An update on the 2nd iteration of VENN reeds, from a player who uses tenor reeds on alto sax.
[Note for clarification: This is a review of the revised 2021 iteration of the initial VENN launch. This is not a review of the newer 2022 iteration of the VENN, which presumably has a different spec.]
After purchasing a first-iteration VENN reed from Guitar Center in March 2020 -- & experiencing the same issues mentioned by other players -- I submitted a 1-star review to the GC product page; not snarky, just the facts. A GC customer service rep emailed to ask if I wanted a refund; I said sure, thanks. Received refund promptly. However, GC neither posted my review nor factored my single star into the aggregate ratings.
I contacted D'Addario directly to provide real-world user input about their new product. Received a pleasant reply from KM, a D'Addario Product Manager & sax player. She offered to send new, improved VENN tenor sax reeds in strengths 2.0 & 2.5. In subsequent weeks we continued to communicate via email. She expressed an ongoing interest in gathering feedback from reed players; I pointed her toward the VENN threads at SOTW.
Received the new reeds in late Nov 2020, gave 'em a three-hour workout on 1950s-style rhythm&blues -- screaming high notes, fast rhythm attacks, pitch-bends & growls -- using a 10Mfan Daddy-O 6 alto mouthpiece on a Keilwerth alto sax. They held up well, delivering 95% of the tone of a really good cane reed. Initial attacks at subtone volume revealed a slightly sluggish response. The new reed tips felt stiffer than the older VENN. After the session, my tongue tip felt slightly sensitive or irritated.
[KM confirmed that the new VENN tips are made "thinner than those of cane reeds" 'coz the fibers are so strong. She recommended lowering the reed as much as possible relative to the mouthpiece tip rail, while still maintaining coverage.]
Fit & finish of the new reeds seemed much improved. They appeared perfectly symmetrical, with a smooth, tight lamination layer -- clearly a different material &/or different method of adhesion. Gone were the loose fibers & ragged tip edge of the initial batch.
[KM wrote, "We actually had to apply a fairly cutting edge electron treatment to the side rails of the reeds to ensure lack of fraying at initial purchase/performance. After play, they will become loose over time."]
The VENN 2.0 played for me like a cane 2.5, & the VENN 2.5 played like a cane 3.
[KM wrote that her team was planning to revise their strength charts -- again -- "to try to make the strength comparisons a little easier for players to navigate."]
For the next month I play-tested the newer VENN Tenor Sax 2.0 & 2.5 reeds for 1 to 3 hours daily -- playing various styles of jazz, using two different ligatures on five alto sax mouthpieces with tip openings from 0.078" to 0.085" -- alternating with cane reeds or other synthetics for comparison.
On the second day, both VENN reeds developed a bumpy, abrasive texture that irritated my lower lip. On the third day my tongue could feel the granularity. Visual inspection revealed that part of the coating on the first 2 cm of reed length (as measured from the tip) had worn away, freeing short thin fibers. Although both VENN reed tips appeared to have bent & frayed a little, they did remain securely encapsulated within their laminations/coatings/whatever.
[KM responded, "While we do expect the reed to break down over time (loosening fibers), 3 days in seems too soon… this is not something we experienced in beta testing, so we'll definitely keep an eye out for additional feedback..."]
After a week of play the 2.0 reed had softened to the point of unusability -- flexing into the mouthpiece windows, impeding airflow. The 2.5 softened as well, finally settling into plausible 2.5 strength range. On note attacks it continued to speak a bit late. I suggested to KM that D'Addario, to bridge the very wide gap between strengths 2.0 & 2.5, should offer VENN in a 2.25 strength.
[KM agreed that the 2.0 is "simply too soft" but said "other embouchures may need this lightness." She said that her team had considered releasing a 2.25, & were "definitely going to keep this recommendation on the vision list."]
Both reeds were finicky about placement. Beyond the tip rail, they irritated my tongue-tip. Behind the tip rail, they failed to speak. Right on the tip rail, they played (or rather, the 2.5 reed played). My alto mouthpieces all have very thin tip rails.
[KM confirmed that wider tip rails are more forgiving for VENN tip placement. She uses the Reserve alto mouthpiece.]
I was pleased with VENN tone -- throaty & saxual, neither as bright in the upper partials as Vandoren V16 nor as buzzy as Legere AC. As my alto sax tone gods are tenor players Ben Webster, Lester Young, & early Coleman Hawkins, a deep vintage sound hits the bullseye. Dunno if players aiming for a more contemporary (brittle, sizzly) tone quality would dig the VENN; but they'd be using a different kind of mouthpiece anyway, which might coax different vibrations from the reed.
[KM agreed that the earthier side of the sax tone spectrum "is definitely the most compatible sound concept paired with VENN."]
After that month of play-testing, I set aside the VENN reeds. Although I liked the tone, that irritating fibrous abrasiveness bugged me no end. KM thanked me profusely for providing detailed feedback. Then she spoiled it by hinting that I might want to become some kind of D'Addario product influencer -- encourage other players to try VENN reeds? I found the suggestion offensive. It can be honorable to provide useful feedback to a maker of gear, or to discuss pros & cons of gear with fellow players. But I ain't nobody's poodle.