It seems like buying a case for our horns would be a fairly simple process. Having just gone through this myself, however, I can tell you it's no walk in the park. Finding the perfect balance between your specific needs and the wide variety of brands and styles available can be daunting.
The real answer is, for many of us, there may not be just one case that suits all our needs. Many working professionals have several cases in their arsenal, using the one that suits each particular gig as it comes. Today, I may need a trumpet, flugelhorn and piccolo trumpet. Tomorrow, I may just need a trumpet with all my mutes. This weekend, I might be flying with two horns.
With all that in mind, there is no way I could simply recommend a single case to you, but I can give you a check list of what to look for.
1. Multi-Horn - Cases generally come in a variety of configurations, from single-horn versions up to five-horn (I've even seen seven-horn cases!). Only you can decide which is best for you, but as I mentioned, owning a couple versions may be the right call.
2. Customization - Many cases come with prefabricated spaces for horns. This is fine, however, it is always best to try one out and be sure your personal horns will fit the mold. If you don't get a chance to try a particular pre-molded case, you may be safer purchasing one of the many customizable cases available. These cases have adjustable components allowing you to fit the case around your exact model horn.
3. Adaptability - Many cases allow you to alter their storage based on your needs. A three-horn case with removable parts may let you alter it for two horns and mutes. This is especially attractive for players who do a wide variety of music but don't want to own multiple cases.
4. Protection - Cases are meant, primarily, to protect your horn. The two areas to consider are:
A. Inside padding: Cases should be firmly padded enough to insulate your horn well while also being flexible enough to absorb the inevitable shocks that come when cases are dropped or knocked.
B. Soft shell cases are great for everyday use, and are often lighter, but hard shell cases are a must for anyone who travels with their horns. Never use a case that doesn't offer some degree of firmness, because someone will eventually place their tuba case on top of your horns!
5. Comfort - Remember, you have to carry this case. Think about your routine. For example, if you ride a motorcycle to gigs, one of the backpack style cases may be ideal. If your main gig requires you to park a mile away from the venue, a case with a handle and wheels may be just the thing. And you'll always use the shoulder straps - are they comfortable?
6. Size - This is especially important for players who travel. Anything from a two-horn case on up may have major issues fitting in airplane overhead compartments. If you fly a lot, it would pay for you to consider visiting airline websites and checking out the standard size allowances, then choosing a case with proper dimensions. Soft shell cases may be helpful in that there is a little bit of 'play' in their dimensions. However, while this may work for most flights, we sometimes end up on those smaller "puddle jumper" planes with even smaller overhead spaces. You will almost always be expected to gate check your beloved instruments in these situations, and sometimes simply because of overbooked flights. In this case, hard shell cases are a must. Your horns will not survive airline luggage handlers in a soft case! (I always recommend checking the plane size and overhead bin sizes of all your upcoming flights before you go!)
7. Looks - Well, this isn't that important, but we band geeks sometimes need some help looking "cool". Let's face it, Maynard never carried a Hello Kitty horn case!
8. Ask! - Your absolute best bet is to simply ask other players about their cases. What do they like and dislike about them. They'll tell you everything that works great and what they find themselves frustrated with.
Here are some examples of the types of cases described above. Be sure to check out the massive selection available online at The Woodwind & Brasswind! (Most of these cases come in single-horn to multi-horn versions)
WHEELED CASES (CONVENIENCE)
Protec Vax Series