Thursday, June 2, 2016

SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone Review

Cover image of the Seles Axos alto saxophone review article


Today, I will be reviewing the Axos alto saxophone from Henri Selmer Paris' new line of instruments, SeleS.

The announcement of a new saxophone from Henri Selmer Paris, the SeleS Axos, rapidly created a buzz in the saxophone community, as expected. However, the new brand, lower price, and manufacturing innovations, all created confusion, speculations, and a significant amount of misinformation. Therefore, we will open this review with a detailed look at how this new saxophone is manufactured, where the Axos stands in the prestigious lineage of the Henri Selmer Paris company, and the reasons behind the introduction of the SeleS brand.


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INTRODUCING THE SELES AXOS


SeleS Axos saxophones are manufactured in Mantes-la-Ville, 37 miles from Paris, in the same factory where Selmer Paris horns have been made since 1922. This new line of saxophones shares the majority of its attributes with the rest of Selmer Paris' instruments: materials are identical and many of the manufacturing steps involved in crafting the Axos are still performed by hand, as they traditionally have been.

However, the Henri Selmer Paris company had to face a formidable technological challenge in order to create the SeleS Axos. By investing in research, new manufacturing tools and processes, by streamlining the assembly method, standardizing certain procedures, and outsourcing the construction of small parts, the company managed to fulfill its vision of a professional saxophone that a larger audience could afford, without sacrificing quality, tone and response.

Although there is some proprietary manufacturing information that I will not be able to reveal, we can still take a close look at what is involved in making a SeleS Axos alto saxophone, where this process is similar, and where it innovates.


SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone bell raw manufacturing


First and foremost, the quality of materials used in making this new instrument is identical to all other Selmer Paris horns. This is true of the brass used for the body tube, the neck, the bell, as well as keywork, and also applies to other materials used throughout the construction of a saxophone, and any outsourced part.

The neck, which is arguably the most important part of a saxophone, is crafted using the traditional procedure that has made the “Selmer sound” famous. The same is true of the body of the horn.
Tone holes are also drawn following Selmer's traditional manufacturing method, and post soldering, as well as engraving on the SeleS Axos, are still done by hand, in the factory located in Mantes-la-Ville.


Pair of SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone Raw Bells hand held


Soldering posts onto SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone


The SeleS Axos, however, differs from other Selmer Paris horns in a number of ways. The first major difference is the introduction of more automated manufacturing methods, and CNC machining. Even though what exactly is and isn't made this way is proprietary information, it is not too difficult to make an educated guess by looking at the information and illustrations in this introduction.

Not only does computer aided fabrication save time, but it also maximizes the use of material, creating less waste, which both translate in significant cost saving. It also means more consistency. The Axos is, however, still a mostly hand-made instrument, so slight variations between instruments is to be expected.


Monitor featured Solidworks design of CNC machined parts of SeleS Axos


This increase in automation applies to the bell of the SeleS Axos, which is form-pressed, rather than hand hammered. The decision to use this new technique was made because of the small incidence it has on the performance and sound of the saxophone, while saving a significant amount of time in the making of the instrument.

Although press-forming the bell reduces overall vibration very slightly, this was compensated through modifications in the bore of the SeleS Axos. The design of the bore, unique to this alto saxophone, also makes it more free-blowing, and provides great flexibility while retaining the Henri Selmer Paris sound (more on this later).

Vibration was also enhanced through reducing the size and weight of the ribs onto which posts are attached, as well as through the use of an exclusive, lighter lacquer.


SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone Bell Press Forming


The assembly method, post fitting, and setup of the SeleS Axos have also been streamlined in order to reduce time and cost, through the use of innovative machinery and processes.

Another difference is the collaboration between Selmer Paris and other manufacturers in France, Portugal, Italy and China, for making non-critical parts like key touches, strap hook, key guards, body cap, and some key linkages. These partners were chosen through a rigorous vetting process examining the quality and consistency of their output.

So where does the SeleS Axos alto saxophone fit in the prestigious lineage of Henri Selmer Paris saxophones? Simply said, it is the first entry level of professional horns from Selmer Paris. 

As for the SeleS brand, it was created to complete the Henri Selmer Paris company's range of instruments, respecting the values held by the Selmer family since the creation of the company in 1885. The name "SeleS" was decided for its catchy sound, and because it resembles the name "Selmer".

