Hammond XK-1C organ reviewed
The Hammond organ is one of a handful of keyboard instruments that never
go out of style. Though some think it only makes “one sound,” that
sound has countless different hues due to drawbar manipulation,
organ/amplification pairings, Leslie type, microphone placement, age and
integrity of parts, and a host of other factors. When you think about
it, that so-called one-trick pony is pretty hard to tame. Well, Hammond
has distilled all the things that go into making all those “one sounds”
into a 16-pound keyboard that not only feels great, but also can sound
like the Hammond part from any and every recording you ever loved.
PROS: Killer organ sounds in a lightweight, ultra-compact,
attractive package. Fantastic Leslie simulation. Deeply editable—no
additional processing needed for realism or inspiration. Action feels
CONS: Line lump power supply. Unlike SK series, has no dedicated effects button or reverb amount knob.
Bottom Line: If you want no-compromise drawbar organ and Leslie
sound—and nothing but—in a package small enough to take on public
transit, your search is over.
$1,795 list | $1,495 street | hammondorganco.com
The XK-1C is an evolution of Hammond’s recent SK line,
using the same engine, but eschewing the non-organ sounds. You’ll find
no pianos, Clavs, or accordions—just tonewheel, transistor, and pipe
organs. However, the XK-1C does those organs right. The SK1 was
reviewed in November 2011, the SK2 in August 2012, and the SK1-73 in
October 2013, so refer to those reviews (online at keyboardmag.com/february2014) for what’s familiar. Here, we’ll concentrate on new additions that are indigenous to the XK-1C.
The control panel layout is very similar to the SK1, but
has been condensed a bit now that the instrument is devoted solely to
organ sounds. Besides eliminating the controls for the extra voices,
Hammond has merged the patch selection buttons with the cursor buttons,
resulting in a “telephone keypad” configuration—minus the bottom row
where zero would be. This means that you now have only eight favorites
buttons instead of ten, though you still can save many more programs
into user memory. I tend to program a handful of main drawbar settings,
and then use the rest of the favorites for storing different organ
sounds that are based on the same registration, but with different
Leslie simulation and tonewheel settings.
You still get one set of drawbars, and their assignment to
upper, lower, or pedal duty is done with dedicated buttons, which works
great. As on other current Hammonds, long-pressing any button brings up
the menu for the most relevant parameters (Leslie settings if you hold
the slow/fast button, harmonic percussion if you hold any percussion
button, and so on), which is nice and fast. I must say that the buttons
feel firmer and more solidly anchored on the XK-1C than I remember on
the original SK1. Reverb control has been reduced to an on/off button
(there’s no amount knob) and the SK1’s non-reverb Effect knob and switch
have been removed entirely, which I think is a mistake, although full
control of the effect is still in the menus, and the entry state of
reverb and other effects is saved with your preset.
In trade, Hammond has instituted a couple of new features
not present in the SK models. For instance, while the vibrato/chorus is
basically the same, the XK-1C has a new parameter called Mix, which lets
you continuously set the balance between a direct and chorused
signals—even to the point of having one or the other only. Combined with
the Emphasis control, which increases the bandwidth of frequencies to
be chorused, you can go a long way towards capturing the subtle
differences you’d encounter if you were to go to a vintage Hammond
dealer and play five or six different B-3s and A-100s with the same
drawbar settings. Awesome!
Another new parameter, Color, is in the Leslie section.
Through headphones, adjusting the “Color” amount sounds like you put the
vent covers back on your Leslie, slightly dampening the sound. Through
speakers, however, the effect is more dramatic and very useful. It tames
the top end a little bit, adds a nice girth to the sound, and really
feels like you’re hearing the resonance of the wooden Leslie cabinet
itself. It took me years to wean myself off of using a real Leslie live,
and it wasn’t until hosting Native Instruments B4 running on my Muse
Receptor, which I then routed through a Ventilator rotary effect pedal,
that I felt good enough about the sound to leave my Leslie at home. With
the XK-1C, I can now leave the Ventilator at home. Between the Color
knob, the internal 122 model (which sounds brighter than the 147—veteran
Leslie users might expect the opposite) and my new favorite, the “right
there in the room with you” model 31H with the lower rotor coasting at
about 60 rpm, I now have more Leslie options than ever before. Add a
little built-in tube overdrive simulation, and you have unlimited
potential to grab that “one sound” from any recording or recollection
you may have.
The action is a joy to play. It’s lighter than my SK1-73,
but not as hair-trigger as the XK-3C. It’s fast and begs you to skate up
and down the keyboard, but doesn’t make you feel or sound sloppy.
Last but not least, I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on
what an aesthetic upgrade Hammond has given the XK-1C. An organ should
at least have some wood on it, and the wooden end caps are an elegant
touch that helps the XK-1C not look small, which is a real feat on a
keyboard this . . . small. In all aspects, Hammond has really stepped up
their already impressive game with the XK-1C. I love it!