Best Saxophone VST Plugins – 2020 Review

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The saxophone is probably the sexiest instrument out there. Passionate, warm, aggressive, and mellow at the same time, it’s always a delight to listen to the theme played by a good sax.

But if you don’t have contact with such a player, there is still a way to record it on your own.

Our Top Picks for Saxophone VST Plugins

  • 13 horn instruments
  • 13 articulations
  • 4 "era" modes
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  • Ultra realistic
  • 53 instruments
  • No key switching
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  • 60 jazz instruments
  • 16 saxophones
  • jazz piano and brushes
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Comparison Chart of the Best Saxophone VST Plugins

IMAGEPRODUCT
  • Contemporary horns library
  • 13 instruments with up to 13 articulations
  • 4 “era” selection modes
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  • Ultra realistic quality horns sample library
  • 53 instruments provided in 5GB
  • No key-switching interface
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  • 60 jazz-oriented instruments
  • 16 saxophone instruments
  • Other jazz instruments such as piano or guitar
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  • horn collection capturing in the vibe of the 1960s
  • 13 instruments
  • Ideal for retro funk and soul music
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  • Physically modeled solo saxophone
  • All four saxophone instruments included
  • Extremely small installation size
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What is a Saxophone VST Plugin? 

Saxophone VST is a VST sample library that contains samples of real saxophone organized in an interface that allows you to perform in real-time while using certain key switches to achieve certain articulated behavior found in a real instrument. 

It can be also created by physical modeling where a plugin uses advanced mathematical calculations to create a sound behavior found in the real instrument.

It usually has more than one saxophone instrument sampled and uses various knobs and sliders to achieve expressions such as vibrato and some can be even automatized and be applied at certain note changes such as slur technique. 

Is a Saxophone VST Hard to Learn? 

To be completely honest, it’s one of the VSTs that requires the most detailed approach. The saxophone has one of the most expressive and it is possible to make it sound realistic only if you put a serious effort. Apart from the fact that you have to put yourself into the mind of the saxophone player regarding what phrases and notes you are about to play, there are numerous automations you need to program that will produce certain articulations that are produced naturally with the real instrument. Without those articulations, sound may feel quite artificial and less convincing no matter what sample quality you put.

Types of Saxophone VSTs

The saxophone can be played in solo or ensemble mode. But, apart from that, while they all have the same note fingerings, there are four different major saxophone types used in modern music:

Soprano Sax

This is the smallest saxophone of them all. Its register is focused on high notes so it ranges from A♭3 to E6. Visually it may resemble more to the clarinet than a saxophone.

Alto Sax

When you think of how a saxophone looks like, you would probably depict Alto Sax. It has a slightly lower range and darker tone compared to soprano sax and ranges from D♭3 to A♭5.

Tenor Sax

It looks very similar to Alto Sax but it’s larger and covers a lower range from A♭2 to E5, exactly octave lower than a Soprano Sax

Baritone Sax

Also known as Bari Sax and it has a range from C2 to A4. It’s the largest and lowest of these four and just like Soprano sax, it doesn’t look have a traditional shape of the standard saxophone. 

Apart from these four, sometimes there are also included Sopranino (higher than Soprano) and Bass and Contrabass Saxophones which can play lower notes than Baritone Sax.

Quick Take: 
Top 3 Picks

Review of the Best Saxophone VST Plugins

Saxophones are rare to be found as individual software. That’s why we’re going to review some horns collections while focusing on saxophone parts instead: 

PROS

  • 4 different “era” selection mode
  • 64GB of compressed sample content 
  • Up to 13 articulations per instrument
  • Samples recorded in 3 microphone position
  • Contemporary horns library of 13 instruments

CONS

  • Large installation file
  • Pre-recorded phrases would be cool

Features and Specifications

This library contains 13 different horns instruments including Tenor, Alto, Baritone, and Soprano saxophones. Most of the instruments provide you with 13 different articulations available for key switch triggering including octave runs, trills, swells, and falls.

