JBL LSR305 Monitor Review

Speakers are a personal thing. I grew up listening to my father’s hi-fi system, of which he was very proud. It consisted of a Sansui AU-5500 integrated amp driving a pair of Pioneer three-way speakers with 12″ woofers. It sounded great for vinyl playback and he even had twin cassette decks for A to B or B to A dubbing as well as taping from the radio or LPs. I made many a mix tape on that system. Although in a two bedroom house with six other siblings, I spent most of my time under headphones.

The Sansui AU-5500 with matching tuner. Vintage Japanese hi-fi is very cool. My brother is using the amp now to power a pair of B&W 602s and it sounds fantastic.

The Sansui AU-5500 with matching tuner. Vintage Japanese hi-fi is very cool. My brother is currently using the amp to power a pair of B&W 602 speakers with satisfying results.

I splurged during college and bought a pair of B&W CDM SE1 bookshelf speakers with matching subwoofer, powered by an Adcom preamplifier and amp. I also bought a nice VPI turntable, which is the only piece of that system I still own. Once my wife and I started our family, a dedicated listening room became a fantasy and a liability. And I needed the money for the little mouths!

I hung on to the B&W sub for awhile as well but eventually traded it for a pair of Mackie HR824 studio monitors in 2008 to replace some Alesis M1 active monitors that I never liked. To be honest, I’ve never cared for the Mackies either but I’ve learned their (many) weaknesses and can whip up a decent mix on them. Still it was a good trade; finally I had a decent monitoring solution for my burgeoning humble home studio setup.

Mackie HR824. They're not bad. They're not very good either, but hey...

Mackie HR824. They’re not bad. They’re not very good either, but hey…

I’ve worked in many studios with a range of different monitors. I’ve used to work every day on a pair of Genelec 1031A monitors at Michigan State University. I have my opinions about a lot of different brands. But one brand I never paid much attention to is JBL, despite having nothing but respect for the company and its lineage.

I attended my first AES show in NYC in October 2013 with my good friend and studio owner / engineer / acoustician / musician Glenn Brown. While I was mainly enamored with the beautiful microphones, the tantalizing mic preamps, the retro tube outboard gear, and especially the Yamaha Nuage system (drool!), I did spend an afternoon listening to all the monitor speakers I could find on the floor. This included the new series from Neumann, the top of line ATC model, the new five-figure Genelecs, the Yamaha HS series, and a bunch I cannot even recall.

On a whim, Glenn and I stopped by the JBL display and they had their brand-new LSR 3-series hooked up. We listened for a bit and were both immediately impressed by the sound. Both the 305 and the larger 308 sounded really good, with a slight edge going to the 305 in terms of the tightness and definition of the mid-range. Even on the noisy AES floor, the speakers made a lasting impression.

I asked the JBL rep about the price of the 305 model and he said the MAP was $399. I said, “Oh, $399 each, that’s not bad at all.” He said, “No, $399 for the pair.” To say I was shocked is an understatement. I put them in the back of my mind for a potential future purchase.

JBL LSR305 speakers

JBL LSR305 speakers

At the moment, I am in the middle of mixing three projects; Greg Nagy’s upcoming release (which I also engineered as well as wrote songs for and performed on), my own progressive rock project, and a cool little EP for a friend’s band featuring Farfisa accordion, drums, and guitar. I thought the time was perfect to revisit the JBL LSR305 monitors, especially since JBL lowered the price to $119 each*. I figured if I didn’t like them in the studio, what did I have to lose? At the very least I could use them on my workbench to play some tunes while I’m fixing pianos and such.

Now I’ve only had them for a few hours but difference between the Mackies and these little JBLs is, to use a common cliche, night and day. The JBLs are about half the size, but the sound they put out is incredibly enveloping, with pinpoint stereo imaging, a detailed mid-range, beautiful high-end, and a tight low-end that’s only limited by the size of the 5″ woofer. No you won’t be able to hear those low sub basses if you’re doing electronic music, but for almost everything else there’s plenty down there. And frequencies are balanced perfectly; the highs revealing and non-fatiguing, the mid-range focused and clear, and the low-end tight and defined. JBL does offer a companion subwoofer, the LSR310s, if your music needs it. That may very well be my next purchase.

The biggest surprise is the stereo imaging. I can now hear (FINALLY!) in exquisite deatil when I move the panning control within Cubase even just 1 notch to the left or right. They also exhibit a sense of depth that makes you feel like you can reach right into the audio.

The feature set is pretty basic. The back has the IEC power connector (cord included), on/off switch, XLR and separate TRS 1/4″ inputs (no combo jacks, hooray!), an input sensitivity switch (-10dBv or +4dBu), master volume, and two contour switches that affect the highs and lows. A nice soft white LED on the front signifies power. That’s it. Right now I’m running mine completely flat (no EQ engaged) and the volume all the way up, controlling the levels from my Yamaha N12 mixer.

