Neo Instruments Ventilator II rotary simulator reviewed

When Neo Instruments released the Ventilator in 2010, it quickly became the standard for all other rotary speaker emulations. After a long wait, the Ventilator II is finally here. The footprint is similar, the look is sleeker, and the construction is still bulletproof. The five real-time controls are still there, but all have a second-function mode. Is it worth adding to your rig?
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When Neo Instruments released the Ventilator in 2010, it quickly became the standard for all other rotary speaker emulations. With easy access to five real-time controls, bulletproof construction, fantastic overdrive, and extremely authentic dual-rotor emulation, the Ventilator became the go-to effect for keyboardists who wanted to upgrade beyond the sound of their drawbar organ clones’ built-in rotary simulations without carrying a real Leslie.

After a long wait, the Ventilator II is finally here. The footprint is similar, the look is sleeker, and the construction is still bulletproof. The five real-time controls are still there, but all have a second-function mode. Is it worth adding to your rig? Read on . . .

Overview

Neo Instruments added much more control over the sound with the Ventilator II. Whereas the original was meant to be a faithful recreation of the classic Leslie 122 speaker, the Ventilator II provides all that plus the ability to create your own sound.

As mentioned, the five recessed knobs now each serve two functions. In the default mode, the knobs control the parameters labeled in yellow (more maize, actually) directly beneath each knob. The knobs’ secondary functions are accessed by pressing the Bypass and Slow/Fast switches simultaneously. When in the second function mode, the Lo/Hi LEDs will blink together two times per second. Now, the knobs control the parameters in white. Let’s detail all those parameters now.

The Knobs

Like on the original, the knobs have a very sturdy, high-quality feel. The steel case is designed to protect them from sheering and the silk-screened lettering offers readability in low light.

The functions are mostly self-explanatory, e.g., Knob 1 controls the base rate of the fast rotor speed in primary mode and slow speed in secondary mode. Although the sound is processed independently for both virtual rotors, this control affects both at once, as though you were adjusting the speed of both sets of motors in a real Leslie. It would be better still to have independent controls for the bass and treble rotors, but the overall sound is so good that this is a quibble.

As for Knob 2’s dual functions, Balance is the mix between the two virtual rotors. As on a real Leslie, the bass rotor reproduces frequencies under 800Hz; the treble, frequencies above. Acceleration controls the time it takes for the virtual rotors to spin up to fast speed or spin down to slow speed.

Knob 3 is a favorite of mine. In primary mode it controls the Drive, one of the defining characteristics of the Ventilator emulation. The Ventilator overdrive is creamy and rich and sounds remarkably close to the real tube amp of a Leslie 122 being driven hard. The secondary function selects modes with regard to frequency response and cabinet emulation.

Mode 1, with the knob set all the way counter-clockwise) is “Git1,” which represents the guitar mode on the original Ventilator. This disables the speaker cabinet emulation and is useful for guitarists who want to maintain the sound of their own amp/speaker combo while still enjoying the rotor simulation. Mode 2, with the knob at 12 o’clock, is “Git2” from the Mini Vent. This is a more distant, mellower sound, and like “Git1” it disables the cabinet emulation. Mode 3, with the knob all the way clockwise is the “Key” mode for keyboardists as on the original Ventilator, and includes the cabinet simulation.

Knob 4’s primary function, Mix/Dist Lo, 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 all the way counter-clockwise there’s 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 “Memphis style” Leslie sound, wherein players preferred less bass animation and unplugged the motors on the lower rotor. From center to all the way clockwise, the knob adjusts the distance of the virtual mic from the lower rotor.

The secondary function of Knob 4 determines how the Remote input jack operates and is explained in depth in the manual. In short, it lets you use different types of pedals to switch speeds, including an expression pedal (such as a Yamaha FC7) to ramp the speed up or down continuously.

Knob 5’s Mix/Dist Hi function controls the mix of the upper rotor in the signal as well as the distance of the virtual mics from that rotor. Its secondary function adjusts the output level from the Ventilator.

As to the main stomp-switches, Bypass engages a true relay-controlled bypass of the Ventilator II’s circuitry. Engage the Stop button, and the virtual rotors consistently spin down to “face” the virtual mics—nice!

The Sound

The Ventilator II’s pedigree is unmistakable. The rotary simulation is still king of the hill in my opinion—though it should be noted that both I and Keyboard have yet to test Hammond’s new Digital Leslie Pedal and the GSi Burn from Italy. With a bit of room reverb you can certainly fool listeners into believing a Leslie 122 is a room. The overdrive is fantastic and the sense of three-dimensional realism is unparalleled.

Since reviewing the original Ventilator in 2010, I rely on it more and more while on the road. When I perform with my band 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 my go-to. Especially for rock or blues gigs where you need a lot of volume and you’re going through the front-of-house P.A. anyway. I always have my Ventilator with me on the road just in case, as I never know what the backline will be from one gig to the next.

The increased adjustability is a blessing. I can get the Memphis sound with ease. I can achieve sounds that no older Leslie can do via the continuously variable speed control. Even with these added parameters, though, programming the Ventilator II is immediate and easy. There’s no menu diving and no tiny screens to decipher—but I might accept some of this if it meant I could store presets for different rotary profiles.

Last but not least, the stereo inputs let you use the same keyboard for organ and non-organ sounds, without sacrificing stereo feed to the house P.A.

Conclusions

Neo Instruments took longer than expected to release the Ventilator II, but the level of thought and the quality of the design gives insight as to why. I can’t really think of anything they missed. For guitarists and keyboardists alike, the control and flexibility is several steps above the original—and the sound quality is an audible upgrade from the built-in simulations in even today’s better clonewheel organs. MIDI control would be nice for use in a studio, but would increase the complexity of the interface—and for my money the immediacy of the Ventilator II is one of its most valuable features.

PROS

Incredibly authentic rotary speaker emulation. Lots of control over the sound. Built like a tank. Stereo inputs make use with modern clonewheel organs easy.

CONS

No presets. No MIDI control. Pricey.

Bottom Line

The Bentley of rotary simulators gets enough new features to make it as practical as a Prius.

$649 list | $499 street | neo-instruments.de