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Is an EWI USB Like a Saxophone?

Updated on July 21, 2015


Photo: EWI USB
Photo: EWI USB | Source

Where Did the EWI USB Come From?

The EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument) wind controller was the brainchild of Nyle Steiner. Steiner invented a brass-styled wind controller known as the EVI in 1975. A woodwind version, known as the EWI, was release thereafter.

Steiner expressed that his mother played the piano and he could never quite grasp playing that instrument. He used his trumpeting knowledge and technology savvy to ultimately develop the wind controllers. The proportional transducer is the engine behind this state-of-the art phenomenon.

Nyle Steiner is an award winner for his soundtrack creations in entertainment shows such as St. Elsewhere and Knott's Landing.

Origin of the Saxophone

Belgian, Antoine-Joseph (Adolphe) Sax is the known inventor of the instrument known as the saxophone. Sax got his musical instrument savvy from his father as he made instruments while Adolphe served as his apprentice as a young boy.

Wind instruments include the clarinet, flute, oboe, basoon, saxophone, to name a few. At the Brussels Conservatory Sax studied both he flute and the clarinet. That knowledge and experience with instruments as an instrument maker's son contributed to his release of a C bass saxophone in 1841. It was not until 1844 that Sax's saxophone creation was actually made known to the public.

Unboxing of Akai Professional EWI USB

Compare and Contrast: Saxophone to EWI USB

The EWI USB and the saxophone are both played through the mouth and require air to be forced into the mouthpieces. The most obvious difference; however, is that the EWI USB is a MIDI instrument whereby the sounds are not necessarily housed within the instrument, but streamed from other devices such as a computer using the USB port.

The EWI can be preferred for its versatility in sounds, functions, and operation. With the EWI USB being electronic there are a host of applications that enhance the brilliance of the instrument. Looping and vocoder are two, to name a few.

The saxophone requires reeds which are made of wood and inserted into the mouthpiece. The embouchure formed with the mouth enables the vibration through the reed to make sound.

The saxophone and the EWI USB both have similar styles of keys to play in order to generate sound. Both instruments can be held in place by a neck strap.

Here are some key differences noted by saxophonist, Darryl Donnell Murrill:


-requires reeds

-keys are pressed for sound

-alto weighs approximately 5-7 pounds

-air flow interacts with wooden reed

-produces rich woodwind tone

-different types include: soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, contrabass (more)

-octaves and note variations are played using register keys, side and palm keys

-has a bell


-no reeds required

-keys are not pressed, but rather covered

-weighs approximately 1.3 pounds

-air flow generates trigger to produce sound when notes are compressed

-plays thousands of digital and programmed sounds

-different types include EWI USB, EWI 4000,EWI 5000

-palm, register, and side keys do not exist (instead use octave rollers)

-no bell


Quamon Fowler on Akai EWI 4000

Alto Saxophone

Photo: Alto Saxophone
Photo: Alto Saxophone | Source

Looping and Voicings with EWI 4000 by Jeff Kashiwa

Popular EWI USB App

With Apps being so popular these days the uniqueness of the vocoder application with the Akai EWI USB make this instrument stand alone. The player can actually create near voice-like sounds with a robotic texture intermixed. This sound is popular among the hip-hop and some jazz genres.

While the saxophone is a precious and outstanding instrument and can never be replaced, Steiner's creation of the EWI is beyond compare for its durability, technology, and sound production.

Marcus Anderson Using Vocoder Effect on the EWI


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