IK Multimedia Hammond B-3X by Sound-Guy
Hammond B-3X from IK Multimedia
IK Multimedia have introduced a B-3 emulation, but unlike the many other available B-3 emulations, this one was developed in conjunction with Hammond-Suzuki to create a most realistic B-3; its sound, its features, and its limitations.
The overall view is clean and realistic.
If you are not familiar with the real Hammond B-3, it was a marvel for its time, its time starting in 1935 with the Hammond model A which incorporated all the incredible electro-mechanical features of the later model B’s: the spinning tonewheels that rotate near an electromagnetic pickup coil to create the basic tones, the motor driving all the gears and tonewheels thru a complex mechanical assembly, the multiple electrical contacts operated by each key to connect the output of a tonewheel/coil to an output mixer – there were over 1,000 electrical switches operated by the two keyboard manuals! Add to that the drawbars (a Hammond invention), rocker switches controlling chorus, vibrato and percussion effects, and it was an amazing creation.
The first model B was the B-C in 1936, then the B-2 in 1949 and finally the B-3 in 1954. There were also C, D, and E models before 1950, but the B-3 has always been the holy grail of electromechanical organs.
The incredibly complex design of the B-3 yields a wide range of tonal possibilities, and also some limitations and artifacts. The B-3X includes some of these artifacts, although their effect can be adjusted from inaudible to very noticeable. These include key click, harmonic leakage, and variation of percussion characteristics. There is also a limitation of the percussion effect. The percussion effect on a real B-3 worked only on the upper keyboard and used up one of the harmonic tones, deactivating the top drawbar of that keyboard. It also produced the percussive effect only for the first key depressed in legato mode. Playing a run of notes on a B-3 with the percussion effect requires a staccato technique in order to obtain the percussive sound for a run of notes. This “limitation” is accurately reproduced on the B-3X – although an expert B-3 player can use this effect to advantage.
The inverted color preset controls of a B-3 (the left-most octave of each keyboard) are portrayed in the B-3X and like the real ones, latch on so you know which drawbar preset is being used. However, while the keyboard presets of a real B-3 were hard-wired, the B-3X presets can be changed as you like. And the B-3X also has a software preset window in the middle of the top toolbar that can save and load sets of presets – each software “preset” actually saves all 24 possible keyboard presets that are present, as well as the Leslie settings, stomp box settings, and virtually all other advanced settings. This is way beyond what a real B-3 can do and really expands the possibility of setting up tones for use in a performance. Although the B-3 has only nine drawbars (which set sound levels for the fundamental, two sub-harmonics and 6 harmonics) with nine possible settings (including the off position) these controls can produce millions different tones (387,420,489 to be exact!). Of course many of the adjacent settings are only subtly different, but they are all unique, and add to that chorus, vibrato, percussion, and any of the additional FX like the Leslie, guitar amp and stomp box FX, and you’ll never run out tonal variations.
The B-3X sounds better than some real B-3’s I’ve heard since many are over 50 years old and some have been through rough times! And it sounds a lot more “realistic” than a couple other B3 emulations I have – the harmonic contribution of the tonewheels have a clarity that is lacking in the other simulations. It certainly sounds like I think a B3 should. If you have the keyboards for playing two manuals at once, there is a Controls view that provides just the controls without a graphic keyboard.
Controls View helps with live playing.
The Controls view even has drawbars and preset ‘keys’ except the presets are above the drawbars, and as you can see in the image above, the presets in the Controls view show a small graphic of the respective drawbar settings. For live playing this view is very convenient. The B-3X Settings panel enables control using two MIDI keyboards or alternately using one of the current Hammond-Suzuki keyboards along with an iRig Keys, Keys IO or other keyboard controller.
There is of course a Leslie speaker included, based on IKM’s Leslie Collection that has pretty much all the adjustments of those Leslies, missing only the spring reverb. However, the Stomp Box section includes a spring reverb in addition to a graphic EQ and three pedals (overdrive/distortion, chorus/vibrato and a wah-wah unit). There is also a guitar amp that sonically runs in parallel with the Leslie FX – this threw me briefly when I tried a B-3 preset that had far more ‘grit’ than I expected, and found the guitar amp was set high in the mix. The amp creates a distinctly colorful tone, not a clean amp by any means, and provides a lot of character when you need a sound to cut through a mix or just be dirty. And it has its own spring reverb if you want even more variation. You can adjust the balance of the Leslie, the guitar amp and even the direct B-3X sounds with the mixer panel. And there is even a final “gear rack” with a compressor, EQ and a reverb for fine tuning sounds.
This is all described in fine detail on IK Multimedia’s site linked below, and there are some excellent audio and video presentations there too.
There was one surprise I had after installing the software, which is about 460 MB of code – the first time you open either the standalone version or a plug-in, there is a considerable wait until the organ is ready to play. At first I thought there was a problem because my DAW indicated the B-3X was not responding – but it was just the plug-in indicating it was not ready to run. I’ve seen this on other physically-modeled instruments, but the B-3X takes longer than any other instrument I have to “boot up”, several minutes! Apparently the B-3X code installed on your computer “builds” the final instrument in RAM resulting in a final size over four times the size of the source code! The Task Manager showed my RAM use increased by 2 GB when loading a B-3X. Since IKM models all 91 tone wheels of a real B-3 along with its other features, it is a complex model, and apparently the code on your hard drive is actually the instructions to “build” the entire instrument. Note that you can use multiple instances without your system needing multiples of 2 GB – I found each additional instance used only about 200 MB. And after loading one instance, either standalone or a plug-in, I found the B-3X loads in 10-15 seconds in subsequent use until I shut down and rebooted the computer. But be prepared to wait several minutes before you first use the B-3X each time you boot your studio – it’s worth the wait! Once loaded and running I had no issues with stability or operation. CPU usage is moderately low at under 2.5% with the B-3 and Leslie, up to about 4% if I add all the stomp box FX and final rack FX.
All thumbs up for this very fine B-3 emulation – it is a pleasure to play and fun to experiment with the features you’d find on a real B-3. And it’s a lot cheaper than a used B-3, more reliable (remember those 1,000-plus switches!) and weighs a lot less than 425 pounds!
Excellent sound that really emulates a B-3.
Clean layout of both the overall keyboard with controls, and the separate Controls view.
Lots of additional sound mangling tools in the Cabs, Stomp Box and Post FX sections.
Comprehensive computer-based presets along with the traditional B-3 keyboard preset controls.
Window can be continuously resized from 1156 x 734 pixels up to your full monitor size.
Modest CPU resource requirements
Only the very large RAM footprint, about 2 GB, even though the file on disk is under 500 MB. If you have a modest laptop with only 4 GB of RAM it might strain, but any 8-16 GB system will be happy.