59

You'll need a Controller, a Synthesizer/Sound Module & Speakers/Headphones/Amp.

The Akei EWI4000 is both a Controller and Synthesizer. So it's a cost effective starting point.

The USB EWI might be useful if you're already bringing a laptop to gigs, but the guy I know who plays one will frequently have his synth software freeze up. Don't know if this can be blamed on his machine or his choice of software...

I personally play a WX5 controlling a Yamaha VL70-m with great results, though if I was purchasing today I might go with an EWI4000 & a VL70-m to get the best of both worlds. (Akei's more subtle controller & Yamaha's astounding Virtual Acoustic synth.)

For an amp, I just recently upgraded to a Bose L1 and am very satisfied.

BTW: Soundfont usually implies a Sample based form of synthesis. While not a bad choice, it is unfortunately not the best choice for a WindSynth setup. I believe that the EWI4000 uses FM based Synthesis. Yamaha's Virtual Acoustic products (like the VL70-m) are very well regarded. If you must use Sample based synthesis, make sure your sounds include legato versions.

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I don't think I've had frequent problems with my EWI USB (or the software I use) freezing up, but I also haven't played it in a live setting. With the complexity of the toolchain I use, the possibility is real enough that I could envision it happening, if "Murphy" were feeling particularly legalistic. –  Caleb Hines Jun 9 at 18:54
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@CalebHines, I'd say he experiences 1 event in every 10 hours of play time. That's probably OK in the studio, but not something I'd want to experience on stage. –  tjd Jun 9 at 19:39

I'm currently on my second EWI4000 (last one got lifted in my trunk on the road) with hardly a complaint. The EWI really feels solid and well constructed. It has a good heft for being so compact, feels almost like a real instrument.

I also like the built in synth. It really allows for total anywhere playing. I believe it also comes with software for editing and replacing the sounds on the EWIs memory banks. And there are plenty of collections of amazing synth sounds already built up for the device (you might even be able to find the ones Brecker used).

This EWI of mine is currently about four years old, so I'm not sure if they've changed pickups, but it has a 1/4" and headphone jack as well as DC power spot and batteries (which last longer than one would expect).

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AKAI has sadly, stopped making pro-level gear because there is a much bigger market for cheap stuff. The new ones are crap construction compared to the old 3030/3020 stuff. I had an EWI USB, it broke under warranty, and Akai were totally useless about it. I've spoken with other players who have had theirs act up after a year or two aswell, octave rollers sending the wrong signal, sketchy device recognition, etc. I won't buy one again.

The old 3020/3030s are huge, but are professional instruments. Even before it broke, the EWI USB was nowhere near as sensitive or responsive as the 3000 series. Those you can alter the response curve on all the inputs really well, they feel like instruments. Brecker played those ones. I wish they would make a modern controller for 3 times the price of the EWI USB and do it right, I'd be all over it.

If your partner is not a serious wind player, they will probably think the USB version feels fine. If they're a pro or high level (ie could be in music school etc) player, they will definitely notice the difference in latency and responsiveness between a 3000 analog controller and the later digital ones (USB, 4000).

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Hm, that is good feedback, and I appreciate it. My wife is a professional music teacher for both public schools and private, plus she does light playing professionally (she has a MME in classical Sax). I still am thinking it may be worthwhile just to make things easier when she is putting together music for students, so maybe the lower end is the better choice. –  Matthew Jun 27 at 14:24

The first and third links are midi controllers, so you'll need something to interpret the midi, like a computer or synthesizer. The middle link has built in sounds, so only headphones is needed in order to produce sound.

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Thank you so much for the help! Do you know if the built in sounds can be overwritten with additional soundfonts? It says there's a built in analog-synth but not whether or not custom sounds can be used. –  Matthew Jun 9 at 14:13
    
You can use any VST or AU virtual instrument synthesizer or sample player or soundfont that runs on Windows or Mac OS X. This is because the instrument transmits MIDI data to the host computer. –  Wheat Williams Jun 9 at 22:00

Have you watched the demo video for the Akai EWI USB? It explains a lot.

There are other videos on YouTube that you can search for.

By the way, the earliest electronic wind instruments got their start in the late 1970s and through the 80s. You can hear them on certain Steely Dan tunes, and even on Michael Jackson's Thriller.

The saxophonist most associated with electronic wind instruments is the jazz musician Michael Brecker.

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Youtube is blocked for a lot of people and videos can get lost. Could you summarize some of the relevant parts of the videos in your answer to keep it useful? Thanks –  American Luke Jun 9 at 15:16
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You can use the EWI to trigger any VST or AU virtual instrument synthesizer or sample player or soundfont that runs on Windows or Mac OS X. This is because the instrument transmits MIDI data to the host computer. –  Wheat Williams Jun 9 at 22:00

Your wife might also consider a breath controller like this

http://www.tecontrol.se/products/usb-midi-breath-controller

You can see it demoed in the video

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