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When the electric guitar came out, it quickly became a staple of popular music, winding its way through jazz, blues, and eventually landing on the main stage of rock & roll. Electric wind instruments, or EWI, took a more subtle path among a niche audience of musicians. But with these newest digital models available online, anyone can start learning, experimenting, and recording right at home.
Buying Guide: How to Pick the Best Digital Wind Instruments
Here’s what to know before getting one for yourself or your studio:
Sound: A great reason to go with a digital wind instrument is the various options for more types of sound, right on the instrument itself – no need to run it through other synth devices or DAWs. With the simple turn of a dial, you can cycle through tones and have the sound output directly into your headphones or out to your audience. There’s also the option for additional effects, and to upload your own.
Keys: If a big reason you’re eyeing one of these is for practicing silently, keep the keys in mind. Noisy keys that have audible clicking and clacking can still disturb another person in the same room trying to study or sleep. This won’t be much of an issue on stage or with headphones on, but for college students sharing a small dorm it’s something to consider before buying. That aside, these all require different amounts of finger strength to operate, especially on some of the octave knobs. They can be resistant and really put a strain on your thumb, and be especially difficult for a beginner to get used to. Sensor keys avoid clicking altogether by feeling the amount of pressure you put on them with each note.
Case: Most of these come with a case, but either way, you’re going to need one. Even if it’s just for storing in your closet for the next time you need it, these are a significant investment and require care and protection. If you’ll be traveling and using it for gigs, having a comfortable shoulder or back strap is a lifesaver, along with thick padding and pockets for things like pedals and sheet music. A case will also help prevent damage when stuffing it into an overhead bin.
What Are the Best Digital Wind Instruments?
Here are our top picks for the best instrument models worth buying right now.
1. Roland’s Aerophone AE-30
Roland’s Aerophone AE-30 looks like something out of Futurama at first glance, with excellent eye-catching design that’s practical for players too. There’s some traditional touches as well – the instrument still has a spit valve, as well as a fabric band designed to guard against moisture getting inside the speaker. With its slim body, the keys fit naturally where your fingers land, and have a smooth feel as they click and pop back up with gentle pressure, feeling just like a real sax. The knobs respond beautifully and give you various options for instrument sounds, and cable management is easy too, with an additional option to power it by batteries and play literally anywhere.
2. Akai Professional EWI 5000
This digital wind instrument feels like a flute, oboe, and sax all in one, with eight dedicated precision dials to find your own customized sound. The mouthpiece on this includes sensors for air pressure and bite strength, giving you greater control that feels similar to the real thing. This also includes an entire sound library for you to experiment with, and connects via 2.4GHz WiFi with little noticeable latency.
3. Roland AE-01 Aerophone Mini Digital
This alternate option from Roland is a more scaled-down, compact model than the AE-30 – only weighing 500 grams. There’s a built-in speaker for playing anywhere, along with a headphone port for private practicing, and it goes beyond wind and brass instruments too, mimicking strings like a violin. Over 50 additional sounds are available in the accompanying app, and beginners will feel comfortable getting started following along with the included tutorial songs.
4. Nuvo Soprano Saxophone
Before you go dropping a ton of cash on one of the pricier digital sax options, this Nuvo offers you an affordable chance to get started and see how it feels.
At a fraction of the price, this waterproof model is great for children too, along with being durable to light damage. The adjustable thumb rest can be set to five different positions, along with adjustable keys. The sound, meantime, spans the full chromatic scale from middle C to the next octave’s G.