Neo Instruments Ventilator Best Rotary Stompbox Yet

May 1, 2010
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 0510 Ventilator front

HANDS-ON

  1. Speed knob varies both the slow and fast speeds slightly.
  2. Acceleration varies the transition time between slow and fast speeds.
  3. Mix the high and low rotor volumeusing the Balance knob; crossover point is 800Hz like the real thing.
  4. Emulation of tube overdrive, via the Drive knob, is warm and crunchy.
  5. Less virtual mic distance (Distance knob) gets you more tremolo amplitude modulation). [Captions 6, 7, and 8 refer to back panel - Ed.]
  6. In “Keys” mode, the Ventilator models the frequency response of a Leslie 122 cabinet. In “Git” (guitar) mode, you get rotary without the cabinet modeling.
  7. You get stereo outs, but mono input only. That’d be true if you were using a preamp and miking up a real Leslie, though, so it’s not a “con.”
  8. Lo/Hi switch adds a pad so you can still get nice overdrive with keyboards that don’t have a very hot output — the original Nord Electro is one example.

 0510 Ventilator back

The buzz about the Ventilator has been so overwhelmingly positive that I’d been obsessing about trying one. As a card-carrying member of the clonewheel-through-a-real-Leslie club, I had to see if the Ventilator was good enough for me to stop schlepping my beloved but big ’n’ heavy spinning box to every gig.

At press time, Neo Instruments didn’t yet have U.S. distribution, so I bought mine, as everyone else has, directly from Germany, ordering over email from proprietor Guido Kirsch [of Access Virus fame] himself. It arrived via DHL within eight business days, as promised. In order for one model to work internationally, Neo includes the correct external AC adapter for where you live. I took it to the garage to set it up with my Hammond-Suzuki XK-3 for an immediate test drive.

It sounded real. It had none of the unwanted phasing or FM artifacts of previous electronic simulators and was quite convincing in the garage. I took it to a rehearsal that evening and ran just the XK-3 and Ventilator directly in to the P.A. — in mono, no less. Again, it was great, and sat just right in the mix. I tweaked the drive, distance, balance, speed, and acceleration to taste, and I was in hog heaven.

The real test would be my weekend gigs. The first was a classic rock cover band in a smallish lounge. Only vocals went through the P.A., so it’d be just my rig filling the house. When the band called Santana’s “Oye Como Va,” the Ventilator just killed — all that great Gregg Rolie grind on the solo and comping was there for days. Speed-up and slowdown was so faithful that my bandmates couldn’t believe there was no Leslie onstage. I was floored as well. No only did the Ventilator emulate the spinning horn and drum, its cabinet emulation perfectly matched the treble roll-off of my Leslie 122. It made the XK-3 more “woody” and “nutty” like a real Leslie would, and was simply a joy to play through. (You can defeat cabinet emulation to use the Ventilator on something other than organ.)

The next night was bigger: Pala Casino with my Tom Petty tribute band. There’s tons of organ on this gig, and I wanted to hear the Ventilator in this 800-seat venue, run through direct boxes into a nice front-of-house P.A. Again, it delivered. Most notable on this gig was how well the Ventilator helped the XK-3 blend in on the “glue” parts, yet cut through for the stabs and solos — just like it should!

I did hit the bypass footswitch rather than the speed switch a few times, because they’re close together and look alike. Many Leslie preamps have dual switches, but since the Ventilator has a smaller footprint than, say, a Trek II or Speakeasy, the buttons are closer together. In fairness, a lot of guitar pedals’ switches are closer together still, but then, it’s easier for guitarists to look down at them, because there’s no big keyboard in the line of sight.

Bottom line: We’re blown away by how authentic the Ventilator sounds, and though it’s not exactly cheap, it merits a Key Buy on best-in-class grounds: It’s clearly the new king of standalone electronic rotary simulators.


PROS Spot-on modeling of a miked Leslie 122. Small enough to carry in my man-purse. Convincing overdrive circuit. Plug-and-play. Well built.

CONS Bypass switch can be mistaken for speed switch during performance.

 INFO $450 plus shipping from Germany, neo-instruments.de

VENTILATOR VS. BUILT-IN

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If you have a clonewheel organ, it almost certainly has rotary simulation onboard. Is the Ventilator enough of an improvement to justify its $450 price? On the author’s original-model Hammond XK-3, it was a night-and-day difference. In the Keyboard Studio, I A/B’ed it with the built-in rotary effects on a newer Hammond XK-3C, a recent-model Korg CX-3, my gig-worn Nord Electro 2, a new Nord C2, a Roland VK-8, and the KB3 organ emulation mode in Kurzweil’s PC3 workstation. Long story short: The Nord C2 was the only organ where the improvement was anything less than dramatic — but it was still noticeable. On all organs, the sense of depth, and of sound moving around you in a circle, as opposed to just at you then away from you again, was markedly better with the Ventilator — especially with high drawbars engaged, which is where most electronic simulations begin to sound thin. If you’re using an older clonewheel, and especially if you’re playing organ on a general-purpose keyboard, the Ventilator will up your game more than you thought possible. That makes the price a bargain compared to buying a new dedicated clonewheel instrument. - Stephen Fortner, Executive Editor

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