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electronic MUSICIAN


By Nick Peck | September 1, 2004

Ultimate Sound Bank's Charlie ($299) is a sample-based plug-in that replicates the classic sound of the Hammond organ. The product ships on a cross-platform DVD-ROM that supports VST 2.0 under Windows 2000 and XP; MAS, RTAS, and VST 2.0 under Mac OS 9; and MAS, RTAS, VST 2.0, and Audio Units under Mac OS X. Charlie's license allows for simultaneous installation on two computers.

A Different Approach

I have played many digital keyboards and plug-ins that attempt to emulate the Hammond sound, but most fall short. These products typically try to mimic the Hammond's complex set of performance-tone controls. Having this responsiveness is important for performing, but these virtual Hammonds rarely seem to sound quite right.

Ultimate Sound Bank has approached the problem from the opposite standpoint, putting most of the focus on sound quality. Charlie's samples come from a gorgeous Hammond C-3 that was recorded using a variety of top-notch mics at Guillaume Tell Studios in France through a Leslie speaker, several guitar amps, and a direct box. From this, the company amassed a carefully multisampled, 3 GB sound library. This collection is at the core of Charlie, which is essentially a sample-playback engine with some limited DSP features. This approach means that you cannot twiddle drawbars or adjust chorus settings, but must instead find prerendered organ patches that fit your needs from within the library.

Layers and Crossfades

Ultimate Sound Bank has designed Charlie with a three-layered sample architecture. The two main layers store the body of the organ sound, allowing you to use the modulation wheel to crossfade between two different timbres. Each layer has a series of adjustable parameters, such as level, pan, and tuning. Percussion — which in organ terminology refers to a sharp, biting attack sound — is on the third sample layer and can be switched on or off, but it has no further adjustability. Charlie features a multimode filter that is useful for darkening up an organ patch that's too bright. You also get a decent built-in reverb with adjustable decay time and high-frequency damping.

Charlie uses the same sample-playback engine as other Ultimate Sound Bank products, which means that it has a series of features that are not organ-specific. These include filter and amplitude attack-decay-sustain-release (ADSR) envelopes, filter resonance, velocity curves, four LFOs, a pitch envelope, and a comprehensive modulation routing system. Many of these features enhance Charlie's synthesis possibilities, but they detract from the product's focus as an authentic organ simulator.

Hammond, No Cheese

Sound quality is what Charlie is all about. The organ samples are tremendous, bringing all of the character and richness of the real thing to the desktop. There are authentic settings for gospel, funk, rock, and jazz. The patch Serious Full (see Web Clip 1) portrays the Hammond at its most majestic, with all stops out. Baby Jazz (see Web Clip 2) is a classic, smoky jazz sound in the style of Jimmy Smith. Look at Me (see Web Clip 3) was recorded through a distorted Matchless Chieftain guitar amp and is useful for hard-rock soloing. Digital Key (see Web Clip 4) makes use of the playback engine's filter and amplitude envelopes to create a percussive sound reminiscent of Caribbean steel drums.

Overall, my favorite patches are those that crossfade between slow and fast rotor speed using the mod wheel. The sound is not perfectly authentic, because the crossfade can't mimic the acceleration and deceleration effects created by real motors, but it gets you in the ballpark.

Sir Charles

When it comes to the sound of the Hammond, I'm as snobby as it gets, always preferring to use the real thing. But I must say that the folks at Ultimate Sound Bank hit it out of the park with Charlie — the plug-in's sounds rock. For most recording situations, Charlie would be indistinguishable from the real thing because, from a sonic standpoint, it is the real thing. From a performance perspective, however, it's no match for a real organ, or even some of the better digital clones. The lack of drawbars and Leslie speed changes make it limited for an organist experienced in the more subtle performance practices of the instrument. But if you are looking for a great organ sound that will sit nicely in your tracks, Charlie delivers big time.

Overall EM Rating (1 through 5): 4.5

Ultimate Sound Bank, Inc.

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