The Axos alto saxophone is not alone in this line of instruments adapted to various budgets, as it is joined with a couple of SeleS clarinets (the Prologue and Pr├ęsence), as well as a saxophone mouthpiece (the Prologue), with more to come.

In order to perpetuate their history and tradition, instruments wholly manufactured using longstanding instrument-manufacturing traditions will remain under the brand Henri SELMER Paris. Instruments made using the most recent technological and industrial innovations will appear under the brand SeleS, created for this occasion by the Selmer family.


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VISUALS


The SeleS Axos features an uncolored lacquer developed by Henri Selmer Paris exclusively for this alto (more on the lacquer's properties later). While it is not as dark as the honey gold lacquer which comes as an option for the Selmer Reference 54, it seems to be a close match to the tone of a standard lacquer Series III. Light reflects beautifully on this lacquer, and radiates with the precious, yet warm color that has become a classic.


Front shot of the SeleS Axos alto saxophone


Key touches use real mother-of-pearl which shows through how the material reflects light. The pattern on these were rather inconsistent, but that's to be expected from a natural material.

Both thumb rests are made of plastic, like on my Selmer Mark VII. I felt comfortable as soon as I first picked up the horn, and could not feel any tension in my hands after playing the Axos for a few days. It would then be fair to assume their placement is ergonomically sound.


Back shot of the SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone


The bell-to-body brace uses a semi removable three point system that ensures a strong connection between body and bell, but is less likely to dent the body should a strong impact on the front of the bell occur. This brace is virtually identical to the one used on the Selmer Series II, III (the center ring portion of the brace features rounded edges on the Reference 54).

The right side of the bell is stamped with the SeleS branding, including its floral detail, and the model name, "Axos", in a handwritten font. Underneath, you will find the classic "HENRI SELMER PARIS" logo, with its laurel wreath decoration, stamped just like on any Selmer Paris saxophone. The "MADE IN FRANCE" stamp found on the Series II, III and Reference 54 is replaced by its French translation: "FABRIQUE EN FRANCE". Another difference between these models and the Axos is that the Registered Mark symbol ® is gone, and the "HENRI SELMER PARIS" logo is qualified by the word "PAR" (meaning "by").


Close up of the SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone Bell Stamp


We will talk about the construction of the neck more in detail further in this article, but it is visually rather straight forward. The octave key lever is stamped with a letter "S" shaped very similarly to the one you would find on any Selmer Paris horn since the Mark VI. However, instead of being embossed, it is debossed (the letter is recessed instead of being raised), and it is not placed inside a crest. In this regard, it is more similar to the stamp you would find on Selmer Paris soprano saxophones. There is also no paint applied anywhere on the octave key lever.


Front view of the SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone neck octave lever


The decorative hand engraving on the SeleS Axos was a nice surprise. I assumed that decorative features would be one of the first compromises made to reduce cost, but that's not exactly the case with this alto. Although the various engraved patterns found on this alto don't feature shading that is as intricate as on a Reference 54 or Series III, the ornaments are still very attractive. The engraving also covers a surprising number of areas on this saxophone.


Close up of the bell engraving of th SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone


The bell, which is the most obvious part of the Axos that is engraved, features a basic floral pattern. The decoration extends to the beginning of the bow. You will notice that the braces connecting the bow to both the bell and body tube use a simpler design, like Selmer Series II, Series III and Reference altos (previous models from Selmer, and some early Series II had more elaborate braces).


Close up of the SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone bell engraving detail


Close up of the SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone bell engraving detail


Close up of the bow of the SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone engraving


The back of the bell, right above where the body-to-bell brace connects, is engraved with a floral pattern that looks like butterfly wings.


Close up shot of the SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone bell back engraving detail


The body tube is also elaborately engraved along the low D to F tone holes with a pattern that has nothing to envy to more expensive horns.


SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone body tube engraving detail


Alternative angle of the SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone body tube engraving detail


Finally, there is a small wing-shaped pattern right by the low Eb tone hole.


SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone Eb tone hole engraving detail


While it doesn't have features found on the Series III or Reference 54, like dark honey lacquer, or detailed, shaded engraving, the Seles Axos is still an attractive horn that you will be proud to own, look at and show off, with its rich golden color and extensive engraving.