The frequency range is listed as 43 Hz to 24 kHz. A quick test with a sine wave generator in Cubase confirmed that they do indeed emit 43 Hz, albeit with a rather steep drop-off in volume.

So are there any negatives? Just one that I’ve noticed so far; they are a bit noisy. An audible low-level white noise hiss is present at all times and does not change regardless of the position of the master volume knobs. It isn’t terribly loud but it’s constant.

Other than that small issue, I love these speakers. I have no idea how JBL is able to make these at such an affordable price. They are easily worth three times the list. If you’re looking for a compact near-field monitor for your home studio, or a second pair of speakers for comparison, just buy them. You won’t be disappointed. Check out the cool speaker comparison widget over at Sonic Sense to hear how they stack up against the big dogs and then give my friends at Sweetwater a call to get a great deal.

Boxed and sitting up on my desk. Good looking little guys, too!

Boxed and sitting up on my desk. Good looking little guys, too!

UPDATE (Nov 3, 2014): I just bought three more LSR305 speakers in order to create a 5.1 mixing environment in my studio. I have removed the Mackies and I’m selling them. I also have the LSR310s subwoofer on order from Sweetwater. I am very happy with the LSR305 speakers. My mixes have improved immensely and I notice details I didn’t notice before. I can’t recommend these little speakers enough.

UPDATE (Dec 3, 2014): The LSR310s subwoofer is the perfect match for the speakers, as one would expect. I was using a friend’s KRK sub with my Mackies and the JBL is far tighter, more defined, and more balanced. I was able to do the first 5.1 mixing for my THEO project and I am thrilled with how they came out. The mixes translated extremely well in the professional mastering studio after mixing on the JBL 5.1 system.

* NOTE: The $119 each price quoted above was a special summer sale via Sweetwater. The normal price is $149 each, though deals can be had.

Neo Instruments Ventilator II / Ventilator 2 – Review and Demo


When Neo Instruments released the Ventilator in 2010 it quickly became the standard by which all other rotary speaker simulators are judged. With easy accessibility to five real-time controls, bullet-proof construction, fantastic overdrive, and an extremely authentic dual-rotor emulation, the Ventilator justifiably took the reigns as king of the sims.

The original Ventilator. Read my review of the original by clicking on the picture.

Success breeds competition, however, and the Ventilator is no longer alone. In the intervening years, several competitors have arrived to try and wrestle the crown away from Neo Instrument’s flagship product. The BURN from GSi boasts 32 presets, a real tube overdrive section, MIDI control, and multi-effects. The Strymon Lex is much smaller and less expensive yet still has real-time controls. Pigtronix is releasing an all-analog emulation that promises to be very interesting. And the owner of the Leslie name, Hammond-Suzuki, released their own Leslie branded pedal featuring four distinct speaker emulations (122a, 147a, 18v, PR40) and plenty of real-time control.

Neo Instruments discontinued the original Ventilator in 2013 while introducing two new products, the Mini Vent and the Mini Vent for organ. These pedals are smaller (the same size as the Strymon Lex), less expensive, and have two programmable presets each. But they lack the real-time control and remote control input of their predecessor. You can read my review of the Mini Vent by clicking here, which includes a video.

Neo Instruments Mini Vent

Neo Instruments announced a successor to the original Ventilator in the spring of 2013. After a long wait, the Ventilator II is finally here. The footprint is similar though the look is much sleeker while still retaining the aforementioned bullet-proof construction of the original. The five real-time controls are still there but all five have dual functions accessible via a 2nd Function mode. How does the Ventilator II stack up against the original? How does it compare with the competition? What are the new features? And is it worth upgrading?


The Ventilator II measures 5.5 cm high (5.9 cm with the rubber feet) by 16.1 cm wide by 14.5 cm deep. In inches that’s 2.2 in high (2.3 with feet) by 6.3 in wide by 5.7 in deep. It weighs 1.067kg or 2.3 lbs. It’s a hefty, solid piece, encased in black powder-coated steel with maize and white silk-screened lettering.  The top of the unit features five recessed knobs, four LEDs (overload, on, lo, and hi) and three silent stomp box type switches (bypass, stop, slow/fast). The back of the unit has a switch for lo/hi input operation, stereo inputs, stereo outputs, the remote input, and the 12v DC power connector. It ships with a universal wall-wart style power supply that can provide power in any world region.

Ventilator II connectors.

Ventilator II connectors.

If the original Ventilator is any indication, the Ventilator II will handle the rigors of the road with ease. My original Ventilator still works flawlessly despite over four years of heavy road abuse.