Microphone mixing can be repositioned to your personal taste and the timbre selection mode allows you to re-adjust the saturation of the instrument tone and adapt it to Modern, Retro, or two variants of the Vintage. There is also a very handy Ensemble Maker that allows you to select between solo, duo, quartet, sextet, octet, or 10-piece sections.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

It’s hard to find a high-quality library that’s purely dedicated to the saxophone, so we decided to make a compromise and pick the most realistic horn library instead. Unlike many other libraries, this one is fully oriented towards all eras of contemporary music, just like the saxophones are. It’s not recorded in a 100% sterile studio environment and it was meant to sound live and raw, just like you would want to get from the real player if you recorded one. Also, lets be honest - if you need sax, you will need good horns eventually and this software will provide you with everything you need.

PROS

  • No key-switching interface
  • Ultra high-quality horns sample library
  • 53 instruments provided in 5GB of content
  • 8-channel mixer available for section making
  • Up to 8 velocities and 5 articulations per instrument

CONS

  • Ensemble presets could be provided
  • Basic and not inspiring user interface

Features and Specifications

Chris Hein Horns Compact is made from 53 solo instruments in 5GB of content that includes 6 different types of saxophones including Bass and Contrabass Saxophone. Four major saxophone types are provided with more than just one instrument (11 models in total) so that you have that sample variety when you’re recording in a duo or trio section.

Every instrument has five articulations recorded at six different velocities and they can be combined in a split or layer by eight-channel mixer available at the front panel of the user interface.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Key switching is a usual way to achieve most articulations of acoustic instruments. But, this library made an engine that removes any need for using it. All you have to do is to play your notes and it will calculate the most suitable articulation for you. So, if you’re playing short notes it will play staccato and apply legato to those long notes that are linked together. Even slur will be performed when the time is right.

In case you are impressed with this software, there are more Chris Hein Horns volumes available so you can gather all the horns you may need including some special ensemble samples.

Best for the Money:
Garritan Jazz Band 3

PROS

  • 16 saxophone instruments inside
  • Convolution Reverb and Ambience Reverb
  • 60 sample-based jazz-oriented instruments
  • Includes other jazz instruments such as piano or guitar
  • Ensemble Manager allows you to build a custom ensemble

CONS

  • Trumpets need to be re-done
  • Some articulation transitions could be better

Features and Specifications

This plugin contains 60 different jazz instruments that can be performed in solo mode or via ensemble presets. Saxophones articulation list feels well-populated and it even includes auto-slurring mode. It also allows you to create your own ensembles by Ensemble Manager, so creating anything from a duo up to full Big Band or a custom one, depending on your desires. It also provides you with the Convolution Reverb so you can match the temperament of a certain historical era.

Why it Stands Out to Us

If you’re looking for a saxophone library, this one has the biggest collection we have found - there are sixteen different saxophones available and it’s one of the rare that includes both Sopranino Sax and Subcontrabass Sax while those most frequently used (Tenor or Alto sax, e.g.) have more than just one option available. And, on top of that, it contains all the jazz instruments you may find at big band orchestras ranging from piano, banjo or fretless bass up to vibraphone and the bunch of Latin percussion. Even a drum kit with brushes is there, too!

Best Tenor Saxophone VST:
Big Fish Audio Vintage Horns 2

PROS

  • Ideal for retro funk and soul music
  • 10 different impulse responses available
  • 13 instruments provided including flutes
  • 3 round robins for 8 types of articulation 
  • Vintage instrument collection captured in the vibe of the 1960s

CONS

  • No Soprano Saxophone included
  • Samples are recorded pre-saturated

Features and Specifications

This library comes at 1.95GB of samples and includes sounds of 13 different instruments with several variations on Baritone, Tenor and Alto saxophone and even includes a unique Bass saxophone. All samples were taken up to 3 times per articulation so that the round-robin sample picking method can be performed. Speaking about articulations, eight are available per instrument and include some odd samples such as honking or warbling. There is also a basic reverb with ten different spaces available in a dropdown along with tape saturation and basic 2-band EQ.

