Buying a professional saxophone is typically a substantial investment in an instrument you could be playing for decades to come. As professional-level saxophones usually start at a few thousand US Dollars (USD) and can run into the tens of thousands, this is never a decision to be taken lightly. Quality is naturally a factor, but selecting the best saxophone may not always necessarily mean you have to buy the most expensive one on the market. Choosing the right instrument should ultimately be decided by what sounds and feels the best to you.
The first step is to think about what you are seeking in terms of performance. Ask yourself what's most important to you: Action? Tuning? Tone? Most professional saxophone players agree that no matter how high quality the horn itself is, tone comes from the player more than it does from the instrument. The horn is essentially just an amplifier for the sounds the musician blows into the mouthpiece. No two players will have exactly the same tone, even if they both play the same model of saxophone.
Response of the horn is closely associated with tone. How does a particular sax feel when you play it? For the sake of comfort, you may want to look for a professional saxophone that is easier to blow. Or, if your personal style is more aggressive, you might instead choose a horn that offers more resistance. Testing the horn's response extensively is critical. Some lower-priced horns may present problems with the top notes being harder to blow than the lower notes — or the other way around.
How a professional saxophone feels beneath your fingers is also very important. If the action is too high or the springs are too stiff, you may too often find yourself struggling with the instrument. These issues can always be adjusted later to suit your own preferences, but things such as key placement are generally not as easy to correct after the fact. As every pair of hands is unique, certain horns simply may not feel right if you have small hands or very long fingers. If your hands don't fit the horn, or if the stretch is uncomfortable, that sax is probably not the one for you.
Cost will likely be a consideration as well. While some sax players may argue that the perfect horn is well worth any price, the question of value for money is a legitimate one. When you're paying top dollar for a desirable name, you should naturally expect top quality. Even if your budget is limited, however, there are still many high-quality professional saxophones out there than can deliver the goods almost as well as names costing three times as much.