Choosing between different mouthpiece models is hard as it is, let alone choosing between the same model but in different sizes. Going after the Vandoren OPTIMUM series is a good idea, but which size should you opt for?
This is exactly why I created this more detailed comparison between the AL3 vs. AL4; in order to reach a final verdict regarding the better option.
Vandoren AL3 vs. AL4: Short Answer
If you’re going after a more open sound that is more suitable for jazzy tunes, you should definitely opt for the AL4. Alternatively, the AL3 is a better option for classical music, thanks to its impressive roundness.
|Vandoren AL4||Best for Jazzy Tunes||Check Price|
|Vandoren AL3||Best for Classical Music||Check Price|
The Full Comparison
So, what’s the difference that makes the AL4 sound deeper and the AL3 sound brighter? Here’s a breakdown of the specs.
The AL3 measures 1.75 x 6 x 1.75 inches while the AL4 measures 2 x 2 x 6 inches, which gives the latter more room for airflow, consequently making it sound flatter with a lower pitch.
Both of them weigh 0.8 ounces and are made from ebonite, a firm and hardened rubber that makes both feel quite comfortable.
The facing on the AL3 is medium long, which means that it works best with the lower register of the sax. With the reed playing a bigger part than it would with the AL4, the sound it produces is lusher and quite vintage. Of course, this is enhanced by the longer facing length, as it’s 20mm on the AL3 -3mm longer than the 17mm facing length of the AL4.
On the other hand, the facing on the AL4 is medium short, which means that it’s all about the quick response, and consequently, emphasizing the upper register. This is because the reed’s vibrations fixate on the forward, thinner position, so there’s less resistance and back pressure when playing.
The good news is that both of them don’t stick either too long or short, there’s always a medium to give you a balance between the response and the projection, as well as to balance between the emphasis on the registers.
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Since the AL4 comes in a slightly bigger size, it has a more open sound. But if you want a mouthpiece to give you perfect classical tones, the AL3 is better in that area.
This is also because the AL3’s 152 tip opening (0.060 inches) is slightly more closed than the 163+ tip opening (0.064 inches) of the AL4. Despite the fact that it’s closed, it can sound just as great when paired with a suitable reed, even if used on a student sax.
After all, it’s a popular mouthpiece among beginners but still produces a nice, dark sound thanks to its round tone chamber. In terms of playability, it’s super simple and doesn’t flabbergast novices.
On the other hand, more seasoned players might enjoy slightly bigger tip openings for better projection and a louder sound. Also, it still plays well despite the hardness (or softness) of the reed used. This is unlike the AL3 that just doesn’t seem to match so well with any reeds harder than a 3.
Despite both being very viable choices, they aren’t the most diverse when it comes to color and spectrum, however.
There’s absolutely no price difference between the Vandoren AL3 and AL4, so the budget shouldn’t be a factor in your shopping process. Generally speaking, both the AL3 and AL4 are appropriately priced and give you plenty of value for your money.
Generally speaking, the OPTIMUM line from Vandoren isn’t meant for jazzy sounds, but you can still attain those with the bigger opening on the AL4. It’s the better choice for more well-versed saxophonists as it allows you to have better control over the tones.
On the other hand, if you’re still a beginner that still needs to get familiar with the sax, you might want to start with the AL3 for easy playability and cheerful brightness.