Neo Instruments has added much more control over the sound of the Ventilator. Whereas the original Ventilator was meant to be a faithful recreation of the classic Leslie 122 speaker, with five adjustable parameters to slightly tweak that emulation, the Ventilator II provides all that plus the ability to go beyond authenticity and create your own sound.

The five recessed knobs serve two functions. In primary mode, which is the default when the unit is plugged in, the knobs control the parameters labeled in maize directly beneath each knob. The maize parameters from left to right across the Ventilator II’s face are FAST SPEED, BALANCE, DRIVE, MIX / DIST LO, and MIX / DIST HI. These are slightly different than the five knobs on the original.

But unlike the original Ventilator, the knobs also have secondary functions. These functions are accessed by pressing the BYPASS and SLOW/FAST switches together. When in 2nd FUNC mode, the LO/HI LEDs will blink together two times per second. The switches still work while in 2nd FUNC mode. Exiting the mode require you to press BYPASS and SLOW/FAST again.

Ventilator II front side.

Ventilator II front side.

In 2nd FUNC mode, the knobs control the parameters in white lettering. From left to right these parameters are SLOW SPEED, ACCELERATION, MODE, REMOTE, and LEVEL.

Let’s go through the five knobs and both their parameters one by one.


KNOB 1 – FAST SPEED (primary function)

This is adjustable from -5 to +5. This parameter controls the speed of the virtual upper and lower rotors when on fast speed (known in Hammond parlance as tremolo).

KNOB 1 – SLOW SPEED (secondary function)

Adjustable from -5 to +5 as well. This parameter controls the speed of the virtual upper and lower rotors when on slow speed (known in Hammond parlance as chorale).

KNOB 2 – BALANCE (primary function)

Adjustable between -5 and +5. The Ventilator II, like its predecessor, splits the input signal at 800Hz (the same frequency as the crossover in the Leslie 122) and processes the resulting two signals independently. The BALANCE control allows the user to determine the mix between the virtual upper rotor and the virtual lower rotor. At 12 o’clock, the mix is equal. Turn the knob to the left and you get less upper rotor (less highs). Turn the knob to the right and you get less lower rotor (less lows).

KNOB 2 – ACCELERATION (secondary function)

This controls the amount of time it takes the virtual rotors to accelerate from stop or slow to fast speed. Between 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock the knob controls both rotors equally. Turn it to the left and the acceleration time is shortened. Turn it to the right and it is lengthened. Below 9 o’clock, only the bass rotor acceleration speeds up. Above 3 o’clock, only the upper rotor acceleration slows down. This gives the user a wide range of possibilities not available on a standard Leslie without modification.

KNOB 3 – DRIVE (primary function)

This adjusts the amount of overdrive added to the signal. The overdrive is one of my favorite aspects of the original Ventilator. It sounds authentic to a real Leslie 122 pushed into saturation. The Ventilator II overdrive is just as thick and warm as the original.

KNOB 3 – MODE (secondary function)

The original Ventilator had two modes, GIT and KEY, selectable via a push switch on the back. The Ventilator II has three modes selectable via knob 3.

Mode 1, with the knob at 7 o’clock (all the way counter-clockwise), is GIT1 which represents the guitar mode on the original Ventilator. This mode disables the speaker cabinet emulation and is useful for guitarists who want to maintain the sound of their own guitar amp / speaker combination while still enjoying the rotor simulation from the Ventilator.

Mode 2, with the knob at 12 o’clock (middle), is GIT2 from the Mini Vent. This is a more distant, mellower sound and like GIT1 disables the cabinet emulation.

Mode 3, with the knob at 5 o’clock (all the way clockwise) is the KEY mode for keyboardists as on the original Ventilator and includes the cabinet simulation.

KNOB 4 – MIX/DIST LO (primary function)

This controls the mix of the lower rotor in the signal as well as the distance of the virtual mic from the rotor. The first half of the travel (from all the way counter-clockwise to center) determines the mix. At 7 o’clock (all the way counter-clockwise) there is no lower rotor simulation in the mix. Note this does not remove the bass content from the signal; it simply removes the rotary effect. You can use this to emulate the classic “Memphis style” Leslie sound. The “Memphis style” on a real Leslie is achieved by unplugging the motors on the lower rotor, so that only the upper rotor spins.

From center to 5 o’clock (all the way clockwise), the knob adjusts the distance of the virtual mic from the lower rotor. This is handy for decreasing the amount of AM (amplitude modulation) in the signal. Pulling the mic further back decreases the “wub wub wub” effect that can be distracting, especially when you’re playing left hand and/or pedal bass. It might be cool for organ dubstep, though. 😉

KNOB 4 – REMOTE (secondary function)

This parameter changes the function of the REMOTE input jack on the back depending on the position of the knob.

With the knob at 7 o’clock (all the way counter-clockwise) the REMOTE jack is off.

