I just had the opportunity to try out a prototype Cannonball Fiore. It is a soon-to-be released intermediate line clarinet that has incredible playability with a low price tag. I was able to put it up against a Buffet R13 and my good ol' Yamaha 72CS using my Combs LC3 mouthpiece with a Vandoren Traditional 4 reed.
First off, about the R13, I haven't been a huge fan. They are great clarinets, though, but usually don't appeal to me. The one I just tried was an exception. I even liked it better than my Yamaha. It had a crystal clear tone and nice ergonomics. The tone was on the bright side, but not too bright.
I first put them through the paces with Rose #9. As I switched between the three, I kept thinking, "This is the better one." Then I'd switch to the next one and think, "No, this is the best one." That's how close these instruments were. After several rounds, I settled on the R13 sounding the best, but just barely. The Cannonball had a nice, rich dark tone, which I usually prefer, but I loved the pristine sound of the R13.
For test two, I played "The Girl from Ipanema". Once again, all three sounded great. I ended up liking my Yamaha the best. It had a brightness between the Cannonball and Buffet. The Cannonball came in second due to its dark tone.
Specifics about the Cannonball: It doesn't have the interchangeable barrels and bells like the Piacere or Veloce, but didn't seem to be an issue. It did have the neck strap hook built in which is a nice feature for me, since I have to use one when I play clarinet. The pitch was even throughout the instrument and the tone remained consistent as well. The throat tone Bb was a little stuffy as usual, but it was on the R13 as well (and it's downright annoyingly stuffy on my Yamaha). As I mentioned earlier, it had a rich, dark tone. The finger ergonomics were nice, too, with some of the same features as on the Piacere and Veloce, like a flatter register key. I will give the edge to the R13, though, for ergonomics; it just seemed to fit my hand better. The Cannonball bell was hard to get to go on all the way, and once it was on, it was really hard to get off. This would be an issue that could cause bent keys, but it is also something easily fixed by a good repair tech. So if you get one one like this, make sure to get it adjusted.
Overall, I gave the edge to the Buffet. If money were no object and I were in the market, I would have gone with that one. Here's the kicker, though. The Cannonball is an intermediate model yet held its own against the Buffet and Yamaha pro models. What this means is, you can get something that plays almost as well as the industry standard Buffet R13 for half the price or less. That's something to think about.
All three clarinets played well, the only thing that really differentiated them was personal taste.