Addendum (10.03.17): I was informed by Dave Kessler that some of the engraving patterns, especially the smaller flourishes, can vary from horn to horn, and are not always present. Something to keep in mind if you come across an instrument that doesn't have them...


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ACCESSORIES

The SeleS Axos that I received had been sent to someone else before getting to me, so, unfortunately, I won't be able to comment on the packing job straight out of the factory.

With this said, the alto I received shipped in its case, inside a nice cardboard box dressed in white, and decorated with Seles and Henri Selmer branding.


SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone Cardboard Branded Box


The case included with the SeleS Axos is very similar to the Selmer Paris Pro Series case (included with the Selmer Series II and II). A few features are missing on the SeleS case though: the zippered outside pocket on the front of the case and the main zipper lock are gone, the back of the case only features one large pocket, and the subway handle uses a simpler design.


SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone Case, Front and Back
Photo courtesy of Long & McQuade Musical Instruments


This lightweight case is made of a semi rigid shell covered in nylon for durability. A decorative leather panel, stamped with the SeleS and Henri Selmer Paris logos, is found on the front right end of the case. The opposite sides of both handles are mounted with rubber feet which allow resting the case in an upright, "subway" style position, as well as on its side.

Compared to my Hiscox Pro-II the material used for the exterior shell of the SeleS case has a lot more flex to it. I don't think your Axos will get damaged should you inadvertently knock the case on people, doors or walls while carrying it around, but I would definitely avoid putting a PA speaker or other heavy equipment on top of it.

The nylon exterior is simply glued onto the hard shell and plush liner, which won't guarantee the longest durability. I wish this connection had been reinforced by stitches (the stitching that appears alongside the zipper only connects the fastener to the rest of the nylon covering).

This case uses a zipper closure which I'm generally not a fan of. Zippers aren't as durable as latches, and when they break, they are hard to replace, basically ending the life of your case. Still, it felt very smooth to operate and seems to be of great quality.


SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone Case Closed


The main carrying handle is made of solid inner section, covered in nylon, and mounted with a rubber handle. Each side of the handle is stitched to the case, and reinforced by a screw fastened in the center. The handle is very comfortable thanks the ergonomic design of the center rubber cover. The handle on the top of the case uses a similar, but simpler design. The inner section is gone, and the nylon fabric is simply covered in the center by a flat, but sculpted, rubber section. It does the job but definitely does not feel as nice as the main handle.


SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone Case Back


The sculpted interior of the case is made of a soft foam material, lined with soft plush fabric. The foam fitted inside the top section of the case is thick and dense, as are the various areas touching the sides of the saxophone. The layer of foam in the bottom section of the case is thinner. I could feel the hard shell through this thin layer. My Hiscox Pro-II features a similar construction and I believe that, as long as the saxophone does not move inside the case, there is no need for a ton of foam inside the case in order to offer appropriate protection. I could not feel or hear the SeleS Axos moving when I shook the case as a test, which is a great indication that it is sensibly constructed.

Besides the main compartment reserved for the saxophone itself, you will find a form-fitted area for the neck, and a large accessory compartment which will allow you to carry around every saxophone related accessory you could need.


interior view of the SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone Case


The back pocket serves mainly as a storage for the backpack straps. Indeed, not only do the straps fill a majority of the space inside the pocket, but carrying music in the same area would be rather messy. This storage space evidently becomes available when the backpack straps are in use. Still, storing any non-flat item would be rather uncomfortable, as they would dig into your back, negating the benefits of the backpack straps and lightweight design, which make the case very easy to get around with.

Inside the case, the Axos was accompanied by a few accessories: a warranty leaflet, owner's manual, a neck strap and swab both branded with the Seles logo, and, last but not least, a Selmer Paris S80 mouthpiece in a C* opening, with matching ligature and cap.

The neck strap is basic, lacking the comfort of more expensive boutique products (like the Just Joe's Gel Strap which I would highly recommend), but it is made of quality and sturdy materials. Adjusting the strap's height is easy, although the fastening system has a tendency to move quite a bit. The swab does a great job at absorbing moisture. Its size and bulk helps it touch as much surface as possible inside the horn but, unfortunately, also makes it too large to be used inside a mouthpiece.