With the knob at 10 o’clock, the MIX/DIST LO and MIX/DIST HI knobs can be externally controlled via an expression pedal like the Yamaha FC7. The range is from zero to the value set by the two knobs.

With the knob at 12 o’clock, the SPEED is continuously controllable via an expression pedal like the Yamaha FC7. The range is from the value of the SLOW SPEED as set by the knob (pedal minimum) to the FAST SPEED as set by the knob (pedal maximum). This is a very neat feature.

With the knob at 3 o’clock, stop/slow/fast speeds are switched (non-continuously) by external latching switches like the Hammond CU-1 halfmoon and original Ventilator remote.

With the knob at 5 o’clock (all the way clockwise) the stop/slow/fast speeds are switched (non-continuously) by unlatched switches such as sustain pedals and the Ventilator II remote.

KNOB 5 – MIX DIST/HI (primary function)

As with knob 4, this controls the mix of the upper rotor in the signal as well as the distance of the virtual mics from the rotor. The first half of the travel (from all the way counter-clockwise to center) determines the mix. At 7 o’clock (all the way counter-clockwise) there is no upper rotor simulation in the mix. Like knob 4, this doesn’t remove high-frequency content from the signal but rather the rotary simulation of the high frequencies.

From center to 5 o’clock (all the way clockwise), the knob adjusts the distance of the virtual mics from the upper rotor.

KNOB 5 – LEVEL (secondary function)

This adjusts the overall output level. The default is the middle position.

As well as the knobs there are three silent foot switches on the face. From left to right they are BYPASS, STOP, and SLOW/FAST. BYPASS engages a true analog relay-controlled bypass of the Ventilator II’s circuitry. The STOP switch stops the virtual rotors from spinning and positions them towards the virtual mics every time. SLOW/FAST switches between the slow rotor speed and the fast rotor speed.

Pressing BYPASS and SLOW/FAST together put the Ventilator II’s knobs into 2nd FUNCTION mode as indicated by the LO/HI LEDs blinking twice per second. Pressing BYPASS and SLOW/FAST again exits from 2nd FUNCTION mode.

Check out my video review for more information and a demonstration of these functions.


The Ventilator II’s pedigree is unmistakable. The rotary simulation is still, in my opinion, the best there is. It really captures the sound of a Leslie 122 mic’d up in the studio. Add a bit of room reverb and you can fool the listener into believing it’s a 122 in a room. The overdrive is fantastic. The sense of 3D realism is unparalled. The quality of Leslie sims has improved greatly over the last four years since the original Ventilator was released. Indeed, the sims in Hammond’s latest models (the SK series and the XK1c) are very good. But the Ventilator still has the edge in terms of the sense of 3D and the overdrive.

Since I wrote my original Ventilator review in 2010, I have been relying more and more on the Ventilator on the road. When I perform with organissimo or any other setting where I’m kicking bass, I prefer to have a real Leslie with me. But for gigs with bassists or at festivals or other large venues, the Ventilator is great. Especially for rock/blues gigs where a lot of volume is a requirement and you’re going through the FOH anyway. I always have my Ventilator with me on the road just in case. I never know what the backline will be from one gig to the next. And when I perform with blues singer Janiva Magness, my own rig consists of a Hammond SK1 and the original Ventilator. We do not travel with our own sound engineer and too many times we’ve had sound guys that don’t know how to properly mic or mix a Leslie. Giving them a single ¼” output makes everything so much easier for all parties. I’m looking forward to using the Ventilator II on the road due to it’s flexibility.


The Ventilator II is much more adjustable than the original Ventilator. You can get that Memphis sound with ease. You can achieve sounds that no older Leslie can do via the expression pedal control over the speed. With the new parameters you can really fine tune your own perfect Leslie sound. Even with the added adjustable parameters, programming the Ventilator II is immediate and easy. No menu diving or tiny screens to decipher.

Many keyboardists use keyboards for other sounds as well as organ. The stereo inputs allow you to connect said keyboards to the Ventilator II without sacrificing a stereo feed to your monitoring system and/or the front of house PA.

The output level control is another smart addition that many users requested.

And finally, a real STOP switch on the front is worth the upgrade price alone.


Neo Instruments took longer than expected to release the Ventilator II but the level of thought and the quality of the design may give insight into why. I can’t really think of anything they missed. For guitarists and keyboardists alike the level of control and flexibility is several steps above the original. Yes, MIDI control would be nice but that would require a screen, which would take up more valuable front panel real estate and lead to menu-diving. The immediacy of the Ventilator is one of its most valuable features and the Ventilator II manages to stay true to that vision while giving the user more control. There are rumors that Neo Instruments is working on a Ventilator Pro rack unit which will have presets and MIDI, but for those of us who simply want the best rotary speaker simulator there is with easy real-time controls, the Ventilator II fits the bill perfectly.

