With the release of B4 II ($229; upgrade, $99), Native Instruments has substantially improved its already stellar Hammond B-3 and Leslie emulation, B4. New features abound, including a greater selection of organ tones and speaker configurations and a new graphical user interface with five views instead of two.
Native Instruments B4—already a great tonewheel organ emulation by any standard—just got better with the introduction of B4 II.
In addition to B4's original sounds, B4 II integrates all the tonewheel sets from the Vintage Collection expansion, giving you simulated B-3s in various states of deterioration, two Farfisas (see Web Clip 1), three Vox Continentals (see Web Clip 2), and an Indian harmonium. You can choose from 13 speaker setups that range from assorted guitar-amp cabinets to single- or dual-rotor Leslies. Other enhancements include adjustable tonewheel leakage, a more flexible Pedal Bass section, MIDI controller mapping, a MIDI Learn function, and templates for popular MIDI controllers.
B4 the Beguine
I tested B4 II on a 1.33 GHz Apple iBook G4 running Mac OS X 10.4.3, and on a 2.4 GHz Intel Celeron — based PC running Windows XP. Installation and online authorization were simple and trouble-free. A single CD-ROM supplied Mac and Windows installers, a Read Me file, and a PDF that duplicated the included printed manual. B4 II runs standalone and as a DirectX plug-in in Windows XP, as an AU plug-in in Mac OS X, and as a VST or RTAS plug-in on either platform.
At the top of the GUI are buttons to select the five views: Manual, Organ, Expert, Preset, and Setup. When B4 II runs standalone, a sixth button activates a full-screen view, but rather than enlarging the GUI, it simply blacks out everything else onscreen.
Manual view displays the organ from a bird's-eye perspective, as in the original B4, and adds a Brake switch. Brake lets you rapidly stop and start the rotator for some interesting dynamic effects (see Web Clip 3). Organ view displays sections for the Organ, Pedal Bass, Tube Amplifier, Cabinets, and Microphones controls; the image of a glowing tube responds to MIDI input. Expert view adds a graphical display of the tonewheel choices, as well as Percussion, Vibrato, Reverb, and Bass and Treble Rotor sections. Organ and Expert views also display larger versions of all the drawbars and tone-shaping controls from Manual view.
Along with a well-designed Preset Manager that lists 48 of the included 120 presets at a time, Preset view has buttons for File and List Operations, a Standard MIDI File player, and an Audition function that tests the current preset. In Setup view, you can specify preferences such as MIDI channel and controller assignments, key splits, and additional drawbar parameters.
Combined, B4 II's new goodies offer a wealth of possibilities. The new tonewheel sets alone are worth the upgrade. In addition to harmonium, Vox, and Farfisa, they supply ten slightly detuned tonewheels and six B-3s ranging from the factory-fresh B-3 Pure to the obviously abused B-3 Trash. B4 Trash and B4 Filthy were my favorites for their wonderfully raw, gritty tones (see Web Clip 4).
In Organ view, the Tube Amp section has been redesigned to accurately emulate a Leslie's amplifier using Guitar Rig's Tube Response technology. The Tube Amp's tonal character is quite distinct from the original's and produces a nice overdrive. Bass and Treble knobs replace the previous Body and Bright controls, allowing you to drive or cut the bottom or top end. The selection of cabinets, in addition to the open and closed Leslies and even a direct box, range from a Fender Tweed to a Roland Jazz Chorus. In the redesigned Microphones section, you can balance the cabinet tone with or without the rotor. An Air control adjusts early reflections and replaces the previous version's Distance knob.
My favorite new feature is the reverb. It has four flexible controls and furnishes Spring and Studio types. Spring works well with vintage timbres, and on attack produces a convincing boing. The Studio type sounds natural rather than digital, and with some minor surgery it can reproduce small or large spaces (see Web Clip 5).
B4 You Go
The original B4 didn't give me much to complain about. But with B4 II's slicker GUI, comprehensive MIDI control, and additional tonewheel and speaker varieties — not to mention the convincing tone that made the first B4 an award winner — I can only applaud Native Instruments. I grew up with a real B-3 in my parents' house, and B4 II sounds awfully close to the real thing. And in many obvious ways, it's better.
Value (1 through 5): 5