Leaflets, warranty, S80 mouthpiece and ligature, neck strap and swab included with the SeleS Axos alto saxophone


The Selmer Paris S80 alto mouthpiece, included with the SeleS Axos, needs no introduction, as this best seller has become a standard in the industry, and continues to be praised today, even among the vast choice of mouthpieces available to saxophonists nowadays. Despite the popularity of this model, it was the first time I played one, but quickly understood the reasons behind its success.

The Selmer Paris S80 is a hand finished hard rubber mouthpiece with a square chamber, straight side walls, and a low and short rollover baffle at the tip, merging into a mostly straight floor.

Despite the small tip opening, which was rather limiting, and the radical difference in inner geometry compared to what I'm familiar with, the mouthpiece was very easy to drive paired with a half strength harder reed. Bell notes responded as easily and fully as the altissimo register, and it was incredibly easy to modulate dynamics on it. The S80 is quite an amazing piece to be included as a "stock" mouthpiece.

I also really liked the ligature included with the mouthpiece. It is a very lightweight metal ligature that is easy to position and fasten thanks to its sound design and one-screw adjustment.


Multiple view composite image of the S80 mouthpiece included with SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone


This mouthpiece can yield a dark and focused sound, perfect for classical, but it's easily modulated with the right air stream into something completely different. Listen to the sound clip below to get an idea of what this mouthpiece is capable of. I'm not much of a classical saxophonist, so I'm demonstrating the S80 by playing in the style that I'm familiar with. However, it would be quite easy, even for me, to get a great classical tone off of this mouthpiece, by slightly modifying embouchure and voicing, which is evidence of the versatility of this classic.

Despite the fact that I was playing rather softly (mp I would say) in the clip below, the recording captured a surprisingly full sounding and centered tone coming out of the Axos, which is a testament to how well the S80 pairs with this saxophone. There is no degradation in tone and response, even when you don't blow a lot of air through them.


Axos S80






The Seles Axos comes as a complete package of great quality accessories. The case and S80 mouthpiece alone represent a significant add-on value that will no doubt make this alto saxophone appealing to beginners and pros alike.



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SETUP

It's worth reiterating that I wasn't the first one to get my hands on this particular horn, so please keep this in mind while reading this section. Considering how pristine the pads and various materials looked when I received this alto, I believe my assessment of the setup is representative enough to be worth writing about though.

Like all Selmer Paris saxophones, the SeleS Axos is set up with Pisoni Pro pads fitted with metal resonators. As always, I inserted a leak light inside the saxophone, in a dark room, in order to find any possible leak.

Most of the pads did not meet with the tone holes evenly all around at the same time, sometimes touching the back, front or sides first. While this is not something dramatic, as long as the pads seal when using a light touch, it means, however, that leaks may develop more rapidly as the pads wear out unevenly.

Besides that, the pad job was good overall, despite a few leaks. Most of them were caused by poor timing adjustment (timing is what describes adjusting keys that move together so that they close at the same time), in combination with the uneven pad seats. The low F pad had a leak because the F# pad met its corresponding tone hole before the F pad could close. There was a leak on the A pad because C and stack / alt Bb key closed before the A pad could completely seal. Finally, the high B pad hit the front before the back / top which caused a visible leak, unless unreasonable pressure was applied to the key.

The action on the SeleS Axos left a little bit to be desired. While key heights were comfortably adjusted (and I'm assuming properly set up for venting due to the great intonation and full tone of this alto), spring tension was on the stiffer side. It did not create any tension in my hands, even after playing for extended periods of time, but I still would have preferred a slightly lighter action throughout. Having a little more spring tension can of course create a positive and precise tactile feedback, however, the Axos I received was also perceptibly uneven, some keys offering more resistance than others: the lower right hand stack had significantly more spring tension than the upper left hand stack. The low Eb key had the stiffest spring throughout the entire horn and was simply sprung too hard, especially since the adjacent low C was the key set up with the least amount of tension overall.

The bell keys and the pinkie cluster were, however, beautifully set up: light enough that it was effortless to navigate this tricky part of the saxophone, but not so floppy that it lost any kind of precision and positive feedback.

Another significant aspect of the setup was that the C / Eb cluster could have better aligned. As you will be able to see in the photo below, the Eb key sat significantly higher than the neighboring C key, which made transition from C to Eb slightly awkward. I pondered whether to include this under the "Ergonomics" section, but I believe this issue could easily be fixed by a competent saxophone technician.


SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone Eb/C stack close up demonstrating unlevelness


Neck tenon fit, or how tight or loose the neck fits into the receiver part of the saxophone body, was very good as far as I could tell. Inserting the neck into its receiver gave a small amount of resistance, and it could still rotate with a little effort once in position. The receiver screw needed little pressure to lock the neck in position. This is exactly how you want the neck tenon fit to be set up.

If you purchase the SeleS Axos from a retailer or dealer that does not set up new instruments, I would strongly recommend bringing your new alto to a competent woodwind technician to make sure it seals well (as you should for any new saxophone, as the vast majority of them do not get to their destinations perfectly set up). Adjusting a few pads, springs and corks would be all that is required, and it should be an affordable job that would guarantee that you're getting the most out of your new alto saxophone.


Despite a few imperfections and leaks, the SeleS Axos comes out of the factory with a good setup. A short and inexpensive visit to a saxophone technician would be recommended to get the best out of this alto saxophone.


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ERGONOMICS / CONSTRUCTION


Let's start with the key touches, which have a great feel under the fingers. The concavity in the center is deeper and better defined than on my Selmer Mark VII, which gives a great tactile feedback.

The key layout is very comfortable, and I felt immediately at home with the SeleS Axos. The more compact left and right hand pinkie tables are a categorical improvement over the oversized one on my Mark VII. Not only are the keys smaller, and closer together, but they're also positioned at a better angle and closer to the rest of the keys. Combined with the great setup, the left hand cluster was a joy to navigate. Unfortunately the Eb/C cluster was plagued by the poor spring tension and levelness, but I believe that within a few minutes, a competent tech would be able to reveal the potential of these keys. Worth mentioning is that the low C key is slightly oversized, like on a Series II.


SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone Right Hand stack


The front F key uses a tear drop design that's extremely ergonomic. It was considerably easier to transition seamlessly to and from compared to the older style design of my Selmer Mark VII. The palm keys felt typical, even though I found the Eb slightly hard to reach. I do have palm key risers installed on my personal horn so it's probably not a fair comparison, as the risers have spoiled me.


SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone Left Hand stack


The neck receiver uses a peculiar design. Instead of being straight, like on most saxophones, it features a bevel right past the entry point. I was told, in rather cryptic terms, that this unique design was created for acoustic reasons. As it creates a different volume inside, it modifies vibration which translates in an easier-blowing and more flexible saxophone. These concerns were also the reason behind using a single screw adjustment mechanism for the neck receiver.

The bevel makes it slightly more delicate to insert the neck into the receiver as instead of going straight down, the neck tenon can have a tendency to shift, or rock, when meeting with the angled surface. This is not much of an inconvenience though.


SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone Neck Tenon Bevel


One notable feature of the neck of the SeleS Axos is its short and thin brace. It reminds one of the design used on the Selmer Series III alto, although the neck brace on these horns is slightly beefier and taller. While it doesn't mean the neck will bend easily, it would be a good idea to be extra careful in order to avoid the dreaded neck pull-down. Inserting the mouthpiece onto the neck before assembling the saxophone would be recommended. Although I do not have confirmation for this, it is fair to assume that the choice of using this neck brace design comes from the desire to let the horn vibrate as much as possible, just like it was case for the tenon receiver, as well as mini-rib construction, lacquer and bow guard which we will cover below.


SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone Neck Brace


The Seles Axos weighs 2.45 kg (5.40 lbs) which is only 3 grams heavier than my Mark VII (which has had the high and trill F# keys and associated rods removed). This is definitely a light weight alto, which is an asset. Weight is an attribute that is too often overlooked by horn manufacturers. A great saxophone should disappear and become a mere vehicle of a musician's intentions, and excessive weight comes in the way of this goal.

Unlike some student saxophones, weight was not shaved through compromises to the keywork, which feels as solid as on my Selmer Mark VII. The main weight saving is achieved through the use of what Henri Selmer Paris calls "mini-ribs". Keys are attached to a saxophone by posts, and ribbed construction employs plates of brass onto which these posts are soldered in groups instead of directly to the body (check the review of the Selmer AS-400 for a more in-depth explanation).

All but one of the ribs on the Axos are similar in shape and size to the ones on my Selmer Mark VII, however many of them are thinner. This is also the case with the bow guard which loses the usual protuberance or rail, in favor of a simple thin and flat plate. This, of course, compromises protection, but I'd much rather trade a little bit of it for enhanced vibration and response.


SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone Bow Guard


When it comes to ribs, the major difference stems from the one supporting the high F#, F trill and Eb posts. While on my Selmer Mark VII, the Eb and C keys are supported each by their own sets of posts, the top and bottom of the Eb and C keys share posts on the Axos. This allows not only shortening the rib, but eliminating the number of posts, reducing weight further (check the images at the bottom of this webpage for a photo comparison of this area between a Selmer Series I and the SeleS Axos). The idea is borrowed directly from the Selmer Series II (and subsequently used on the Series III and Reference alto saxophones).


SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone Combined Posts for Eb/C stack


The SeleS Axos features adjustment screws on the side keys (compared to my Selmer Mark VII which does not). While they may seem like a less significant detail, these screws will make adjusting the side keys much easier, and provide more versatility. A turn of these screws would be the only required operation to counteract the gradual wear of adjustment materials found on the feet of these keys.


SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone Side keys adjusting screws


The articulated C# mechanism (which closes the C# key when you finger low B or Bb) uses the same basic idea as on my Mark VII. However, not only is the arm connected to the C# key assembly much beefier, but the arm of the B key gains an adjustment screw. This ensures a more solid, precise and smoother action of the articulated C# as well as allows for much faster and easier adjustments. While it is not an exclusive design of the SeleS Axos, it is nice to see that even small improvements like this one, found on the Series II, III and Reference horns have been carried over to the Axos.


SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone C# adjustment screw on B key arm


Finally, like many other features of the Axos, the lacquer this alto is covered with has been designed to enhance vibration, and let the horn's voice speak as directly and fully as possible. This thin and uncolored coating was developed exclusively for the horn, after months of research. The Henri Selmer Paris company believes the tonal properties of the lacquer are unmatched by any other saxophone currently on the market.


While it doesn't reinvent the wheel, the SeleS Axos features a number of unique features designed to enhance vibration, response and feel. It also inherits many of the innovations that have contributed to the success of the Selmer Series II, III and Reference 54.


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TONE / RESPONSE / INTONATION

Note: I slightly changed my testing method for this review. Instead of doing multiple back and forths between my main horn and the horn reviewed, I spent a few days at a time playing the SeleS Axos exclusively. This allowed me to get used to the response, feel and explore the tonal possibilities of this alto saxophone much more in depth. It also made the various differences between the two horns more obvious when I eventually couldn't help myself but compare the Axos and my Selmer Mark VII.


Obviously, some of the attributes I will be covering in this section will be described through the subjective lens of my experience and preferences. I have, however, tried my best to keep an open mind.


~ Tone ~


I've been a fan of the "Selmer sound" for as long as I can remember. To my ears, Selmer Paris saxophones have a certain tonal complexity, especially in the midrange frequencies, a certain presence and warmth, that are simply unrivaled. That's not to say that other brands build bad horns, but the "Selmer Sound" is definitely a unique reality of the brand that I've developed an appreciation for.

The reason I mention this is because the most striking tonal feature of the SeleS Axos is its incredibly strong and rich core, with a lot of presence in the medium and medium high frequencies. This gorgeous focus and thickness of sound in the mid-range frequencies instantly lets you know that you're playing a Henri Selmer Paris saxophone. This tonal characteristic is present all over the range of the horn, making the high register especially appealing as it never sounds hollow or too bright.

This alto has significantly more tonal focus than my Mark VII across the frequency spectrum. In contrast, my Selmer Mark VII features a wider, more spread tone which is considerably less forward sounding than the Axos.

In this regard the tonal difference reminds me of of the comparison I had the opportunity to make with my friend's early Mark VI. The SeleS Axos comes through with more weight, presence and resonance, just like my friend's Selmer Mark VI did. However, a couple of distinctions come to mind: first, the contrast between my Selmer Mark VII and the Axos is more striking - the tonal disparity was more subtle with the VI - and secondly, the increased presence and focus that I heard in the Mark VI, is centered slightly higher in the frequency spectrum with the Axos.

Because of this, the low frequencies come through as more encompassing on my Mark VII. The slightly more spread mid-range frequencies of my personal horn let the lower harmonics "breeze" and resonate more. It doesn't mean the SeleS Axos sounds thin by any stretch of the imagination, or even that the low frequencies are recessed, but the horn does sound more compact. When listening back to recordings, the Axos offered just about as much weight in the low frequencies as my personal horn, although these frequencies were presented slightly differently. This was surprising as I did not hear it this way behind the horn (I will be talking about this aspect in further detail in the next section).