Read my review of the original Ventilator here.

Custom SK and XK1c tonewheel sets

My custom tonewheel sets for the SK series and XK1c are available for free download over on the Hammond Organ USA site.

Look at the left-most column about one-third of the way down for Jim Alfredson’s Custom Tonewheel Settings.

Hammond USA site

Hammond USA site

The custom tonewheel sets are based on my beautiful 1954 Hammond C2 that graces my humble home studio. You can hear that organ on organissimo’s Dedicated CD. It’s one of my favorite Hammonds with a full, rich, thick tone especially in the upper end. You can read more about how I created the set and watch comparison videos between the SK2 and the Hammond C2 in this post.

1954 Hammond C2 vs 2012 Hammond SK2

When you download and install the set, please let me know what you think below!

I also have sets for the XK3 and XK3c. Email me or leave a comment below for more details.

Softube Bass Amp Room plug-in review

Most of the music I record does not involve a bassist. Either I am covering the bass with my left hand and/or left foot on the Hammond organ, or I’m using synthesizers. Two projects currently on my plate, however, do feature electric bass. The first is Greg Nagy‘s upcoming third release, tentatively titled I Won’t Give Up. For these sessions, Detroit bassist Joseph Veloz is handling the low-end. The second is my progressive rock project with Gary Davenport on bass duties.

My humble studio is small and I do not own a bass amp. In my studio, I track the bass direct into a Universal Audio LA610 MkII tube preamp with just a hint of compression added on the front end. Joseph uses a nice five-string bass with both passive and active pickups. Gary sends me most of his tracks, recorded at his home direct into his ProTools audio interface. Both methods sound good, but they lack the roundness and fullness that a nice bass amp provides.

Universal Audio LA-610 MkII

Universal Audio LA-610 MkII

I considered the option of re-amping the tracks into a bass amp at another studio, but this would cost both time and more importantly money. The budgets for both these projects are small. So I began looking for alternatives.

A lot of companies make guitar amp simulators. Many DAWs even ship with them, including Cubase, which is my DAW of choice. The VST Amp Rack plug-in within Cubase is quite good and I have used it on a variety of instruments like guitar, synthesizer, Wurlitzer electric piano, and even vocals. But like the majority of guitar amp plugs, it doesn’t have any options for bass.

Steinberg's VST Amp Rack plug-in

Steinberg’s VST Amp Rack plug-in

After searching and reading reviews and suggestions, I came across the Swedish company Softube. They offer a plug-in called Bass Amp Room that seemed perfect for my needs. I downloaded the fully functional 20-day demo (iLok required) and began testing.

Immediately upon loading the plug-in the bass guitar tracks improved. And it wasn’t just a small improvement. The plug-in does exactly what it advertises. It takes your direct bass signal and puts it through an amp in a room with a mic in front of it. The results really speak for themselves and the Softube website has plenty of audio examples.

Softube Bass Amp Room plug-in.

Softube Bass Amp Room plug-in.

The plug-in models three different cabinets; an 8 x 10″ cab, a 4 x 10″ cab, and finally a 1 x 12″ cab. The amp controls are very straight-ahead; normal volume, bass, mid, and treble tone controls, and a master volume along with a lo/hi input switch. They even included a direct inject section to mix some of the direct signal into the amp sound. The DI section includes more tone controls and a limiter.

You can bypass the amp simulation or the cabinet simulation. And you can position the virtual mic anywhere you want in front of the cabinets, backing it way off if you’d like or getting it up close and right on the cone.

I do like how the amp model breaks up when pushed. You can achieve some great fuzz bass tones out of the plug-in as well as some beautiful dark crunch.

I can only think of two areas which need improvement: It is odd that they did not model the classic 1 x 15″ cabinet made famous by the Ampeg B15 and James Jamerson. And I would like to see a cabinet with a horn. Perhaps those will be in a future update.

Despite these caveats, I bought the plug-in from Sweetwater Sound, which is just a bit cheaper than direct from Softube. Below is a mix I’ve been working on. This song was recorded in Los Angeles in October of last year. The bass was tracked direct into Nuendo through a Demeter tube bass DI. This is Gary Davenport on bass, myself on organ, Zach Zunis on guitar, and Matt Tecu on drums under the recording band name The Hollars. We hope to have an EP out this year.

I highly recommend Bass Amp Room to anyone needing a solid bass amp tone for their recordings. Check out the other amp models from Softube, too. It is worth demoing their Valley People Dyna-mite compressor plug-in. I had a real Dyna-mite at my studio for a week or so and compared the virtual with the real. They were very, very close (the plug-in had more high-end information). That’s on my shortlist as well.

Thanks for reading.

