Electronic Practice Mutes
Practice Mute Review: Yamaha SB7-9 vs Best Brass e-Brass
Brass instruments are unavoidably loud and, unlike electronic instruments, don’t offer the option of being able to plug in a pair of headphones. At least that was the case until Yamaha introduced their electronic practice mute, followed by Best Brass. Now, for the first time, brass players are able to practise without annoying their family and neighbours, while at the same time being able to hear the natural sound of their instrument.
This review will focus specifically on two electronic practice mutes for the trumpet: Yamaha’s Silent Brass SB7-9, and Best Brass’ e-Brass, both of which can be obtained for a street price of around £100. An Internet search produced a fair amount of information about each, but no direct comparisons. One comment I read though was not to buy either and stick with a conventional practice mute! However, this wasn’t the advice I was looking for.
Both mutes are similar in that they offer a level of reverberation, erroneously referred to as echo, an input socket that makes it possible to play along with a CD or backing track, an output socket and, of course, a headphone socket and volume control. In addition, the Best Brass also has a built-in metronome.
Both mutes were designed by Shinji Hamanaga, the Silent Brass while he was working for Yamaha, and the e-Brass after he left to form his own company. This seemed to be a plus point for the e-Brass already, as I expected a new model to be better than a previous one. Both mutes are innovative, and full marks must be given to Mr Hamanaga for their design concept, but how well do the mutes work and how do they compare to each other?
I was fortunate enough to live near a music store that stocked both mutes, and had a practice room to try them out, which I did at some length.
The Yamaha SB7-9 protrudes quite some distance beyond the bell of the trumpet. This gave cause for concern at first – I had visions of the mute falling out – but proved not to be a problem. The mute is very light and stayed firmly in my Benge bell (which has always looked slightly smaller than average when compared to other pro trumpets). A lead connects the mute to a 75x70x25mm control box (which Yamaha refer to as 'Personal Studio'), housing the volume control, power off-on-reverb switch, a 9v battery, input and output sockets, and the earphone socket. The control box is intended to be placed in a pocket, or hooked onto a belt with the supplied strap.
The Best Brass mute is a self-contained unit, extending only slightly beyond the end of the bell. Earphones are plugged directly into the mute, which contains two AAA batteries, volume control, metronome (with a very aggressive-sounding electronic ‘beep’), audio input and output sockets, and reverb level selector switch. This switch has an S, M, and L, position, presumably equating to small, medium, and large levels of reverberation, but with no ‘off’ setting. However, the S setting offers an imperceptibly small amount of reverb, if any at all, and therefore serves as ‘off’. The unit has a much more plug-in-and-go feel, not having to go through a separate control box, and fit securly in my trumpet bell.
The quality of sound from both mutes was quite good, although not perhaps good enough to go directly into a recording device to make a professional recording. In fairness though, this is not what the mutes were designed for.
Generally, I found the intonation of the SB7-9 slightly better than the e-Brass, particularly in the lower register. Both mutes go sharp, but the e-Brass more noticeably so. In the mid and high registers I found it difficult to decide which was turning in the best results. I preferred the reverb on the SB7-9. The M reverb setting on the e-Brass is OK, but the L setting resembles playing in a large cave.
The choice, for me, was whether to go for the more self-contained e-Brass, and put up with the sharper lower register, or whether to get a slightly better lower register and go for the SB7-9, but with the additional control box between the mute and the earphones. After much deliberation I went for the e-Brass, being attracted to the simplicity of the unit.
Having lived with the e-Brass I now find myself in agreement with the advice I read earlier, to stick with a conventional practice mute. My old Denis Wick, shown on the left, still serves me well. It's much cheaper, and has better intonation than either of the electronic practice mutes discussed here. If you are going to be spending a lot or time practising with a practice mute, it’s best to have one that throws the tuning out as little as possible, even if this means learning to live with the sound of a traditional practice mute.