Initially, the upfront quality of the SeleS Axos can make it seem moderately less lyrical than my Selmer Mark VII. My personal horn sounded very close to my friend's late SBA, which are saxophones that are well known for their lyrical and intimate singing voice. The Axos offers a more contemporary personality. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as the same could be said of the Selmer Mark VI compared to its predecessors, and this is unequivocally the most popular saxophone model of all time. With this said, after adjusting to the different tonal color of this alto, I was able to achieve a similar range of expression with it.

The SeleS Axos is a slightly brighter horn than my Mark VII, but the high harmonics present in this alto's tonal delivery blend more seamlessly thanks to its tremendous mid-range resonance. This helps mitigate any potential harshness. The richer resonant mid frequencies of this alto not only make my Mark VII sound weaker (almost like a "U-shape" EQ had been applied to it), but they also make the high frequencies come through as less separated because they blend logically rather than jump out from the tonal presentation of the horn.

All these tonal attributes make the SeleS Axos a more compelling instrument than my Selmer Mark VII. It is simply a fuller sounding, more alive and authoritative alto.

Another striking difference between the two horns is how much more tonally consistent the SeleS Axos is. What I mean by this is that, while each note on the VII has a tendency to have its own tonal personality, each note on the Axos seems to logically progress tonally as you go up the range. The tonal discrepancies of my personal horn can definitely be a distraction at times, which playing the Axos revealed. Not having to worry as much about compensating for these variations was a liberating experience.


SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone on black leatherette seat


In order to demonstrate the difference between the two horns, I recorded two clips, with the same setup: my mouthpiece is a custom James Bunte Model 42 in a .074 tip opening, a Rigotti Gold 2.5 Strong and BG Super Revelation. The audio was recorded through a pair of Artur Fisher RM-5 ribbon microphones, arranged in a stereo Blumlein configuration, through a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2.

The video demonstration, which you will find at the end of this section, captures a more detailed tonal image of the Axos, but I wanted to demonstrate the resonance, focus and projected sound of the two horns, which is why I was standing 7 feet away from the microphones in these clips.

(Note: it would also be a great demonstration to folks who are new to recording techniques, of how much microphone placement can influence what is captured on tape. The only difference between the audio featured in the YouTube video  [Youtube video was recorded in another room] the recording of the S80 above and the clips below is microphone placement and mouthpiece of course. Saxophone, reed and audio equipment were identical.)

The gorgeous mid-range resonance of the SeleS Axos is made obvious in this context, especially in contrast with the Selmer Mark VII. Although recording from a distance has a tendency to soften high frequencies, you can still clearly hear the vibrance that tops the strong core tone of the Axos. Another obvious difference is how much more confident I sound on the SeleS Axos, which is due in part to the horn's response and feel, which we will be covering in the next section.


Selmer Mark VII




SeleS Axos





~ Response ~


The SeleS Axos alto saxophone is one of the most even horns I have ever played in terms of response. It is very predictable, and, as a result, maintaining a full sound across registers is extremely easy, even in the altissimo register. Although I could feel slightly more back pressure than on my personal horn, the difference was not large enough to become a distraction.

One of the downsides of the increased back pressure is that it makes it slightly trickier to play at pianissimo dynamics evenly. I'm talking whisper quiet here - more breath than actual sound. Even then, I believe the back pressure may disappear, or at least greatly diminish, after a visit to a technician. There is no doubt that the response of the SeleS Axos I evaluated was compromised by leaks.

Edit 06/12/2016: with the leaks taken care of, almost all of the back pressure that I was feeling compared to the Mark VII has disappeared. The SeleS Axos still makes it more obvious when I'm not using proper air support, but pianissimo is now much easier to play, as is the low end. Although the bell notes weren't a problem, even with the leaks, making sure this alto seals properly has made the low end easier to support when playing on reeds that may be slightly too hard (as it regularly happens within boxes of reeds).

Feedback behind the horn makes more sense on the Selmer Mark VII, but it may be simply because I've been playing the horn for so long. Recording the Axos and listening back continuously surprised me. The horn sounds better on tape than what I perceive behind the horn, playing it. On the other hand, the Mark VII sounds closer to what I hear on a recording or while I'm playing it. It reinforces my perception that the Axos is a very forward sounding, penetrating instrument, that carries sound straight across the room.