Hammond XK1c video demo

As a companion to my Hammond XK1c Quick review, here’s a video demo of the XK1c in action. I took one of the tracks from my Tribute To Big John Patton sessions last August and muted the original organ track. I then overdubbed myself playing the XK1c instead. I think it sounds very good! Such demos are important because they demonstrate how the instrument fits into a mix with a band.

I considered connecting the XPK-200L bass pedals to the XK1c and kickin’ a bit of bass, but I decided to just do left hand bass instead.

The XK1c was recorded directly into Cubase 7 from it’s 1/4″ outputs. The onboard Leslie sim is used. I added a bit of the session reverb from the track to help it sit into the “room” with the other instruments.

Enjoy the video and let me know what you think.

Hammond XK1c

Hammond XK1c

Hammond XK1c quick review

Hammond is shipping their newest model, the XK1c. This replaces the discontinued XK1. The engine is much the same as the SK series but without the other non-organ voices. The form factor is also very similar but lacking the SK’s non-organ voice controls. It also features different end blocks with a more traditional wood grain.

Hammond XK1c

Hammond XK1c

The organ engine has a few differences from the current OS in the SK series (though this may change). First is a MIX parameter for the chorus/vibrato, which controls the balance between the dry signal and the affected signal. Users have been asking for this ability for some time. It allows you to dial in some “age” to the virtual chorus/vibrato line, not unlike the capacitors in a real tonewheel organ aging over time. The range is from -64 (dry) to +64 (100% wet).

Another difference is the COLOR parameter in the Leslie simulation menu. This imparts some tonal characteristics reminiscent of cabinet resonance to the Leslie sim.

Hammond also added some very subtle details to make the sound even more authentic. The drawbars exhibit a very understated ‘click’ in the audio when moved. It is barely noticeable but tonewheel Hammond organs do the same thing, even those with smooth drawbars. A similar understated ‘click’ is audible when holding a note or chord and pressing the chorus/vibrato tabs on or off. Again, a tonewheel console like a B3 does this as well and it isn’t loud or distracting.

Here is a quick improvisation using the very first stock preset on the XK1c and the internal Leslie sim. This was recorded straight into Cubase 7 with no external processing except for a very light limiter added to the final mix for web delivery purposes. The reverb is also from the XK1c.

The sound right out of the box is very good. To my ear, Hammond’s past instruments all needed substantial tweaking before they sounded as good as their potential, but the XK1c comes from the factory sounding really great. The presets are for the most part well programmed and display the range of tones available. One of my favorites is a re-creation of a 1940’s Hammond BV through a Leslie 31H tallboy.

I will be making a custom tonewheel set for it based on my ’54 Hammond C2 and this will be available on my site as well as the Hammond site for free.

I think Hammond has a real winner with this product. A 13lbs Hammond organ with the big sound of the original 400lbs beast for $1495? Sounds good to me!

1954 Hammond C2 vs 2012 Hammond SK2 (with the reveal)

Back in April I posted a video on Youtube comparing my newly completed tonewheel set for the Hammond SK2 with its inspiration, my beautiful 1954 Hammond C2. I bought the C2 from a pawn shop in Grand Rapids in 1998. They were using the back panel, which is detachable, as a board to post notices with push-pins. The rest of the case was in pretty rough shape. I feel like I rescued it from certain death. And the best part is that it was only $400.

The other best part is that it had smooth drawbars instead of the usual ratchet style drawbars that were standard on the 2 series. I’m fairly confident that the smooth drawbars were installed at the Hammond factory due to the serial number, which dates the organ to the end of 1954. I think this C2 was one of the last off the line before they started making the C3 model, all of which had smooth drawbars. I installed a TrekII percussion unit to bring it up to B3/C3 specs and also a 122 Leslie output. My dad and I refinished the organ, too. Well, pretty much my dad did the work.  He’s gone now and so the organ has a lot of sentimental value for me.

1954 Hammond C2

1954 HammondC2 – Ain’t she purdy?

It’s also one of my favorite organs in terms of sheer tone, sentimentality aside. Everything is stock with the exception of the chorus/vibrato line. I replaced the capacitors in the line and also replaced the resistor underneath the C/V tabs so the chorus is a bit deeper and more like the 3 series. Everything else is from the factory. You can hear it on the organissimo release Dedicated. You can hear and see it in action on this video from my Kickstarter promotion as well as this video.

