Chromatic Harmonica Reviews (Written Reviews)
Suzuki S-56S Sirius 56-Hole Chromatic Straight Harmonica
How can one justify this price? Well I couldn’t…for a long time, and even after buying it I really did not understand what it brings to the table for some time…until I played it into pro recording equipment and the difference was as they say, as clear as NIGHT and DAY…well worth the price.
First, I’m a classically trained musician and classical singer (think opera) whose primary instrument is the Chromatic harmonica. I also review harmonicas.
I started on a Hohner 280C, who didn’t?, and so I compare from that perspective. By the way, I still enjoy the 280C, it’s a bit bitier and brassy…notwithstanding its faults of dated mouthpiece and reed problems.
I had several hurdles to overcome, moving into the world of Suzuki.
First, all the online video recordings of the Sirius and SCX seemed a bit darker in tone than the Hohner, and I didn’t hear many players getting the sound I wanted. I was paranoid the phospor bronze reeds didn’t have “it.”
I took the leap and bought both the Suzuki SCX and the Sirius at the same time. Please don’t ask me to explain that move, it was the only way I could be sure of either. Even I admit it was a peculiar choice.
(If you can’t afford the Sirius, just get the Suzuki SCX…it’s the best value out there.)
But we’re talking Sirius…soooo….I’ll speak to what counts first then get to the secondary points.
It’s tone on professional recording equipment in or outside a studio is PHENOMENAL-UNPRECEDENTED-SUPERB, full rich tonal saturation, and a resistance to going off pitch which is always a consideration with draw notes on the chromatic, if you want to apply a symphonic musician’s ear.
“Velvety smooth, lovely, rich,” are words people say when they hear it on a recording. It’s a roundness of tone you won’t find elsewhere/ and by that I mean the actual mix of low, mid and high frequency tones and harmonic overtones which all combine to create the shape and characteristics of a given note on a harmonica. As an example, the Hohner 280 is bright and brassy with the tonal mix above the mids emphasized due to the brass reeds and design, Suzuki is more centered around the mid range section, and I’d say more pleasing overall to many’s ears…but that is a personal preference thing.
The Sirius build quality is simply at another and certainly higher level than the competition: the mouthpiece is solid brass with silver plating, the covers are brass with black non shiny chrome, a rounded 2 piece mouthpiece which makes tongue emboucher and octaves and playing in general easy and comfortable, and great machining of all parts. It feels like you have a professional silver flute in your hands!
The 14 holer, or 56 (because there are 56 reeds), is a chromatic configuration growing in popularity worldwide and recommended by some harmonica pundits including Brendan Power. (Orchestral musicians typically go with the 64, 16 holer as do those in formal music education programs.) The 14 holes provide 56 reeds, with tuning in “C” which means you have from G3 on a piano up to D7, that’s three complete octaves, plus some.
The Suzuki Sirius 56 is a straight-tuned chromatic harmonica, which means all the upper holes are open when the slide button is out…these are notes from the scale of C Major: C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C, when you push the slide in you get the accidentals or notes in the C# Major scale.
The straight tuning means the Sirius 56 harmonica has what’s called a “short throw slide,” which means the slide responds very quickly (giving you quick note changes) as the slide actually travels less distance when the button is pushed in. (The Sirius 64 has a “long throw” slide, and bigger holes in the slide for the air to go through. Does it matter?) Some feel short throw slides give the player faster slide activation, but an accomplished player will certainly have no difficulty activating a long throw slide to pick up the accidentals, or sharps and flats.
Straight tuning with a short throw slide means the slide’s air holes are a bit smaller, so a bit less air gets to the reeds.
Alot of folks play these into recording equipment, or onstage with a mike, more than acoustically, so the slightly smaller air holes will likely not be an issue.
The Sirius had its beginnings with a famous harmonica, THE SUZUKI MAGIC GARDEN designed with help of the International Conservatory of Music in Paris harmonica wunderkind, Claude Garden-Jardin, who died soon after the instrument’s debut…he was a master of phrasing and technique.
The next step on the road to Siriusville was Suzuki’s work with Gregoire Maret, who plays a dark form of minimalist jazz on a 12 hole G-48, (has blue covers), a player with a huge following in Europe.
The Sirius is essentially a larger Gregoire Maret G-48, and they are both professional instruments in every sense of the word.
It is my impression that it takes a bit more air to play a Sirius than an SCX or Hohner 280C, but I have the theory that this may be an illusion as we hear high overtones best on any given note considered/ a la trumpet and flute/ and the Sirius presents a more centered and rounded harmonic mix of overtones per note than most harmonicas…which the ear registers as “less volume.” It’s just a different harmonic overtone mix.
There are other design niceties to this instrument…weighted brass inserts which apparently make a noticeable difference in the low notes, and I’ll mention many players enjoy the additional weight the brass inserts provide.
(As they are screwed into the interior of the comb in stacks of 4 overlaid patterned parts, you can remove some or all the brass inserts if you like.)
The Suzuki Sirius 56, 14 hole chromatic is wonderful in the hand, and the curved, 2-piece mouthpiece is ideal for the tongue emboucher used often by experienced players.
Someday you may find a better instrument than the Sirius, but not today.
Your biggest quandry with the Sirius will likely be to go with the 56 or the 64 holer.
Some like the short throw slide and size in the hand of the 14 hole Sirius 56, others want the expanded range of the Sirius 64 with its 16 holes. I think you’d hear recommendations on both sides of this from any grouping of performing professional musicians.
As a general rule, the lower notes in the first 4 holes would be used when playing “octaves” that’s two notes of the same pitch separated by one octave, and in Jazz pieces.
Those on unlimited budgets may want both.