I found that the Axos responds very well to changes in setup and airstream. Switching mouthpiece and reed cut, as well as changing the direction and focus of the airstream drastically changed the tonal characteristics of the horn. In this sense, you will have more of a responsibility to generate a consistent output through this alto, but it will let your voice speak through it, without restriction.

As I mentioned when talking about the included Selmer S80, getting a classical tone out of the SeleS Axos would be quite easy (and the tonal consistency would definitely be welcomed in this context). I don't play rock, pop or smooth jazz, where a brighter sound is usually favored but I have no doubt that, paired with a larger, brighter mouthpiece, this alto's personality could be transfigured, while benefiting from the mid-range richness to avoid any shrillness.


~ Intonation ~


The Seles Axos has much better intonation than my Mark VII, which is especially striking at the beginning of the second register (middle D to F). It does, however, get very slightly sharp as you go up the range of the horn, especially in the palm keys. In this sense, intonation is not as good as on some other modern horns like the Viking M60 I reviewed in the past. However, not only does pitch raise in a gradual and logical manner, as opposed to being all over the place like on my Selmer Mark VII, but this intonation tendency is something I actually welcome.

I wrote about this in the aforementioned review, but will reiterate that having to adjust and bring the pitch down as you go up the range of the horn is something that's easy to get used to and yields a certain, more emotional, quality to the sound. I, for one, am glad that the scale of the SeleS Axos behaves this way, especially since this tuning tendency is much milder than on my current horn.

Edit: saxontheweb member LostConn enquired whether the Axos had a tendency to have a flat middle C#, like some Selmer Series II. While the Axos does have a somewhat flat middle C# compared to the surrounding notes, after double-checking with my Mark VII, it seems that the two horns display similar tendencies, with the Axos being slightly more pronounced, but still not enough that it wasn't manageable to bring it in tune with proper voicing.


~ Demonstration ~


Watch the video below for a quick demonstration of the SeleS Axos alto saxophone. I'm using a James Bunte Model 42 in a .074 tip opening, a Rigotti Gold 2.5 Strong and BG Super Revelation. The audio was recorded with a Artur Fisher RM-5 ribbon microphone, through a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2.

I play a free-time take over the changes of Jerome Kern's classic song, "All The Things You Are". Opening in YouTube and watching at the highest quality will give you the best sound.





The SeleS Axos is a tonally balanced instrument with a rich and authoritative presence. Its ringing tone, reminiscent of the best Selmer Paris altos, precise and even response make it an incredibly compelling saxophone.

~


CONCLUSION

The SeleS Axos represents a new turn for Henri Selmer Paris. Instead of compromising quality for affordability, or simply outsourcing production to one of the popular overseas factories, the legendary company has managed to deliver a more affordable instrument that rivals its top of the line models, remaining true to the Selmer Paris identity, by cleverly cutting costs in areas which have the least incidence on tone, response and feel.

Dave Kessler of Kessler & Sons Music, writes what I think is a very accurate description of the SeleS Axos alto saxophone:

The quality of the Axos is in line with the top end Selmer Paris saxophones. Its performance style sits in between the Series II and Series III saxophones with a lighter response than the II and a thicker center than the III. All in all, the Axos is a marvelous achievement and exemplifies the Selmer Paris sound. 

But, really, the only thing I need to tell you is that the SeleS Axos is the first modern alto in a while that has made me seriously consider retiring my Mark VII. I've had the opportunity to play a number of other modern alto saxophones that, while they were great horns, did not make me fall in love with them, or had any attribute significantly more enticing than what my current horn offers. The SeleS Axos has definitely won me over and I would highly encourage anybody to try one.


SeleS Axos Alto Saxophone Review Conclusion Cover


I would like to thank Conn-Selmer's Bob Lichty for his support and patience, as well as St├ęphane Hascoet at Selmer Paris for taking the time to answer my questions.


The SeleS Axos alto retails for $4,295 (€2,490 in the EU) and is available through a variety of online retailers and local dealers. To learn more about the Seles Axos alto saxophone, check out this promo video on YouTube, the product page, PDF brochure, or contact the SeleS brand customer service directly .





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