When Hammond added the ability to adjust the virtual tonewheels in the SK series of digital organs, I knew instantly the first organ I wanted to try and match. So I spent an afternoon comparing the two organs one tonewheel and one drawbar at a time until I got the SK to sound as close as I could. I posted a video on Youtube of the results with the caveat that you cannot see which organ I’m playing. Astute viewers will notice the orientation of each organ that’s off camera with my previous videos of the C2 and would be able to deduce pretty quickly which is which. I also overlooked a very important setting in the SK2 that controls the percussion. I accidentally had it set to re-trigger on every note. The percussion in a real C3 or B3 is polyphonic but single-trigger, meaning if you’re holding any key down, it won’t re-trigger unless you lift your fingers off the keys. That combined with a bit too much brightness in the keyclick makes figuring out which is which a bit less difficult, although certainly some people were fooled. Here’s the original video:

I’ve been tweaking my custom tonewheel set for the SK series ever since, taking into account how it sounds through various speaker systems, Leslies, stages, gigs, etc. I’ve also been experimenting with running the SK into the C2’s preamp. The following clip is an example of that.

The signal flow is as follows: SK2 into the C2 preamp via the RCA jack on the expression pedal box, C2 preamp direct out via a custom direct box into a mixer, the mixer aux output into a Mini Vent, the Mini Vent stereo output to my DAW.

I posted this clip on the Keyboard Forum and the responses were interesting. Some could not tell the difference. One poster asked if I had put the SK through the C2 preamp. Some correctly identified the SK. One fellow poster claimed that routing the SK into the C2’s preamp was unfair, since you’re not going to have that luxury in a live situation (although I’ve been toying with the idea of finding an AO-10 preamp and wiring it up with 1/4″ jacks to go in between the SK and my Leslie!) Point taken. The AO-10 preamp from the C2 definitely puts a cool vibe on the SK’s signal. So what’s the actual difference? I decided to inject some white noise into the preamp and see what’s up in a spectral analyzer (with the awesome and free Voxengo SPAN).

Here is the raw unaffected white noise signal:


White noise from the Test Tone generator in Cubase 7.

And here is the white noise after it goes through the AO-10 preamp in the 1954 Hammond C2.

White noise after going through the AO-10 preamp.

White noise after going through the AO-10 preamp.

Look at that beautiful gentle roll-off in the high-end. The whole signal takes on a nice rounded curve rather than the straight linear line of the original signal. This of course is not very scientific and only reveals a fraction of what’s going on in the preamp. There is harmonic distortion, slewing, filtering, and all many of things going on in there. But it did give me a starting point to try and shape the output of the SK to sound more like the C2’s output without resorting to “cheating” and running the SK through the C2.

I started by using the onboard EQ parameters in the SK2. It has per-patch EQ and also global EQ via the knobs on the front panel. The per-patch EQ is quite powerful and includes the “TC” parameter which emulates the tone control adjustment on the original Hammond preamps like the AO-10. I have the tone control turned all the way up on my C2, so I set this parameter to -1 in the SK. According to the manual, -1 represents the knob all the way up. The SK actually allows you to adjust it beyond the real-life maximum, which yields some interesting results. Once that was set, I used the per-patch EQ to shape the signal a bit more, trying to match the timbre of the C2. I found that adjusting the low mids made a very big difference.

So here is the result. The following video features the raw, unprocessed output of the C2 against the raw, unprocessed output of the SK2. The SK2 is NOT routed through the C2’s preamp. Both organs’ outputs are going straight into the DAW. No Leslie, no Leslie sim, no outboard EQ, nothing. Just straight out of the two organs and into the computer.

Watch the video and see if you can detect which organ is which. Listen for the quality of the key-click, the tones behind the main frequency of the notes, and the timbre of the percussion. Later in the video I turn the chorus on both. Listen to the depth of the chorus and the shimmer. Write down which organ you think A is and which you think B is and then watch the video below so see if you’re right.

Don’t cheat! Watch the first video before watching the one below.

How’d you do? The differences are minor but they are there. They are almost to the point where they are not much different than two different console Hammonds. My ’74 B3 certainly sounds different ’54 C2. The key areas of the SK that can be improved are:

Distortion – There’s some fuzz around the edges of the real thing, due to the preamp. That difference gets much smaller when the SK2 is run through the preamp. I can kind of mimic it using a small amount of the onboard overdrive, specifically the SK’s EP model which is much more subtle and better sounding than the TUBE model.

Leakage – In order to try and mitigate the leakage, Hammond moved the location of certain tonewheels in the generator throughout the years. Since the VASE III engine was originally modeled on a 70s B3, the last of the line, it represents Hammond’s final arrangement of tonewheels. And that arrangement is different than my ’54 C2* (see addendum 1 below). So the character of the individual tonewheel leakage on some notes is different between the two, because the ’54s tonewheels are in different positions. I got them as close as I can but I cannot change the actual frequencies involved in the leakage.

Chorus / Vibrato – The ’54 is very different than the mid-60’s A100 that the SK’s c/v is modeled after. They do not sound the same.That said, I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other, just different. Nor do I have a mid-60s organ to compare it to but the SK2 chorus sounds very good to me. I’m excited about having the new Mix Balance control that was introduced in the XK1c on the SK. That might help to get it closer to the ’54.

