I'm a little hesitant to post this since it hasn't been 10 years yet...but here goes.
Bassoons are the most finicky instrument. Perhaps I'm a heretic for trying something other than the mainline brands, but I thought surely someone can make and sell a student bassoon for lesson than $4k!
Just over three years ago, I got an RS Berkeley BS350 Bassoon for my school. I had looked some for used instruments but couldn't find anything and wound up taking a chance on this one. (Before I found RS Berkeley, I tried out one made by Vento. You can see my review at Amazon--perhaps it was simply defective, but the issues with it made me skittish. [Also--just checking the link showed the Vento model for under $800. *BOGGLE*) We got the RS Berkeley model for under $2300.
I have had one student learn and play this instrument for three years. He switched from flute and has done a stellar job. There were some issues in the break-in period--it's hard to get used to the bassoon and not mess some things up while putting it together and taking it apart. Still, the instrument has survived and is working just fine. At the beginning, there were a few minor issues. The metal ring on the boot joint as well as the plastic one at the top of the bell needed to be glued in place. Whether it was the student or the instrument, the whisper key has needed several adjustments over the years. Also, the student lost a screw at one point...oops. Thankfully, I did get the correct replacement from RS Berkeley after a lot of phone and email tag. The local shop didn't seem to have an exact match. Last, the bocals are probably not the best. They have had a couple of real tiny leaks (of course, this could also be from not treating them gently enough).
The case is adequate. The cover does help protect a little bit, but neither the case nor the cover is amazing. The shoulder strap broke on the case after a year or two, but it's still nice to have the outside pocket for storing music or swabs and other supplies. Everything fits neatly in the case and I expect it should last a good amount of time.
How does it sound? Here it is being played in a Wind Quintet of The Sorcerer's Apprentice.
I think it sounds like a bassoon.
Would I recommend the instrument? Probably, though I think an intermediate player (or at least a high school student) would be better off with it than a beginner/middle schooler. Of course, it's risky to put a bassoon in anyone's hands, but I think a beginner would be better served by the most durable instrument without the extra keys (seriously, there are enough keys on the bassoon you could probably break in to anyone's house with it) and with the modifications to make it "short reach" for small hands. There are some sites advertising it in the $2500-2700 range, and that's a pretty good deal for a new bassoon. There are some other options in the crazy low-end range (one of which I'll write about later), but I think the RS Berkeley is one of the best balances between quality, price, and reputation.