Why it Stands Out to Us

If you’re looking for perfect samples for retro funk and soul music, this is your stuff. It is specially oriented towards the 1960s and 1970s and we loved that they decided to capture that vibe instead of providing you with clean but boring studio quality samples that you’re going to “spoil” to get the vibe that you already have here. Even the tuning is a bit loose, just like found on the old records. If your goal is to recreate realistic playing, those small imperfections can lead people to believe that you actually hired a real player for your track!

Best Soprano Saxophone VST:
SWAM Saxophone

PROS

  • Extremely small installation size
  • Convenient feature-to-MIDI setting up
  • All four saxophone instruments included
  • Realistic articulations and expressiveness
  • Physically modeled solo saxophone plugin

CONS

  • No stand-alone version
  • Phrases and arpeggiator may come handy

Features and Specifications

This software uses acoustic modeling technology, physical modeling that is optimized especially for capturing the behavior of those acoustic instruments who use continuous control such as breath expression. It contains realistic modeling for Alto, Tenor, Baritone and Soprano saxophone and they all share the same user interface with standard key switching routine for achieving different articulations including even overblown tones. It contains sliders for saxophone characteristics such as growl, key noise, or flutter tongue and all can be assigned to the specific MIDI controller with a very convenient MIDI learn option.

Why it Stands Out to Us

It’s very rare to find a plugin that contains saxophone samples only. All four of them, to be precise while soprano sax simply stands out with incredibly smooth and realistic. Also, it’s one of those that uses physical modeling instead of a sample-based approach. And what’s even rarer, this time, physical modeling went extremely well and broke the belief that it’s impossible to apply it to the saxophones.

So, in case you don’t want to store gigantic libraries of sampled instruments, we strongly advise to consider this plugin - it comes at less than 300MB of installation while providing you with all the necessary expressiveness saxophone can achieve.

What Makes a Great Saxophone VST? 

Here are some aspects you should consider before you pick the best Saxophone VST out there:

Number of Samples

Simply put, the bigger the number of samples, the more realistic it will sound. Especially if the sample-player includes a round-robin method that will pick different samples for every time the same note is played.

Key Switch

Key switches are a convenient way to trigger different articulations in real-time performing. This allows you to load a single preset and play articulations you need at a certain moment. All you have to do is to press a certain key before you play some notes and the software will change your playing from staccato to legato, for example.

Instrument Variety

Not all saxophone instruments are the same. They cover the different key ranges and have a different timbre. Sometimes, even two saxophones of the same type may sound different (brighter or darker, e.g.). Having a variety of instruments will allow you more flexibility to match a certain song vibe.

Convolution Reverb

Most of the saxophones are recorded in a studio environment and while this is the most proper way to do it, sometimes it will sound just “too clean” to be real. This type of reverb will add a flavor of the certain real environment so it may fit with the rest of the instruments found in track. 

Aspects to Consider Before Buying

Here are some notes you have to keep in mind before you go out and buy Saxophone VST:

Computer Requirements

Having a premium saxophone sample library may require you to have a lot of free storage space on your drive. Also, SSD or at least HDD with 7200rpm is recommended to improve the loading time. Also, larger portions of RAM memory and modern processor are always recommended.

Budget

Sampling a real saxophone requires a very detailed approach in studio conditions with some advanced sample programming algorithms applied. So, if you’re tight on a budget but would like to find some hidden-gem we have to say that it’s almost impossible. If you need to record realistic and technically demanding saxophone parts, you will probably have to spend more than for the other instruments.

Realism

Eventually, you may find that programming saxophone solo is a tiresome job. This doesn’t mean you need to hire a real player. It just means you need to re-think about your part. First of all, you want it to sound real and if that’s not possible with the notes you had in mind, simply it. People will rather listen to trustworthy instruments than technically-superb but artificial.

Conclusion 

Saxophones are those instruments that you know for sure if you’re going to need them in a certain song. They will always make a significant difference, so having a library that can be programmed realistic may save you time and money every time when you would hire a professional player.