I’d like to see Hammond offer models of various eras of c/v, including the very cool and unique 2nd tone generator chorus of the BC model. Then again, I’m probably the only one that cares!

To summarize, we’re nitpicking over extreme minutia here. Are these issues important in the midst of a burning solo while competing with a distorted guitar, bashing drums, and thundering bass guitar? Probably not. Will they even be apparent in the average supper club jazz trio setting? Not really. Your choice of amplification has a greater effect on the sound than whether or not the keyclick is 100% authentic or the leakage is 100% historically accurate. We’ve gotten to the point where we can take a 35lbs two manual organ to the gig rather than a 400 pound back-breaker. What a great time to be a musician! We’re 95% there in terms of tone. That extra 5% isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but its still fun to try and get there.

Thanks for reading and please subscribe to my Youtube channel if you like the videos. And leave a comment below or contact me via Facebook if you’d like my SK tonewheel set for your SK.

* Addendum 1 –  According to my friend and Hammond guru Todd Phipps (ie B3Nut), I am incorrect in stating that Hammond moved the tonewheels between 1954 and 1974. Todd wrote on my Facebook thread:

…the arrangement of the tonewheels in your ’54 is the same as a late B-3 – the change from a sequentially-wired terminal strip to a chromatically-wired terminal strip with the narrow brass generator cover took place around 1952. A red-cap generator from a ’74 B-3 will drop right in and wire right up. The reduced leakage of the later red-cap instruments is partly due to the more stable/accurate filtering of the later filters as well as the RC networks on several of the frequencies that got rid of low-frequency rumble on those tones.

That makes sense and aligns with what I hear on the C2, especially in the middle range. There is a LOT of low frequency information in those tones that is not there on the SK2 nor is it there on my ’74 B3.

* Addendum 2 – Over on the Keyboard Forum thread and my Facebook thread, I talked about the possibility of Hammond adding a scaling parameter to the SK’s keyclick LPF. I noticed that the keyclick gets duller as you go down into the bass ranges on the C2 but it stays the same on the SK. The SK has a LPF parameter in the keyclick submenu but it is static, ie it affects all notes equally. If it was tied to note values with a scaling parameter, it could more authentically emulate the C2.

However, I incorrectly assumed the cause of the dullness in the bass range of the C2 was due to filtering. Again, Todd Phipps corrected me:

… keyclick is mainly a product of the instant switching of the sine waves at something other than zero cross (and there’s a bit of contact bounce in that mix too.) The higher the frequency being switched, the stronger the HF component of the switching transient.

And again, this makes a lot of sense. Todd helped me modify the chorus/vibrato on my C2 to more closely match the 3 series organs and is a wealth of knowledge on the tonewheel organs. Thank you, Todd!

* Addendum 3 – Hammond just released the XK1c which is like an SK series organ but without the extra voices. The XK1c has some features that the SK series does not yet have, although Scott May from Hammond mentioned on FB that the features are coming for the SK series via an OS update soon. One of the coolest features in the new XK1c is the MIX parameter in the chorus/vibrato submenu. This parameter lets you balance the dry, non-affected organ signal with the chorused signal and helps dial in a smoother, more vintage sounding chorus. Check out my quick review of the XK1c to hear it in action.

Mini Vent review pt II – Hammond SK2

In part two of my review of the Mini Vent for organ from Neo Instruments (little brother to the original Ventilator), I connect the Mini up to the Hammond SK2 digital organ to demonstrate how the it sounds with a modern clonewheel.

As you can hear, the Mini Vent sounds fantastic and will breathe new life any clonewheel, including older models.  When paired with the Hammond SK2, it really shines.


Neo Instruments Mini Vent review

I’ve completed my initial review of the new Mini Vent from Neo Instruments.  For the review, I connected the Mini Vent to my 1954 Hammond C2.  I will do another video soon with the Mini Vent connected to the SK2 and/or XK3.

I’m very impressed with unit.  A full written review will also come soon.

I hope you enjoy the video.

10/8/2013 Addendum:  In the video I state that the difference between the Mini Vent for organ and the regular Mini Vent (voiced for guitar) is that the guitar Mini Vent lacks the amp simulation.  This is incorrect.  From Guido Kirsch at Neo Instruments:

Although seems logical and I had planned it this way, Gary Gand convinced me that for lead playing the cab sim is essential and he absolutely wanted it. So the 2 programmable parametersi n the guitar Mini Vent are Cab Sim on/off and Drive Intensity. Other than that the differences are in the fixed Speed / Acceleration and Balance settings.


So there you have it. I also received permission to post some of the new features of the upcoming Ventilator II pedal, which you can read in the comments below.  The features I list are the ones which will definitely be in the pedal.  Guido has a list of others he is considering but didn’t want me to publish as they may change.