Antigua Backun vs. Leblanc Bliss – Intermediate Wood Clarinet Comparison

Antigua Backun CL3230 vs. Leblanc Bliss 210

The clarinet market is in for a new round of “which clarinet is better” as growing competition in the intermediate priced clarinet market brings new and improved designs into the more affordable price range. The newest entry into this market is the new Antigua Backun CL3230 clarinet. While Antigua is known primarily known for their student & intermediate saxophones, their parent company (Reliance) is a big supplier for Asian made instruments that are sold under a myriad of different brand names, both small and major names.

The Antigua clarinet is the newest creation from the madman brain trust that is Backun Musical Services in Canada. Morrie Backun and his team are well-known for the custom bells and barrels and over the past 5 years are gaining massive notoriety in the clarinet design world. In fact, what makes this comparison so interesting is that the other product being reviewed, the Leblanc Bliss 210, was one such series of clarinets designed by Morrie Backun.

So first, let’s get to know the fighters in this intermediate clarinet title bout starting with the current Champion, the Leblanc Bliss 210.

Leblanc Bliss 210 Series

Country of Manufacture: Good ol’ US of A @ Leblanc’s facilities
Acoustic Design: Morrie Backun
Wood: Unstained Grenadilla

Representing the Bliss 210 is what we call a 2nd Generation Bliss LB210. Please note that the newest rendition (what Leblanc actually calls the 2nd Generation but is in fact a 3rd Generation) of the Bliss 210 is the L210B. These 2 instruments in the body are the same design. The difference lies in the bell and barrel. The 2nd gen LB210 has a bell and barrel that was made in Backun’s shop in Canada whereas the new (3rd gen) L210B has the bell and barrel made in the USA by Leblanc alongside the body parts.

Antigua Backun CL3230

Body Joints Country of Manufacture: Canada @ Backun’s facilities
Keywork Country of Manufacture: China
Acoustic Design: Morrie Backun
Wood: Unstained Grenadilla

This clarinet has all the wood joints made and done by Backun. I personally expect this partnership between companies to be a longer lasting one than the Leblanc & Backun partnership that only lasted a few years.

So now that we have a glimpse at the contestants, let see how they match up!

Round 1 – Tone

The Antigua possesses a very rich and centered tone that reminds me of a very good Buffet. The resistance is that of an R13 with similar tonal response and overall feel. The big thing to point out here is this is essentially $3,000 performance at almost a third of the price ($1,299).

The Leblanc Bliss has a very different tonal approach with more brilliance to its tone.

Head to Head Winner: Antigua*

Why the *? When comparing head to head with the stock equipment, yes the Antigua is a winner. However, to be fair, we have to also consider comparing these 2 instruments setup at the same price. The Bliss 210 also shares the $1,299 price bracket, but when we sell a Bliss 210 through our store (Kesslermusic.com) at $1,299, we also include a Backun MoBa barrel. This barrel is normally a $275 barrel on its own.

When you equip the Bliss 210 with the MoBa barrel, the competition changes drastically as this barrel adds more tonal presence and a richer overall tone to the Bliss. With the Bliss 210 setup like this, there is actually not a true winner as I feel they really come on par with each other on tone itself. The Antigua won out in the richness of the lower register but the Bliss with the MoBa barrel won for its fuller tone in the upper end of the clarinet.

However, bear in mind that testing head to head is the best comparison since there is no guarantee that I can continue to give away a free $275 barrel in the future on the Bliss. So head to head with stock equipment, the Antigua wins the tone round.

Round 2 – Response

The Antigua again played very much like a good Buffet. The Leblanc is more responsive overall. This one really leans a little towards the Leblanc but as both are good, this really boils down to personal preference with the Buffet feeling more open and the Leblanc feeling much tighter. As is with stock equipment, I lean a hair towards the Antigua again for this one by fall short of declaring it the outright winner.

However, once again we tested the Leblanc Bliss with the Backun MoBa barrel and the whole conversation changes. With the MoBa barrel, we find the Leblanc to open up immensely through the whole range of the instrument. With the MoBa barrel, the Bliss is the winner.

I am sure that you are likely asking “what about putting the MoBa barrel on to the Antigua?” – We did… interestingly, the MoBa performed on par with the stock barrel of the Antigua. I have not received any confirmation of them being the same but I suspect that the Antigua uses the MoBa barrel bore or something VERY close to it.

Round 3 – Manufacturing Quality

This one is a tough one. I do feel that the Leblanc keywork is the better crafted of the two (good ol’ USA) and is very consistent. Right now, I am fully 100% ready to rule on this as we have not had anywhere near the numbers of the Antigua as we have the Leblanc at this point. So far, we have had only a small number of the Antigua clarinets and there were some minor issues in a few (which we sent back to the company). Knowing Antigua as I do, I don’t expect that to be the norm. I fully expect the quality and consistency of the Antigua keywork to improve.

For now, I’m giving this a draw with a leaning towards the Leblanc.

Other General Notes

Intonation on both instruments was very good. Ergonomically, the Bliss feels more compact whereas the Antigua feels more relaxed and Buffet-ish in the key feel.

Cosmetically, the Antigua also looks very traditional whereas the Bliss was intentionally designed to be different in its look. Physically, the Antigua uses a heavier wall and is bigger in the hands and noticeably heavier than the Bliss but not really too much heavier than the average clarinet.

Both clarinets are also setup with a special black Valentino synthetic pad and both should have the same reliability as the other (which is far higher than what the other clarinets in this range offer).

Decision Time – Which is Better?

It’s a draw. They both have their strengths and they both are GREAT clarinets. What is really impressive is that they really are the 2 best clarinets that we find in their price range and well above. If you want the professional Buffet style sound and performance, than the Antigua Backun is the clarinet you need to try. If you are wanting the more brilliant and responsive instrument, go for the Leblanc but bundle it with a Backun MoBa barrel.

Take a look at both models on our business site:
Leblanc Bliss LB210: http://www.kesslermusic.com/SelmerLeblanc/LB210/blisslb210.htm
Antigua Backun CL3230: http://www.kesslermusic.com/backun/antigua/clarinet.htm