The synthetic reed market is expanding each year as more and more players around the world accept the new technology as a serious alternative to cane. With high quality offerings now available from Legere, Forestone, and Fibracell, modern woodwinds players have more options today than ever before.
Each brand of synthetic reed offers the consumer something slightly different in sound, feel, and appearance, but one thing that seems to remain the same for all is the price. Despite advances in technology, and an increase in supply and competition, a quality synthetic reed continues to cost between 10 and 20 times as much as a cane reed. It makes me wonder, does it really have to be this way?
Could these be the affordable solution we’ve all been waiting for, or is it better to hold off and save up for the tried and true brands?
BRAVO Reeds Overview
- Affordable pricepoint
- Highly durable and easily cleaned
- Non-toxic, recyclable material
- Reed strength embedded on the reed
- Includes creative, stacking cases
- Black color makes them hard to align on mouthpiece
- Stacking cases don’t actually work very well and are brittle
- Very thick heel; doesn’t work with all ligatures
- Inconsistent tonal quality and strength
- Not available in singles
- Musically inflexible and extremely resistant
About Bravo Reeds
Bravo Reeds is an American company that, in addition to synthetic reeds, sells a product called the Reed Booster, which is said to improve reed performance (review coming soon), and the “Sticky Stop” for saxophone, which holds keys open to help the pads dry effectively.
Overall it seems that the company is offering some really interesting and creative solutions at an affordable price point that’s approachable to all.
Most synthetic reeds cost at least 10 to 20 times as much as a cane reed, but Bravo reeds range from $20 to $25 for a pack of 5. This means that you could outfit a section of 10 clarinetists with reeds for between $40 and $50. To compare, a similar outfitting of Legere European Signature reeds for your section would cost close to $400.
If you’re not sure which strength you need, you can pick up a convenient sampler pack for $28 which includes strengths 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, and 4 for only $28. This is a great option if you really aren’t sure which one is a good fit and just want to try them out.
Safe, Durable and Easy-to-Clean
Bravo reeds are designed with non-toxic plastic material that is highly durable, and easy-to-clean with just soap and water. The reeds are easily flexed at the tip, but can be returned to their shape with minimal effort.
The tip itself is rather thick and far more resistant to chipping or splitting than other synthetic brands and cane reeds, but the trade off is that there doesn’t seem to be any rigidity along the spine of the product, which is one of the properties of cane that most synthetic reed brands yearn to reproduce.
A potentially brilliant design element of the Bravo Reeds case is that they interlock like lego bricks, and they have little hinges that allow the case to swing open and closed again like a little door.
I was so excited about this case design at first that I envisioned them being available separately. However, things didn’t quite turn out as they seemed.
The thick heel of the reed unfortunately prevents the lego-like clips from interlocking properly when the reeds are actually in the case (see above). Interestingly, the mechanism works a lot better when the reeds aren’t in the case but, needless to say, this kind of defeats the purpose.
The clips on the case allow it to swing open like a little door, but they wear out after only a few uses.
I really wanted to love these little reed cases, but regrettably I would suggest that your Bravo Reeds be stored in some other type of reed case long-term.
Each Bravo reed features a number stamped on the table (underside) of the reed which displays the strength. It’s a bit hard to see because of the colour but, again, it’s a great idea.
One thing about Legere reeds, for example, is that the reed strengths are attached only with little stickers which fall off easily and when they do it’s hard to tell the reeds apart.
However, Legere’s response to this concern is rather compelling: they can’t find a way to stamp the reeds without sacrificing quality, so they don’t. Given the fact that I’d prefer a quality reed over a number, I can definitely live with their reasoning and just mark the reed myself with a Sharpie if need be.
Something odd about the Bravo reeds is it turns out there’s a second number on the heel of the reed. I have no idea what this secondary number represents since it doesn’t seem to correlate with the strength of the reed, and didn’t seem to follow any other sort of logic.
For example, the 3 strength reed has a 4 on the bottom, the 2.5 has a 3, the 4 has 3 on it, and so on. If you are aware of what these numbers mean, please post in the comments below. I’m genuinely interested to find out.
How do they Feel, Play and Sound?
The reeds are literally a bit rough around the edges with plastic fraying on all sides except for the tip itself. This implies to me that the reeds are clipped after the build process, which would appear to be some type of plastic mold.
It was difficult for me to see past their appearance, even at the very low price point. After all, the reeds are advertised as a solution for students and professionals alike, but the finishing quality here is not comparible to other synthetic brands that I’ve tried in the past.
I played all the reeds in my “sampler pack” on all the mouthpieces I tend to rotate between (Vandoren M15 and BD5, and the D’Addario X25E) but unfortunately found that overall they were either highly resistant and stuffy, or very bright and “buzzy” with little middle ground.
The reed strengths didn’t seem to correlate with how the reed would actually feel or respond, and each reed also responded very differently throughout the range of the instrument, with “longer” notes (such as chalumeau G or clarion D) generally feeling much harder to produce and articulate than throat tone notes, for example.
The dark black colour, while visually appealing, made it difficult to see the numbers on the reeds and align them on the mouthpiece. When combined with the highly slippery table and extremely thick heel, fitting these reeds on properly was exceedingly difficult.
Overall the reeds were quite unpredictable and musically inflexible. I tried but I just couldn’t find one in the pack that felt like I would expect from a modern synthetic reed from a competing brand, let alone a good cane reed.
There are a ton of fantastic ideas here, but overall the design, appearance, and performance issues presented by these reeds make them difficult to recommend at this time.
As with all things, though, your milage may vary. It might be worth picking up a pack to at least try out at this price point. In fact, I’m sure some players will enjoy the extreme durability and affordability of these reeds for outdoor marching use, for example. For me, however, I would not personally feel comfortable using them in a professional performance or education situation of any kind.
I would definitely suggest keeping a keen eye on Bravo, but for now you might want to save up for a more tried and true synthetic reed option, especially if this is your first foray into the world of synthetic reeds.