Clash of the Titans

Bb Tuba Stand Off

9th of May 2003

@ Brass Music Specialists, Brisbane, QLD, Australia.

Miraphone M9000 & Besson 994

I was recently asked by a friend for my opinion between 2 Bb tubas, the Miraphone 1280 and the Besson 994. He was in the market for a new Bb tuba and had tested these 2 tubas at the Brass Music Specialists 2 days before he asked for my opinion.

The first horn I played was the 994. Wow, what a nice 994! Much better than the one I play on. Very little back pressure (stuffiness) going from Bb (2 ledger lines below staff) down to the fundamental (1 octave below). Very easy to blow. Consistent sound too. This was also the case going from the same Bb and up 3 octaves.

Time for the Miraphone. Most noticeable was the structural difference, lower lead pipe and 4th valve angle configuration. Once it was properly on my lap it was very comfortable. Reaching for the 4th valve didn’t seem such a “reach”. The first sound that came out was at least the equal of the 994. No real back pressure playing down to the fundamental. Slightly easier than the 994 though. No problems with sound and consistency playing up the 3 octaves from the Bb. More than comparable to the 994 so far!

Time to swap over horns and start the real comparisons. Each time a single area of playing was compared. Soft playing, loud playing, different registers, design factors…. Some simple pieces were also played.

After playing the 994 then going back to the Miraphone it was noticeable with the Miraphone that the notes weren’t “slotting” in as easily as the 994. It took a little to adapt to this. This aspect was only noticeable when immediately swapping horns. The difference is only very minor in the playing consistency. We both didn’t notice it until we actually played the horns side by side, otherwise it wouldn’t even be a consideration if we played the Miraphone just by itself. Maybe since we both play a 994 in our respective bands we are simply used to this horn. The difference is basically negligible.

We also sent each other out the door with backs turned while playing. Both of us had the same views with regard to the sound of each horn. Almost incomparable! But the Miraphone had the slightly nicer sound. This was also noticed by my friends wife and band musical director 2 days earlier.

After a short break while chatting with Greg Aitken from the Brass Music Specialists we again tootled on the horns. We hadn’t really tested any “real” loud (blastissimo) playing, especially from the Bb down to the fundamental.

I blasted the 994 first. Good sound, broke up a bit that was fixed after I played a bit better. Next was the Miraphone with the same playing in the same register. Very comparable but I noticed the sound held together better than the 994. My friend immediately stated that while there was no real difference in sound, it didn’t “bark” like the 994, which he said had a bass trombone like quality at times. Interesting.

Throughout the testing I was very curious to know the dimensions of the Miraphone. It was more comfortable to reach the 4th valve. I also noticed that the bell throat was bigger, not by much but it seemed that way. I placed the 2 horns side by side on the carpet and compared bells. Visually I thought the Miraphone was slightly larger. A piece of string later, we measured the bell diameter, bell throat diameter and distance from lead pipe to the 4th valve.

All measurements were 20 – 25mm larger on the Miraphone except for the 4th valve reach which was actually shorter.

Also noticeable was the length of the bell to the first bow. The Miraphone bell was shorter and the first bow was considerably longer. It was also a 1 piece bell (being lacquered we could see everything) as opposed to the clearly visible seam on the 2 piece bell of the 994. Does this have any influence on the slight differences between these 2 horns? I really don’t know as I have no instrument building experience what so ever. I mention this bell fact here so that someone who actually does know something about instrument building can read this and hopefully let us know if it is a factor.

2 other differences of the Miraphone compared to the 994 were the angle that the 4th valve. It was rotated a bit more “forward” and I found this very comfortable. The lead pipe was also wrapped around the bell a bit more. This made the Miraphone sit more squarely on my lap than the 994.

With my experience with the 994 I find it a can produce a fantastic sound but it is uncomfortable holding it for reasonable to long periods. In the correct position on my lap (with MP at correct angle to my face) I find I have to slightly stretch for the 4th valve. Consequently, the horn pulls my body to the right and my left arm automatically balances by pulling it back into position. I’m constantly twisting my back the other way and stretching it. Along with the slightly better sound, the comfort factor is main reason I personally would choose the Miraphone over the 994.

For someone taller or with longer arms (or a gorilla), it’s basically a dead heat between the 2. While the Miraphone has the (slightly) better sound, the 994’s (slightly) better playing consistency balances out this difference. Once again I will restate that these differences are only slightly noticeable when playing these 2 horns side by side.

The Besson 994 Bb tuba has a more than equal serious contender in the Miraphone 1280. Maybe the slightly cheaper Miraphone price (in Australia) would be the only deciding factor?

John Szkutko

PS. While there were a couple of regular Bb tuba intonation problems, we didn’t really test for intonation. We left the tuning slides where they were and just played.